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Bulgarian Hospitality in Veliko Tarnovo

Adventure travel tales in Eastern Europe:
Vilnius, Lithuania
Prague, Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov, Bohemia
Brasov, Romania
St Petersburg, Russia
Budapest, Hungary
Other European Tales:
Oktoberfest, Munich
Peloponnese, Greece
Venice, City of Water
Ruins of Pompeii, Italy
Cappadocia, Turkey

Surroundings of Veliko Tarnovo, with bridge and hill

Veliko Tarnovo is the former capital of Bulgaria, and located on a beautiful spot along the meandering river Yantra, together with the accompanying Tsarevets fortress. The medieval town and fortress attract many tourists, but for us it is also a place to experience life in modern Bulgaria.

The train ride from Bucharest to Bulgaria is a dreadful one. Until we reach the border, it’s still okay, we learn some words and the Cyrillic writing from the Bulgarians in our compartment. But at the border, the formalities take forever, as does the slow passage of the Danube, which marks the border, via a very old bridge. We are not allowed to use the toilets of the sleeping carriage, and it is freezing cold in the train.

Finally, in the dusk we reach Gorna Oryahovitsa, where we have to take the bus to Veliko Tarnovo. But we have no Bulgarian money, and there is no ATM at the train station. A nice lady helps us negotiating with a taxi driver, who brings us to an ATM, and on to Veliko Tarnovo.

Access Road to Tsarevets FortressFrom the taxi, we can see the nice walls of the Tsarevets fortress of Veliko Tarnovo. As soon as we are dropped off in the center of town, we are attacked by an old women, offering us a room. The hostel where we are dropped off is bad, she says, and she is almost forcing us to walk with her. While we walk to her house she keeps on talking, and after installing in a spare room of her house, she brings us to a restaurant for a good, cheap meal. We have to hurry, because maybe there is a light show at the fortress tonight, which is rare in the off season. She doesn’t stop telling us how lucky we are. When she leaves to find out what time the show starts, we finally have some rest.

We have just finished our meal when she returns, and we have to hurry again to follow her. The show is about to start, so we run through the narrow streets to a church with a view to the opposite hill. Here we wait while our hostess tells us how a bus with “very, very rich tourists” have arrived, who pay for the light show. We can watch for free from here, and are “very, very lucky”.

Then, the spectacle starts. With different colors the walls of the Tsarevets fortress, the church, the gates, and the surroundings are lit. It is indeed a beautiful sight, and finally we agree we were lucky to have seen it. When she leads us back to her house, we have to taste her potato soup, and a cup of tea before we are finally allowed to go to sleep.

The Tsarevets fortress

Tower at the Tsarevets fortress, with view over Veliko TarnovoWhen we wake up, Rose, our hostess, is already making breakfast for us. The bread is a little old, but the tea is nice. While eating, she gives us instructions what to do today, and she urges us to return at 4 PM, so we can enjoy her filled paprika’s. We don’t know about that, and leave the house.

We head directly for the Tsarevets fortress, where we walk the narrow, high access road, after buying a ticket. At the gate are a few dolls who perform a little play, operated by a man behind a panel. After giving him a tip, we walk up towards the church on the central hill. This is the eye catcher of the fortress and it is well restored. We walk around it and have a look inside, where the walls are decorated with modern, abstract wall paintings. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to take pictures.

Once outside, we walk to the remains of what must have been the palace. As part of the project “Beautiful Bulgaria” they are renovating it, and it is a bit strange to see concrete and steal in the only walls of the structure. Steep rocks at Tsarevets FortressWe ask ourselves whether this is the right way of renovation, or should the use the original methods and materials? Using modern techniques will probably lead to a more robust result, but less authentic. I guess we have to return someday to see the result.

Moving further through the Tsarevets fortress, we watch the remains of many small churches. They are a bit in contrast with the renovated outer walls of the fortresss. The reconstruction of those walls is probably done for the light show, since the wiring of the lights is integrated in the walls.

After visiting the castle walls and tower on the other side of the fortress, we return to the city. We return to Rose late (6 PM), but she serves us her filled paprika’s after all, which taste fine. But it’s a little cold in her house, so we decide to go out for a meal and a drink.

Nice surroundings

The river Yantra is meandering through the landscape, dividing Veliko Tarnovo and its surroundings into different hills. The old town is situated on the steep slopes of one of these hills. We walk to the hill in the next curve of the river, from where we have a nice view over the houses built on the steep rocks. On the relatively low hill we are on now, is also the monument commemorating the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1393), of which Veliko Tarnovo was the capital.

Gypsy Village at Veliko TarnovoFrom here we walk to another hill, with a park and more nice views over the other hills. Then we walk down on the other side, to reach a gypsy village built on the steep rocks as well. When we pass the river via a bridge we are beneath the Tsarevets fortress, where we enter a cafeteria.

After a small meal we walk to the other side of the fortress, to a part where the noble people of the city used to live. It is still a nice place with nice buildings and a few medieval churches, which are, or are being renovated. It are beautiful surroundings where we could walk for days if the weather would have been a bit better. So we return to Rose at 4 PM, who is waiting for us with another meal.

Eccentric couple

While we are eating, Rose joins us and keeps on talking. It appears she travelled around Europe in the 70s and 80s to follow Esperanto conferences, sponsored by the communist regime. After the revolution those sponsored days were over, and she had no other job. So she started renting her house, since the income of her husband Alex, who is an artist, isn’t much either. They hope for a little extra at the free bingo round, attended by Alex every morning.

Old town of Veliko Tarnovo, situated on a steep slopeThe next day we decide to visit the old city. We walk up to the central square, surrounded by old crafts houses. In high season, people still perform these crafts in their shops, but currently there is not much to be seen. But it is a nice street with renovated houses. We walk on to Gurko street, an old street along the steep rock wall, also full of renovated houses. Then up along some churches and to enjoy the views.

Because of the weather we decide not to visit other places in Bulgaria, but to take the night train to Istanbul instead. We say goodbye to Rose, who took care of us very well. We promise to recommend her homestay to others (so be sure to visit her when you’re in Veliko Tarnovo). We get on the bus, which shows us another part of the city. It’s the newer part, full of ugly soviet type flats, a little depressing. Bulgaria is the poorest country in Eastern Europe, with a high unemployment rate. At the train station we have to wait over an hour, and we also see some vagabonds hanging around, a common sight here.

Veliko Tarnovo is a great destination, especially with good weather. It showed us that Bulgaria is a poor country. We didn’t encounter any corruption or crimes, however. Instead we had a warm welcome and a great time here.

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