Vidin, Veliko Tarnovo, and Arbanasi, Bulgaria (November 7-8, 2022)

We woke up yesterday to fog in the modest, unassuming port of Vidin. Our fun, funny, and informative guide met us on the dock and whisked us away for an hour’s drive out of town. We passed block after block of drab, gray, concrete housing that illustrated perfectly our guide’s opinion that it’s impossible to use the words communism and architecture in the same sentence. She referred to all structures built during the era as communist disasters. We passed a few churches and small chapels that she said were built by communists who were hedging their there-is-no-God bet. We learned that Bulgaria is roughly the size of Tennessee and that it is known for its wine, yoghurt, gypsum, fun tour guides (got cha), rose oil, intricate embroidery, and fertile farmland among other things. Our guide was born to a farm couple, actually, and was raised on her grandparents farm where they, like all their neighbors, made their own wine and produced much of their food.

Our ride passed quickly with her commentary, the two songs she played for us, and what scenery we could see through the ever-increasing fog. Once we reached an elevation of 1,600 feet and arrived at our destination, the fog dissipated as if on command. Perfect timing to see the highlight of our day: Belogradchik Fortress. It dates back to Roman times when it was built to protect the transport of goods and gold. It is situated on the highest naturally inaccessible part of the rocks and remained in use for one thing or another through the Byzantine period and later by Bulgarian tsars and the Ottomans. The Romans were clever enough to choose this site where Mother Nature had done half of the work for them. By incorporating the natural rocky landscape for two sides of the fortress they only had to construct the other two sides. Those who came behind made changes, improvements, and expansions with the current walls 6.5 feet thick at their base and 40 feet high. We strolled the grounds and made our way through all three gates to the tippy top where we had a perfect view of all the fog below.

A local sculptor of some renown was selling his work near the exit and I decided I needed the small metal chicken wearing a bowler hat and standing proudly on a base of gabbro stone. I had no local money, but the sculptor was happy to take dollars. The exchange rate was $1.00 = 2 Bulgarian lev.

After another wonderful noon meal on board we strolled around the port area and particularly enjoyed seeing Baba Vida Fortress, one of the best preserved medieval fortification in Bulgaria. Built with a mote at the water’s edge right in town, it is tiny by comparison with Belogradchik. We lucked into a lovely handicraft store on our way back to the ship where we each made a couple selections. As we approached our vessel we passed a man wearing a Putin T-shirt and a few healthy looking street dogs with tags in their ears indicating they had been neutered.


We woke up a bit downstream in Nikopol. After breakfast we boarded a bus for a long but enjoyable day. We drove past rape seed fields, yellow with their fall crop, and numerous small villages each with a collection of dilapidated buildings with broken glass and sunken roofs as well as beautifully maintained red brick and stucco buildings with red tile roofs. Grape vines were planted in such a way that they shaded the sidewalks in the summer. I enjoyed as much of the scenery as I could between little cat naps.

Once in Arbanasi we enjoyed a lovely lunch with folk dancing and pita bread the size of small frisbees. With full bellies we headed next to the small Nativity Church. The exterior of the modest one story building does not give a hint at the floor-to-ceiling art smothering the interior walls. Nearly every inch of the five chambers of the church, which dates back to the 17th century, is covered in dark paintings and frescoes of predominately black, red, and gold. We went from the men’s room to the women’s room to the gallery which was used for socializing.

The whole village has rock walls, some dating back hundreds of years. We strolled past many of them on our way to an old house that is now a museum. The first story was made of stone and the second of wood. The floors are stone downstairs and wood upstairs. We walked through the living room, kitchen, dining room and the bedroom with its huge, wall-to-wall bed that the whole family shared. The bedroom with its family bed was a surprise, but the bigger surprise was the birthing room where mom and babe would be sequestered for over a month. It was all a bit unfamiliar and interesting.

Before the two hour ride back to the boat, we stopped in Veliko Tarnovo. We enjoyed the view of the ruins of the royal castle on Tsaravets Hill in the distance but spent most of our free time wandering along Samovodska Charshia popping in and out of craft workshops where local artists make and sell their wares. Dan fell in love with a plate and I bought a bread basket.

… Famous Bulgarians …

André the Giant was one of the most popular French wrestlers ever to appear in WWF. 
Betcha didn’t know that Matt.

Christo, an artist best known for wrapping huge sites around the world.

The primary bacteria that turns fresh milk into yogurt, lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, was first
discovered by Dr. Grigorov in 1905. I like how cleverly Bulgaria is hinted at in the naming of the bacteria.

Historians believe that Spartacus, known for being the gladiator in charge of the biggest slave uprising
in the history of the Roman Empire, was born in what is now southwest Bulgaria.

John Atanasoff, inventor of the first electronic digital computer, was of Bulgarian descent.


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