Veliko Tarnovo

Published: April 28th 2020
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I'd arrived in Veliko Tarnovo quite late the night before. The minibus driver had been kind enough to drop us near the centre of town instead of the West Bus Station, which is about 5 kilometres out of town. It dramatically shortened the walk to my hostel. I was surprised at how quiet the streets had been. I was happy that when I got to my hostel there was still some of the free dinner left. After helping myself to some breakfast, I made a rough plan for my one full day in Veliko Tarnovo. Since Bulgaria had entered a state of lockdown, I was unsure what was open, so my first priority was to secure a bus ticket back to Sofia for the next day to make my flight out. The bus station where you get the bus to Sofia from is a lot closer than the other bus station, so I decided to have a leisurely walk there, stopping by anything that took my interest. I was retracing my steps from the night before walking along Ulitsa General Gurko. The street is really cute with a mixture of restored buildings and those in a sorry state of disrepair. I liked that it was a mix as it stopped it from being too perfect and Disneyesque. The Street is named after Yoseph Vladimirovich Gurko, who played a major role in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. I enjoyed my walk along the street, I really wished it had been longer as when I got to the main street, it was no where near as pretty. I made my way to the bus station. It was weird seeing all the bars and cafes closed up, after they had been filled with people the night before. The bus station was pretty quiet and I found the desk for the bus company I wanted easily. I somehow managed to score a cheap student ticket as someone had returned it and the ticket lady obviously couldn't be bothered to refund it and out it back in the system.

After purchasing my bus ticket, I headed back towards the tower centre and then headed off down a side street. This would lead me to the Monument to the Asen Dynasty, which I had seen on my walk along Ulitsa General Gurko. I came across a great piece of street art covering the side of a building, there was a lot of writing on it and I wondered if it was a poem of some kind. I continued my walk and came to Stambolov Bridge. The bridge was built in 1892 and was important as it used specialists and workers from Italy, France and Belgium as well as Bulgarians. It was an important bridge not just in Bulgaria but throughout the Balkan region due to it being a major manifestation of modern European construction. Next to the bridge was the Interhotel, which looked like it had seen better days. I couldn't decide if it was still open or not. The outside looked a bit of a mess and there weren't any people about, but there were cars in the carpark and some blokes that looked like they worked there out the front. Across the bridge, I came to the Monument to the Asen Dynasty. I was going to take a look around but I decided to head down to a seat closer to the river and relax there for a bit. I couldn't see down to the water, but I could hear voices. There were some young lads fishing, a nice way to spend the weekend. While relaxing I could take in the views of Veliko Tarnovo. The town looks gorgeous with all the different coloured houses lining the hills. The Monument to the Asen Dynasty is dedicated to the 800 year anniversary of the rebellion against the Byzantine rule, which ended with the successful liberation of Bulgaria. The monument is made up of sculptures of the leaders of the revolt. the statue was quite impressive up close, but I preferred the views of it from across the river. Just behind the sculpture was what I thought was a church as that's what it looked like. I was surprised when I got close to it, to find that it was actually an art museum. I presume it had been a church earlier. There was a park attached to the other side of the museum, which I didn't had a little walk around.

I took a walk through the town. It was really quiet due to the lockdown. The restaurants were mostly advertising that they did take away. As I walked along the main street, I passed a couple of pieces of street art. One small piece was on a kind of side alley and when you walked down it there was a small viewing platform out over the Yantra River. Further on there were some huge pieces covering the sides of buildings. These had a really old school, kind of Soviet (in my opinion) vibe to them. I decided to keep walking along the road to Tsarevets Fortress, I doubted that it would be open, but at least I would be able to see it from a distance. So, I was rather surprised to see the ticket office open. I watched some other people buy their tickets and then headed over. I suppose the fortress is big and rather spread out, so it would be easy for people to keep their distance from one another. After buying my ticket, I headed up the long driveway to the gate of the fortress. There was a ticket inspector sitting in a booth, he clocked me and asked for my ticket, as I started to walk over to him and was digging in my pocket for my ticket, he waved me away. I headed up and through the main gate and consulted the map of the fortress. I was quite surprised at how big it was. I thought it would be smaller. The area was settled during the 5th century and in the 12th century the structures that remain were built.

