Valley of the kings in Veliko Tarnovo

Published: September 6th 2018
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Today we were travelling south from Bucharest in Romania to Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria.

We headed down to breakfast in the hotel dining room, where I gathered a small feast of muesli, cranberries, dates, yoghurt, warm bread, jam, pastries and fruit tea. We also made some bread rolls with cheese and salami and smuggled them into our bags for the train trip to Veliko Tarnovo. Feeling refreshed, we gathered our packs and headed out onto the street, where we jumped onto a tram and headed to Bucharest’s railway station.

We picked up some bracelets and a pendant with our remaining Romanian currency at a small stall, then jumped onto the train and found a spare six-berth cabin which we shared with four others. Before we knew it we were chugging out of the station and starting our journey towards Bulgaria. We were feeling a little sad to be leaving Romania, because we’d loved our short time in this incredible country.

The train had no air-conditioning, so it was hot inside the cabin – boiling hot. We pulled the cabin window down to get some air, but it kept shutting every time we hit a bump in the tracks – and there were many. We’d barely left the station when we found ourselves travelling parallel to Bucharest’s immense rubbish tip. The smell was intense, but we couldn’t close the window, because the heat inside the cabin was just too overwhelming. It was one of the few times where we had to prioritise airflow over smell. We held our breath and enjoyed the breeze, gulping some air every now and again until the rubbish tip was a distant speck on the horizon behind us.

The window in the hallway outside our cabin also refused to stay open, so one of our travel companions – a retired nurse from New Zealand – asked for my belt. I tentatively removed it from my waist and handed it over, and within minutes she’d secured the window (in its open position) to a nearby handrail in an impressive display of knot work. Despite my beltless state, we had airflow both inside our cabin and outside the cabin door. We were saved!

As we rolled through the Romanian countryside, we passed fields of sunflowers, flat agricultural plains and industrial landscapes with metal chimneys jutting into the sky. We stopped on the Romanian side of the Danube River – the border between the two countries – in the mid-afternoon sun, and it was incredibly hot. We had lost all airflow (due to the train’s lack of movement), and we were feeling it. We surrendered our passports to a friendly young Romanian policeman and then sat on the train while we waited for our transit out of the country to be processed. After an interminable wait our passports were returned, and we began slowly chugging across the Friendship Bridge (the longest steel bridge in Europe) into Bulgaria. The Danube was brown and dirty, and I was amazed to see people sunbaking and swimming on its banks. When we finally arrived on the other side of the river and started our travels on Bulgarian soil, I marvelled at the communist-built high rise apartments strewn along the rail tracks.

After a few minutes the train stopped, and we again had to surrender our passports, this time to a young Bulgarian policewoman in high heels. While we waited for our transit into the country to be processed, a few extra carriages were added to our train, and all the while the temperature inside the cabin was skyrocketing – exponentially. We were literally on the cusp of melting into our seats when our passports were finally returned. Unfortunately, the passport of a young Asian traveller was not among those returned, and he was stressed. Really, really stressed. He ran off the train five minutes before we were meant to leave, and we didn’t think we’d see him again. However, just before we pulled out from the station we saw him sprinting back, waving his passport triumphantly above his head – I’ve never seen such relief on someone’s face!

With passports intact and everyone on board, we continued on to Veliko Tarnovo, arriving on the outskirts of town in the late evening. We waited outside the deserted railway station until enough taxis arrived, marvelling all the while at the remoteness of our surrounds. We eventually piled into a taxi and began slowly winding our way through a small rural village, and I began to feel a long way from anywhere – and I loved it! Suddenly the potholed road turned into an open highway, and the taxi driver planted his foot on the accelerator, turned up the radio and sped into the mountains. With the radio blaring bad pop songs from the eighties, we sang at the tops of our voices. It was a memorable trip.

When we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, the door to our hotel appeared to be locked, but a sign directed us around the back of the building. It was like walking into a construction site, but we trudged up the dirt road, checked into our (very basic) hotel and showered. It had been a long and slow travel day, but I’d thoroughly enjoyed it.

