Girl Meets Bulgaria

Musings of an American expat in Bulgaria (with detours in Utah and Alaska)


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A Friday Drive to Kardzhali (Кърджали)

**Warning: Post is picture heavy! Beautiful weather=snap happy Whitney!**

The hubster and I decided to get the hell out of dodge and take a drive yesterday. We are starting to run out of places to see close to home, so we branched out a bit and drove the nearly 2 hours to Kardzhali. The weather was gorgeous and people were out en masse enjoying the sun.

I don’t know much about Kardzhali, which is likely why it didn’t do much for me. But the drive from Smolyan was fantastic.

We literally drove around the city for about 15 minutes and then headed home.

We did stop and ask for directions to Perperikon (which I am dying to go see), but it was 20km outside of town and required a 2 mile hike. It was getting pretty late, so we decided to try and go back sometime in the future.

Now that I’ve done a little research on Kardzhali (which would have been helpful prior to visiting the city!), there are a few sites and museums that sound really interesting.

I am really looking forward to going back.

We also stopped in Ardino and asked some people for directions to Devil’s Bridge (Dyavolski most). Unfortunately, it was still too snowy for our little car, so we resolved to come back to this one as well.

Basically all this trip did was wet my travelin’ appetite! I’m planning a fairly epic week+ long trip across the country for Ventsi and I next month. I have GOT to explore more of BG before I head home at the end of next month.

Now on to the photos!

DAM!

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The Legend of Orpheus and Evridika

Statue of Orpheus and Evridika in Smolyan, Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains are steeped in legends and mythological tales. In Greek Mythology, the Rhodope Mountains were created when, in a fit of rage, Zeus and Hera turned Rhodope, the Queen of Thrace,  into a chain of mountains.

Likely the most famous figure around these parts is Orpheus, believed to have been born somewhere nearby. According to the myth, Orpheus was the son of a nymph named Calliope and the great Apollo. Orpheus was said to play the lyre with such beauty, that all who heard him were completely enchanted. His music was even known to charm wild and savage beasts as well as the very rocks on which he stood and the trees in the forest.

He fell in love with the beautiful Evridika (also known as Eurydice) but, alas, their love (like so many in mythology) was doomed from the start.

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One Month in Bulgaria + Introduction to Smolyan (Смолян)

Now that I’ve been in Bulgaria for a month (to the day), I figured it was high time I told you all about the city I now call home–Smolyan.

Side note: This also happens to be my 200th post. Fancy that!

Smolyan (Смолян) is settled in a valley in the central Rhodope mountains, between the Cherna (Black) and Byala (White) rivers. Archaeological evidence dates the region to around 1 B.C. The town’s name comes from the Smolyani tribe, who settled the area in the 7th century. Over its thousand+ years of history, the area passed from the Byzantines, to Bulgarians, to the Ottomans (who ruled for over 500 years), and finally back to Bulgarians–resulting in an incredibly rich history.

The Rhodopes are said to be the birthplace of the legendary Orpheus–the mythical singer and poet who could charm all living things with his beautiful music. Tales of Orpheus are well preserved all over southern Bulgaria, and in the Smolyan region especially.

See the purple arrow?

Smolyan, as it’s known today, is actually made up of 3 smaller villages: Ustovo, Raykovo, and Ezerovo–which were combined in 1960. Smolyan is the administrative seat of Smolyan Province, which includes 79 smaller villages. The population of Smolyan itself is around 30,000 people.

The city is located just minutes from several major ski resorts, including Pamporovo and Chepelare.

The Rhodopes are renowned for their buttery, yellow potatoes. My in-laws grow them at our country house and we eat them almost daily (much to the chagrin of my waistline!). There are lots of other foods the region is known for, but I’ll leave those for another post (or ten!).

Smolyan itself is also known for: it’s planetarium and observatory (the largest in Bulgaria), The Cathedral of Saint Vissarion of Smolyan (the largest church in southern Bulgaria), The Rhodope Drama Theatre, and regional historical museum.

In time I hope to do more posts detailing all of these and more.

I find the people here to be gracious and welcoming; the food to be varied and delicious; and the land to be  vast and beautiful (how could you not love living in the mountains?!).

I was here once before for a month, but I have definitely gotten to know the city better this time around (and I don’t plan on stopping!). I can’t wait to search out more nooks and crannies and explore all the surrounding villages.

Downtown Smolyan (Blvd. Bulgaria) 2009

As much as I sometimes wished we lived in the faster-paced Sofia (or even Plovdiv), I am just fine living a quieter life here in the south (for now, anyway!).

Hope you liked this brief intro to my new hometown!

W.

***

Our apartment block

Small church in the Raykovo area

Blvd. Bulgaria (pedestrian portion)

Smolyan Planetarium

The Cathedral of Saint Vissarion of Smolyan

Strollin' in Smolyan

Some photos taken by some friends of ours from Alaska (when they visited in October):

 

To see all the photos from my previous trip to Bulgaria, visit my Flickr!


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Shiroka Laka, We Finally Made It!

After two previous attempts, today we finally made it out of Smolyan to the nearby village of Shiroka Laka (22 km away).

The weather was great and the drive–along a narrow, forested road– was even more beautiful than I remembered.

I don’t really know why I like little Shiroka Laka so much–perhaps it’s the authentic Rhodopean houses, tiny churches, or Ottoman era bridges.

Even in the dead of winter, the village is completely charming.

As much as it sometimes hinders our travel plans, winter in the Rhodopes is a beautiful time of year. All the little villages seem even more quaint and magical.

We are planning another visit to the village in early March for Pesponedelnik–one of the most well-known and visited kukeri festivals in Bulgaria.

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Snowed In

Finally a bit of sunshine!

 

Since arriving home from Sofia last Thursday, we have been pretty much confined to our apartment.

It has snowed off and on for days, but the issue really is the road conditions.

On Saturday, Vince and I tried taking a drive to Shiroka Laka (my favorite little Rhodope village) and were told by the police to turn back as even cars with chains on their tires were unable to make it up the road.

Basically all we have been doing is sitting on our butts watching TV.

(I am now addicted to a TV show called Bondi Vet. It follows two veterinarians in Australia. One of them… Yum!)

My MIL briefly attempted to teach me to knit slippers, but she quickly lost me amongst her tiny stitches.  I want to revisit it again soon, but in the meantime I see lots more lazing about in our near future.

The news each night makes it sound like Snowmagedon (that phrase is about as annoying as TruckTober–those of you in the states have probably heard that one) has arrived across Bulgaria.

We have heard tales of people being found dead out in the snow, whole villages going without power and water for days, and helicopters having to drop supplies to those poor souls who are stranded.

It’s a bit scary, really.

Luckily, things haven’t been that hard for us here in Smolyan. Other than a few short power outages, we have gotten away largely unscathed. The nearby ski resort, Pamporovo, however, had it a bit rough over the weekend. With all the recent snowfall they were doing quite well. We drove through on our way home from Sofia and the slopes were packed. On Friday night the power went out and the ski resort also lost water. Saturday saw a mass exodus of tourists.

Today, the sun is finally peeking through the clouds and the road crews are out in full force trying to make things at least manageable. We managed a small walk to go get a new router (we finally have internet!) and I dragged my monstrous camera with me to snap some photos (it’s about time I did another Scavenger Hunt Sunday).

Cabin fever has long since set in and I am desperate to take a day trip. Looks like we’ll be hitting Plovdiv sometime next week.

W.