This is a backup post for my Medium publication.
It’s been a while since my latest post in “Bulgarian Bits.” I didn’t travel much, and I had nothing important to share with you, so I preferred to postpone writing about a new “Bulgarian bit” until there’s something significant.
Today we visited Velingrad: a small mountain town that is better known as “The Bulgarian Spa Capital.” It has numerous hot water springs, which are utilized by numerous hotels and baths, offering plenty of spa packages designed to make people feel relaxed, happy, and rejuvenated. Velingrad is a place, which every Bulgarian visit as often as they can afford, and we’ve been here many, many times. In addition to the spa, relaxation, and rejuvenation, Velingrad also has quite a few medical facilities, which use the water for rehab and curing of trauma and various chronic illnesses.
Today, however, we are here for a very different reason. For over twelve years, we’ve been part of an amateur folklore dance club, where we learned and kept learning various “horo dances.” Bulgaria’s culture is extremely rich with various kinds of folklore dances, which are both common and different from each other. It’s practically impossible to learn all of them (according to folklore scientists, there are over 3000 there). And with each melody or song, the choreographers can craft unique, amazing combinations.
That’s why we, Bulgarians, love to have various folklore festivals, where clubs, which would like to take part, can demonstrate what they have learned. “Spring Horo,” held in Velingrad each spring (except one COVID year, when it was held in October), is one of the most famous festivals, both because it’s in a great, small city to be but also because there’s plenty of participants. As a result, it turns out to be a huge celebration of the traditions of Bulgarian folklore.
We arrived in Velingrad Friday evening. Our whole club booked two nights at the spa hotel “Zdravetz,” the hotel at the very center of the city. A good part of the event is held around it: at the central scene in Velingrad’s city center. It has a decent price, and it has the center parking included, which is yet another good feature to have.
My family enjoys the hotel’s spa and hot pools, but I am not much into that, so I usually prefer to spend calm time writing about things, or doing some learning, etc. E.g., we’re all happy because everyone gets to do what one likes the most. We had breakfast and dinner included, which cleared out the question, “where we’re going to have dinner.” This is not a problem in Velingrad’s center, but it was one less thing to consider.
Today was the main event. At 10 o’clock, we had to be dressed and ready. Since the main part of the event was held in a circus arena just outside the city, this time, we had to use cars to get there. For the afternoon, we had a parade, which was scheduled to start at 15:30 and pass through the main street, and end with an official part, and six different horo dances (from the more popular kind). That second part was right in front of our hotel.
The first part, though, was the part where each participating club had to present two (or more) dances, in the amount to five to ten minutes. Our choreographers selected two dances: “Trakiiska kopanitza” (a horo dance from Thrace, one of the Bulgarian regions) and “Chetvorno.” We rehearsed these for a few months already, and most of us felt confident that we would do these right.
And we did. As a club, we did great. We were 18 dancers, and most of us did them flawlessly. Of course, it’s amateur dancing, so one should not be super strict about our performance, plus also the festival was not a competition but more like a show.
After we finished our participation, we came back to the hotel to do a short walk and get lunch. We sat in a restaurant nearby our hotel, where the lunch options were good and tasteful, but the restaurant itself was breaking the hygiene rules about smoking in closed areas, so it had this disgusting smell (and from time to time — cigarette smoke from inconsiderate people). Don’t get me wrong: this is forbidden in Bulgaria, but like many other forbidden things, there are “ways” to get around penalties.
Once lunch was completed, we wanted to go to a coffee place. Staying at this place was not an option (because of the smoke). Also, I wanted to charge the car a bit so that tomorrow I’ve no problem reaching home without stopping to charge. The local Fines hyper-charger was nearby a high-end hotel, where I expected they’ll have a nice hotel lobby where we could get the coffee we needed. And the amount of charging time was “compatible” with the coffee time we thought we’d need. As usual, it turned out that the charging time was much less than that, but hey — I’m not complaining here!
ARTE didn’t disappoint: the coffee and the service were great. We sat outside on a sunny deck, where people from the pool had their coffee, too. And we had a nice and calm conversation until it was time to go for the parade. ARTE was a 5-minute drive from our hotel, so we quickly returned, parked, got ready, and went to the parade.
The parade was impressive. Many people, Bulgarian pipe performances, and (very annoying) noise of constant (blank) gunfires. We walked from Velinrad’s train station to the center of the city (it’s about a 10-minute walk). And then, at the center, we danced the “second mandatory part” of six horo dances and then went to the hotel.
Tonight I expect another evening with a lot of music and horo dance at the restaurant. It’s supposed to be “an official evening,” but Bulgarian official evenings usually include horo-dances (especially if they’re at horo-dance festivals).
If you’re visiting Bulgaria and would like to spend a few days in a great spa resort in a calm, green city, I think you’ll love Velingrad. I didn’t write here about the Kleptuza lake park in the city, but if you decide to go, don’t forget to take a look at it, too.