Day 16 (Part 1): Monasteries, Museums and Caves… Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

As I promised, this is part one of Day 16. I’ve chosen to split the day into two posts to save your beady little eyes from reading too much in one sitting. It’s also less likely to get stuck updating and result in me losing all of my “hard work.” The first part of the day we spent exploring an old monastery (Dryanovo), a cave (Bacho Kiro) and Etara Open Air Ethnographic Museum. All of which were super awesome.

Saturday 14th June 2014

Alex, our tour guide/driver, came to us asking if we wanted to visit various sites around Veliko Tarnovo. It was our first day and although we said we would kick back and relax for the week, we just couldn’t resist. Besides, who else was going to take us to an abandoned UFO on a mountain?

Our first stop was Dryanovo Monastery. This monastery does not give up easy. We learnt that with it’s hidden location it was the home to rebels during the Ottoman rule. The monastery itself was burned down and pillaged twice. Today, you can see where the original stone of the walls stands about a foot high and is then built on with newer bricks.

Dryanovo Monastery

There is a small memorial, where Bulgarian people come to leave wine, cheese, meat and flowers on the 10th May for those who were slaughtered in the last battle that took place there. You know, before the USA and the rest of Europe got off their asses and helped re-establish Bulgaria in 1878.

There is one young guy currently being taught at the monastery and we saw him seeing to duties around the place. I wondered what it must be like to be an attraction to tourists. There was no entrance fee to the monastery, instead they made money through donations, providing basic accommodation and charging you to take photos inside.

I’m sure Alex said that the cost of staying in the monastery rooms overnight was as little as 5 lev (about £2) but it was basic and you probably wouldn’t get hot water.

Our next point of interest was the Bacho Kiro cave. We paid 3 BGN to enter. If you want to take photos, it will cost you an extra lev (but we took a couple of sneaky ones when we were deeper in the cave).

Outside the Bacho Kiro cave, above the waterfall

The cave is a very short walk from the monastery and is a really interesting way to scare yourselves silly. Especially if you don’t have travel insurance. Here, they found human bones and burnt charcoal dating back to Neanderthal times. They also found the skeletal remains of a massive bear. His jaw was on display in a glass box at the start, next to the creepy wax models of the cave men.

We worked our way through the slippery cave. Primarni converse knock-offs weren’t the most suitable of shoes, but I saw people entering with heels on, and immediately felt better about my sensibility. I avoided some of the tighter squeezes, taking the easy road around but Mike managed to rip his shorts shoving himself in tiny holes (LOL).

About half way through the cave, you can look up and there is a giant hole above you. We were marvelling at how the rock looked in the light, but if you visited around March time you would see the bats that usually reside there. Alex said that if you were lucky, they would fly down through that hole and straight past you, exiting through the entrance you just came through in a swarm. Despite how fast they move, he said they never touch you.

Bacho Kiro cave

 Once we were done admiring stalagmites and stalactites we left the same way we came and were shocked at just how warm it felt outside the cave. If you ever visit any caves, make sure you take a jumper. And a rain coat. Because they drip, for days.

We all scrambled back into the seven seater car that Alex had hired to take us in. Another 20km down the road we stopped at Etara Open Air Ethnographic Museum. I thought this might be the most dreary part of the trip but I loved it more than words could say.

The main street of Etara Open Air Ethnographic Museum

On the walk down to the main street were trees with little red friendship bracelets (martenitsas) hanging from the branches. The Bulgarians, at the beginning of the month of March, exchange bracelets for Baba Marta, a celebration of the coming Spring. They wear them until the end of March, or until they see a stork, a swallow or a budding tree. It is supposed to bring them luck and hope that Grandmother March (Baba Marta) will be kind to them, cease the winter and bring the spring.

Martenitsas in the trees for Baba Marta

As the rain hammered on outside people sat in their little shops creating things by hand at the most amazing speeds. The silver jewellers is apparently famous across the whole of Bulgaria and his produce was incredibly cheap.

Hiding from the rain

We decided to follow our bellies and bought three different sweets to try from the bakers/sweet shop. The meringue Sweet Kiss was our favourite and was about 60p.

A Sweet Kiss from the bakery (1.60 lev or 60p)

It rained hard while we were here but there was plenty of shelter in the huts. The last place we visited was the blacksmiths. There was a picture on the wall of a very elegant cart and it turned out that he (the blacksmith) had made it. The next day, I found that cart on one of the streets of Veliko Tarnovo.

The blacksmith’s cart outside a restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo
Following the museum we had some lunch at a restaurant nearby (not as dear as you might expect) and drove up the mountain to the UFO. Check out the next post for how to break and enter the old communist conference center just outside of Veliko Tarnovo.
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