Feeling suitably refreshed, we walked to Shtastliveca, a nearby restaurant with an incredible view overlooking the city. After a welcome cold beer, we ordered a shepherds salad with sheep’s cheese, strained yoghurt and home-made flat dry sausage, which I followed with a traditional Bulgarian Mishmash dish (tomatoes, roasted peppers, white cheese, egg, garlic and butter served on a sizzle grill). Ren opted for a pan-fried chicken fillet with crispy skin, cooked with butter and warm potato salad. Both meals were enjoyable, but the restaurant was a little touristy, so we decided to find something a little less touristic and more local the following evening. We were absolutely exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel and crashed at midnight.

Because of sheer exhaustion, we slept through our 6am alarm and eventually woke at 7am. We walked the streets of Veliko Tarnovo looking for a cafe, but nothing seemed to be open. We eventually found a tiny hole-in-the-wall bakery, so we picked up some local pastries and coffee (Nescafe) and walked to a small concrete area overlooking the river and houses on the other side of town. It was an ideal spot to sit on wooden benches and enjoy a simple breakfast in this amazing place.

After breakfast we headed out on an orientation walk of the town. We made our way to the Nativity of Virgin Mary Cathedral, then onto the Tsarevets Fortress, where we climbed up to the Ascension of Christ Patriarchal Church. The sun was searing, so we sought shade wherever we could as we made our way down to the river on the eastern side of town. We walked past the Holy Forty Martyrs Church, across the Bishops Bridge, up to the Church of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki and then back to a small restaurant near Bishop’s Bridge, where we settled on the bank of the river for a cold beer in the shadow of the fortified walls of Tsarevets Fortress. This was an incredible local experience, and it is what we always seek when we travel.

Bracing ourselves for the heat of the midday sun, we made our way back up the hill towards the main town area, dropping into Ivan Asen for lunch, a restaurant located just across the road from the entrance to the Tsarevets Fortress. The view from the restaurant’s small balcony was amazing, so we settled at an outdoor table and ordered a shepherds salad and shopska salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onion and grated Bulgarian sirene white cheese on top). After a week of Romania’s meat-heavy cuisine, these Bulgarian salads were very welcome.

Feeling rejuvenated after a cold beer and a light meal, we made our way to the western side of town, navigating the ramshackle cobblestone lanes, crossing the Stambolov Bridge and marvelling at the Asenevtsi Monument. We decided to visit the Boris Denev Art Gallery, and we were a little underwhelmed with most of the works on display. Apart from a collection of historic character-based Bulgarian pencil sketches (some of which were very unnerving), the majority of paintings were ordinary – what I often refer to as student or matric art. We were not allowed to take photos, and when the sound of Ren’s camera suddenly reverberated throughout the empty halls and high ceilings, an overly fervent gallery manger rushed out and waved her finger at Ren, saying in the sternest of voices: ‘No photos!’ It was a single ‘click’, but we felt ever person in every painting looking down at us from the walls, raising their eyebrows and tutting in disgust. It was time to leave.

We made our way back across the Stambolov Bridge, finding a small restaurant (Tihiya Kut) on the way which looked perfect for an intimate local meal that evening. We were struggling with the heat, so we climbed a steep flight of stairs to the main road and headed back to our hotel, picking up some drinks and supplies for the following day at a small local shop close to our hotel.

As the early evening fell we headed out for pre-dinner drinks at Loni Bar, which had a large balcony with outside tables overlooking the township of Veliko Tarnovo. This was a very relaxing place, and an ideal way to unwind after a long day of walking. After a few drinks we headed down towards the river to Tihiya Kut, where we’d reserved a table earlier in the day.

This was a fantastic little restaurant. It was intimate, with only a few tables, and the menu was small and refined. We started the meal with a tomato, cheese and hazelnut dip with toasted bread, and it was amazing. I ordered homemade meatballs in tomato sauce, while Ren opted for the wine kebab (beef stew in red wine). Both meals were sensational, and I washed mine down with an incredible broached house red wine, while Ren went for an amazing homemade lemonade – made with real lemons. This was an incredible little place, which we enjoyed with incredible company. We talked freely and quietly, soaking in the warm evening atmosphere of Veliko Tarnovo.

