Archive for the ‘4. Towns in Bulgaria’ Category

Koprivshtitsa – 1030m Above Seal Level

July 20, 2010

Narrow cobbled streets, coulourful houses with unique architecture in Bulgarian Revival Period style, numerous small museums, craft shops, cool mountain fresh air – that’s Koprivshtitsa for me and it’s always worth a visit.

Souvenir Shop in Koprivshtitsa

How to get there: If you are driving from Sofia you have to take Botevgradsko Shosse which eventually becomes E79 and E871. At the intersection where these two split, you need to take Е871 road (also known as the Under-Balkan Road) on your right just after Lukoil gas station. Koprivshisa is only about 110 km from Sofia but for the last 15 kilometres you should be prepared for a winding road so the whole journey takes almost 2 hours. See google map.
You can get to Koprivshtitsa by bus or by train. The buses stop right in the centre of the town. Note that the train station is far from the town’s centre – about 8 kilometres. Although there are shuttles and taxis they are not 100% reliable.

The house of Dimcho Debelyanov - famous Bulgarian poet

What to see: Just take your camera and one of the narrow cobbled streets… All the houses are built in this specific architectural style of the National Revival Period. Thanks to the local construction law all new or renovated buildings are designed in the same style. Whether it’s a private house, the tourist information centre, or a souvenir shop… they all look like they’ve been built in the  1850s.

You’ll run into different museum houses – all of them unique but at the same time very much alike. The taxes for visitors are quite low.

You have to see the Oslekov’s House – a beautiful, original house which will give you a good idea of how a well-off Bulgarian family lived in 1850’s – 1900’s.  The house was built by a rich local merchant Nencho Oslekov. In his tailor shop were made the uniforms of the participants in the Uprising of April 1876.

Oslekov's House

Guest room in Oslekov's House

Room for handiwork

I am not going to get deep into history here. It is much better to get a local tell you the stories of Koprivshtitsa. Ask about how the town got its name, about the 3 times Koprivshtitsa has been burnt down, about the first gun shot of the April Uprising, about Kokon mahala (the Dame neighborhood)… I don’t know another Bulgarian town with so many stories to tell.

The Old Church - the Assumption (Uspenie Bogorodichno)

The New Church - St Nikolai Church

Where to stay: We’ve stayed at two different hotels (Kozlekov Hotel and Todorini Kashti) and they both have the same problem – thin walls. Hotel Kozlekov has one big advantage – a great terrace with a wonderful view of the unique town of Koprivshtitsa.

Where to eat: the best meals are prepared in 20 April Restaurant right on the main square.  I can’t say that the place is too cozy but the food is excellent. They have the best Shkembe Chorba and Lamb Soup! It is not by chance that locals dine there – they know best where they can have good food in town. And if you can get the owner, George, to tell you some Koprivshtitsa history you can’t ask for more from your Koprivshtitsa visit.

20 April Restaurant

Interesting Events: About once every four years the National Folklore Fest takes place in Koprivshtitsa. Performers from all over the world come to Koprivshtitsa to participate. If you are planning to be there you need to reserve a place to sleep way in advance. This year I’ll be there to feature the event. 10th National Folklore Fest – Koprivshtitsa 2010 coming soon…

Pleven – Sit Back and Relax

June 19, 2010

In a world without boundaries we are tempted by distant exotic destinations. The further from home – the more exotic and desirable. Then, one day, we are surprised to discover our own home town. We  now see it with a different eye and enjoy the charms of this place the way we never have before.

I was born in a mid-size Bulgarian town. The moment I finished high school I moved to the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia and since then I’ve been everywhere else but my hometown Pleven.

Rainbow over Pleven

A Tiny Bit of History
As it turns out Pleven has ancient history. It was a Thracian settlement, a Roman province and a fortress. It is mostly known for being a major battle scene during the Russo-Turkish War, which you will be reminded of by every monument you see.

The town of Pleven in Bulgaria
At first Pleven looks like a typical post-communist mid-size Bulgarian town. You will see the usual large marble square, the monuments of the Russo –Turkish War and the concrete residential districts inherited from communist time.
However, Pleven is a very special town. It is quiet, laid back and green. It has the most beautiful fountain cascade and when the lights are on in the evening the square looks magical.

Pleven's Town Hall

If you wanna go for a super pleasant 30 minute relaxed walk start from “Pleven’s  Big Ben” (the town hall) – a big red building with a clock tower, where the offices of the municipality reside – and just walk down the square. You’ll pass the marble square with the fountains, continue along a street lined with cafes, pass the Drama Theatre and then reach the shady “Old Main Street’’.  I love its old houses and its cool shade in the summer. And the best thing  – nowhere you will see or hear or watch out for cars. It’s all pedestrian.

Must  see

Here is a short list of ‘must sees’ in Pleven, Bulgaria

Kaylaka Park Reserve in Pleven – a huge park – one day is not enough to explore. It is ideal for biking and walking.

