Sunday, March 22, 2009

Winter Visit to Koprivshtitsa

We woke up on Saturday morning to see that Sofia had turned into a wintry, slushy mess. Should we go away for the weekend as planned? We decided to brave the elements and took a taxi to the Central Station.

The Central Station is actually two separate buildings. The cavernous Central Train Station was very cold, and the level near the platforms was like a freezer. Jodie noted that the woman's bathrooms were just holes in the ground (please aim carefully). The Central Bus Station was more modern, more crowded, and much warmer. In both stations, you could book your travel to destinations all across Europe.

Our bus left from the Traffic Market parking lot between the two stations. We boarded the bus, and only after it departed, the ticket lady came down the isle collecting fares. It was 10 Leva one way. The bus was a local line, stopping in villages along the way. The direction we traveled was eastward, towards Burgas. As we drove, we climbed into snowy mountains, but in other flat areas the fields were green.

As we approached Koprivshtitsa, 120 kilometers from Sofia, the forests and mountains had a heavy covering of snow. We ended our 2 1/2 hour bus journey and emerged into the snowy town. The hotel was 1 kilometer away from the town center, a distance easily walked on a normal day. But this was not a normal day, as it was snowing, and streets were icy. Jodie fell hard on the ice, and we were sure our weekend had ended before it started. But Jodie got up bravely and we continued our walk. The hardest part was the 50 meters ascent up a snowy and icy lane to the hotel itself.

We had booked our room at the Panorama Hotel in advance. It turned out we were the only guests, as others had canceled due to the weather. The hotel is a family-run affair, with 32 beds, and the younger staff speaks English. At dinner Saturday night, the family sat at one table, while we sat at the next, close to the wood burning in the fireplace.

Our strolls through the colorful streets of Koprivshtitsa were a bit limited by the snow and ice, but we did manage to see a lot. The town is full of Bulgarian history; it is where the April 1876 Uprising against the Ottoman Empire began. There are at least 80 homes in the town that date to the 1800s. Six of them have been opened to the public as house museums. We visited the Oskelov House, just off the main village square. This house belonged to a wealthy merchant. Its facade of cedarwood imported from Lebanon was adorned with painted views of Padua, Rome and Venice, which Oskelov had visited. Uniforms for the revolutionaries were sewn upstairs. Oskelov was killed in 1876, at age 55.

At dinner we had a true taste of Bulgarian food. We started with a Panagyuska Salad, which was made of very finely diced pieces of tomatoes, cabbage and carrots, with mayonnaise splattered on top. Okay, very similar to coleslaw. Then we shared Cheese Pastry Peppers, which were bits of fried cheese stuffed inside long red peppers. Our main course was scrumptious grilled trout, which melted in our mouths. Jodie and I knocked off a bottle of 2007 Targovishte Chardonnay, which ensured a good night's sleep.

We woke to discover that another 3-4 inches of snow had fallen overnight. Afterwards we discovered that it was much easier to get around walking on the new snow. For breakfast, we had Mekitsi, which are traditional fried Bulgarian batter cakes, similar to doughnuts, topped with homemade berry jam.

Just up the street from the hotel was Benkovski House, which belonged to the family of Georgi Benkovsi (1844-1876), another leader of the Uprising. The house was less fancy than the one we had seen the day before. Benkovski, who rallied the locals to fight against the Ottomans, was killed in 1876.

Walking on the snowy streets, Jodie warned Ellis against slipping on the ice. Ellis responds by saying that he tripped more on the step in the hotel room, than he did on the streets.

After checking out of the hotel, we visited the Karavelov House, which belonged to writer Lyuben Karavelov and his family, which also included politician Petko Karavelov.

A short visit to a souvenir shop in the town square was followed by another traditional Bulgarian meal, this time with french fries covered with grated cheese.

The April 1876 Uprising was crushed, and most of its heroes were killed. A year later, Russia and Serbia went to war against the Ottomans on Bulgaria's behalf, and the yoke of Ottoman oppression was lifted at last, and Bulgaria became an independent country. It all began in the colorful town of Koprivshtitsa.

We will definitely come back to Koprivshtitsa, but it will be in the summertime. Then we'll be able to explore all of the alleys and lanes, and cross the wooden bridges over the River Topolnitsa, without fear of slipping on the ice.

1 comment:

  1. Bulgaria is one very Beautiful place with wonderful nature. Just a lit bit damaged from all the new hotels constructed on the beaches.

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