By Master Sgt. Kendra M. Owenby, 134 ARW Public Affairs
/ Published September 15, 2016
NOVO SELO TRAINING AREA, Bulgaria -- Members of the 164th Airlift Wing, 118th Wing, 134th Air Refueling Wing and the 194th Engineer Brigade, Tennessee National Guard participated in a Morale, Wellness and Recreation event Aug. 12-13 while deployed to Novo Selo Training Area, Bulgaria.
Chief Warrant Officer (CW5) Sherry Holman, S-1, 194th EN BDE organized two different opportunities for travel over a two-day period for Airmen and Soldiers to learn some of the Bulgarian culture in the area.
"It's a pleasure to support these events because the Soldiers come back with an appreciation of cultural awareness", stated Holman. "I love seeing how they come back with a better understanding of how other cultures differ from the U.S.".
The first location was the seaside resort area of Nessebar and Sunny Beach. These two areas are in close proximity to each other. Located in the Burgas Province on the Black Sea coast, the culture is a blend of the old and the new.
Nessebar is an ancient city that sits on a rocky peninsula overlooking the Black Sea. Dated at over 3,000 years old it was originally settled by the Thracians. Ancient ruins can be seen all around Nessebar including a temple of Apollo, the remains of the acropolis, and an agora, which in Greek times, was a gathering place or assembly area for the people. The peninsula of Nessebar is one of the cultural pearls of Bulgaria with all of its archaeological and architectural structures and sites.
Airmen and Soldiers took a guided walking tour down narrow cobblestone streets to learn about the local history. The ancient city has preserved Roman, Medieval, Byzantine and Bulgarian architectural monuments. There are a number of churches on Nessebar to include the Church of St Sofia, Church of Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Stephen's Church, a former Orthodox Church that dates back to the 11th Century and has since been converted to a museum.
Sunny Beach is a major seaside resort area located on the Black Sea. Streets are lined with restaurants, shops and beachside entertainment. Waterparks, go kart tracks and white sands are reminiscent of the gulf shores of Florida to many from the U.S., but with a Mediterranean feel. Many of the Airmen and Soldiers took the opportunity to swim in the warm waters of the Black Sea and soak up the sun while others toured the area.
The second day of the MWR event consisted of a trip to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city. Nicknamed "the city of the seven hills", it is ranked as one of the world's oldest cities. The American College of Sofia, located in Sofia, was originally founded in Plovdiv in the late 1800's and later changed locations. It is one of the oldest American educational institutions outside of the U.S.
The majority of the Airmen and Soldiers took advantage of a walking tour of Plovdiv while a few broke away into smaller groups and toured the city on their own.
Rich in history, Plovdiv was originally a Thracian settlement dating back 6,000 years B.C. Throughout history it was invaded by Greeks, Persians, Romans, Celts, Huns, Bulgarians, Slav-Vikings, Crusaders, and Turks. It was later liberated by the Russian Army from Ottoman rule.
The Roman amphitheatre in the city center of Plovdiv is one of the world's best preserved ancient theatres. Still in use today, the theatre hosts theatrical plays and community events throughout the warmer months. Originally built to seat up to 7,000 spectators, today, due to aging and deterioration it can only accommodate approximately 3,500.
A lone statue of a Russian soldier, a stark remnant of communist reign, stands on one of the highest hills overlooking the city. The statue is named "Alyosha", stands 36 feet high, and was constructed of reinforced concrete approximately 62 years ago. The inscription reads "To the glory of the invincible Soviet army of liberation". It was built to commemorate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in Bulgaria in WWII.
Locals gathered for traditional song and dance at the Tsar Simeon Garden, a beautiful garden with shade trees, fountains, and flowers in bloom.
Capt. Stephanie McKeen, 134 ARW Public Affairs Officer, commented on the decorative costumes and musical talent of the local singers and dancers.
"I could have spent the entire day right there in the park listening to the local music and been happy".
Decked out in decorative floral attire they performed for the crowds, singing in unison with accordion music and traditional folk dancing from years past.
The MWR trips were successful in allowing the service members, many who may never have the opportunity to visit Bulgaria again, a brief look into the rich culture of this Eastern European Nation.