We have been here 14 days already, past half way! The weather has been a complete mixed bag … one day it is lovely and warm – shorts weather, then it is cold and back to scarf, jacket, then it is cloudy and hazy but not cold or it is like it is today …. cold, foggy and a bit wet. Four seasons, typical spring weather!
So after a very sad start to this assignment, we quickly got into the swing of things with Zsa Zsa and Thomas, although we don’t get up at 5am for them – 7am is the earliest I am ever getting up to feed a cat! We give them tons of love and affection, but not at 5am. They have adjusted well and are pretty friendly, up for lots of love, so you could say all is well in Veliko Tărnovo with our furry friends.
Day 1, travel/arrive [3hr bus trip from the capital Sophia]. Day 2, Trip to vet, you know the rest! Day 3, out and about to explore. As we are situated up the hill (in the middle of a natural amphitheater, with one row of housing behind us) we have a reasonable view of the city below, and the Assen Monument, although cannot really see the river. The Yantra river [which is actually a tributary of the Danube] snakes backwards and forwards through the valleys, with multiple hills reaching up in every direction. Trapezista, Tsarevets and Sveta Gora ‘hills’ have been populated for centuries possibly dating back to 2nd century, and dominate the landscape with their medieval fortifications and the Sveta Gora with the now Veliko Turnovo University.
I had understood that there was a walk by the river, so we headed down the hill towards town took a left, and then headed down the hill some more to the river. Only it took about two km’s of heading left before we found a track down to the river. Clearly we were in the wrong place but we figured we would just go with the flow (pardon the pun!). We came to a bridge and found a couple of people fishing – they didn’t really speak any English, but enough to say that there was no path!! This clearly a dumping ground and all manor of rubbish could be found [even furry friends], together with tons of graffiti. Anyway, we decided that we would cross the bridge and find our way back on the other side, no point walking the same path if you don’t have too, right! So we doubled back to the river and followed ‘a’ path which we [now] think was made by wild animals – not humans!
We carried on along this trail until we were overcome by a smell (clearly something dead) and then saw some ‘leaching’ from beyond the road above us down the bank into the river. It made the ground spongey and the smell was putrid and overwhelming. We couldn’t go over it, we couldn’t get around it on the river side (so reminds me of the book ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ …), so we made our way back up to the highway and walked along as the cars sped by. We know now, that we were actually walking on the main highway!! A few people did actually toot at us!! We carried on along here until we found a train track and some sort of walkway that ran parallel for the most part! We followed this back into the city, across a bridge and then up a very unkempt path to the old city market street, still a couple of km’s from ‘home’!
This path, actually our whole walk was littered with rubbish! We have now seen rubbish in every country we have been to and I am gobsmacked that we ‘humans’ seem to just ignore it! Yet we are quick to say how dirty and awful third world countries are!! Our first world countries are just as bad and we need to collectively clean up the world we live in. I was always picking up rubbish at home when I was out walking our Pepper, so it happens at home as well. I challenge you all to pick up a piece of rubbish today!!
The next day we decided just to have a wander around [in the city and on the streets] and get our bearings. We are staying in Varusha, which translates to ‘the old city’ and was established circa 1850’s. We can see across the river to the ruins of Trapezista, and the church and ruins on Tsarevets Hill. The hills are not mountainous, but feel like it when you are walking up and down them. The trees are exploding with colour, bright green leaves unfurling from buds being warmed in the sun [when it’s out!], pink and white blossom trees scattered throughout and covered in bees, which hum as you pass by. There is a scent of spring in the air and every day it looks greener and greener. The trees providing a softness, to the harshness of the communist style buildings in the newer (circa 1950’s) part of town.
We have visited the monument of the Assens [located on a rocky peak above one of the bends in the river] which is dedicated to celebrate 800 years since the Assen brothers rebellion. It has four [each weighing 11 tons] bronzed horsemen representing the three brothers who liberated Bulgaria from the Byzantine slavery and one heir. It has a sword in the middle and it is inverted so as not to look like a cross. It is quite an incredible memorial and it has a fantastic view back to Varusha [where we are staying] and the river.
