Lavender fields & Legends

Lavender fields & Legends

This post was updated on August 24th, 2020

Off the beaten track – Zabardo

After yesterday’s hot-air balloon adventures we stay on the ground today. Enjoying the sunrise in the lavender fields, before we start our journey discovering the legends of the Wonderful Bridges, not without other discoveries in between.

Zabardo, Friday, June 22, 2018

Sunrise over the Lavender fields of Shipka

It’s another early morning for us. So early indeed that the front door of our accommodation is still locked. Is that why my keychain has two keys? Yes, one fits just perfectly. Off we go to photograph the lavender fields in the sunrise with Buzludzha in the background. It seems harder to find a spot to park then to find a perfect lavender field, but both are solvable problems. While Phil, Karin and I run off, Evo stays behind for some drone photography.

Lavender fields of Shipka
Lavender fields of Shipka

But it is not only Buzludzha, which I can see in the distance, I can also see the golden domes of Shipka Memorial Church. Too sad there aren’t enough hours in the day to fit in everything, or I would have loved to go there for some photographs as well. But we still have some driving ahead of us, after all, we are going to leave the Central Balkan behind us and go for the Rhodope Mountains. Before that, though, I am enjoying my time in this lavender field with the early morning light.

Poppies in the Lavender field
Poppies in the Lavender field

Time to move on

Every place that we have visited so far has been so worth it. But as the early morning slowly fades away, so does the color of the light. Time to pack up and go back to the accommodation for breakfast.

Yet before I can get out of the car, Evo turns back, looks at me, and asks: “Wiebke, would you like to go to the church?”

Wait, what? That guy is reading my mind! Of course, I would love to, so after just a brief stop for some private stuff, he is actually going to take me. 

When a tripod is not good enough

When we arrive at the church, he stays behind for some cat-photography, while I just grab a tripod and head up the stairs. As I am trying to set up my camera for the first photo, I come to realize that “a tripod” is not necessarily good enough. I grabbed Karin’s, which uses a different plate than the one that I have on my camera. Well, let’s call it an early morning exercise as I run back down the stairs. Of course, Evo’s first reaction is to ask me if I am done already. That would indeed have been a new record, or I suppose it would have meant some rather significant obstacles in my way. Nope, I am only here to get the right tripod and then I run back up the stairs again.

Shipka Memorial Church

Shipka Memorial Church
Shipka Memorial Church

The Shipka Memorial Church, or rather the Memorial Temple of the Birth of Christ (Bulgarian: Храм-паметник “Рождество Христово”) was built to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the battle of Shipka from 1877. It is dedicated to the Russian-Bulgarian friendship. The construction began in 1885, following a design by A. Tomishko for a muscovite-style church. The inauguration as a Russian-orthodox-church took place on September 27, 1902 – 25 years after the battle of Shipka. Today the church is used as a Bulgarian-orthodox church though. Its bell tower houses 17 bells created out of 30 tones of used battle cartridges, with the largest bell weighing a stunning 12 tonne. These bells are a gift by the Russian Emperor Nikolaj II – yes, that is the last tsar of Russia.

Details of Shipka Memorial Church
Details of Shipka Memorial Church

Persuading arguments

I have barely finished photographing the west side of this impressive church when Evo tells me that it is time for breakfast.

Ups. Apparently, we are back on Wiebke’s schedule now. He is even threatening me to leave me alone and go back to the accommodation to have something to eat.

But…I don’t speak Bulgarian. What if the monks make me sign some paper, which I do not understand, and when he comes back it turns out I signed up to become a monk for a lifetime? Thankfully this is a rather convincing argument for Evo, so he does not leave me after all, but gives me a little more time to take some more photographs. But then…I cannot leave him behind on that bench to starve either, can I? Well, there is nothing that a granola bar cannot fix, and a granola bar is almost always in my backpack. He can have a second breakfast later, and I have more time to photograph, win-win. In the meantime, Karin and Phil are obviously starving at the accommodation…Sorry guys.

