We only had a day to spend in Bulgaria during our Eastern Europe cruise in July last year, but we packed as much action as we could into our day. With the group we ventured out into the hilltops to visit the tiny village of Arbanassi and drove back to the ship via Veliko Tarnovo. Following that we spent a day on the Danube River travelling through the beautiful Iron Gates. A region where majestic cliffs rise out of the water and is quite famous for the 3 large locks ships must pass through in this section of the Danube.
Arbanassi was definitely one of the highlights that we saw throughout Eastern Europe. It felt very remote to be there without any tourists around and few villagers. Walking around in the searing 38 degrees Celsius heat and feeling like we were one of very people there was what sold it to me. Well, that and the Nativity Church. Plain as a barn on the outside, this humble church is intricately and beautiful decorated from floor to ceiling on every available wall surface with gorgeous religious frescoes including one of the Last Judgement. Photos were not allowed so I have taken this one from Google to illustrate what I saw:
Acapella choir singers filtered in and sang to us haunting and chillingly beautiful renditions of 16th century monastic hymns. It was possibly the most spiritually moved I have ever felt in my life. Each note brought goose bumps to my skin as the acoustics reverberated their voices to fill the room and my whole body with their melody. When I closed my eyes I felt transported back to a time I have never known, but could imagine the villagers making a trek up through the hills to visit this church for mass.
On our way back to the ship we detoured for an afternoon visit to Veliko Tarnovo and were able to stroll through handicraft workshops and witness many of the Bulgarian craftsmen creating their wares to sell to locals and tourists alike. There was a mixture of original artwork from paintings to yogurt making pots with a little bit of everything in between. Bulgaria is also famous for making products involving rose oil and I bought myself a bottle of rose water which is extremely lovely and beneficial for your skin. I now wish I had purchased more since products here in New Zealand which call themselves by the same name, definitely are not the same product and often only have rose fragrance put into the solution rather than genuine rose extract.
Once back on the ship we set sail heading towards Belgrade in Serbia and this route took us through the famous section of the Danube River known as the “Iron Gates”. It is so called for the 3 very large locks that the ship has to pass through. Upon the 3rd lock however is a section of the river flanked by beautiful cliffs soaring out of the water and one which has a faced carved into the cliff face. We reached this around 5 in the afternoon so the light was truly perfect and brought the gorgeous sights to vivid life.