Boris in Bulgaria

DSC_1062

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris in Bulgaria. Give him a hat and a pretty girl and he is happy.

We woke to enjoy one of those fabulous Uniworld breakfasts before heading out to explore Bulgaria, our next stop on our Eastern European river cruise.  It looked a little grey outside so I asked the front desk attendant if rain was predicted.  She said it would be sunny.  I should have followed the program advice instead.  I brought a raincoat and umbrella on the cruise, but left both in the room.  Boris wisely got both of us umbrellas.

DSC_1003

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The ancient Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo.

We left the riverside city of Rousse where we were docked for our day-long tour of the medieval capital of Bulgaria, Velikovo Tarnovo, and the Bulgarian village of Arbanasi.  Along the way, we will have a traditional Bulgarian lunch and be back to the ship by 5 pm.  Some guests chose to tour Rousse and see the cave churches instead.  Their tour ends at 2 pm.

DSC_0965

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rousse, Bulgaria.

DSC_0971

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Newer apartment construction with shops on the bottom. Rousse, Bulgaria

As we left Rousse, a city of soviet-style apartments and crumbling architectural beauties used for that purpose, the guide gave us information about Bulgaria.  It is a country of 7.2 million with a declining population.  They rely on tourism, grain farming, and heavy industry as their main sources of income.

DSC_0967

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rousse, Bulgaria

Under communism, they were part of the 5-year plan of specialization between countries.  Bulgaria concentrated on textiles, computers, bicycles, farming, and ship building.   There was negative unemployment; they even brought in workers from Cuba and Vietnam to assist with the ship building.  With the collapse of communism and the loss of guaranteed markets, there was massive unemployment.  Having always been given a job and guaranteed employment, people did not have the mindset to deal with the new system.  In the 90s, unemployment was at 25%.

DSC_0991

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Veliko Tarnovo is on the Varna River, Bulgaria.

Bulgaria joined the EU and with investment from the European Union unemployment dropped as low as 4%.  It now hovers around 7%.  Not all EU countries are on the same footing.  If coming from another EU nation, you still have to go through immigration to enter Bulgaria or when entering another EU country from Bulgaria.  They do not use the Euro currency.

DSC_0987

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ancient bridge, Bulgaria.

Bulgarian children go to school until the age of 16; some go on for more advanced studies.  They are experiencing a brain drain, especially in the medical profession, where their students can make far more money abroad.  There is a large expat community of Bulgarians in Chicago.  The most popular courses of study are math and the sciences and the students do very well in international competitions in these areas.  The average monthly income in Bulgaria is 500 euros.

DSC_1008

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.

DSC_1006

Photo ©Jean Janssen Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

It was a lovely drive to Veliko Tarnovo through the Bulgarian countryside.  The city itself sits on three hilltop with the River Yantra below.  It is the medieval capital of Bulgaria.  Today it is a University town with a thriving artists community and one of the few cities in Bulgaria that is growing.  It has a incredible setting and tourism continues to grow.

DSC_1002

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

DSC_0994

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Velido Tarnovo.

We took a comfort stop at a local hotel and admired the view while trying Bulgarian pastries.  We will return here to do a little shopping later today in the artisans shops.  As we re-boarded the buses, the rain started.  Closer views of the castle were all from inside the bus and at least one photo stop was cancelled due to rain.

DSC_1017

Photo ©Jean Janssen decoration on exterior of Orthodox church in Arbanasi, Bulgaria

DSC_1021

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Church of the Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, Arbanasi, Bulgaria

We went on the the village of Arbanasi less than 4 miles from Velido Tarnovo.  Arbanasi is a tourist designation in and of itself with its beautiful 17th and 18th century churches (disguised on the outside) and the buildings in the Bulgarian National Revival style.  In fact, any new construction in the village must follow this architectural style.  It is enchanting and the light rain (it had eased a bit at this point) made it even more romantic.

DSC_1023

Photo ©Jean Janssen. We enjoyed beautiful a cappella chanting in Arbanasi.

In the historic Orthodox Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, we heard lovely chanting by four a capella singers.  People stand in the Orthodox churches and there is limited seating for the infirm with high arms around the edges.  When you wanted to pull yourself out of these narrow spaces, you learned why they had high arms.

DSC_1038

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Exterior of the Church of the Nativity of Christ, Arbanasi, Bulgaria.

We next visited the Church of the Nativity of Christ where a wonderful guide told us about the amazing artwork and architecture.  From the exterior the building was very unassuming.  During foreign rule, the churches were permitted if they had a low profile and no bell tower.  They were dug deep into the earth to give the full height inside.  Unfortunately, no interior photographs were permitted in this church.

DSC_1039

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rooftops in Arbanasi, Bulgaria

DSC_1043

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Home interior, note the beautiful carved ceiling, Arbanasi, Bulgaria

DSC_1045

Photo ©Jean Janssen. “Indoor Plumbing” at the historical museum Arbanasi, Bulgaria

We did a little more walking the village in the rain ending up at a gift shop that sold rose oil products, a regional favorite.  After the shop, we walked across the street tot he village museum where they depicted what life had been like for the inhabitants.

DSC_1052

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Home Confinement Room where mothers stayed with their newborns for 40 days after their birth to regain strength. After 40 days the child was introduced to society and baptized.

After the museum, we went to a charming restaurant where were served  a traditional Bulgarian lunch-a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes, a vegetable soup, a meat stew with bread, and a yogurt dessert.  The rain was really pouring outside, so we were happy to be indoors and enjoy the wonderful food and the music and dancing.

DSC_1063

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bulgarian dancer, Arbanasi, Bulgaria

After lunch we returned to Velido Tarnovo and walked the artisan street in the rain.  Both Boris and I found handicrafts to take home with us-decorated wooden spoons, embroidery, and a mask.  We enjoyed our full day in Bulgaria.

DSC_1066

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bulgarian musicians, Arbanasi, Bulgaria

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
This entry was posted in cruises, international, River Cruise and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s