Since the fortress is pretty spread out, I headed towards the Southeast Battle Tower first. As I walked along next to the old fortress walls, I got some great views of the surrounding town and the river below. When I got to the tower, I saw that it was accessible so decided to climb it. The steps were a little steep but not too bad. There were some great views from the top of the tower. I really liked all the decaying and abandoned looking buildings below. From there, I made my way to the building at the centre of the fortress complex. This is the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God. It is a reconstruction of an earlier church that was built on the site. I went in for a look around the church expecting to see the usual artwork that is normally on display in Orthodox churches. I got a wonderful surprised as the artwork that covers the walls of the church is completely different to anything I'd seen in a church before. The frescoes were painted in a modernist style and I loved looking at them. They were really, really striking and I loved examining the different details in them. From the church I made my way across to the far side of the fortress complex. I wish that the stuff across the hill was accessible from here. I would have liked to have taken a wander around that site, too. I came to the Rock of Execution, which is where traitors were pushed to their death and their bodies fell into the river. I didn't get too close as I didn't want to fall off and end up dead in the river. I had a walk around the area next to the Rock of Execution as there had been a monastery there. I walked back to the entrance looking at the foundations of dwellings and churches.

Since all the restaurants were shut. I headed to the little shop near where I was staying to grab some food. I ended up with a late lunch of banitsa and crisps. I spend the rest of the afternoon chilling with my book. The free dinner was good once again. It's not the most filling of meals, but it does take the edge off and if I'd have had some snacks, I would have been full. I was going to take a walk about before my bus left in the afternoon, but since it was cold and rainy, and no where to take a break from the rain, I decided just to snuggle up with my book again in the hostel. The bus journey to Sofia was uneventful and I got to see some more of the beautiful Bulgarian countryside. It even snowed so that was fun to watch. The subway journey across Sofia to the airport was slow due to Sunday service and me missing connections by seconds. Not that it really mattered. Sofia airport was in full lockdown mode. It was good to see that they are taking no chances with the Corona Virus. To be admitted to the airport, you needed to show your boarding pass, no boarding pass no entrance. Once through the doors, a guard was checking everyone's temperature. If your temperature was acceptable, you were allowed to enter. When I got through customs and immigration, there was nothing open only one small shop. The queue wasn't too big but since they were only letting two people in at a time, I couldn't be bothered to wait. It really infuriated me that the people who were going in to the shop were taking their sweet sweet time, how hard is it to just grab something, pay and leave. Obviously too hard for some people. My flight got called to board and it seemed like we would leave on time. We were loaded onto buses to take us to the plane and then sat there for about an hour. We had no idea what was going on. We could see our plane sitting on the tarmac in the distance, but no one had come off it. Eventually one of the bus drivers explained in Bulgarian that the incoming passengers needed to fill out detailed health declarations with where they were staying and where they had been. While it was a right pain in the arse for us, it was good to see that Bulgaria was taking the whole Corona Virus thing so seriously. This was a complete contrast to landing back in the UK. No screening, no distancing, nothing.

Additional photos below
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15th June 2020

It was interesting to read about your visit to Veliko Tarnovo. I had thought it was a relatively small village, but from your photos I can see it was much larger than I thought. I liked the one wall mural from the Ulitsa General Gurko, but otherwise the town seems a little monochromatic but it looks like winter or early spring while you were there. I guess I might have been expecting to see something more akin to Koprivshtitsa's bright house colors. Thanks for posting these great photos!
17th June 2020

Thank you!
It was bigger than I imagined, too. It was early spring and the weather wasn't the best while I was there, so it didn't feel as vibrant as Sofia and Plovdiv did.

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