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Week 17

I’m grateful to the wee monkeys for ending this week in Sofia, Bulgaria, since the peacocks and snow leopards both appeared to have whizzed past! More fool them, I say!

As the wee monkeys will be finding out, it’s an impressive city with an impressive, if often sad, history. Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria so you can imagine it’s got quite a story to tell. With 2,000 years of history, it’s had to work hard to retain its Bulgarian identity – over those years it had  Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet occupation, with each leaving its mark. I particularly like the feature image of our diary this week – this is St Sofia, who, you’ll agree, looks pretty modern and clean. Well, that’s because she’s new. She replaced an enormous statue of Lenin and now overlooks the city with a much more benevolent eye than her predecessor! Does anyone else think she looks a bit like Emma?!

She’s not the only religiously important part of Sofia, either. In the centre of the city is what’s known asThe Square of Tolerance, with four enormous and very active places of worship all sharing the same small space, within a short walk of one another. There’s a Mosque, a Synagogue, a Serbian Orthodox Church and a Roman Catholic Cathedral. 

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The Three Piggies

As luck would have it, there was the chance today to enjoy a little bit of children’s opera, at an open air performance of  Alexandar Raichev’s ‘The Three Piggies’ – surely the wee monkeys wouldn’t miss out on animal antics with their piggy cousins?!

We’ll leave the wee monkeys to revel in culture and go and catch up with the snow leopards who may be engaged in something as far from the high culture of opera as you can get! I saw the name ‘Nymphes Princess’ on the map close to where the snow leopards are and was intrigued… what could it be? Obviously more high culture, I thought, as nymphs are creatures from Greek mythology and tend to personify nature in some or other way (so water nymphs, tree nymphs, and so on). Among other great painters,  Raphael, Rubens and  Rembrandt have all painted nymphs, so I had high hopes.

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Nymph Princess Casino

Imagine my disappointment, therefore, to see that Nymph Princess is  an enormous casino! Please don’t go! But if you do, play for the team…!

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Kestrel Sanctuary

However, I’d much rather you took a small detour to the east and visited the kestrel sanctuary that you’ll find in the mountains. it’s a sanctuary and breeding centre for the ‘Lesser Kestrel’ ( Falco naumanni)  which was once one the most common breeds of falcon in Europe but which has been decimated by pesticide use and the destruction of its native nesting grounds. Though it’s a bird of prey it actually survives mostly on insects, so crop sprays have caused havoc with its food supply. Maybe the casino could adopt a kestrel chick or two?! It’s 40 Bulgarian Lev (around £17) to adopt a kestrel, and I wish them well (the kestrels, not the casino!).

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Melk Abbey

The tigers, meanwhile, continue to hug the river Danube in lower Austria and will soon be in sight of Melk Abbey. When I say in sight of it, they’ll know what I mean – it cant be missed!! It’s a massive Benedictine monastery built on a cliff high above the Danube. Church architecture was often used to make a statement and this Abbey is a good example. it says ‘we’re here and we’re important’! It’s both a working (in fact I’d rather say living)  Benedictine Abbey but also a cultural centre for the town of Melk, and has a great programme of events, if Gregorian chanting doesn’t do it for you. I must say I love it, but I know it’s not to everyone’s taste! Have a listen to the monks of Pluscarden Abbey here in Scotland to decide for yourself… Márta- Pluscarden Abbey is just down the road from you near Elgin!

The peacocks continue the long and winding road through Turkey and are now close to the capital city, Ankara. It’s been the Capital since 1923 but it has a much more ancient history of course. You have to work hard, though, to find any of the history of it’s Celtic, Galatian, Greek,  Roman or Ottoman past. Now it’s mostly a modern city.  The population of Ankara is almost the same as the population of Scotland, so for  me, it’s just too big and I’d not be spending long there, personally. I’m a country boy at heart!

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Hazim Dagli Nature park

Being a country boy, if I was in team peacock I’d be spending this Sunday evening in a place close to where you find yourselves on the road, the Hazim Dagli Nature Park. I wonder if they have any kestrels?!

So the end of another week on the long road to Chaparda, with lots to share with one another. You’ve covered 378 miles this week and we’ve had £50 added to our fundraising, which now stands at £1,533.

Keep up the good work and remember that any contributions to the diary will be most welcome, otherwise you just get me wittering on week after week…! 

the WhatsApp chat has gone a bit quiet of late so please log in and let us know how things are going – it’s a great way to keep in touch and an encouragement to each other. Don’t forget the coffee morning on August 14th – bring your own cake…!