Back to Black


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Published: September 30th 2017
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Veliko Tarnovo's Monument of the Asens ...Veliko Tarnovo's Monument of the Asens ...Veliko Tarnovo's Monument of the Asens ...

... wicked monument to the founding of the second Bulgarian Empire, 1185.
Geo: 42.7252, 25.4815

Amy Winehouse ... what can you say? She passed away early on during this trip, which was shocking in a way but sadly, was almost expected, given her lifestyle and history. Her death, and the manner in which it transpired, surprised no one. "Back to Black" was an instant classic, rocketing her to stardom - it's truly tragic that she never made more music, and never had the opportunity to further deliver on the promise she exhibited. So here's a tip of the hat to her - love or hate her, and whether you are a fan of her music or not, her time came much too soon.

My time on the Black Sea has also ended, much too soon - Balchik is one of those places that can be experienced in a single night, but is perfect for lounging around a few more. It's a sharp contrast to the overdeveloped resorts on the Black Sea and while I couldn't wait to escape those as soon as stepping off the bus, I wish I could stay longer in Balchik. The first few days on the Black Sea were just plain bad but arriving in Balchik, I felt as if
Footbridge near the Monument of the Asens ...Footbridge near the Monument of the Asens ...Footbridge near the Monument of the Asens ...

... it's beautifully located in the gorge and tucked into a bend of the Yantra river, accessible only by a pedestrian bridge that offers some truly stellar views.
I had returned to something good - Back to Black ...

Sadly, time just won't permit another night in Balchik - if this had been earlier in the trip there would be, but only four Bulgarian nights are left, with one being an obligatory stop in Sofia to catch a flight to Frankfurt. The other three nights are slated for Veliko Tarnovo, which from most accounts, is the minimum required to do the city and surrounding area justice.

Bulgarians say that if you don't come to Veliko Tarnovo, you haven't really seen Bulgaria. Given the great times so far, I was really looking forward to this place, as it seems to be the crown jewel of Bulgaria. But after a long day of travel, first impressions were severely lacking. It's quite the hike to the hostel from the bus station, a good 25-30 minutes. Hostel Mostel offers free pick-ups from the bus or train stations, but I'm never able to take advantage of it since I'm not carrying a cell phone, and payphones only take pre-paid cards, which I haven't purchased. Still, I didn't mind because it's nice to stretch the legs after a long bus ride, and the ride was about
30 minutes shorter than expected, giving a nice excuse to walk and find the place.

Without a doubt, my best memories of Bulgaria so far are the friendliness of the people, with even touts being kind and helpful. Here in Veliko Tarnovo, the touts are quite aggressive, bordering rude ... the hostel provided clear directions on how to get close to the fortress, which is close to the hostel, but the actual layout is a bit confusing in comparison to the map I had. While in the newer part of town, you can't see the town's sprawling fortress and use it as a reference point. One tout was extra rude when I kindly told her I already have a place to stay, but when I inquired about the direction of the fortress, she refused to answer and brusquely turned and walked away, like a bratty child, while muttering something under her breath. Ok ...

Ended up closer to the old town, but again was a bit turned around ... a sign directed me uphill, which didn't seem right, but who am I to argue with an official sign? An old man came up and asked if I was looking for the hostel and I replied yes, and he also directed me up the hill - figuring the local and the sign must be right, I headed up the hill to find ... the wrong hostel. On the descent, I came across the old man making his way up hill, and he started animatedly pointing me back uphill "Hostel! Hostel!!! HOSTEL!!!!!" I said no, wrong one, and he started complaining loudly in Bulgarian - perhaps he was on his way up to try and get a commission? Sigh ...

Finally, I was inching closer to the fortress but still unsure of the direction and stopped to ask a couple which way it was. They told me sorry, they weren't from here and couldn't help - uh ... if you're a tourist and not from here, how could you not know where the fortress is, the single most famous sight in town? Especially when you obviously know where you're going, and aren't hauling around your luggage with a map in hand, looking confused? Sigh ...

But finally, I saw somebody who looked like a backpacker - yes! Take the left fork in the road? Perfect! So an hour after arriving in Veliko Tarnovo, and 30
Balchik Beach's Shower ...Balchik Beach's Shower ...Balchik Beach's Shower ...

... just a wide-open valve, pouring water non-stop.
minutes later than I should have gotten to the hostel, I still ... wasn't there. Sigh ... again, the layout in the old town is tricky, and sometimes you just don't know if the little alleyways you see are actually what look like streets on the map. Finally, standing lost on a corner, a van pulls up to me - it was the Hostel Mostel shuttle! "Are you looking for the hostel?" Yes!!! "It's just over the there." as the driver pointed to a place no more than 30 metres away. Sigh ... just my luck, help finally arrives as I almost stumbled upon it myself.

