For such a small country, Bulgaria has quite a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites and we hit as many as we could. I’ve already told you about Rila Monastery, Nessebar, and the Madara Rider. The other two we were able to visit were the Thracian tomb in Kazanluk and the Boyana Church outside of Sophia.
Kazanluk as a town, is pretty dismal. After having visited such beautiful places such as Velinko Turnovo and the Black Sea Coast, we were underwhelmed at best. We tried to turn around and stay in a village about eight kilometers away, but after the whole town helped us find the place we realized they had closed down. Darn! We turned around and decided to stay in the part of town with the archaelogical museum and found a nice hotel, although under renovations was pretty cozy. It turned out to be around the corner from the tomb, so we arrived at the site right before opening time, so we spent the next few minutes marveling at the brick outer work and iron bars protecting the famous tomb.
We pay our 3 leva to see the small exhibit and the “fake” Thracian tomb. This did not take long and we were really not too happy. I didn’t come to Kazanluk to see a copy. I asked the staff if I could visit the real tomb and it was going to cost another 20 leva per person. Even though, this is rather pricey, both Jim and I paid, and then, because the staff couldn’t believe our decadence announced that we could take our two friends in as well for free. Interesting. Truly the copy of the tomb looked exactly like the real thing, but that is ok. I wanted to walk into the real deal.
On the domed ceiling, were some brightly painted frescoes of the king and his warriors and his wife. His wife had been buried with him…lucky girl, along with his horse. The Thracians really loved horses and had the horse god that leads them into the afterlife, so I guess the regal animal was pretty important.
It didn’t take long to go through the tomb, so we were on the road by nine. We drove to Shipka and visited a gorgeous, gold-domed Russian Orthodox Church as well as visited another tomb. This tomb was much larger, but not as ornately decorated and all the “loot” had been moved to a museum.
Continuing on our way, we hit Sophia at rush hour and trying to find a hotel proved to be very tricky. It was crazy driving, and only half the signs have the name of the street in an English script. All the signs had Cyrillic, so I was trying to pronounce them as we sped by them. It was frustrating, but kind of fun. We did find a place to stay that was pretty much in the center of the city for only 59 leva, and we were more than happy about that.
The next day we walked around Sophia hitting the main sights and they weren’t dissapointing. Sophia, however is not a pretty city and it’s full of loud, almost scary people. I think that “loud” is just the way they communicate, though, and since we’d been in the country a week, I was getting used to it. We thought, by looking at the map, we might be able to walk to the Boyana Church. We quickly realized the map was not to scale, and we went back to pick up the car.
The church is located in a very pretty area on the outskirts of Sophia, and is surrounded by trees, parks, and restaurants. There were, of course, plenty of people here, both Bulgarian and foreign. We paid our 10 leva fee and walked down the path to the small unassuming stone church. The door is locked so we have to wait outside until the docent lets us in. The door itself, is only about four feet tall, so we ben over to be let into what could be likened to a large foyer cum history exhibit with photographs of some of the frescoed treasures we will find inside.
The docent, a tall graying gentleman speaks a lilting and somewhat higher-pitched English, lets us know that for the sake of preservation, only eight people are allowed into the main church at one time. When we lets out another group, we are ready. The anticipation has been built up and we are very excited. The wait and the hushed tones have sent us into a tourist frenzy. We can’t wait! We weren’t dissapointed. The frescoes are bold. There are scenes from many different bible stories as well as some stories only associated with Bulgaria. The docent kept us in stitches as he touched each peron recounting tales and pointing out details in the figures on the walls. We also discovered that the frescoes had been painted twice. There were two layers, but the second artist tried to be true to the first, and there were only minor changes in the paintings, a sign of individuality or of philosophy we’ll never know.
The Boyana Church was the very last thing we did in Bulgaria, except for lunch, but it was one of our favorite things we did. It was a great ending to our trip, which was extremely memorable and fun.