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Published: September 29th 2008
As I've got time and everyone raved about this place I decided to do a mini detour to Veliko Tarnovo in North Central Bulgaria so I joined Sarah from Sofia and we headed up on the afternoon train on Friday thinking 2 days would be enough. I'm currently up to my 4th night and have to tear myself away as this is a great little place which seems to trap you into the 'just one more day' syndrome.
Veliko Tarnovo is spread out along a river and was once (another) capital of Bulgaria. The fortress was built at one end of a valley with the river and sheer cliffs surrounding it on 3 sides giving a defensible advantage. The rest of the town has spread up and down on either side of the river leading up to steep hills. It's not a town for the hill adverse, but I've managed and loved it. The fortress has a nightly light and laser show (well when enough tourists pay for it) and as our Hostel is just down the road it's all been free for us poor backpackers.
The best part of here has been the people - a number from Sofia and new friends, plus the Hostel Mostel which is fantastic. A bed, brekkie and dinner (with a glass of beer) for 20 Leva per night, free internet and lovely friendly helpful staff - bargain! My 3 full days here have been spent exploring the fortress, wandering around town and hikes through the hills to surrounding towns. Of course there has been an obligatory night or 2 out sampling the local restaurants and bars to try good Bulgarian food, red wine (good good good) and beer (it's beer!).
I was planning to do a run for Beograd in Serbia from Sofia tonight, however the international ticket office was 'out to lunch' and I didn't know if we'd be back from our 'couple of hour' hike to Arbanassi - an hour away up the red trail. That might of been the case if we'd kept to the red trail, but that became a blue trail and a green trail then the red trail again and before you knew it we reached another not so pretty town with a big sign - Arbanassi 4kms. We managed to miss the direct route and did the 7-8 km detour up a different hill - almost killed me. Eventually made Arbanassi then wandered around for another hour or 2 in search of the churches for which the town is so famous ... let's just say I've got the guide book - they looked really nice, but are well hidden from your average independent traveller (well from us at least!).
Having made the decision to go back we made it to the end of a bluff following Richard's ... 'the town's just over there' ... before back tracking and eventually finding the right path back to VT. About 7 hours it took for what should have been a 3 hour up and back adventure, but we did get to see some beautiful views, local wildlife (mainly bugs and snakes) and most of the flora of this part of Bulgaria.
I may not be able to walk tomorrow, but as long as I can get back to Sofia and find my way to the overnight train to Beograd - I should survive. I'm planning on an overnighter to Beograd then a consecutive overnighter to Bar in Montenegro before some coastal Croatia before making my way back to London from Zagreb on 10 October.
It would be very easy to stay in Bulgaria for the next week and a half as it's a great country, but I'd better give another part of Eastern Europe a go.
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