During the evening we talked about movies that can define a nation. This is, of course, an impossible task for a single movie, and one that is particularly subjective in nature, but it’s an interesting topic nonetheless. Before travelling to Bulgaria we watched a 2008 film titled The World is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner. While it didn’t really define Bulgaria per se, it was great to watch and gave us a sense of the rural landscapes we would soon be traversing. I posed the following question to our fellow travellers: If a complete stranger was about to travel to your own country, what film would you suggest they watch beforehand? This led to an enjoyable debate which elicited many subjective preferences, and the following films appeared to gain the most consensus among everyone present:
If travelling to America – Paris, Texas
If travelling to New Zealand – Boy or Once Were Warriors
If travelling to Australia – Rabbit Proof Fence or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

My vote for the original Mad Max (Australia, 1979) didn’t fare well, and was dismissed very early in the discussion with derogatory remarks about unhinged bogans and Mel Gibson. What’s not to like about unhinged bogans and Mel Gibson? And is there really a truer and better reflection of Australia in film? Clearly there is 😊

Before this trip, we also watched a 2007 Romanian film titled 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days and a 2016 Hungarian film titled Son of Saul – both of which were superb.

We said our goodbyes to the friendly restaurant staff and wandered back up from the river to our hotel in the late evening. We had an early start the following morning, as we were catching three separate trains to Plovdiv. We needed to be fresh, and it wasn’t long before we were fast asleep.

Today was a travel day from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo in northern Bulgaria, by train.

We woke at 6am on the dot. I felt much better for spending a quiet evening in bed, and I was very relieved that my headache had gone… especially as we had a long day of travel ahead of us. It was the beginning of the second part of our combination Intrepid Travel trip (the first part was from Budapest to Bucharest, and this part was from Bucharest to Sofia). The new group members were Robert and Beth (NZ), Mark (US) and Joanne (Aus)… who joined Andrew and I, Chris (NZ), Narelle (Aus), Cheryl (Aus), Dion (US) and Mattia our group leader from the previous trip.

We had a leisurely breakfast at 7am and spent a few hours catching up on writing travel notes and downloading photos. Late starts are unusual for us when travelling, but the late check-out and restful morning was a nice change. At 11:30am we caught the tram outside our hotel to the train station, which was only three stops away. We were early for our 12:45am train, but I much prefer to be early than late. We spent the time using up the last of our Romanian Leu at a small stall selling handmade bracelets inside the station.

When we walked to our train, I was surprised we were leaving Romania and crossing the border into Bulgaria on a small two carriage train! The carriages had compartments with six seats each, which we shared with Narelle, Cheryl, Chris and Joanne. The train was sweltering hot and I was a sweaty mess within a few minutes of sitting down, as my window seat which was in direct sun. There was no air conditioning, but thankfully it got a bit better when the train started moving and we managed to get one window open. The other window just wouldn’t stay down, so resourceful Chris asked Andrew for his belt and tied it open… it’s great travelling with a nurse who’s used to trouble shooting in any situation! Robert refused his belt on the justification that we were better off with a closed window than witnessing his trousers around his ankles… we all agreed, but probably a bit too fervently for his liking. 😊

Once we left Bucharest, we moved into rural countryside very quickly and started passing alternating fields of gorgeous sunflowers and various grains as far as the eye could see. The first few hours went quickly while we chatted and ate the many bags of food we’d brought with us (I have inherited my parents’ view that travel days are much better when food is involved). On a trip back from the bathroom I noticed the compartment next to us was empty, so with Narelle for company on the set of three seats opposite me, I gladly stretched out and napped – I absolutely love the feeling of falling asleep on a moving train!

The next thing I knew Mattia was waking us up, as we were approaching the Romanian border control at Giurgiu Station. A Romanian border official boarded the train to collect our passports, which were checked off the train and returned to us after a bit of a wait... while it was an uncomfortably hot wait on the train, I was glad the process was so much easier than other land border crossings we’ve experienced.

