Tuesday 22 to Thursday 24 May 2012
We drove south from Veliko Turnovo to Plovdiv. The day was clearing but stayed dull after last night’s massive thunderstorm and downpour.
We stopped at Dryanovo to see a monastery and it’s church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. The monastery is set around craggy rocks and green forest with the fast running Andaka River beside it. As well as the religious elements of the monastery, there were monuments to the April Uprising of 1876, which was the start of the Second Bulgarian Liberation.
After a challenging drive over the Shipka Pass, the next stop was a brilliant Russian Orthodox Church near Shipka, built to remember the Russian and Bulgarian soldiers who fought the Ottomans to liberate Bulgaria in 1876 in that area. The gilded domes were truely brilliant and glowed in the dull, grey day.
As we left the Church we noticed a turn off to the Thracian Tombs of Shipka. Here we met a young history graduate, Radoslav Petkov, who gave us a wonderful explanation of the tombs.
We explored Plovdiv next day, however we committed our second traveller’s cardinal sin by not checking the local holidays. May 25 is Bulgarian Liberation Day, celebrating all we have seen in the past few days. It is a special day for children, who filled the streets with cheers, songs and long processions. Lovely to see, but slows the sightseeing process a little!
Plovdiv is an ancient town with Thracian and Roman ruins and beautiful old Bulgarian houses and streets of the most difficult cobblestones I have encountered. But most interesting is the Roman Stadium, a little of which is unearthed to become a great meeting point. The city maps show the extent of the original stadium, now buried under the main shopping street.