Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Rock Monasteries in Bulgaria

October 8
We visited two different monasteries built within rocky cliffs.

The first were the rock monasteries of Ivanovo, Bulgaria. These were created in the 13th century. There are numerous "rooms" carved out of the limestone cliffs. Some were meant to be chapels. Others were sleeping chambers.

The caves are over 32 meters from the valley floor. Luckily a trail has been constructed for the ascent. It is much easier to negotiate than the stairs we took going back down!

Here is the view from the cave looking down!

We ducked into a narrow opening.

I was astonished by the frescoes painted on the walls and ceilings so many centuries ago.

The frescoes depict many of the stories of the Bible.

A "calendar" was carved into the floor. Our guide explained that a rock was put in one of the holes, and moved to an adjacent hole each month to keep track of time.

A crack has appear in the ceiling. It cuts through some of the frescoes.

The crack is being monitored by a university. Plastic tapes were adhered to both sides of the crack in different locations. If the crack were to widen, the tape would be torn.

We took a short ride to the second monastery. This one is still in operation today.

There are a number of small chapels tucked up high above the parking area.

The stairs were narrow and steep. But once we got to the top, we saw interesting chapels. 

There is a variety of art in the different chapels.
I loved this carving. The camera view makes it look like the Saint is wearing aviation goggles! In person, it looks much different.

In each of the rooms you could see tiny pieces of paper and coins left by people seeking special prayers. 

Afterwards, we stopped in Ruse for lunch at a local restaurant.

 I was surprised that the bathroom has not been updated with a more modern toilet.

Monday, October 29, 2018

OMG: My Favorite Day of the Trip!

October 8

We began our day with  a visit to a home in Vidin, Bulgaria. We were greeted in the traditional manner, with bread and a paprika-mix dip and  local brandy by our hostess, her aunt, and her uncle.

Romania's house is not typical. She lived in the US with her husband, and upon their return, built a home with a large open area, similar to American homes. 

Romania, her aunt and her cousin demonstrated how to make traditional Banitsa. While her pan was in the oven, we worked in teams to created another Banitsa pastry. 

Banitsa is an egg-custard dish made with phyllo dough. It an be savory or sweet. It is most often part of celebrations, such as Christmas or New Year's Eve. I enjoyed the pastry and will be making it at home for special occasions.

Then, we were off to the "Kindergarten"

We were greeted by twins in traditional clothing. They offered the traditional greeting of bread, with something to dip the bread into. This time it was honey.

The "Kindergarten" is a school for children ages 10 months to six years. The oldest group entertained us with a cute skit. 

After the skit, the children sang a number of songs, in English.

And some songs in their tongue.

Then, they all came to sit across from us. We all worked on making scenes with cut out papers, colored pencils and glue. 

"Our" kids were cute as can be. Dahu and Noaha. They didn't speak any English. We spoke no Bulgarian. They write in a Cyrillic alphabet, we write in a Latin alphabet. But, we had fun creating our scenes, trading them, and giving hugs. I wanted to take the kids home with me!!

The Director of the school took us into a conference room and patiently answered our questions. She showed us the "curriculum" they use in the school to prepare the kids for elementary school, which begins at age 6. This particular school is paid for by the government, except that parents must pay for the meals provided to the children. 

As thrilled as I was to see these beautiful children perform for us, I began to think of the movie, "Groundhog Day". I realized that having tourists come to the school must be a money-making proposition for the school. That's great. But... how many times each week do these children "perform"? Are there other things the kids should be doing? Ach... the educator in me puts a negative film over such fun experiences!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Between the Iron Gates

October 7, 2018

We had a rocky night. It was one of the first where we left our window open, and we enjoyed the sound of the passing waves and being rocked gently as we slept. We heard that folks on the other side of the ship were inundated with splashing water! Waves? On the Danube?!

This portion of the river is very wide, and the wind whipped the water into a fury. The waves may have been 3-4' high!

We were on our way to Golubac Fortress, Serbia. The fortress is at the narrows of the river. It is the opening to the "Iron Gates", so called because of the bald mountain comprised of iron ore. 

We enjoyed a tour of the fortress, which is undergoing major reconstruction. One thing we noticed is that many of the Eastern European countries are working to renovate some of their ancient sites to encourage tourism. For this landmark, the first challenge was that the main regional road was routed through the old fortress. The ancient gates were torn down or widened, to allow a modern road to go through the fort. The road has been reconstructed to one side, and amazing efforts are underway to reconstruct the structures. 

A second challenge is that the river was dammed downstream from the fortress. Much of the original structure is underwater. 

We were invited to taste local wine and brandy, as well as honey and local treats. Our host was dressed in chainmail. 

After leaving the fortress on the bus, headed for Lepenski Vir, we saw our ship sailing on the Danube.

Lepenski Vir is an amazing archeological site. Before the dam was completed a group came together to save the artifacts from this ancient civilization, estimated to be from 7,000-9,000  BC. Wow! That's old! 

Sections from the ancient village were carefully moved to the current site, far above the water of the dammed Danube.

Settlers in this area created structures of similar shapes. All of the doors faced the "iron mountain", a bald peak on the other side of the river with enough iron ore in it to attract lighting. 

The citizens of this ancient town used clay to created images. 

This early civilization created or traded for utilitarian items. 

Numerous skeletons were also found, laid to rest in differing positions. It was found that almost every skeleton, aged 40-65 years of age, still had every tooth and there was no decay evident in the teeth! There were no signs of traumatic injury, as would have been seen in conflict with other bands of humans. They were a peaceful group.

I often laugh when I think of things that are "old". Buildings classified as such in the US are mere babies compared to what we see in Europe!

And, Sew it Begins!

No sewing! Sewing had to come to an end, for now!  The last few weeks have been rather hectic preparing for our annual trek west to visit wi...