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CSUDH Study Abroad Bulgaria 2018 Spring Intersession Travelogue

This year, seventeen CSUDH students enrolled in five classes in the CSUDH/Stone and Compass Study Abroad Program. The courses were: Ancient Civilizations (ANT 102, Dr. Moore), Food and Culture (ANT 495, Dr. Gasco), Comparative Religion (PHI 383, Dr. Pawar), Business in Bulgaria (BUS 495, Dr. Norman), and Geodiversity and Sustainability in the Balkans (GEO 495, Dr. Keyantash).

June 9-12, 2018

First Days in Bulgaria

We all arrived in Sofia by June 9, got settled into the hotel near the airport, and were ready to hit the streets of Sofia the morning of June 10. Our first stop was Nevski Cathedral where we were lucky enough to catch a beautiful service led by the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church complete with amazing choir and lots of candles and incense. Other Sofia highlights included visiting the Roman ruins that lie under the modern city and walking on the ancient Roman road, with Rob Goodwin, of Stone and Compass, giving us a great history lesson. Our next stop was the Archaeology Museum, which houses fabulous artifacts representing over 5,000 years of Bulgarian history, like this Thracian drinking vessel. We also visited the Church of St. Sofia, where excavations revealed a 4th century church, catacombs, and ancient mosaics.
Our first lunch in Sofia was a traditional Bulgarian feast!
We started the day on June 11 with class meetings, and students in each class shared what they had learned already and what they expected to learn during our stay. In the afternoon we learned some traditional Bulgarian dancing, with an opportunity to model traditional Bulgarian dress, often worn by dancers. In the evening, we all enjoyed a wonderful dinner and more dancing.
The Geography students spent the afternoon investigating a huge arched cave known as Deveshtaka Cave (home to 35,000 bats!) as well as a gentle hiking to a beautiful set of travertine waterfalls named Krushuna Falls.

June 12

We traveled to Veliko Ternovo, where we visited Tsarevets Fortress, capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom from 12th to 14th centuries. We also got to visit the highly regarded potter, Nina Nesheva and her son Demiter. Students got to try their hand at the potter’s wheel and admire the beautiful pottery.
Yes, everyone is working hard on their reading and assignments, but sometimes there is time for a little R&R poolside at S&C Center!

June 13-15, 2018

Learning More about Bulgaria

We headed off to ETAR, an open-air ethnographic museum that shows how a 19th century village would have looked, with original houses and craft workshops on display. Actually, many of the crafts are still practiced and craftspeople are demonstrating how they make everything from textiles to ceramics to colorful carts to musical instruments (like the bagpipes) to oils (like the walnut oil mill shown below). The old way of generating power was through water, and virtually all of the moving parts for the workshops are powered by water.

We headed off to ETAR, an open-air ethnographic museum that shows how a 19th century village would have looked, with original houses and craft workshops on display. Actually, many of the crafts are still practiced and craftspeople are demonstrating how they make everything from textiles to ceramics to colorful carts to musical instruments (like the bagpipes) to oils (like the walnut oil mill shown below). The old way of generating power was through water, and virtually all of the moving parts for the workshops are powered by water.
We then visited Dryanovo Monastery and Bacho Kiro Cave (a time-sculpted marvel, home to 40,000 years of human habitation and the skeleton of the extinct, giant cave bear [Ursus spelaeus]!), followed by a fabulous meal.

June 14

The GEO students traveled to Pobiti Komani (also known as the Stone Forest), a mysterious landscape of limestone columns in northeast Bulgaria, set within an unusual semiarid micro-climate. Scientists have several competing theories for the formation mechanisms of the unusual columns, but regardless of the reasons, the Stone Forest made for an impressive self-guided tour. The students dusted themselves off and refreshed themselves in the vibrant Black Sea city of Varna, which is a tourism hub and center for nightlife and culture.
The ANT, BUS, and PHI students went to Troyon to visit the Monastery and the craft museum.

June 15

The GEO class headed off to the lovely Balchik Botanic Garden, featuring many plants endemic to Bulgaria, as well as beautiful outdoor grounds with views of the Black Sea. The Black Sea views only improved at Cape Kaliakra, an ancient fortification on a narrow finger of land far into the Black Sea. The cape featured ancient battlements, and was the site of a key naval battle between Russians and Turks in the 18th century. We spotted dolphins swimming in the teal waters below. It was then a long drive to the famous Danube River, on the northern border between Bulgaria and Romania, where we took an evening cruise on the river that was enjoyed by all.
The rest of us had a whole day centered on food, how it’s produced, distributed, and prepared. First stop was the Sevlievo farmer’s market, followed by a visit to Donka and Stoycho’s farm, where we saw a wide variety of crops and were able to pick fresh tomatoes and peppers for dinner. We also visited the livestock farm of Marina and her family and the farm workers. Students got a chance to milk a cow. Later we prepared several traditional Bulgarian dishes including tarator (a cucumber yogurt cold soup), kartofena salata (potato salad), Kyopolou (an eggplant and pepper dish), and we also cooked favorite sausages. It was all delicious! And for the grand finale, we had Baklava for dessert.