The Danube is the border between the two countries, and we crossed it on the ‘Friendship Bridge’ (the longest steel bridge in Europe) and entered Bulgaria. At the next station (in Ruse) we repeated the passport check process with Bulgarian officials. While waiting for our passports, we stretched our legs on the station platform and watched the engine detach from our two carriages and shunt onto two empty carriages (which rail workers then attached to our train). It provided us with much needed entertainment. 😊

The heat and humidity inside the train increased exponentially whenever we stopped. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, when our passports were returned, one guy in a compartment near us realised they hadn’t returned his passport. The train was leaving in ten minutes and his anxiety levels were very high. We tried to reassure him that they knew what they were doing, but it didn’t stop him from leaving the train (and all his belongings) and running manically around the platform looking for the border officials. He wasn’t successful, but just as he was returning to the train drenched in sweat, an official calmly brought his passport back. I’ve never seen a dejected look turn triumphant so quickly! The train left not long after that, so I could totally understand his anxiety.

By now the train was almost empty, so Andrew and I moved to another six seat compartment. While Andrew diligently kept writing, I napped some more. Six hours after we left Bucharest, we finally arrived at Gorna Oryahovitsa train station at 7pm. Thanks to my long naps, I felt very rested and full of energy when we arrived.

While waiting for taxis to drive us the 10km to Veliko Tarnovo, we immediately sensed that the pace of life and the attitude of the locals was markedly different to Romania. Andrew and I shared a taxi with Narelle and Chris, and as our luck would have it, the taxi driver was playing classic 1980s songs. When he realised that we were all singing along, he turned the volume right up! This was my cue to serenade the back seat with words and actions to Foreigner’s I want to know what love is and Cutting Crew’s I just died in your arms. Andrew is immune to my melodramatic singing of tragic ‘80s love songs, so poor Chris was my new captive audience! 😄

As we approached the fringes of Veliko Tarnovo, we were treated to the stunning view of the Tsarevets Fortress, high on a hilltop. I confess I had never heard of Veliko Tarnovo until planning this trip, and I had opted to nap on the train rather than read background information about the city… so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at. At first glance the city looked sprawled between forested hills, with a river snaking in loops through the valleys below.

We were staying in the Varosha neighbourhood. We checked into the small and kooky Varusha Hotel set on a steep dusty street that had been dug up for the installation of new water pipes. Our room had a lovely view and a classic 1960s decor. However, we didn’t have long to ponder the bright orange sheets or the gold lace curtains, as we had a late dinner reservation at Shtastliveca. On our way to dinner we met the neighbour’s very friendly black cat, who was always waiting outside our hotel door to cutely demand pats and cuddles. I named her Sandy for the dusty paw prints she left on everything.

Shtastliveca was a highly recommended restaurant on the main street – ul Stefan Stambolov – with fabulous cliff-side views of a dramatic bend in the Yantra River and the surrounding valley. The homemade lemonade (with ginger, rosemary, cardamom and pink peppercorns) I ordered came in a pitcher sized glass, and was the best lemonade I’ve ever had! For entree Andrew and I shared the local favourite of shepherd’s salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onion, mushrooms, bacon, yellow cheese, traditional Bulgarian sirene white cheese and an egg). For main I had pan-fried chicken and potatoes with a yoghurt sauce, while Andrew had the traditional Bulgarian baked vegetable stew of Mishmash (tomatoes, red peppers, Bulgarian sirene white cheese and egg) served on a hot plate. All the dishes were outstanding.

After the somewhat hearty comfort food in Hungary and Romania, it was so refreshing to be eating delicious salads again. Bulgarian food seems to be a mix of traditional Balkan fare with Turkish and Mediterranean influences, which has created a delicious cuisine that is both hearty and fresh. I loved it! We also couldn’t help but notice that the service was miles apart from the usually gruff and aloof waiting staff we’d got used to in restaurants in Romania. 😊

It was midnight by the time we got to bed, and as usual we set the alarm for 6am. We slept with the windows open and I loved hearing the noise of the town wash over us through the night… water gushing from the burst pipe on the road, Sandy meowing at anyone who walked past our hotel, distant barking dogs, various church bells, muffled voices from the nearby square, and strains of music drifting uphill from the surrounding bars. For the first time on the trip we slept through the alarm, not waking until past 7am.