West side of Shipka Memorial Church
West side of Shipka Memorial Church

Inside of Shipka Memorial Church

Time is just flying by, and I could probably spend all day just photographing this one church. Once more Evo points out the time – this time, however, it is time to have a look inside the just-opened church. And its inside is as impressive as its outside. Even better: they do allow photography against a small fee.

Evo looks at the Dome, looks at me and then asks “Wiebke, can you get that?” Yes, I can. Lying down on the floor to steady my camera, it should work out.

Frescos inside Shipka Memorial Church
Frescos inside Shipka Memorial Church

Too sad I don’t have the time to explore the entire inside of the church with my camera, but we need to go back to our accommodation and save Karin and Phil! I really need to stay longer in Bulgaria. Evo, who has asked me to do so multiple times already, is definitively right on that one. If only I could…

Icons on the way down to the hidden altar
Icons on the way down to the hidden altar

Going toward the Rhodope Mountains

After some delicious pancakes with Bulgarian yogurt and bilberry jam – not to mention surprisingly delicious herbal tea – we get our stuff packed and get going. It is time to say goodbye to the Central Balkan as we make our way toward the Rhodope Mountains. Technically we are now entering the region of a South Loop of the Creative Endeavors photography tour in Bulgaria, however, Karin was so nice to expand my tour when she heard that I was interested in seeing the South too.


Of course, not directly, our first stop is in Plovdiv (Bulgarian: Пловдив). The city’s history dates back more than 8000 years into the Neolithic period. The city is surrounded by seven hills or Tepe. The Mariza river connects the city to the Rila Mountains as well as the Aegean Sea.

Visible history in Plovdiv

Its Thracian, Roman and Macedonian history are still visible. Evo points them out from the Roman amphitheater, which we are visiting. It is one of the best-preserved amphitheaters in the world. Dating back to the 1st century AD and it is still in use today. Indeed, later today, a performance of Madame Butterfly takes place here. Therefore, workers are covering some of the ancient architecture.

Despite this and despite the heat, we enjoy the view over the city of Plovdiv. Evo points out buildings from different periods from our viewpoint. If you dig deep enough, you will, for sure find something of historical value in this city. One area built onto the previous one.

Revival style house in Plovdiv
Revival style house in Plovdiv

The heat is starting to wear us out, just a little bit. So we are leaving the amphitheater behind us for a short stroll through the old town of Plovdiv. 

Time for a break

Nevertheless, it is time for something cold to drink and maybe even a little bite, in the shade.
After lunch, we continue our southbound journey as we are heading toward Wonderful Bridges. This, however, not without another stop along the road at the Bachkovo Monastery.

Indeed, Karin leaves the decision where to go to me. Do I want to see another monastery or rather go to the ruins of the Asen fortress? With this weather the choice is easy, I like some shade, please.

Legends of Bachkovo Monastery’s Icon

The Bachkovo Monastery “Virgin Mary” (Bulgarian: Бачковски манастир “Св. Богородица”) was established as a Georgian monastery in 1083 by Grigorii Bakuriani and his brother Abasili. Though the latter did not live to see its completion.

Miracle-working icon

At the beginning of the period of the Ottoman yoke, its miracle-working icon of the Holy Virgin was hidden in the area of Kluviata (Bulgarian: Клувията) and forgotten. First, in the 17s century, it was found again and taken back to the monastery. Yet later on the icon disappeared two times by itself. Found later by some perplexed monks in the Kluviata region. Since its last return, the icon got a special place in the cathedral church of the monastery. There everybody in need can now easily access it. To commemorate the hiding and finding of the icon, every year on the second day of Easter, a special procession takes place. It dates back to the 17s century. During the procession, the icon is taken out of the cathedral back to its finding site to return back to the cathedral.

Exploring the Monastery

On the wall of the Old Refectory, I find a panoramic fresco. The largest one in Bulgaria from the 19s century, showing this special procession.

Old Refectory with a fresco of the procession -  – Lavender fields & Legends
Old Refectory with a fresco of the procession

Today’s monastery temple dates back to 1604 and is built on the remains of the old church. The shape of the new church is similar to that of its predecessor. While the early church was a three-legged three-stranded building, the new one is single-stranded and cross-legged. 

