This weekend was a four-day break from school for the Easter holiday, and I spent it mostly with friends. On Friday I went for a long walk with some friends in Pleven, Saturday I visited Troyan monastery and stayed in Lovech, where I also spent Easter Sunday. The weather was great and it was a good, relaxing weekend.
Troyan is situated about 30 kilometers from Lovech and there's a train between the two that passes along a river, some rocky cliffs and an old Roman fortress. The town itself is very small but like every Bulgarian town has a large pedestrian area lined with cafes. There's also an Ethnographic museum featuring ceramic pottery and vessels used to make Troyan's famous grape brandy. About a ten minute drive from the town is Troyan monastery, which was one of many religious centers that preserved Bulgaria's cultural identity during Ottoman rule (and also hid some of the most famous revolutionaries during the resistance).
Although smaller and not as lovingly restored as Rila monastery, Troyan has a certain charm to it and its frescoes are just as beautiful. Unfortunately, most of them are covered in centuries' worth of ash from all of the candles burning inside the church. Today visitors must light their candles outside, leaving the tiny interior open to view the icons and relics. One icon, as my friend Martin who grew up in Troyan explained, is a depiction of the Virgin Mary with three silver hands. Every year for the town's festival the priest carries this icon out of the church in a long procession, and people kiss the hands for good luck.
I stayed in Lovech with Dena to attend a Bulgarian Orthodox service on Saturday night. The midnight vigil is the most important religious event around Easter, with a candlelit procession around the church ending when the priest announces "Christ is Risen!" This marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter, a special family holiday. Children paint eggs and knock them against each other to see whose is the strongest. Mostly it's a time to spend time with loved ones, eat and drink. I had the pleasure of meeting some new friends and enjoyed getting to know them. Hopefully we'll get together again soon, or even next year when I'll be teaching in Sofia!