I did some quick reading about the city before we headed out. Dubbed ‘the city of the tsars’, Veliko Tarnovo was once an important political, economic, religious and cultural centre of northern Bulgaria. Its geographic position between the West Balkans and the Black sea, as well as East Europe and the Middle East, probably contributed to its interesting but somewhat brutal history… it was founded by Neolithic people and later inhibited by Thracian tribes, the Romans built the first fortress walls and a Byzantine capital was established on Tsarevets Hill by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It passed through many more hands until the 12th century, when the city thrived for a few centuries under the Bulgarian tsars during the second Bulgarian Empire. It then fell to the Turks in the 14th century and was an Ottoman city for about 500 years until it was liberated by the Russians in the 19th century.

There’s something unbelievably exciting when stepping outside on a first morning in a new country, and this day wasn’t any different! Veliko Tarnovo had a lovely welcoming vibe to it, and it was wonderful walking through the streets before they got busy. However, we soon realised that this wasn’t an early-rising city and there wasn’t a single non-hotel cafe open for breakfast (both of the cafes we wanted to try weren’t going to open until 10am!). So we settled for fresh pastries and a coffee from a tiny bakery, and had them at a lookout point over the river. The houses hugging the other side of the hill were bathed in beautiful morning light, as were the temple-like State Art Museum and the glossy black metal Asenevtsi Monument across the river. Andrew enjoyed his banitsa pastry (filo pastry with egg and white sirene cheese filling), and my sweet bun with a Turkish Delight filling (!) was certainly like nothing I’d had before. The lady at the bakery had mimed that it had a filling, and I’d assumed it would be jam or custard… I definitely hadn’t expected gooey Turkish Delight in there! 😊

We had already noticed that rose flavoured food items graced many of the menus and shops around town. And given I love rose flavoured food, I was really hoping we’d encounter this in the rest of Bulgaria too (and that it wasn’t just a Veliko Tarnovo thing given its proximity to the Valley of the Roses).

Our orientation city walk with Mattia started with an amble down the main street which had many touristy restaurants, hotels and shops. We wandered through the centre of the Old Town and then meandered downhill through local neighbourhoods, past the multi green domed Nativity of Virgin Mary Orthodox Cathedral and on to the imposing medieval Tsarevets Fortress on Tsarevets Hill.

It wasn’t even 10am and the sun was already mercilessly hot. We passed a beautiful lone stone lion guarding the entrance, and entered the fortress. The main western entrance is built on a narrow and steep rock isthmus, and further secured with a swing-bridge and gates with towers. The fortress contains extensive ruins of houses, churches and monasteries. We continued walking into the centrepiece of the fortress – the walled patriarch’s complex with more ruins, a renovated royal palace and a renovated main patriarchal Church of the Ascension of Christ. The church was on the highest point of the hill, and we managed to seek shade for parts of the steep climb, but large areas of the paths were in hot open areas.

The church had been fully renovated in 1981 for the 1300 year anniversary of the establishment of the Bulgarian State, and it is now a museum. The gloomy interior of the church was covered in modernist frescoes, which apparently depicted the rise and fall of the second empire of medieval Bulgaria (this wasn’t immediately apparent). I liked the feel of the darkly themed frescoes and the suitably neo-gothic chandeliers. However, I think we mostly lingered inside the church because it was gloriously cool within the stone walls! We walked around to the bell tower with the hope of climbing it for a panoramic view, but it was closed. We didn’t really mind though, because the front steps of the church provided us with amazing views back to the Old Town and into the green valleys for miles around us.

We then walked along the fortress wall to an outcrop over the Yantra River called Execution Rock. The beautiful and calm green setting belied the fact that for 400 hundred years it was the site from which traitors of the state were thrown into the river! The fortress walls and towers were incredibly impressive, but I’m definitely not a fan of over-restoration and I didn’t love the sections that had been remodelled too perfectly. In parts it felt like a theme park and I half expected to see actors dressed up as knights and princesses. Plus I’m not even going to talk about the ugly coloured lighting rigs that were all over the site, or the very modern bank of bells plonked in the middle of a ruin which were used for the nightly light and sound show. Groan! 😞

After we explored Tsarevets Hill, we decided to explore the Asenova valley and the foot of Trapezitsa Hill across from the fortress. We walked downhill past the medieval Holy Forty Martyrs Church and crossed the wooden Vladishki Bridge near the Assumption of the Holy Mother Orthodox Church. We admired the distinct Bulgarian Revival architecture of the houses as we made our way to look at the churches of St Dimetrius of Thessaloniki and St George, but unfortunately both were closed.