Compared to the Shipka Memorial Church, the inside is rather dark. Many of the frescoes showing scenes of the life of early Christian martyrs as well as images of Saints. Though it is a different style, it is a stunningly beautiful church.

Inside the church of the Bachkovo Monastery -  – Lavender fields & Legends
Inside the church of the Bachkovo Monastery

There is so much more to see here. Yet the weather starts acting against us. Heavy rain starts pouring down and we can hear thunderstorms in the distance. It is time to head back to the car and hope for better weather at our next location.

Along the way to Wonderful Bridges and its Legends – Lavender fields & Legends
Along the way to Wonderful Bridges

Wonderful Bridges and their legend

We are heading to an area called Wonderful Bridges (Bulgarian: Чудните Мостове) or Rock Bridges (Bulgarian: Скалите Мостове). Located in the beautiful Rhodope Mountains at 1450 meters above sea level. When I first saw “Wonderful Bridges” on the itinerary, I tried to find out more about them. However, my guidebook was of no help. So I was expecting man-made steel bridges of some sort. But finding bridges formed by water out of a cave while a small river is still passing through is something different. Surprising but not at all disappointing.

Wonderful Bridges and its Legends -  – Lavender fields & Legends
Wonderful Bridges

The Legend of the creation of Wonderful Bridges

Many years ago, there were a lot of shepherds in the locality of the village of Zabardo. A dragon appeared from somewhere and began to ravage their herds. For many years the shepherds suffered from the dragon’s raids. Finally, they came up with a way to outwit him. They loaded a donkey with tinder (dry substance made of wood fungus which is used for making fire from flint and steel), set it on fire and sent it against the dragon.
The dragon swallowed the donkey together with the tinder, which was burning slowly but surely. The dragon went crazy and desperately tried to escape, and finally found a small hole in the ground. His huge body opened the crack. Years later, when the dragon bones decomposed, the large arched bridges remained.

Exploring Wonderful Bridges

After a short hike, we reach one of the bridges. While Karin and Phil head-on, Evo stays behind with me. Not only to get me in one piece around the area. But also to teach me more about researching a subject with the camera. Once more, we are all over the place, trying to find the best spot to capture the bridge with a nice foreground.

Research with the camera in hand - Legends of Wonderful Bridges -  – Lavender fields & Legends
Research with the camera in hand

He takes me to places that I would not be able to reach on my own. I am – as always – amazed by the beauty of this place but also by the amount of fun I can have in just one day. Finally, we make our way through the arch of the bridge and join Karin again. Yet here I am, spotting more photos in the river.

Time to get my feet wet

The description of my hiking boots said something about being waterproof, so why not test it to the limit? Well, these are hiking and no rubber boots. So after a while, in the water, they do get a little damp inside. But when the water first starts running into them from the top Evo declares that if I still have dry feet, he’d like to get my boots.

Moments later Phil returns from a newly discovered spot in the river, asking me if I was very much against getting my feet wet. No, not really. So he takes me to his place. Ordinary people only can reach it through the river. Evos, however, can do so without getting into the river at all…super powers I am sure!

Wonderful Bridges - a legendary place –  – Lavender fields & Legends
Wonderful Bridges – a legendary place

Dinnertime and missing clothes

I cannot say how much time has passed since we arrived at Wonderful Bridges. My feet are soaking wet through and – returning to Karin and Evo – I find that I am rather hungry. Nothing better than sharing some granola bars before we head back to the car.

There is a small restaurant right next to the parking lot. According to some locals Evo is talking to, it is the only one in the area too. So let’s just go there and have dinner, before we head on to tonight’s accommodation in Zabardo (Bulgarian: Забърдо).

Time to say good night

Thankfully our new hosts can provide me with some old newspapers. Not to read but to dry my shoes with, overnight. But before I head into my bed, I do want to find my sports trousers and some long hiking trousers too. Where are they? Did I leave them behind in Kalofer? I am sure that I did not see them this morning in Shipka? It is too late now. I need to get some sleep, so I’ll have a look for them tomorrow before we leave. Maybe I can find them in daylight? 

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