Monthly Archives: August 2015

My Trip To Eastern Europe: Bulgarian Gems

by Linda Sipprelle (*)

While visiting Arbanasi, a village in north central Bulgaria, the gracious owner of a small shop gave me a vial of “Bulgarian Rose” perfume and told me that it takes more than 1,300 rose blossoms to create just one gram of rose oil. He added that roses are still distilled using traditional techniques, with farmers gathering the blooms by hand before 10 AM, when the oil yield is at its highest. Now that I’m back home in Princeton, I occasionally whiff my Bulgarian Rose to remind me of the beauty and fascinating history of that wonderful country. (Note: Before visiting the shop, our guide advised us that should we ask a yes or no question, we should be aware that the proprietor’s word and gesture will not seem to agree. Bulgarians shake their heads “yes” and nod their heads “no.”)

In Arbanasi, the magnificent Church of the Nativity is a must see! On the outside the church is a rather plain-looking building, but inside there is a forest of fresco painting, some 2,000 scenes along with icons and woodwork with biblical, philosophical and astrological themes. Although Ottoman rule was often tolerant, it is surmised that the Church was a secret, underground, Orthodox church.

The Church is comprised of a naos (men’s section) and narthex (women’s section). The oldest part of the church was erected in 1597, and the murals created at that time of “The Last Judgement” and “The Nativity” survive still. The murals (which cover the walls and the ceiling) in the women’s section were painted in 1638 by two married couples, Stamati and Kero and Stati and Theodora. They depict “The Life of the Virgin Mary”, “Doomsday,” and “Isaiah’s Tree” which tells the Biblical story of the lives of Christ’s predecessors. There were also frescoes depicting ancient philosophers and writers including Homer, Aristotle and Plato. Some of the paintings bear the names of Arbanasian donors – Stoyna, Keratsa, Niku, and Hadji Georgu. (Note: The latter, owing to his extensive generosity was depicted in two places.)

If you would like to see a spectacular natural wonder, be sure to put the Belogradchik Rocks on your bucket list of places to visit. Located near the town of Belogradchik in northwest Bulgaria, the rocks are made of limestone, are over a mile wide, 18 miles long and 650 feet high. They took shape more than 230 years age at the bottom of a shallow sea where sediment became compressed and eroded to form the rocks over a period of 43 million years. The rock formations look as if they were sculpted because they clearly depict well-known entities and each tells a story. They are named “Adam and Eve,” “The Schoolgirl,” “The Bear,” “The Madonna,” etc. My favorite is “The Schoolgirl” which tells the story of a beautiful girl who falls in love with a blacksmith. On finding out, her mean schoolmaster chases her right into the path of a waiting bear and before the animal can pounce, all three are instantly turned to stone. (Note: In 1984, the Belogradchik Rocks were placed on the Tentative List of places to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In September 2008, Belogradchik was named as one of the twenty finalists by the European Commission as a “European Destination of Excellence.” It would certainly get my vote!)

(*) Linda Sipprelle is a volunteer tutor of Friends of Davis International Friends of Princeton University.


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My Visit to Eastern Europe: Bran Castle

by Linda Sipprelle  (*)

To reach Bran Castle (the mythical home of Dracula), we hiked straight up one kilometer on a cobble stone road, unable to see the Castle until we were suddenly upon this fairytale, and favorite, home of the remarkable Queen Marie of Romania. The castle gardens, which surround the castle, are filled with beautiful and extravagant plants. After Transylvania became part of Romania, the citizens of Brasov gave the castle to Queen Marie.

During the time she lived in the castle, beginning in 1920, Marie made many changes. She converted arrow-slits into windows and furnaces into fire-places, She also installed telephone lines, an elevator, a dungeon, and a “secret” passageway. The views from the castle, as you wind from one spiral staircase to the next, are spectacular. The small, relatively homely rooms, are a surprise, although the many paintings, photographs and furniture that belonged to Marie, make visitors feel that her personality is still present in the castle.

Marie (10/29/1875-7/18/1938) was described as lovely, with sparkling blue eyes and silky fair hair. She was born into the British royal family. Her parents were Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. Her grandparents were British Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After refusing a marriage proposal from her cousin, the future King George V, she was chosen as the wife of Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, the heir apparent of King Carol I.

During World War I, Marie, and her three daughters acted as nurses in military hospitals. In 1919, she attended the Paris Peace Conference where she campaigned for international recognition of Romania. In 1922, she and Ferdinand were crowned Queen and King of a unified Romania.

As Queen, Marie was very popular both in Romania and abroad. In 1926, she and two of her children visited the United States where they were enthusiastically received. Following Romania’s transition to a “Socialist” Republic after World War II, the monarchy was excoriated by communist officials, but after the Romanian Revolution of 1989, Marie’s popularity recovered and she was portrayed as a model of patriotism. Although she is primarily remembered for her work as a nurse, she published 34 books and short stories, both in Romanian and English, including her critically acclaimed autobiography “The Story of my Life.” In Romania, Marie is known as “Mother of the Wounded.”

In 1927 Dorothy Parker wrote:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song

A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong:

And I am Marie of Roumania.

On Easter Sunday, 1935, my Mother, Francesca Mills, in a letter to her parents, wrote upon seeing Queen Marie in the Anglican Church in Bucharest:

“The Queen, who is about my height (5’5″) is truly beautiful. She wore a simple though striking ensemble of pansy-blue crepe trimmed with gray with a straw hat to match. Her cape hung gracefully from her shoulders. After the service, she came out and bowed to several people with the air of one who really feels pleasure in knowing people and not as one peering down from lofty heights of her royal pedestal. She has a most charming manner and it is not hard to understand the tremendous influence she might have on those with whom she is in contact.”

(*) Linda Sipprelle is a volunteer tutor of Friends of Davis International Center of Princeton University


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