Monday, June 4, 2012

Earthquakes, Road Trips and Birthdays

The last several weeks have really flown by. One of my best friends from Seattle came to visit me here in Sofia, and we spent a few days traveling around the Bulgarian countryside in order to show her something more "authentic" than the busy atmosphere of the city. We also had a terrible shock when we were awakened one morning by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake and several smaller aftershocks. Growing up on the West Coast, we are both used to earthquakes happening every now and then. But usually when they happen at night, I sleep through the whole thing. This time it was a very shallow quake, and the epicenter was only 15 miles from Sofia. This made it nearly impossible to sleep through it (or fall asleep afterwards, for that matter).

More interesting than the earthquake was the road trip we took to the center of the country where villages and towns with architecture preserved from the 19th century sit nestled between the rolling green Stara Planina (Balkan) mountains. We stayed in Gabrovo, a town whose citizens are famous for their sense of humor and thriftiness and which is also conveniently located close to other interesting sites nearby. Only a few kilometers outside of town is the Etara museum complex, featuring an old mill, traditional shops, scarecrows, crafts and a very well-stocked sweet shop. We tried their specialty- kisses from Etara, two big white meringues filled with almond cream but decided against trying "Gabrovo chocolate," made out of prunes.

We also visited the monument at the Shipka pass- where a famous battle was fought during Bulgaria's war for independence from the Ottoman Empire. We drove up to the massive stone tower and climbed the steps, through the accompanying museum exhibits on the way up, to the top where we enjoyed an incredible view of the surrounding mountains. The clouds were gorgeous that day, and we could see all the way to our next destination, Bozludja- an abandoned communist party monument that sits on a hillside like a spacecraft waiting to return to the mothership (more about that in another post).

After the monument we visited a beautiful church in the town of Shipka before continuing along the mountain-hugging highway that connects the rose growing plain region with Sofia. Along the way we stopped in the town of Karlovo, one of two towns famous for its rose festival every June. I hope to go back there soon, if only to have lunch in the same place again. Prices are usually cheaper outside of Sofia (except for the Black Sea resorts) but not only was the food there cheap, it was also incredibly fresh and delicious. After stopping for lunch we continued on to Koprivshtitsa, another town famous for a battle fought (or at least started) there. Koprivshtitsa is also famous for its beautifully preserved old houses and idyllic setting in the mountains. We got there a bit later in the afternoon so there wasn't much going on, but we took some photos and began our return to Sofia through the windy mountain roads. I was ecstatic to see these horses grazing by the side of the highway, so we stopped there to take photos. I do love horses.

Side note- I turned 24 on May 23rd! I had a very relaxing day at the spa in Pancharevo (on a lake just outside of Sofia), hung out with some close friends and went to see a movie in the evening. It was extra nice because I had the whole week off school and didn't have to worry about work or deadlines or anything like that. Now we're in the final stretch of school, and while I'm sure it will just fly by as the last month has, June 29th seems too far away just now.

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