29th September - 6th October, 2012
The amazing frescoes, hot sun, beautiful scenery, inspiring lecturer, John, and our local guide, Nadga, all made for a memorable trip.
Our three-centre tour started in Sofia, a very pleasant city with Roman remains, and Byzantine and Turkish architecture, and some very large more modern buildings. Some of these were seen during our walking tour, which included the Russian Saint Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, where we witnessed part of an Orthodox Service accompanied by wonderful choral singing. We visited a couple of older churches and just caught the changing of the guard. As well as the National Historical Museum, we visited the tiny medieval Boyana church, a real gem with its amazingly lifelike C13 frescoes. A very splendid drive into the mountains took us to the very large Rila Monastery, with superb frescoes. We finished our Sofia stay with an evening of folklore singing and dancing with several of our group taking part.
Then off over the mountains, via the isolated smaller monastery of Troyan, to Veliko Tarnovo, once a capital, with a fortified hill almost surrounded by the River Yantra (reminiscent of Durham). We had a fantastic view of this from our hotel and next day climbed, gently, to the church on the top. One highlight was the little church in the village of Arbanassi which was completely covered with marvellous C17 frescos – breathtaking!
We then travelled over the beautiful, forested mountains, via a tiny village where traditional crafts are still made, and went to the amazing painted beehive shaped fourth century BC tomb of a Thracian noble and also to a museum housing some Thracian gold and silver grave goods of an incredibly high standard of workmanship, not forgetting the copy of a large bronze head of King Seuthes – extraordinary. The original is at present in the Bronze Exhibition at the RA. Do go and see it if you can (until 9 December 2012!). Finally to Plovdiv and its fascinating old town with a well-pre-served Roman theatre and lots of former merchants’ houses in traditional style, some now museums with C19 furnishings and artefacts.
Our last evening was a wine tasting and a meal at a winery, sampling and buying some very palatable wines. Before our flight home we had time to wander round the conservation village of the unpronounceable Koprivshtitsa – very peaceful. A most memorable week and from my point of view a very enjoyable ‘swansong’. Bulgaria is a very interesting and beautiful country and we could not have had a better guide than John. We hope to be able to go on future tours with him.
Many thanks to all who have come on my tours in the past years. I do hope to see you on future trips organised by Liz Parker