We walked past the most horrendous hotel that was maybe built in the 1970’s and is a blot on the landscape – it needs to be pulled down. I can’t even imagine staying there, it just looks depressing. They either need to pull it down or paint it … maybe ask the graffiti artists in town to ‘tart it up’. Anything would be better than its current state! A fictional icon of the Cold War era – something grim and bleak. Brutalist style architecture.
We learnt the brutal architecture actually comes from a French Word and mean buildings built with with a monolithic appearance and with little or no adornments. I don’t think that this building is going to become a ‘architectural icon’ but then what would I know! Most of those type of monolithic buildings are now adorned with satellite dishes and air-con units, which just add to the ugliness.
A few days later we did the walking tour with a local law student. She has studied history as part of her studies – she was knowledgeable and passionate about Turnovo. We learnt an interesting thing about the Assen monument, something that we never knew before and I really can’t explain why we didn’t know!?!? If the horse is rearing up with two legs in the air – then the rider died in battle, if one leg is raised – then the rider was injured in battle or died of battle wounds and if all four legs are on the ground the the rider did not die in battle. Well, there you have it, although here in Bulgaria they have a different interpretation! You learn something new every day. I can’t believe that with all the monuments we have seen (and not just on this trip) that we didn’t know the history behind this very important detail.
Our walking tour started at the Mother Bulgaria monument. Here our lovely guide [Plumia] gave us a brief history of Bulgarian wars. This monument is dedicated to those who lost here lives in four wars: 1. Russian/Turkish, 2. Serbian/Bulgarian, 3. Balkan and 4. WWI. It has an eternal flame symbolising the lives lost. Plumia told us about Bulgaria’s role in WWI & WWII.
As there was only Colin and I on the tour, we had an in-depth tour and had the opportunity to ask lots of questions. We walked past the Monument of the Hanged, which is in a pyramid style, with the names of revolutionaries which were hanged during the Turkish rule, the sky bridge which gives fabulous views back to the Assen Monument and to the river and past the house with the Monkey! We keep hearing about the house with the monkey, so need to find out more about it and visit it!!
We then headed through Varusha [‘old town’]. It was here that we discovered that it wasn’t Veliko we were staying in [we have been saying that for months!!] but Turnovo! Veliko means ‘great’ and because there was another Turnovo [a smaller place, somewhere south] it became known as ‘Veliko Turnovo’ because it was the capital. Q. How come people refer to it as Veliko? A. It is mostly referred to as Veliko by Expats or tourists!! We very quickly picked up that we don’t want to be UK expats here [even though Colin in technically one, and I am moonlighting as one!]. We are very quick to say we are from New Zealand and have taken to saying ‘Kia Ora’!! That usually garners a much friendlier welcome and some conversation! Nearly every Bulgarian we have met knows where New Zealand is.
As we explored with our guide, she told us about how Bulgaria became a Capitalist state in 1990, a fall from Communism. There are a lot of buildings from that era and they are god-awful-ugly. The old buildings built more than a century ago are clinging to the hills, haphazardly piled on top of one another and seemingly falling to pieces but with a romantic charm and mirrored in the river below. The streets here are cobbled (as they are in Varusha, where we are) and are ankle breakers! You really need to be watching you feet the whole time – 1. So you don’t trip and 2. So you don’t walk in dog poo!
Bulgaria’s Prime Minister [Boiko Borisov] is a former body guard with a black belt in karate and was also a nightclub bouncer. He was voted out because of corruption and his costs of living but was seemingly voted back in because no one else wanted the job. He has been a police officer, fire fighter specialising in fire safety and equipment, been the oldest professional football player [in Bulgaria, aged 54] has a doctoral degree in Psychological and Physical Training of Operatives, and has lectured at the Police College (some research from Google!!). He sounds like an all round nice guy and by all accounts seems to be doing okay for the country. Useless information, but next time you are at a Trivia night and they ask what the Bulgarian Prime Minister did in a former life … you have the answer 🙂
So that’s it for now, I will tell you about our trip to Arbanassi and Tsarevets next time.
“Travel is only glamorous in retrospect”