Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Valentin Yotkov Bulgaria tour 2008

Valentin Yotkov, master silversmith, master of technique of chasing
and repousse, and dear friend will be taking another group of lucky
students to tour his homeland of Bulgaria next summer. For any who
might be considering joining him, I submit this narrative of the trip
I recently shared with Valentin. I offer my unreserved praise of the

Out of the blue, Valentin called me one day to invite me on a tour
of his homeland, with him. Unlikely, I told him, much as I would like
to go. Bad tax year, times were tough, blah, blah, blah. I nearly
made one of the worst decisions of my life that day. Later that
evening, I realized that this was the opportunity of a life-time, and
I called Valentin back and jumped in. What followed was, in fact, the
trip of a life-time.

Let’s face it, not too many of us grew up with a burning desire to
someday tour Bulgaria. I certainly didn’t. As one friend responded
when I told him where I was going, "I hope you like the color grey."
Those of us who were raised on this side of the Iron Curtain
certainly had considerable negative bias about life on the other
side. In fact, getting to know Valentin was my first in-depth
experience with someone raised in the Communist system. The trip
would have been entirely worth the time and expense if only to see
first-hand a country emerging from years of oppression, and
flowering into happier times, and sharing the experience with a guide
like Val who knows both worlds so well. Oh, but it was so much more
than that.

Many of us involved in metalsmithing were drawn to our passion, in
part, by a love of history. This trip took us to see, first-hand,
what many believe to be the best metalwork in human history (I am
certain they are the best yet found). The treasures of the Thracian
empire, created in appx 400-1000 B.C., are exquisite. To see these
pieces up close in the museums of Sofia was, for me, the highlight of
a trip with so many highlights it was hard to keep them all straight.
Mere words simply cannot do justice to the magnificence of these

Following Sofia, we traveled out into the countryside. We visited
Val’s painting teacher, a famous Bulgarian painter and wonderful man.
Seeing Val interacting with one of his mentors was priceless. As
well, we visited the town where Val spent years of his young life,
and many summers. We spent several days touring the fantastic
Ethnographic museum at Etara, a recreated town of the middle-ages,
with working master craftsmen using old-world techniques to create
treasures. Needless to say, the coppersmith and silversmith (old
friend of Val’s, of course) found an appreciative audience in our
group! We toured the town of Veliko-Turnovo, and visited the ancient
seat of Bulgarian government at the hilltop fortress. Then it was on
to Asinovgrad via Plovdiv, where we had a delightful evening with
many of Valentin’s fellow craftsmen in the town where he lived and
worked before coming to America in the late '80s. The language
barrier was breached with the wonderful local food and drink. As an
aside, the food everywhere was quite good, with the fresh cucumber
and tomato salads topping my list of favorites. The local drink was a
delicious plum brandy called Rakia, and the local red wines are
excellent and reasonably priced.

From Asinovgrad, it was up into the Rhodope mountains for two nights
at Chepalare, home to several ski areas in the winter. The scenery we
viewed in the mountains was stupendous, the rival of any I’ve seen in
the world. Our last night was spent back in Asinovgrad, celebrating
the most unique fourth of July party in my life, and then back the
next day to be dropped at the Sofia airport for the trip home.

Valentin and Sharon had organized and executed a perfect trip. The
company they assembled was delightful, companionable, and compatible.
The travel, thanks to our driver Roddy and his very comfortable bus,
was safe and efficient. The hotels ranged from quaint and
comfortable, to swanky and comfortable. The food was superb, with
well chosen restaurants along the way. The museums and sights were
fantastic. Best of all, sharing with Valentin his homeland, of which
he is rightly proud, was wonderful beyond measure. Meeting his
friends, and viewing another culture through the eyes and experiences
of a native made this a trip I will never forget. Would I go back? In
a heartbeat.

Thank you Sharon, for all your hard work. Valentin, thanks for
dragging me along, and not taking my first, half-hearted “no” for an
answer. I love you, buddy.

Keith Berge
Rochester, MN

Hola Keith & Orchid Friends,

Recently I uploaded new pictures from the trip to Bulgaria on
Valentin’s website. This country is really beautiful and the gold
treasures look amazing.

Please follow the link below to see the photo gallery:

Greetings from Monterrey -The International City of Knowledge!
Rocio Heredia

Thanks Keith for your heart felt comment, it is greatly appreciated.
And thank you Rocio for uploading the new pictures.

Finally, at the age of 50 I accepted the idea that life isn’t all
about work. Not that I don’t absolutely LOVE what I do - few things
make me happier than chasing some ancient design on a piece of gold
or silver.

We spend a lifetime rushing from class to class, learning new
techniques and proving that we are worthy of being called Masters.
But there is one more ingredient needed to create art - that is

How often do we feed the soul that moves the hand that moves the
hammer?! I have “unleashed” my passion for travel and found the
greatest inspiration.

During the past three years many of my students joined me for
workshops in some of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Those
trips are truly inspiring and enriching for the soul. As my assistant
says, “My first trip to Bulgaria changed my world”.

I invite you, Orchid friends on a journey to my native Bulgaria.
This trip is an exploration of the rich culture, tradition and art of
a beautiful country, little known to the Western world. Dates are
June 25 - July 5, 2009. Please contact me off the list if you’re

For those who have not seen the pictures from our 2008 trip to
Bulgaria here is the link again. Enjoy the journey!

Love and inspiration to all.