Ruse and Roses and Plovdiv

Off bright and early again this time to Veliko Tarnavo to see the Tsareverts Fortress. The Tsareverts Fortress is a medieval citadel that was built as the primary fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It has early signs of human civilisation here dating back to the 2000BC, but the fortress as it stands now was primarily built between 1185 and 1393 to house the royal and patriarchal palaces. It’s quite an enormous complex being the size of a small town – there is evidence of up to 20 churches here, and 400 independent dwellings. There is also archeological remains of blacksmith and various medieval craftsmen’s workshops – unfortunately, there is no museum accompanying the site to show any artefacts, but the site itself is phenomenal. It would have been very impressive and daunting to invading forces.

Baldwin’s Tower… You can see ‘Execution Rock’ on the map above – when I first saw it I expected a small paved area with an execution site (like in the Tower of London) but no, apparently the preferred method of capital punishment here was just to heave the condemned off the citadel to face the 600 foot drop.

The citadel was conquered by Ottoman Forces in July 1393 and was heavily sacked (as you do) so much of the buildings here are reconstructed, but this moment basically marks the end of the Bulgarian Empire. The views up here are fabulous… when one isn’t being pushed to one’s death, I guess.

After this we went for a week wander into town – it’s a pretty enough modern little Bulgarian village, with some interesting civic art, stray cats and graffiti. But it was starting to get hot and we had totally lost the Annoying American again, so we pfaffed around until we found here and the hit the road towards Kazanlak via the Shipka Pass. The countryside we are driving through today is really beautiful as we go over the mountains.

Shipka Pass is the scenic mountain pass through the Balkans in Bulgaria. It marks the border between two provinces – Starsa Zagora and Gabrova, and you travel through gorgeous national park as you do so. The monument we could see high on the hill is the Liberty Memorial and is regarded as the symbol of Modern Bulgaria and the liberation of Bulgaria. The monument is actually in the national park and is located at the peak of Shipka Mountain. It is designed to look a bit like a medieval fortress and can be seen for miles in any direction. It was built in using donations from people all over Bulgaria and was built in 1934. The monument has powerful bronze lion on it which guard the entrance to the monument, and the other three sides are named for Shipka, Sheynovo and Stars Zamora… the three bat fields that were fought in to defence the pass. Under the ground is a huge marble sarcophagus containing the remains of Shipka’s defenders. Or so we are told – we did not actually venture up to the monument, in no small part due to the 800 steps to get up there!

Next we arrived in Kazanlak to visit the most prominent rose factory in Rose Valley – Rosa Damascena… but not before Nick got us lost first. Seriously at this point we just find ourselves laughing our arses off about it. He’s Bulgarian, and driving in Bulgaria and only speaks Bulgarian and Russian, and there was plenty of signage to this place (you know tourist signs with roses on them that we spotted) and he still managed to get lost enough to need to pull over and ask for directions from randoms.

Apparently the soil around here is particularly favourable to growing extremely prolific and fragrant roses. This particular operation is only 17ha, but they pull in millions of rose petals every season and distill them into oil to be made into cosmetics and food items.

There’s a very large facility here that caters to weddings, concerts, school trips, family groups – you name it. Feels like we are in the middle of nowhere and have suddenly stumbled onto a small rose themed entertainment venue. Oh and they also grow fields full of lavender and make lavender products also… so the air around here is so perfumed just from the gardens. A bit like walking through a Turkish spice bazaar but instead of getting a nose full of spices, the air is thick with floral scents. The Rose Distillery is housed in this quaint stone building which has been heavily frescoed to show all the traditional Bulgarian peoples ways of collecting, crushing and distilling the rose petals. All very modern, but all very elaborately executed.

And of course there is the gift shop on the way out where you can get rose liquor, rose honey, rose jam, rose cordial, rose essential oil, rose hand cream, rose body scrub, rose lip balm, rose hair treatment and so on and so forth.

After we stopped to literally smell the roses, we drove into Plovdiv and wouldn’t you know it – Nick got us turned about … yet again! Though we are led to understand that his family are from Plovdiv and he was looking forward to seeing them that night.

Such a hectic day all round – but wait! There’s more. With many hours on the bus with our extremely annoying friend, we found out that even more people on the tour had written complaints to the head office saying ‘WTF?!’, about this woman. And we were all told that the matter would be taken care of that very evening. Georgi had already told us that he was going to remove her from the tour in Sofia and we really weren’t happy that he had let her stay and be so disruptive for about four days longer than necessary, but finally the damn tour company got in the middle of it… not long after we got to Plovdiv and checked into our hotel rooms, Emily messaging the group saying she had been ‘booted off the tour’ and was asking if anyone knew what was going on because and I quote : she “couldn’t understand why they were asking her to leave.” Seriously? She’s been yelling abuse at people and bullying them, wandering off and making us get off schedule, generally acting like a manic crazy person (possibly bi-polar and not medicated) but generally driving every up the wall and destroying everyone’s enjoyment and she’s acting all surprised and confused that she’s been told to leave?! How can anyone be so completely clueless to the impact they are having on the people around them?

Sigh… oh well, she’s hopefully gone for good now and we won’t have to deal with her. She was sending me private WhatsApp messages trying to see if I was ‘on her side’ but I just blocked her arse and went to bed. So tired!

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