Despite the lovely shaded streets, by now we were very hot and thirsty. After running into Chris, Narelle, Cheryl and Mark, we made an executive decision to stop for adult drinks at a cute little cafe bar in the shadow of the Vladishki Bridge. Andrew had a beer while I tried a local apple cider which was only 4.5% alcohol, but it certainly made itself known to me. We sat in the cool beer garden with a great view of the bridge and enjoyed a break from the harsh sun. Eventually we reluctantly left the shade, and walked back to Tsarevets Hill along more back streets and a newer stone bridge.

We had a recommendation for lunch at Restaurant Ivan Asen at the foot of the fortress. We would never have eaten at a place like this, given its prominent tourist location, but both the Lonely Planet Guide and a local woman recommended it… and when the food arrived, we could see why. I had the very Bulgarian shopska salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onion and grated Bulgarian sirene white cheese on top), while Andrew had the shepherd’s salad again. It was such a sizzling hot day that we couldn’t imagine having anything other than cold drinks and fresh salads for lunch!

I should mention that it took us a while to figure out if we had the right restaurant as Bulgarian is a Slavic language that uses the Cyrillic script. Thankfully most things (apart from restaurant names for some reason) were also rendered in the Latin alphabet, and Andrew had a translation app on his phone for times when we just couldn’t decipher the letters.

After lunch we walked along the beautiful but rambling narrow cobblestone streets in the old town, with all manner of well-preserved traditional houses for us to admire. The historic General Gurko Street was easily the most beautiful we strolled along – with restored Bulgarian Revival houses lining the narrow stone street on one side, and on the other, a panoramic view of the river and valley for us to feast our eyes on. Bulgarian Revival houses are characterised by a narrow first floor which balances wider upper floors that overhang the street. The supporting wooden beams of the upper floors are also a big feature of the houses.

Our aim was to get to the Sveta Gora area of land contained within the horse shoe bend of the Yantra River. Our destination was almost directly across the river from where we stood, but we had to walk a few more circular kilometres to the Stambolov Bridge to access it. Sveta Gora contained the stunning Asenevtsi Monument which honours members of the Asenevtsi family (tsars who ruled during the second Bulgarian Empire) with four beautifully sculpted horsemen surrounding a sword-like column. The Monument was even more impressive up close, but sadly I couldn’t say the same of the nearby State Art Museum.

The beautiful neo-classical building the State Art Museum (also called the Boris Denev Art Gallery) was housed in had seduced us to choose this museum over others. However, the collection of 19th and 20th century art in the gallery was predominantly dull and the curation was mediocre. Across two floors of art, there were some interesting landscape paintings of Tarnovo, but I only saw two paintings I loved... and I took my life into my own hands by taking photos of them (to ensure I could read more about the pieces and their artists). The two women running the place were tyrants (who had already annoyed Chris so much that she left), and one stomped over to me and pointed to the ‘no photos’ sign. Fair enough, I was in the wrong and I apologised… but really, if the museum had better information, I wouldn’t have had to do it (she said, with a grin). 😉

By now we’d been walking for close to six hours in intense heat, and the plan to revisit the old craftsmen street of Samovodska Charshiya and an orthodox church we’d seen that morning was promptly discarded. We dragged ourselves up the hill back to our hotel, bought a beer and a watermelon ice cream from the corner shop on the way, and revelled in our air-conditioned room. My legs were cursing the many hills in the city, while my already sunburned skin (from Budapest and Debrecen) questioned my sanity for walking for that long in blazing sun and mid 30 degree heat.

We’d scouted a very local spot for dinner by asking the staff at the tourist office where they’d go for dinner with their friends. A few of us gathered for drinks at Lino Bar beforehand, where I had a hot chocolate milk with rum and ice cream! It was so lovely I ordered a further hot chocolate with a splash of rum. The super-hot day had suddenly cooled after the sun dipped behind the hills, and I adored my ‘hot cocktail’ (as they called it).

