Archive for the ‘5. Interesting Events / Festivals’ Category

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!

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A Bagpipe Fest You Will Never Forget

November 29, 2009

A Bagpipe Playing Contest in Bulgaria’s Greenest Mountain

A view of the village of Gela

The Ilinden Fest takes place in the first weekend of August in a beautiful area, next to the small village of Gela in the Rhodope Mountains. There, by the tiny St Iliya chapel, pipe players from Bulgaria and all over the world come to sound their pipes over the green mountain slopes.

This will give you only a slight idea of the event.

People hold hands and dance the Bulgarian folk dance “Horo” or just chill in the shade with a  cold beer and enjoy the mastership of the pipe players. Nature and music blend in an intoxicating mixture and you don’t want this to end.  It makes you wander how can such beautiful music  come from a kidskin bag!?

The contest takes place during the day, but  it is when the sun goes down that the  real party starts – a different kind of party.  People make fires, play music and sing songs until they can. Some of them sleep in tents, some in their cars, others under the sky…

Later on

Later-er on

Useful info about the Pipe Fest

When: first weekend of August

Where: in Bulgaria, by the small village of Gela in the Rhodope Mountains. Gela is a very, very old settlement. The legend says that Orpheus, the famous Thracian singer and musician was born in this area.

How to get there: see driving directions from Sofia to the village of Gela. The journey takes about 3 hrs.

Who goes there: everyone who wants to listen to some beautiful pipe music in the heart of the most beautiful mountain in Bulgaria – the Rhodope Mountains. I’ve seen all kinds of people there – young, old, musicians, software engineers, Americans, Dutch, Chinese. I even met my English teacher from high school there.  She came to Bulgaria to teach English and she fell in love with our country.  She is an American and she played the “Horo” dance better than most Bulgarians:) Way to go Kate!

What is there to eat and drink: a lot. You can buy beer and soft drinks, rotisserie-roasted meat, BBQ, sandwiches, nuts and sweets.

Where to stay:

– you can camp in the area but remember: it is not a camping ground and there are no showers or lavatories. There is a fountain with natural, cold spring water, which is good for drinking.

The area of the Pipe Fest from afar

– there is a Tourist Information Centre in Shiroka Laka village, about 8 km. from the village of Gela.  See directions from Shiroka Laka to Gela village. Here are the contacts of the Tourist Information Centre: tel. +359 03030 / 233, eor@rhodope.org. They can help you find an accommodation that is suitable for your needs – a hotel  or a room in a local family house. The local families are known to be very hospitable and clean.

Here are some links to accommodation in the area:

Filter Guest House, spelled “Филтер” in Bulgarian (no English version of the website) – we’ve stayed there. It is situated in the very village of Shiroka Laka. It is nice and clean with a large kitchen space with a fireplace. There are 4 rooms in the house – 2 rooms  for 2/3 people and 2 rooms for 4 people. Each room has a separate bathroom. See the gallery for pictures of the house and the rooms.

Kalina Hotel – we’ve stayed there as well; It is in the centre of the centre:) of Shiroka Laka and it gets quite crowded during the Pipe fest. Its restaurant is always crowded – not because its so good, but because it became a popular place. People like to chill there for 2 reasons: to watch the street and to listen to bagpipe maestros who often play there. Contacts – see the website of Kalina Hotel.

The following we have not stayed at but they look decent:

Tishina Villa in the village of Gela

Gela Hotel in the village of Gela – a quite expensive hotel

Beevski Villa in the village of Gela

If you have questions about Gela Pipe Fest or about accommodation in the area you can use the contact form or write to me at truebulgaria@gmail.com.

The road to Shiroka Laka