December 8, 2008

Roses and Rifles
Kazanlăk, Bulgaria

It took a trio of trains and a few hours to travel the relatively short distance from Nova Zagora to Kazanlăk. And even though our final train leg departed painfully tardy, Silviya, our new hostess was still waiting at the train station in the cold December evening for us to arrive.

Silviya and Peter are a cute, well-traveled couple living on the outskirts of town, in one of many anonymous concrete apartment buildings. Kazanlăk is Peter's hometown, a small industrial city of 80,000 that Silviya (originally from the capital of Sofia) is struggling somewhat to acclimate to.

Bulgaria is the major supplier of a certain type of rose oil, with Kazanlăk at the center of rose oil extraction in Bulgaria.

The oil-producing rose of Kazanlăk is one of the most widely recognizable national symbols. The rose garden here is the largest in the world, and is supposedly the only place on the planet that can grow this particular type of rose.

The Rose Festival (celebrated for the first time in 1903 and since then it has traditionally been held during the first weekend of June) is dedicated to beauty and flowers, to spring and the fragrance of the 'priceless' Kazanlăk rose.

Situated at the eastern end of the Rose Valley, the blossoming flowers, their fragrance, and the festival are the primary tourist attractions for town. Alas, here in middle of winter, there's generally little reason for visit.

Ah, but Kazanlăk doesn't just produce roses, it also makes weapons. One of the largest regional arms manufacturing factories is here in this city, operated by Arsenal Corp. Founded in 1924, the company manufactures and develops a wide range of military equipment, including small arms (especially AK-47 models), anti-aircraft missiles, and heavy machine guns. Much of these items are eventually crated up and sold/shipped off to India.

We also learned that Peter is a professional chef, and about a year ago partnered up to open the only Chinese restaurant in town (something that we're certainly eager to try out), complete with a Bulgarian-speaking Chinese fellow in their employ.

Tonight we were (again) given our host's bedroom to sleep in, played with their feisty kitten, shared our impressions of backpacking with a baby, and listened to stories of what it's like to CouchSurf in SE Asia. We're already sad that we'll only be here for three nights.

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