We walked downhill to dinner at the lovely Tihiya Kut Restaurant with Chris, Narelle, Cheryl, Mark and Dion. The setting was lovely and the service was great, but best of all the food was delicious. Andrew and I shared an entree of bread with tomato, cheese and hazelnut dip, and for mains I had a wine kebab which was more like a delicious meat stew in red wine sauce than a kebab as we know it. Andrew had homemade meatballs in tomato sauce, which he loved. Suitably happy we climbed back uphill to the main road, and further uphill to the hotel.

It was nice to have an early-ish night to pack and get ready for an early start and three trains the next day. Veliko Tarnovo had totally surprised me, and I hadn’t expected to have had such an immediate love for it. It was a pretty hilltop city with old stone architecture and charming wooden houses, but most of all I liked that it was a vibrant contemporary city too. Modern life not only sat very comfortably alongside the heritage aspects of the city, but helped to enhanced it. I very much prefer liveable old cities… in contrast to cities that feel like museums and only exist to pay homage to heritage. Preserving the past is important, but it needs to be balanced with creating a happy and functional city for present and future generations too.

Next we travel south-west to Plovdiv, once heralded as the gateway between east and west.


6th September 2018

On to Bulgaria
You are really getting to see a lot of great things! Thanks for taking us along on the travels.
6th September 2018

Re: On to Bulgaria
Our knowledge of Bulgaria was even less than Romania, so the trip was a real eye opener... we learned a lot, and had so many 'first time' experiences! Thanks for following along Merry :)
7th September 2018

Sounds like you had an amazing time!
Not to mention many culinary delights! Good that the young Asian man managed to find his passport! When I went from Armenia to Georgia a father and son from India didn't have proper VISAs and got deported. xD
7th September 2018

Re: Sounds like you had an amazing time!
We were all stressed on behalf of that guy! How sad for that father and son... and being deported is not something you want on your record. We certainly had an amazing time, and still think of some of those dishes :)
8th September 2018
view from tsarevets fortress

Veliko Tarnovo - hidden gem
It looks like Veliko Tarnovo is a hidden gem in Bulgaria. I don't remember us stopping there when we were in Bulgaria. It seems to be a nice. Maybe we should go back and deliberately only stop in places we didn't go to last time. I am sure that many of them has a lot to offer and would be interesting to visit. The places we stopped at without knowing anything all at about sure didn't disappoint us at all. They were all very interesting. On the brown waters of the Danube: You wrote that the water was dirty. It is not necessarily so just because the water is murky. There might be a lot of sediment or algae in the water and that doesn't automatically mean that the water is filthy. I look forward to your next blog from Bulgaria. /Ake
9th September 2018
view from tsarevets fortress

Re: Veliko Tarnovo - hidden gem
Ake you are right - the water of the Danube was murky with sediment, but we were also discussing the fact that we would never chose to swim or relax where there was heavy industry so close to the banks of the river. We were so amazed by how fabulous Veliko Tarnovo was, and it was also an excellent introduction to Bulgaria! :)
10th September 2018

Found this blog segment very interesting as you were visiting Veliko Tarnovo and also mention going on to Plovdiv -- we may be visiting those very places next year if we attend a VirtualTourist Euromeet! But I also had to smile to hear you singing along to a couple of my favorite '80s songs in the taxi!! Sounds like a fun ride!
10th September 2018

Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv were amazing - I really hope you decide to go... but I thought VT had closed down, so I'm intrigued by your meet up. Ah yes, I love a good 80s sing-a-long :)
10th September 2018

Bulgaria Euromeet Next Year
Yes, VT officially closed down over a year ago, but a number of us past VT'ers remain in touch, still blog, and the annual Euromeet is still a regular and much looked forward to event!
11th September 2018

Re: Bulgaria Euromeet Next Year
That's so lovely that the meetup still takes place - sounds like a great network! Look forward to hearing about it :)
14th September 2018

Beautiful VT
My friends have a house there perched on a hill with a view the fortress ...stunning. I loved it there , and of course it was easy for me travelling around with them and they knew all the best places to eat.
15th September 2018

Re: Beautiful VT
How lovely to have a house in that beautiful place. We really enjoyed our walks in Veliko Tarnovo - despite the many hills and intense heat! :)

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