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Monday, August 22, 2016

Day 25, April 15, Russe, Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi, Bulgaria

The long ship arrived in Russe, Bulgaria about 8 AM on Friday April 15th.  By 9 AM we are aboard a bus heading into the heart of Bulgaria.  That tour lasted till 5:30 PM so no time was wasted!   Immediately the guide pointed out one of the last remaining sections of track of the original Orient Express.

We passed churches, one with the lovely little garden. There were some buildings in need of repair and others with wonderful architectural features.  There was so much to see and attempt to photograph.   Again, so different than driving around in say Austin or Dallas.

The Monument to Angel Kanchev, a revolutionary against the Ottoman, was sitting on an island at an intersection.  The bus barely slowed enough for a photo.

Next up was Knyaz Aleksandar Batenberg Square.  A lovely fountain in the center was flanked by buildings housing schools, the National Library, Regional Historical Museum and on old Post Building.
From the old town center we moved toward a highway to take us to Veliko Tarnovo.  Along the way there were still some of the Soviet blok buildings along with a few plusher looking apartments.  Have I mentioned all the wires?  I guess I am so accustomed to underground utility cables in many areas I see regularly the cables were more noticeable.

Church Sveta Petka was one of the last 'points of interest' noted as we pulled away from Russe.  In less than 40 minutes we passed by all key tour points in Russe.  At least for this particular tour. A different tour from the boat spent the entire day in Russe.

With the next destination over an hour's drive we settled in to watch the surrounding countryside.  We saw vast fields of bright canola flowers in bloom covering entire hillsides.  These fields made such a beautiful contrast to the young leaves and grasses of the Bulgarian hinterlands.

More cowboys tending flocks in the wet fields.    Ruins of old forts and viaducts were some of the highlights as we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo.

Random artwork on buildings was so facilitating.  The military themed fence surrounded a former Soviet military sight.

Asen Dynasty Monument in Veliko Tarnovo

Yantra Grand Hotel

Love how the way the brewers have their tanks painted.

Overlook of Veliko Tarnovo on the road to Arbanasi

I could not pronounce this brand.  Nor did we get to try it.  Well, maybe at the restaurant later in Arbanasi.  The tour leaves Veliko Tarnovo and wound our way up to the little town.

Our first stop in Arbanasi was at a the Nativity Church.  The church is very nondescript on the exterior.  This lack of steeple and decoration is a result of the Ottoman occupation.  No church could taller than a mosque.  This lack of decoration on the outside was more than made up for on the interior.

The step to the inside of this building which was started in the late 1500's.  The series of rooms were additions to the first building.  As a result each room had a 6 inch or so threshold to negotiate.  The second addition was a room build for the women to attend services.  It was covered in frescoes of judgement. The 'first building' was the last room we entered.  It was narrow, lined on three sides with hard seats.  The walls and ceilings were covered by beautiful frescoes of the Nativity.

From the church we walked around the village.  There were folks selling along the street.  We were guided past them to a local merchant's shop.  We purchased rose brandy & rose hand creams. The quaint views along the way were more beautiful with all the spring bushes in bloom.

After we had cleaned out the shops we walked to a former
 merchant's home, "Konstantsaliev house".  The Arbanasi area was once a thriving trade center.  Mid 1800's Ottoman decrees removed the privileges of the trade and craft industries sending the town into decline.  The merchant's home is now a museum.   The current 'big' business is the production of rose oil.  During a certain time in the spring the rose petals are individually gathered by hand.  Er go the cost of the products in the local shops....

While the rest of the group climbed the stairs at the merchants home, we chose to walk the grounds.  In the back we found another little gift shop in the basement.  Hubby purchased rose oil for his favorite girl, our son's girlfriend.  Of course I did what I could to help the local economy, too.

Next up was lunch.
Again, we walked a sort distance to the hotel restaurant.  The Hotel Maraya courtyard area was a small museum of sorts.  Greeted with the traditional bread, dry herbs and a shot of brandy.  Distracted by all this, someone bumped one lady.  It was like dominoes as elderly ladies toppled or staggered out of the way.  Unfortunately one lady landed butt first in a small pond.  Nothing broken just badly bruised everywhere.  That sort of put a damper on the day for her for sure.

Lunch was a coleslaw type salad, stew and honeyed yogurt.  We were entertained by the dancing and music of local performers.   A cup of excellent espresso rounded out the meal perfectly.  Then it was back on the bus to head back down to Veliko Tarnovo.

This time we stopped for photo ops of the Tsarevets castle/fortress.  Hubby stayed on the bus and I headed out for a few photos.  Several of the folks hiked on up to visit the fortress.  I was still knee surgery plus about 80 days and decided that was not for me.

 Back on the bus we headed to the hotel we visited initially in Veliko Tarnovo.  Along the way we passed yet another interesting architectural feature on a building.  We disembarked and visited another shop filled with local arts.  I made my selections of an oven mitt and a small placemat size piece of cut and embroidery hand work.  (It is on my coffee table for us to enjoy each day.)

Hubby and I were pleased to go to the lobby lounge area to enjoy the view of the river and valley.  As noted the hotel was showing some wear.  It was still cool to see the mix of mid century and more formal style furniture.

The rest of the tour group eventually all gathered in the lobby.  The bus arrived and we headed back to the ship for our last night on board.  The bus was quiet for this hour long drive.  Photos now had full sun shining on the yellow fields.  We passed the field that was planted in 1981 to commemorate 1300 years of Bulgaria.

It must have been shift change for the cowboys as they were standing in pairs.

Once back in Russe, the afternoon sun reflected off the dome of Church Sveta Petka. Even the bloc apartments looked more welcoming.  With about an hour left before we sailed, a few of the folks chose to go looking about in Russe.

At 6:45 the anchor was raised and we literally just sailed to the opposite bank of the Danube.  An announcement that such and such person needed to come to the desk was promptly followed by a return back to the Russe side of the river.  Oops.  The guy said he was on time, the crew said well, maybe not!  Then it was back across the Danube!

Dinner, hugs and goodbyes were scrunched together.  The remainder of the evening was organizing the luggage for transfer to the hotel in Bucharest the next morning.  And finding room for the newest purchases.  Bedtime felt good and a little sad all at the same time.

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