So I walk about ten feet and the van pulls alongside again, with the driver joking "Would you like a pick-up?", driving away as we both chuckled. As frustrated and pissed off I was at that point, a good laugh was perfect to lighten my mood. The hostel itself - the other two Hostel Mostels were good but not great, with the Sofia location being a bit too big and the Plovdiv one being a bit too small. This one is perfectly-sized, with solid wooden bunks and airy rooms that make for a cool
Breakfast at Cafe Vienna ... Breakfast at Cafe Vienna ... Breakfast at Cafe Vienna ...

... Bulgarians aren't big on the first meal of the day and from what I can tell, only hotels/hostels serve anything substantial. Asking Bohemia's owner for a suggestion, after a minute of hemming and hawing, he finally came up with Cafe Vienna. The coffee was average, typical of what I've been drinking so far. The cake was far too sweet and soggy, but desserts were the only thing to eat at the place.
night's sleep. A huge garden with comfy areas for lounging around, a large dining room, a common room stuffed full of plush pillows, super clean bathrooms, friendly and helpful staff, it's got all the makings of a perfect place for a backpacker to sleep for a few nights - I think I'm going to like it here ...


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Should've Gone Here Instead ...Should've Gone Here Instead ...
Should've Gone Here Instead ...

... on the way to the bus station, grabbed a cheese bun from a bakery, composed of about 10 little buns, each stuffed with a bit of sirene. Salty, rich, and good ... with a cup of coffee and maybe some yogurt or a piece of fruit, this would've been a much better start to the day. Instead, it was a great little snack on the three-hour ride to Veliko Tarnovo.
Super-Convenient Pitstop in Varna ...Super-Convenient Pitstop in Varna ...
Super-Convenient Pitstop in Varna ...

... conveniently, the bus station is right in front of a brand spanking-new mall with a decent food court. Funny ... quite a few people opted for the international chains or Asian food, but the one catching my eye served only Bulgarian dishes. A huge selection, kebapche and grilled meatballs, roasted chicken legs, all kinds of salads ... it was moussaka for me and a couple of meat balls in a delightful little cream sauce, rich in flavour but light-bodied at the same time. The moussaka wasn't the greatest, but it was chock full of veggies, something recently missing from my diet.
Meatballs, Or Rice Balls? ...Meatballs, Or Rice Balls? ...
Meatballs, Or Rice Balls? ...

... cutting open one of the meat balls, you can see it's half rice inside. Tasted good, but was expecting them to be mostly meat.
Buddha Doesn't Believe in Bloodshed ...Buddha Doesn't Believe in Bloodshed ...
Buddha Doesn't Believe in Bloodshed ...

... but he's a big proponent of blood orange juice. This stuff was phenomenal!
On Purpose???!!?  The Sign Clearly ...On Purpose???!!?  The Sign Clearly ...
On Purpose???!!? The Sign Clearly ...

... points uphill, which is the wrong direction for the fortress. Makes you wonder if this is a trick to get backpackers to go another one of the hostels?
Samovodska Charshiya ...Samovodska Charshiya ...
Samovodska Charshiya ...

... Veliko Tarnovo's shopping area for traditional crafts. Beautiful little street with well-preserved buildings.
Possibly the Worst Name EVER ...Possibly the Worst Name EVER ...
Possibly the Worst Name EVER ...

... for a hostel. Seems like a name fitting for a place on the cheesy parts of the Black Sea, though I suppose those expensive resort towns would preclude this.
Second Dinner at a Mehana ... Second Dinner at a Mehana ...
Second Dinner at a Mehana ...

... the first was actually back at the hostel, included with the cost of a night's stay. Ran into Zach, the 6'-6" American from Varna's Yo Ho Hostel, so we decided to stick around for the pasta dinner. Small little portions, not too bad for an included meal ... a lot of no-shows tonight so we ended up eating an extra plate each and downed a ton of Shumensko beer, since the 2L bottles set out on the table were hardly touched. When Frank, also from the Yo Ho Hostel, showed up looking for dinner companions I didn't hesitate to join up to get some protein - a couple of plates of spaghetti with corn just doesn't cut it as dinner. We ended up at a little mehana, a traditional Bulgarian restaurant with traditional decor and music, for a little grilled chicken. A bit tough, but juicy and with a wicked charcoal flavour. Once again, I bow at the feet of the Balkan BBQ gods.


Tot: 3.668s; Tpl: 0.06s; cc: 6; qc: 52; dbt: 0.0628s; 3; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb