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Published: August 6th 2007
you cant tell but it was hotter than the sun in this compartment and my face was actually melting (indiana jones and the raiders of the lost ark stylee)
We crossed the border from Turkey to Bulgaria on foot and in a cloud of mosquitos. Very exciting, despite having a blood sucker stuck to every bit of visible skin. The border guards were fairly surprised to see us weaving our way through the long line of articulated lorries but let us in anyway and all was well until we realised that we were all alone in Bulgaria in the dark without a map and nowhere near any kind of civilisation. Luckily the friendly border guard took pity on us and phoned a 'taxi' to take us to the nearest station. My main memories of the next 30 minutes are of Dee muttering increasingly frantic prayers under her breath as we richocheted round bulgarian country roads at warp speed, overtaking lorries on blind corners while our driver and his friend had a great old chat in the front seat. As we leaped from the death mobile and kissed the ground in the train station car park we made a pact never to get into another car in Bulgaria or any other country again ever.
About 15 minutes later we were happily piling ourselves into the back seat of a 500
And arriving in Bulgaria
Border police v surprised to see us strolling along through the cars and lorries in a cloud of mossies
year old BMW and waving goodbye to the friendly old man/station master who had organised one of his friends to drive us to the next station thereby avoiding a 5 hour wait on the platform at Silvengrad. It's amazing how the whole thing was organised without any common language - the extremely nice and cheerful old guy was despairing at the standard of our Bulgarian but nonetheless was able to communicate his plan to us and set us on our way with laughing assurances that his friend would drive carefully or he himself would personally kill him.
Clearly death held no fear for our trusty chauffeur as we set off to Dimitrograd, tyres squealing, me squealing, Dee praying and him humming along to some cheery Bulgarian pop on the car radio. Best to draw a veil over the weeping and gnashing of teeth of the next 45 minutes. Suffice to say that on arrival we made a pact never to get into another car in Bulgaria, or any other country, again ever. And this time we meant it.
We made it just in time for our train and thanked our very kind but insane driver who sorted out
our tickets and made sure we were in the right carriage before saying goodbye. The train was proper old skool style with creepy conductors and comfy 6 seater compartments, one of which we claimed for ourselves and settled in for a few hours bumpy sleep. Dee set the alarm for 4am and we arrived into Veliko Tarnovo (train stop time approx 3 seconds) at around 4:30am. A really nice Bulgarian girl brought us into town in her taxi (we had no Bulgarian money left after our various car and train extravaganzas) and having found a 24 hour internet cafe I called a youth hostel and as the sun rose we clambered into bed in a gorgeous wooden floored room with a view across the old town. Bliss.
Next morning (well 5 or so hours later) we settled down between 2 tables of laughing, beer swilling Bulgarian folk at an outside table in Mustangs bar for a breakfast of fried cheese with cheese and a side order of cheese. Happily I love cheese so enjoyed the meal very much. Dee loves cheese too, but unfortunately not the surprise uncooked egg slithering about on the top of her dish. So fussy
that girl. Still, the sun was warm, the beer was cold, we were in Bulgaria and spirits were high. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the beautiful old town of Veliko Tarnovo. The linden trees were in full flower and the whole place smelled like heaven with their scent. It is such a gorgeous place, built along the side of a steep valley with vines hanging from the balconies of the aged stone houses, flowers poking out of every nook and cranny and all kinds of wee lovely mysterious winding paths between the slightly ramshackle, charming buildings. Dee managed to locate pretty much every cat in Bulgaria so we spent quite a bit of time looking at cats too. On our way to the castle ruins which are the towns main attraction we stopped off at a souvenir shop and had a long chat with the very entertaining owner who told us in perfect English about Bulgaria being world-famous for its rose oil. We staggered out of the place laden down with all manner of rose scented stuff and headed off up through the castle ruins to the recently built church on the top of the hill. This
used to be the site of the tsars summer palace and I could see why he picked it. From the highest point there was a fantastic view over the valley, river and surrounding plateaus. Very nice, as was the church itself which was covered in fantastic modern frescos. We clambered around the castle ruins taking photos, chasing lizards, hunting for wombles and generally enjoying ourselves for a while until the heat got too much and cold drinks and shade were called for. Suitably refreshed I blanketed myself in factor 40 and, wary after the Turkish foot-burn and semi-fainting incident, donated my socks to Dee as we started off in the direction of Abarnasi. We had gotten as far as the river when we noticed the sky starting to turn a menacing shade of dark grey. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to scare ourselves witless we dashed, screaming, across a large wooden bridge with plenty of missing slats as the thunder and lightening started and jumped into a taxi waiting on the other side just as the first fat drops of a 3 hour storm began to fall.
We sheltered from the rain with a group of other people
in the post office porch in the town centre. The thunder was so strong that the post office building was actually shaking. Really! Realising that the storm was going nowhere fast we legged it to the nearest bar and spent a couple of hours sampling Bolyarka beer (brewed in Veliko Tarnovo so it would have been rude not to). I really loved the atmosphere in the bar and in the town in general. Very lively, good craic, can imagine that a Saturday night out would be brilliant in Veliko Tarnovo and would definitely go back for that if I ever got the chance).
We ate at a traditional Bulgarian place (delicious sizzling vegetables and cheese for me, something unsuccesful for Dee who was, by this stage, feeling fairly disheartened by Bulgarian cuisine in general, some nice wine all round), then wandered around for another while than back to the hostel - fast asleep in seconds.
Next morning we got our tickets for Bucharest, unsuccessfully navigated the coffee machines and supermarkets of Veliko Tarnovo, cast a eye about for wombles, got the evil eye from an tremendously wrinkly and scary old lady in a cafe, ate a truely disgusting
pastry, bought souvenir Bolyarka beer for Nico, posted our postcards, loaded up our rose-scented rucksacks, enjoyed some sponge cake from the very nice station master by way of compensation for the delayed train, swapped coins and worryingly risque shared-room stories with a Bulgarian archeologist, said our goodbyes to Veliko Tarnovo and jumped on the slowest train of all time to Bucharest.
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