June 16-18

Stolat Celebration and More Field Trips

June 16 was a special day for the village of Stolat, for Stone & Compass, and for us as the village celebrated its 130 year anniversary, an all-day celebration. This also was the day of the ribbon cutting for the new children’s park in the village center, a project supported by Stone and Compass. The day began with a Bulgarian Orthodox service in the village church. We were surprised to discover how beautiful and ornate the church was given the small size of Stolat.
A highlight of the day was the inauguration and ribbon cutting for the new children’s park & playground supported by Stone & Compass. Rob Goodwin and Julie Kiernan were special guests, and ribbon cutters. Most of the day was spent celebrating, a celebration that included lots of food and dancing.

June 17

We all set off for the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum. Our drive to the site was briefly interrupted by a wandering sheep herd! Unlike the Roman ruins we had seen in Sofia, here, no town or city had ever been built on top of the site. Much of the stone had been taken for construction in nearby villages, but the site is largely intact. It had been founded by Roman ruler, Trajan, and served as a region capital when Bulgaria was under Roman rule. Beautiful sculpture is preserved, as are the remnants of an aqueduct, the road, and evidence for the heated floors in some buildings.
After visiting Nicolopolis ad Istrum, all students except the GEO class visited the beautiful town of Arbanasi, which is rich in history. Its strategic location led to its becoming an important commercial center, and wealthy merchants lived there. Arbanasi’s most famous church is the Church of the Nativity, built in the 16th century. Its simple exterior is deceptive as the interior is filled with beautiful paintings.
Meanwhile, the GEO class spent the afternoon hiking in Emen Gorge, a striking deep limestone ravine featuring a cool river at its bottom, and a refreshing waterfall pool to reward the weary hikers.

June 18-19

Last Adventures in Bulgaria

The Geography class left early for the Rila Monastery and the Rila Mountains. The monastery is a World Heritage Site, featuring bold striped painting and unique, colorful (and sometimes scary) religious frescoes. A tour guide explained the hidden meanings behind many hundreds of frescoes.
The rest of us spent a quiet day at the Stone & Compass center, holding class meetings, and students worked on finishing their course assignments. We had our last dinner in Stolat at one of the best restaurants in Bulgaria, “Dan Kolov” named after a famous wrestler, born in the neighboring village of Sennik, who became internationally known in the early 20th century. The Guest House and Restaurant, Dan Kolov, is owned by a Bulgarian entrepreneur named Kolio, and we ate most of our meals—all of which were wonderful—at the restaurant.

June 19 - Our last full day in Bulgaria!

We finished packing and loaded up the vans, but we still had a few sites to see. Travelling over the mountains, we first arrived at Shipka, where with strong Russian support, the Bulgarians defeated forces of the Ottoman Empire in 1878. This is an important national monument. From there, we visited the Valley of the Thracian Kings which is filled with large burial mounds, under which are the tombs of important Thracian leaders. We visited the Tomb of Seuthes III, who ruled in the 3rd century BCE.
Our next and final stop was the beautiful city of Plovdiv, the 2nd largest city in Bulgaria, whose origins date back to the 6th millennium BCE. Plovdiv was the site of an important Roman city. The city is beautiful and has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2019. We wandered around the Old Town, with its medieval walls and lovely old homes, and we and visited the Roman amphitheater, where Sting had a concert the next night—we missed it!
Meanwhile, the Geography class spent the day in the rigors of the Rila Mountains, performing a five hour hike which looped around many glacially-carved lakes (tarns) known as the Seven Rila Lakes. The trail featured fine examples of cirque glaciers and frost weathering. The mountain air was brisk and the scenery was breathtaking. Afterwards everyone enjoyed a well-earned soak in piping hot mineral baths.
It was a bittersweet evening. We said our good-byes as many had very early morning flights. Everyone agreed it had been an enriching experience, we had all learned a lot, and we had made lots of new friends.
We owe a great debt to the entire Stone and Compass organization: Owners Rob Goodwin and Julie Kiernan.
Our guides, translators, cultural interpreters, drivers, and most of all, friends, Emilian ("Emo") Kerchev, Stoycho Todorov Dimitrov, Boris Nachev, David Singleton, and Darin Lazarov. Tai Nakabayashi, friend of the S&C organization also was a fellow traveler who was great company and who provided insights to the students in the Business class. We thank you all!!

More information about visiting Bulgaria with CSUDH:

Content and Photos: Dr. Jan Gasco (jgasco@csudh.edu)

Blog Dev: Anissa Barton-Thompson (abarton@csudh.edu)

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