Veliko Tărnovo comes to an end….

Outside our apartment they have been redoing the cobbled road and it has been a constant source of entertainment for Colin. He quite can’t believe how long it is taking or understand the methodology…reminds me of the long drawn out garden renovation he watched in the neighbours garden! The streets are being redone to give them the aged look, and it is apparently funded by the EU. They [the old cobbles] were all pulled up when they updated the water mains throughout Varusha area. The dust from the works has just been a pain in the neck, so as much as rainy days are also a pain in the neck, it has been quite good to dampen things down a bit … always a silver lining if you look for one!

We visited Tsarevets, which was the main fortress of medieval Bulgaria in a time gone by. It was the home to sovereigns, churches and nobility. It is hilly outcrop, in the shape of basically a triangle and the river ribbons past it on two sides. The walls, gates and towers have all been partially restored. During the Byzantine Era, it was one of the most popular cities in Europe. There is a a Cathedral at the top [Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God!] which was reconstructed in the 1980’s [having been destroyed during the Ottoman rule] and it [the church] was never consecrated, as Bulgaria was under Communist Rule. The paintings inside are of a gothic nature with dark and ominous tones. Apparently during the communist time, this Cathedral was not of the approved faith. Nowadays the church is just a place to visit, a bit like an art gallery.

Walking around the fortress of Tsarevets and climbing up the lookout towers, visiting the ‘rock of executions’ and seeing the ruins of all the dwellings and buildings, as well as the church itself you can’t help but be impressed by this ancient ‘gated community’. It overlooks the modern [Renaissance] town, Trapezista Hill [which also was a fortified medieval town], across to Varusha and down to the river. I loved visiting here and am so looking forward to the lighting ceremony that is to take place while we are here.

Arbanassi is only 4km away [from Veliko Turnovo (VT)] and easily accessible by the local bus. Over there you can find more monasteries and churches, but the most famous of all is Christ’s Nativity Church with its original paintings. Now a UNESCO site, it attracts thousands of pilgrims every year who come to view the paintings from the 15th century and just ‘be’ at a holy site. It has an amazing painting called ‘the vanity of life’ which is zodiac signs which are from the ‘false world’. I found this a bit fascinating. We also walked to St Nikola Monastery but it was closed. There were fantastic views back down the valley to VT, and all the way to the snow on the mountains in the distance. After a bit of a walk around town and a chat with a local we decided to have lunch before catching our bus. We specifically asked if they could do lunch within the 40 minutes we had (the bus is every two hours!) … but with only five minutes to go we had to hurry them along with take out!

We have spent several days just walking around VT city – up hill and down hill. The streets in the touristy areas are all very clean, swept and welcoming but once you get into the area with less foot traffic it becomes quite incredible – the footpaths and lanes are very unkempt, there is rubbish everywhere, it is very slippery underfoot from all the silt left from the construction, the stairs are uneven and there is cat and dog poo everywhere. If you just visited for a few days you would only see the best bits – like with any tourist destination in the world. There are so many ‘street dogs and cats here, I just find it distressing!

We decided one day to catch a bus to Gabrovo (about 30kms). This small town was once an industrial revolution town, now it is forging itself to being a tourist town. There are more statues here than anywhere else we have been and a number of them are along the Yantra River which makes for an interesting walk, although not being able to read Bulgarian, leaves you a bit clueless!! We have seen a lot of churches and museums so were just happy to wander about until we saw the ‘humour museum’. It was local satire but with great translations into English. Three floors of humour, art and street costumes made for a different kind of outing for us.

When we visited Tsarevets, we could see below some sort of miniature world, so we waited for a reasonable day and headed on down to visit. We were the only ones there!! You would have thought the staff would have been keen to welcome us but they really couldn’t have cared less!! 10Lev each (= $NZ10 approx) to enter and we felt truly welcomed … yeah right! I think some ‘Disney’ training here might help! Anyway, the park is 40 of Bulgaria’s most important buildings/places built to a 1:25 scale. The models themselves were pretty impressive, but it is the small things ie: some of the models needed a bit of a clean, the weeds removed and the half-full ponds that are a bit green and slimy, complete with a floating dead frog need a bit of TLC!

