Shipka Pass, 1300 meters up in the Bulgarian mountains, was covered in snow, which meant one of two things; either risk our necks for a crash course in history that does not even make the the list of conversation starters, or make a few tweaks to the original plan. Original plan: driving up 13kms to the peak with a panoramic view of the Balkan mountain range.
Brokenhearted – NOT (because everywhere in Bulgaria is beautiful) we took a detour and headed to Plovdiv via Kazanlak. Contrary to what it was like in 1877, when Bulgaria was at war with the Turks and drove them out, during the Russo-Turkish Liberation war, we were confronted with the battle of the weather that shuffled between haze, snow and clear skies. To our luck, when the clear skies did their rounds, from a distance, we spotted the onion shaped gold plated dome of Shipka Church tucked in the forest at the foot of Stara Planina mountains. The Russian style church was built in honor of the Russians who helped Bulgaria defeat the Turks. We pulled over and couldn’t take our eyes of the beautiful facade set in the most serene surrounding, that even when we took our eyes off the church and looked out to the fields, we could appreciate the valley of the roses. Suckers for off-season travel, we missed the beauty of the roses in bloom, usually in June, ‘festival of the roses’.
However, the truth was a far cry from my unrealistic imagination. My imagination = pink roses all over, permeating scent of rose, ROSEs ROSes ROses. The truth: Unless you find the right fields and go at the right time, which lasts for a few days, you will run into long green stems with thorns and green leaves. In our case, colorless rose less shrubs. The valley of the Roses is famous for producing 85% of the world’s rose oil, which keeps places like Sephora and Bloomies in business. Besides, rose oil is extracted from the stem and leaves, not the flower. So, if you think you’re going to see rows and rows of fresh roses, head to the nearest florist. After marveling at the bed of dead roses, we headed to the Thracian tombs from 3rd-4th BC . Without going into details, they were Europeans. We walked in and out of the UNESCO site in a matter of minutes. It wasn’t even the original tomb! The originals were caged next to the replica. Enough of the dead! It was time for lunch. Kazanlak was a ghost town except for the two stalls that proffered pungent rose goodies.
We hit the road to Plovdiv and in less than an hour we arrived and feasted on the most sophisticated of meals, the mighty ol Big Mac.