ARTICLES 
Discovering Karlovo
www.sofiaecho.com, 12-18 Nov 2004
A nice evening drive over the smooth road through Plovdiv ended in the town in Karlovo (144 km east of Sofia). A group of close friends invited me to spend a merry weekend with them in the birthplace of Bulgaria's greatest hero Vassil Levski (1837- 1873). Levski dedicated his life to freeing the Bulgarians from the Ottoman Empire and managed to set up a network of secret revolutionary committees throughout the country. The Ottoman police persecuted him for years and caught him in the end. He was hanged in Sofia. But Karlovo is home to other famous people; it's also the birthplace of the father of poet Hristo Botev, another Bulgarian hero. Dr. Ivan Bogorov was the publisher of the first Bulgarian newspaper and brothers Evlogi and Hristo Georgievi who had the Sofia University built. With this in mind, it's not strange that there are many museums in Karlovo. But that's not where we headed first. After travelling no matter what distance, all I really desire is a hot bath and a good meal.
A friend, who knows the town like his pocket, tipped us about Hotel Almond. This barely three months old hotel is situated somewhat higher than the rest of the town. Fortunately there were signs all over, so we had no problems finding the place. I was a little suspicious when our car was trying to make its way up through dark roads filled with pebbles and skeletons of houses yet to be built.

But I sighed with relief when I saw a white illuminated building that stood proudly on the foot of the mountains. A waiter came running over the lawn to guide us into the underground car park. We checked in and I can say that I was impressed. Our room, which was one of eight, was luxurious. Silk curtains, dark woods and a Jacuzzi gave it a Japanese feel. There was great eye for detail, but no clutter, very, very nice. After inspecting the room we went down to have a meal. Here I must say that the chef agreed to stay on in order to prepare our dinner. We arrived around midnight, which normally is means closing time for the kitchen. That's what I call customer service. On principle I am not a fan of hotel food, but after a hard working day and some driving I gladly made an exception. And I was pleasantly surprised.
The menu had a fresh, modern and sometimes French twist to authentic Bulgarian recipes. I ordered spinach rolls with a yoghurt salad inside and as a main course duck with fresh figs and artichokes. To accompany this meal I went for a big glass of Bulgarian Mavrud (somewhat heavy, but very aromatic red wine). We were very happy indeed and around 2.30am we decided that we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer and stumbled up the stairs. Next morning, had a great breakfast and admired the mountains and the in fact very charming old houses in the neighbourhood. After admiring the House of Vassil Levski, which one has to see when you are in Karlovo. The original house didn't survive a fire during the War of Liberation, but the stairs to the cellar and the hide out are all that remained intact.
Bulgarian patriots decided to restore the house. There is a big exhibition hall displaying material telling the story of Levski's life and revolutionary activities. And after a visit to the very beautiful St. Nicola Church, we decided to go to the famous Karlovski Waterfall, which is situated one km north of the town. There was a hydroelectric power station, which you had to pass in order to reach the water wonder. By the time we got there, it was already dawn. But the waterfall was lit in orange, which gave it a very nice atmosphere. It was beautiful. And so was the power station in fact, because it was so old. After this it was time for dinner.
We had planned to meet the rest of our party, which consisted of a dozen people, at a restaurant called Once Upon a Time. The restaurant has a beautiful garden with all kinds of pottery and antiques. There is a pond and roses are still in bloom. A wooden staircase leads to the restaurant itself, which breathes the atmosphere of times past. Old photographs and maps tell stories of people and places. The whole interior is made of walnut wood, including the impressive sealing. The menu is funny, and while we laugh and decide what to eat, we drank the wine and rakia produce of this year. Because in the end, that's the excuse on which we decided to meet in the first place. PS, the food was wonderful.

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