This post was updated on June 29th, 2020
Off the beaten track – Veliko Tarnovo
Since our arrival yesterday, the weather has not been the best to explore Veliko Tarnovo. We make our way toward Ruse today. Along the way, we add stops to photograph the Bjalabridge as well as a visit to the rock-hewn monastery of the Holy Archangel Michel in Rusenski Lom. Of course, we cannot just pass the waterfall on the way back, or the beautiful light display later in town, so stay tuned for today’s adventure.
Veliko Tarnovo, Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Breakfast is served
At breakfast, Evo tells me that he knocked on my door earlier this morning. He wanted to see if I was up for an early walk through Veliko Tarnovo. I didn’t hear him as I was asleep, but I would have been up for it. Next time he’ll have to knock harder.
Since the weather forecast for Veliko Tarnovo isn’t too promising, we are going on a tour toward Ruse. The town is located on the Danube border to Romania. Our first stop happens so soon, it hits me by surprise. There is no way that we have already arrived. No, of course not. However, there is this stunning old bridge over the Yantra, we cannot just go on.
Belenski Most / Belenski Bridge
The old bridge, known as Belenski Most (Bulgarian: Беленски мост) or Belenski Bridge, crossing the Yantra river (Bulgarian: Янтра) near Bjala (Bulgarian: Бяла) serves as our first stop. Built between 1865 and 1867 it reaches a length of 276 meters. Evo and Phil are starting to do some drone photography while I decide to take a walk, crossing the new bridge. I can turn it into a circle while photographing the old one. On my way back I find a statue. It is almost invisible from the new bridge, yet my deciphering of the Cyrillic letters does not get me very far.
Upon my return to the group, I show Evo the photos of the statue. He explains that it is one of Kolju Fitcheto (Bulgarian: Колю Фичето), a famous Bulgarian master builder. He is – among others – also the master builder behind the St. Spas Church (Bulgarian: Цъпкба Сб Спас) in Veliko Tarnovo. The construction of the church took place between 1859 and 1862. But it got destroyed by a magnitude 7 earthquake on June 14, 1913, I can see its ruin from my hotel room’s window.
From the bridges to the rock-hewn Monasteries
Naturepark Rusenski Lom and the monolithic monastery
Back in the car, we continue our tour toward the Nature park Rusenski Lom. Its gorge like river valleys and rock-hewn churches make the park a famous one. These valleys are pretty surprising if one considers the location being in the Danube plain. From the parking lot it is a short, but steep, walk up to the church of the Holy Mother of God (Bulgarian: Тсапка Сбета Бороподица), or in short “The church.”
The church belongs to the Holy Archangel Micheal monolithic monastery. It was founded in the early 1400s by the later patriarch Yoakim. Supported by the kings of the Second Bulgarian Empire, the monastery had a significant role in the development of the Bulgarian culture of the medievals. It even continued to thrive throughout the first part of the Ottoman yoke. However, it was abandoned toward the end of the 17s century. With its beautiful frescoes, it is today part of the UNESCO World heritage.
The view from the former entrance – now balcony – of the church over the Nature park Rusenski Lom is breathtaking. To think that there are several more rock-hewn churches in the area. They all belong to the Holy Archangel Michael monastery, in these mountains. How long must it have taken to build one of these? But several? Despite its small size, this church leaves an as big impression with me as many of its “bigger sisters.”
On our way back to the car, for which we take a different route, we pass yet another of these churches. Or maybe it was the living space for the monks? And of course, we do stop for more photo shoots. Especially when they are served directly on our way, as these beautiful green and blue dragonflies.
At lunchtime, we finally make it to Ruse (Bulgarian: Русе). Evo used his chance to get a recommendation for a restaurant back at the monastery. So he can take us to one from where we not only enjoy the view over the Danube but the food as well. Who would not enjoy such beautifully presented, and delicious desserts?
Our walk through the town of Ruse is shortened by the heat, which is burning down on us. But at least I have a chance to fill up my supplies for anti-itch cream. Who would ever have expected to use two packages in just a few days? As always we are behind schedule before we start our way back. Yes, it would have been nice to visit the ruins of the Nikopolis ad Istrum. However, in this heat and with the time constraint that we have, it is this time not possible. Instead, we visit the Basarbovo monastery.
Basarbovo rock-hewn monastery
This rock-hewn monastery dates back to the 12s century, the first known written reference dates back to an Ottoman tax register from 1431.
The monastery probably got its name from its most famous resident, St. Dimitrii Besarbovski. There are a few conflicting legends passed around regarding the Saint. Some have him born in 1685, some let him die in 1685, some say he was a monk, some he was an abbott while others make him a lay brother moving into the cloister after his wife’s death. What is known, however, is that his relics were, in 1774, moved from his grave in Bulgaria to Bucharest, Romania. This happened toward the end of one of the Russo-Turkish wars (1768-1774). Since then his remains are resting in the Church of Sts. Constantine. Dimitri Besarbovski was canonized in 1955.
Basarbovo Monastery (Bulgarian: Басарбовски манастир) or St. Dimitrii of Basarbovo (Bulgarian: Св. Димитрий Басарбовски) is the only active rock-hewn monastery in Bulgaria. Though it was abandoned for some time, it was reopened and renovated by monk Hrisant, who settled here in 1937.
A staircase leads up to the original church, which now is the home to a woodcarver iconostasis from 1941.
A second, more prominent, cloister church has been erected in 2015. It features beautiful frescoes and another gorgeous wooden iconostasis in front of the altar room. Once more any expectation of what I thought Bulgaria would be like has been excelled upon. So far, all the places Karin, Phil, and Evo have taken me to have been so incredibly beautiful.
Hotnitsa falls and sunflowers
Before we head back to Veliko Tarnovo, we are planning for another photo-stop at the Hotnitsa (Bulgarian: Хотница) waterfalls. However, on the way, we find a good reason to add one more stop. There is one more beautiful field of sunflowers, so we cannot just pass by, we have to stop to take photos. This time even I can get out of the car, as it looks as if there are fewer bees around.
Though I don’t think Karin expected me to go this close to the flowers. She immediately tells me not to get bitten today. Well, I suppose it would be better for her to explain to the bees not to eat me alive, I am only here to photograph 😀
After a more extended break than expected, we are ready to go on to Hotsnitsa falls. Though not quite as stunning as Krushuna falls, the lake and hiking path along still allows for a beautiful, relaxing time. Well, that is until we reach some rather steep ladders and steps. Do they plan these pathways for giants everywhere? Anyway, despite a small reminder of my fear of heights, I am making my way along with a little help and guidance from Evo. Who knows, maybe I am getting the hang of this after all?
Phil now updates my status from mountain goat to mountain lion in training, so at least there is some progress to show for 🙂
Too sad, this is not a loop-path but one-way hiking, and it is a deteriorating path in some places. So we don’t hike the entire way but instead, get back to the car to head on to Veliko Tarnovo.
Dinnertime and a show for the night
Dinnertime is closing in, and with all these adventures I am getting a little hungry too. But our experiences today do not end with dinner. We are extra lucky because tonight there will be a light show over the fortress of Veliko Tarnovo. This is supposed to be a reminder of the days of the Ottoman conquest of the fort. All streetlights get turned off during the show, which this time only lasts for about 20 minutes. There are longer shows, which are accompanied by music as well, but not today. I am lucky that it is while I am here and it is not raining, so what more could I have asked for?
Just for the fun of it, I decided to try out the video function of my camera. It’s not a long video I am aiming for as I still want the photographs, but despite its short length, it turns out rather well.
Tomorrow we are heading south into the Central Balkan, but before that, I am heading to bed.