Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Traveling in Southern Bulgaria: Rhodope Mountains


The Rhodopes are known for their unique geological formations. The mountains are set apart by river gorges; there are many deep caves cut into the karst landscape. In the winter months, the snow-covered peaks are perfect for skiing – Pamporovo is one of Bulgaria's most popular ski resorts. In the summer, the hillsides are painted bright green and covered with wild flowers. With snow seen on the surrounding mountain tops, one has a feeling of visiting a "Sound of Music" movie set.

There are many small, picturesque villages perched on the hillsides and in the valleys below. It is said that the region has the highest number of centenarians in the country. This is because the villagers lead simple, stress-free lives; eat homemade yogurt; enjoy healthy vegetables grown in the small plot outside their homes; and, of course, breathe the crisp mountain air.

Bulgarians as a whole are very hospitable, but residents of the Rhodopes are particularly friendly to visitors, especially to travelers from overseas. It’s a bit difficult to communicate with the older generation, but young Bulgarians are fluent in English as well as many other European languages.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Traveling in Southern Bulgaria: Bachkovo Monastery


The first thing one notices when walking into the Bachkovo Monastery – the third largest in Bulgaria – is a plaque posted in Bulgarian, English, and Hebrew.

"In this holy monastery lie Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan who in a selfless display of courage and humanity played a decisive role in preventing the deportation of Bulgaria Jewry to the Nazi extermination camps in 1943."
"Were the world blessed with more individuals of such valor and nobility as that shown by Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan, surely more Jews would have been spared their tragic end."

Here in the entranceway of one of the largest and oldest Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Europe is a sign of how the Bulgarian Orthodox Church – along with brave politicians and ordinary citizens – went out of its way to protect and save Bulgarian Jewry during World War 2. The country's Jewish population before the war was approximately 48,000. Not a single Jewish citizen was sent to the camps. Unfortunately this amazing story also has a tragic side. More than 11,000 Jewish residents of Macedonia, Serbia, and Thrace – areas under Bulgarian rule during the war years – were deported and died in the camps.