Kaylaka Park Reserve

Kaylaka Park

Pleven Panorama – this is a kind of monument-museum , which depicts the Russo-Turkish War. I remember I was quite impressed as a kid by the reality of the set-scenes. Pleven Panorama is located in a beautiful area –  Skobelev Park close to the so-called Dead Valley Lake. The valley is “dead” because it was covered with the bones of soldiers.

Pleven Regional Historical Museum – one of the largest museums in Bulgaria.

The Chapel Mausoleum – you can’t miss it even if you wanted to. Its right in the centre of the square. There is the “eternal fire” burning in front and the bones of soldiers resting inside.

The Chapel Mausoleum

Cafeteria Street (that’s not its official name) – Pleven is THE place for drinking coffee and chilling. There is a whole street lined up with cafes full of beautiful young people doing just that. There is a word that Pleven women are extraordinary beautiful. Choose a soft chair, order an espresso and enjoy the view:)

Pleven Plattenbauten – just out of curiosity you might wanna visit one of these residential areas – “Druzhba” or “Storgozia”. A bunch of large-panel system buildings or LPS, looking just like one another. Its pathetic! I actually grew up in one of those. The good part was that we had sooo many neighbours and friends – it was never boring!

Concrete Monsters

Pleven is all about drinking espresso and shopping clothes. For a small town like Pleven the 3 shopping malls are a little too much!

Where to stay

I can’t really recommend any hotels in Pleven. They are not cheap due to the lack of tourist flow. I would stay in Park Hotel Kaylaka or Orbita hotel only because they are located in Kaylaka park.

Park Hotel Kaylaka

Quick facts about Pleven, Bulgaria

Location:  (see map) about 2.15 h driving North East from the capital – Sofia

Population: about 80 000
Must see: Kaylaka Park Reserve, Pleven Panorama, Regional Historical Museum, the Chapel Mausoleum, The Drama Theatr

Best time to visit: April – June and September – October

*Most of the photos in this post are a present from my friend Martin Milev. Thank you Marto!

A Different New Year Experience – Kukeri

December 15, 2009

I am not crazy about New Year’s celebrations – the noise, the crowd, the smoke, the eating. So I am always happy when I find an alternative to the regular spending of New Year. Last year this happened thanks to the Kukeri in Razlog town.

What: Kukeri is a Bulgarian folk tradition with deep pagan roots. It is the strangest carnival!

When: 1st of January; (in the west part of Bulgaria the Kukeri tradition is celebrated around New Year, the peak now being Jan 1st)

Where: town of Razlog. The tradition is celebrated all over the country, but it is especially strong in Razlog, Pernik, Bansko, Smolyan, Rakovski

Where to stay: Razlog is a town close to Bansko – Bulgaria’s most popular ski resort. The two settlements are in something like competition. You can stay in either one. Now, ski resorts are not in my competence since they can never be alternative destinations (still, I love to ski). I assume it will be cheaper to stay in Razlog since it is a bigger town, while Bansko is more of a resort. Here is a list of hotels in Razlog. Here is a useful blog about Bansko if you prefer to stay there.

Anyways, what matters is the Kukeri experience which is… unique!

Early in the morning on January 1st, I mean very early, around 5:30am, we woke up by the sound of numerous sheep bells. People in scary goat fur costumes and sheep bells around their waist, dancing around the big alder tree in front of our hotel. The strange costumes, the blue morning and the sound of the bells make it all seem like a weird dream (the drinks from the previous night also contributed to this. Kukeri is an old, very old tradition of pagan times, which Bulgarians were somehow able to preserve.

kuker – Razlog, Jan 1st, 2009

You wander what’s with these crazy people so early in the morning on January 1st. I think they do it for the show, for fun and because they are still superstitious.

According to the old Kukeri tradition the bachelors dress up in costumes made of  sheep or goat skin, with the fur on the outside; they tie sheep bells around their waist; they put scary masks on, usually made of wood; the most ancient masks represent goats,  rams or bulls; some of the masks have two faces – an evil one on the front and a good one on the back, symbolizing the connection between good and evil. These scary men usually have a leader, who is a married man. The groups visit every household, wishing  health, rich crop and welfare and receive small gifts in return (flower, beans, eggs).

kuker – dancing bear, Razlog 2009

The whole purpose of these strange tradition – the scary costumes, masks, bells and dancing is to scare evil away and to have a good, healthy and abundant new year. Bulgarians believed, for example, that if you name your child with a scary name this will keep  diseases and evil away and the child will be healthy and happy, even though it carries a scary name.

In Razlog they have preserved the ancient Kukeri tradition to a large extent, but they have also added a modern and a local spice to it. I saw men dressed like women,  babies and bears. The scary people would often go to a random person and wrestle with him/her for a while. The whole thing have grown into a competition between Razlog’s neighborhoods. Eventually, everyone arrives at the town’s central square, where the tradition turns into an officially organized event and now it’s time for us to go…

Finally, this strange Kukeri tradition will take you to a different world for a while – the sound of the sheep bells early in the morning, the hairy monsters jumping around, the crazy masks and costumes, the slow life of the small town – it’s totally worth it for a different New Year!