We waited for 1hr for the bus back to town completely unaware that a lot of the roads were closed because it was National Day of Bulgaria the next day. So we walked back to town! We noticed a lot of Police and Army about but couldn’t really work out what was happening. We did ask a few ‘locals’ but were none the wiser!! And of course with no WiFi at hand, it makes doing research a bit of a challenge!

We had planned to visit Trapezista the next morning but when we walked down the hill into town we discovered that all the roads were closed and there were twice as many Police as the day before. We did ask a Policeman what was happening and he told us a parade was happening, so we ask when and he said “now”. We decided the only thing to do was visit the Information centre and ask them. A short walk later and we discovered that it was a parade for Government Officials, bands and celebrations. They told us that it would start at 11.30. So we were close to the Mother Bulgaria monument and could see some people in uniform up there, so we found ourselves a great spot and watched the happenings. 30 minutes later we were moved on as the bomb squad had arrived!!!!

We made our way to the next spot that we thought looked okay, and had other people hanging around, only to be moved again about 20 minutes later. We found another spot – third time lucky and it was a short time later that the Prime Minister and a whole lot of Government Officials walked by before the speeches and wreathes were laid at Mother Bulgaria. We couldn’t really understand what was being said so we walked back up the hill for lunch and could hear all the singing and bands from our balcony.

Finally after lunch we visited Trapezitsa. It is the second fortress of the old capital Tărnovo. We decided to walk [as the roads were still closed] from where we are staying …. down hill, down the path that no-one else seems to use and then across our favourite train bridge! Along the rail tracks to the station where you could catch the funicular up the hill. Only trouble was that the funicular wasn’t available that day! So we took the eco-trail around the hill to the far entrance and then walked up the hill to the top! I tell you I should be as skinny as homeless cat by now! I am not! We visited the small museum they have at the top and saw relics [pottery, tools, buckles etc] from a time gone by. We had great views back up the valley to Arbanassi, of Tsarevets and along the river.

We explored the ruins of 18 small churches [some of which had parts of the original (13th century) paintings on the walls], residential buildings and of course the fortress walls. They have restored the lookout tower which gives great views back across the river to Tsarevets. A lot of the artefacts which had been uncovered, are now on display at the museum, which we did try to visit but we never seemed to be going past when it was actually open!

We knew that there was to be a sound and light show on Tsarevets in the evening, and of course now knew why. We walked back ‘home’ clockwise to complete a whole circle. So after going down the hill, along the river a bit and then back up the hill (did I tell you it was hilly here!!) only to come to a road block where the bomb squad were doing there thing again, before the Government Officials came to watch the show in the evening. 20-30 mins they told us … an hour later, we were finally on our way back up the hill to the pub for a cold beer and some free WiFi!! We had a quick trip up the hill, made ourselves a simple dinner and then headed back on down the hill for the sound and light show. I have to say, it was pretty incredible. It is meant to depict the tumultuous history and liberation of Bulgaria. I think with the fireworks, the church bells tolling and music to symbolise the descent and ascent of the nation it was pretty amazing. Once it was finished we headed back up the hill ‘home’ – we slept very well that night!

So we have pretty much exhausted all there is to do here in VT! We haven’t had a TV, so have read an awful lot! Colin has probably read about 15 books!! Fortunately for him our home owner had a great collect of Lee Childs and John Grisham. I have tried to write my blog where I can and I too have read quite a few books, and believe it or not let Colin beat me at more games of scrabble than I am happy about!

We had two days to go, so we decided to do a walk in the hills behind us (glutens for punishment), a stroll along the famous Gurko Street where the houses are impossibly stacked upon each other and then reflected in the river below and finally found ‘The Book Cave’ where we picked up a couple of books for our next flight. We also visited the art gallery, which didn’t inspire me in the least!!

So I am finishing this from Sophia (the Capital) where we have 3 nights before our flight to Dubai. We found another incredibly cheap (repositioning) cruise, which will take us back to Barcelona, via the Suez Canal, a port stop in Malta and a port stop in Athens. It is 14 days, so we will be off line again, except for any WiFi hotspots along the way.

Will stay in touch as we can.

“Live life by a compass … not a clock”


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