We passed through the small village of Shipka early on Wednesday morning. There really isn’t much there besides the Nativity Memorial Church, which is part of the Shipka Monastery. However, this beautiful church alone is well worth the visit. It’s onion-shaped golden domes can be seen from miles away and are even more stunning up close. The church exterior is vividly colored and the interior, while more muted, is just as colorful. Again, we were the only people on the property (save for a worker or two) and enjoyed the solitude by walking around the grounds (where we heard and then spotted a woodpecker–quite exciting for me!) and then by spending lots of time inside the quiet church. Out of all the churches and monasteries that I have visited in Bulgaria–and there are lots–this one was by far my favorite. It is a bit on the gaudy side, but in that totally eye catching and memorable way. To remember our visit, I picked up two small icons. Not only did I want to help support the church, but I love Orthodox icons. I had never bought any previously; this incredible gorgeous building compelled me to, however. I envision them sitting with all my other toursit-y tchotchkes (not that I think these are tacky) on a dedicated shelf or bookcase in my house one day.
After leaving the church, we drove through the Shipka Pass.We had planned on climbing the 900 or so steps up to the impressive Shipka Memorial–which honors the Russian and Bulgarian soldiers who perished near the site in the Battles for the Shipka Pass during the Bulgarian Liberation–but there was way too much snow on both the road to the memorial and the stairs to even attempt it. So, rather than admit defeat, we sat in our car at the bottom of the hill (with just the very tip top of the memorial visible) and enjoyed our lunch.
In the distance one can see the UFO-shaped (and rather creepy) Buzludja monument. This ideological monument was constructed in 1981 during communism to honor the first socialist congress. As communism ended just a few years later, the imposing monument was abandoned and has since fallen into complete disrepair. Again, there was too much snow and the road up there was closed, but I am completely intrigued with abandoned spaces (also called urban explorations, check out the documentary called Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness for more on this fascinating topic) and really hope to get up there one day to check out the inside and take some photos.
(Side note: there is some confusion (not just on my part) as to whether or not “communism” should be capitalized if it isn’t at the beginning of a sentence. I don’t capitalize it. Just sayin’.)
*Update (Thanks for the link, Lauren)- For more stunning photos of Bulgaria, like the one above, be sure to take a look at the work of photographer Alexander Ivanov. His work is beautiful and shows many views of Bulgaria (including from the air!).*
Our next stop was the small artist’s enclave of Etar (south of Gabrovo). Unfortunately, nothing much was going on (foiled by winter again!), so I took a few pics and we got back on to the road.
During the warmer months of the year, Etar’s nearly 50 shops and workshops–all situated on a narrow lane beside a stream–attract many visitors who come to see traditional Bulgarian arts and crafts being made. The hiking opportunities in the surrounds hills are rumored to be excellent as well.
Add Etar to the list of places to re-visit in the summer!
Gabrovo itself, while large, didn’t seem to have all that much to offer. There is a museum dedicated to comedy, The House of Humour and Satire, but we didn’t go in.
We ended the day in Veliko Tarnovo, but that deserves a post to itself!
See you back here tomorrow!