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Europe » Bulgaria
August 3rd 2011
Published: September 30th 2017
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Geo: 42.7252, 25.4815

It's easy to see why Veliko Tarnovo has long been a backpacker haven - other than Tsarevets fortress, there aren't any must-see sights but there are tons of day trip options from here with cliff diving, hiking, monasteries, and swimming in the river as possibilities. There are tons of hostels in town so backpackers on a budget will never struggle to find an affordable place to sleep, and having a big student population guarantees an abundance of cheap places to eat and drink, many of them beautifully overlooking the gorge and the Yantra River.

It's also conveniently situated along the Bucharest-Istanbul rail line, making for an obvious choice to break up that journey before catching the night train from Veliko Tarnovo to Turkey. But the biggest reason why it's such a great place is that it is absolutely chill here, where even though you can do as much as you like, you often end up doing as little as possible.

I'm loving Veliko Tarnovo for the same reason I absolutely loved Sarajevo last year - the cafe culture is incredible, with way too many good options to try in only a few days. Lunch was at an enclosed terrace overlooking the gorge, followed by a shot of caffeine at a cafe with a similarly-located terrace, and then a cold beverage at another terrace situated on Samovodska Charshia, the old shopping street in town, with Frank from the Yo Ho hostel.

We're a bit of an odd pair, being by far the oldest guys in the Bulgarian hostel scene; though backpacking is still for a younger crowd, over the years I've come across countless backpackers in their late 20s, all over the world. But perhaps because it's such a budget and somewhat alternative destination (as far as Europe goes), Bulgaria's backpacker scene is dominated by those in their early 20s ... needless to say, a guy like me nearing the mid-30s is a little uncommon here and a guy like Frank, who is quite a few years older than me, is almost unheard of.

At some point, the majority of backpackers move onto a different style of travel, having roughed it only for financial reasons, and going the way of guided tours and luxury resorts once financial resources permit. But there is still a group of backpackers that continue doing it not necessarily to save money, but because traveling on a budget
inevitably brings you closer to the local culture, often revealing a different side of the country you're traveling through, and offering a better insight into the local psyche. It is easy to become jaded after a while, something that became quite obvious as we both compared travel notes - my number is almost at 50 while Frank's is somewhere over 70, the number of countries we've each visited.

The more countries you've visited, the tougher it gets to keep pushing that number higher ... the first twenty or so are easy, a milestone you can easily hit after spending two to three months in Europe. It's sad but in some way, being spoiled with all that travel means that the level of excitement wanes with each successive trip. We all have our list of places to visit but when you get well into the double digits like that, you end up working on the third or fourth tier of countries, likely having long ago visited all those at the top of your list.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that travel no longer excites, it's that the days of eagerly anticipating a trip four months in advance just no longer happen. Nowadays, it's a matter of booking a flight somewhere, at most several weeks in advance, and then a few days before departing, filling in the blanks as you go along. You pull out the list and give it a once over - where haven't I been, where do I want to go back to, and how do I put it all together? It all becomes so logical, almost like a business transaction.

Sometimes backpacking brings with it a cynical view on life ... perhaps that's why it works so well for me. Visiting cheaper places and traveling with a smaller budget really shows you how citizens of other countries can survive with so much less, how it has defined their focus in life, and how it has shaped their perceptions on what the important things are in life. It definitely raised an important question as we chatted - coming from Australia and Canada, two countries where capitalism and living the "American" Dream are paramount, do the majority of our citizens actually want that? Or is it because it's the dream we are told to pursue, or perhaps more aptly put, the dream we are all cleverly sold by brilliant marketing?

A Tiny Bit Tacky ...A Tiny Bit Tacky ...A Tiny Bit Tacky ...

... with costumes, etc. that people pay to pose in.
about it - what is our economy entirely based upon? Consumerism. Spending. Buying things that aren't needed, but things that are wanted, at least, things that marketers tell us we want. We're somehow inferior if we don't have these things, because we can never stack up to our peers. How is that sustainable? First World economies have been plunged into chaos because people aren't spending enough on unnecessary goods. Shouldn't World economies be driven in a more natural way, based upon the consumption of the necessities?

Of course, this criticism is all hypocritical ... it's that very consumerism that affords us the opportunity to travel, largely because all that spending results in our countries having powerful economies, making travel to places like Bulgaria extremely cheap, in comparison. We still have more than we need and while it may feel that way, travel really isn't a necessity. The argument can easily be made that we all contribute to the problem. So what does all this mean? Who the hell knows, it's just a random conversation between two random backpackers, in a random cafe, in a random city, in a random country ... just some food for thought!

Our jaded little backpacker love
fest didn't end there, as we shared a romantic evening at the ballet before saying our goodbyes. We both initially laughed at the idea, but Frank was keen on creeping on the pretty Bulgarian girl selling the tickets, so being a good backpacker wing man, we ended up buying a couple of tickets. Plus, having both had the amazing experience of watching Aida in Verona's 2000-year old Roman arena, we hoped that watching the ballet in a 1500-year old fortress would offer something similar.

The most memorable part of Aida was the stunning setting ... absolutely surreal to be watching a performance where gladiators once battled. While good, Zorba the Greek didn't quite compare to that but it did have one thing in common with Aida - I also ended up watching that with another backpacker dude. Come to think of it, there was one more thing in common - no offence to either guy, but both experiences would have been even better had I shared them with a beautiful girl instead!

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


Not a Bad Last View ...Not a Bad Last View ...
Not a Bad Last View ...

... before taking the plunge from Execution Rock.
Performances at Tsarevets ...Performances at Tsarevets ...
Performances at Tsarevets ...

... held almost every summer evening, with tonight's show being a ballet, Zorba the Greek.
Killer Lunch at Shtastlivetsa...Killer Lunch at Shtastlivetsa...
Killer Lunch at Shtastlivetsa...

... the only bigger mouthful than the name was the meal! Chicken, pork, and veal fillets, pork neck, smoked sausage, button and porcini mushrooms, all simmered in a delicious sauce spiked with fresh thyme. Absolutely delicious!
Already Had Enough Food For Two ...Already Had Enough Food For Two ...
Already Had Enough Food For Two ...

... but the dish was getting a tad salty on its own, so I ordered some garlic bread, expecting a few slices of toast, not something that was the size of a small pizza! Super crisp, but the thickness varied, with some sections being too thin, while others were perfect, just the right amount of bread to offer some chewy resistance. Killer!
Shumensko, One of the Big Beer Brands ...Shumensko, One of the Big Beer Brands ...
Shumensko, One of the Big Beer Brands ...

... kept wanting to try this stuff, but hadn't until this night in Bulgaria - or so I thought! Turns out I've drank it on numerous occasions, but never recognized the Cyrillic spelling! I loved how the waitress directed us to this table after advising that the one we originally chose was dirty. So a big oil stain the size of your fist on the table cloth is supposed to be clean?
Terrible Meal at Piccolo ...Terrible Meal at Piccolo ...
Terrible Meal at Piccolo ...

... granted, it was pushing midnight by the time the ballet let out, so maybe the chef just didn't care. Parmesan salad - the grilled chicken and assorted vegetables were great, but it was just smothered in crappy powdered parmesan cheese. To add insult to injury, the bread was burnt. Just plain bad.

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