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Veliko Tarnovo: Tsarevets Fortress, Bulgarian cuisine & more

Veliko Tarnovo


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I've had a lovely few days here since my arrival on Monday. The sun has shone, I've had a lovely wander round the town and I still cannot get over how amazing the view is from my bedroom and kitchen windows, the terrace outside and the road in front!

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On Thursday afternoon I visited Tsarevets Fortress, a restored medieval stronghold that was the seat of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1185 and 1393. The bridge to the fortress hill is only five minutes' walk from my flat! It was perfect weather - barely a cloud in the sky - and as I walked across the bridge and then around the fortress I felt so happy and relaxed. It felt quite surreal to know that although I probably looked like a tourist, I actually live here. I could see where I live, a building just beyond the light turquoise domes of an Orthodox church, with a cobbled road below it and then the river Yantra flowing even further below that, at the bottom of the valley.

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There are three big hills in Veliko Tarnovo; one has the fortress on it, one (where I live) contains most of the town, and the third has part of the town running round some of the base, some medieval foundations/ ruins further up (apparently they are part of the fortress too, despite being on a different hill) and then forest at the top. Beyond these hills there are forested mountains/ even higher hills/ enscarpments - some of them have a layer of bare rock below their summits.

Anyway, back to the fortress... the information on the signs came in Bulgarian, Russian and German, but no English beyond the names of the different sections of the fortress. The area of the fortress is pretty wide, because in its pomp it contained many separate buildings; 18 churches, monasteries, the royal palace, the Patriarchate tower right at the top of the hill, craftsmen's workshops and so on. Of most of these, only the foundations and parts of the walls remain, but the Patriarchate was completely reconstructed in 1981. The inner walls are covered in modernist frescoes of religious and historical subjects. For an extra 2 leva I was taken upstairs to the top of the tower for even more spectacular views over Veliko Tarnovo and the surrounding countryside. I could still see my bedroom windows, on the hill opposite.

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Once I left the Patriarchate, came down the hill and turned right to wander round the rest of the fortress, the number of other people gradually tailed away until finally I was the only person around. I looked round the ruins of the palace and passed through/ around many foundations of very small churches.

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Eventually I reached an overhanging rock nicknamed the 'Execution Rock' because traitors used to be pushed off it to their deaths in the river far below. All this while I kept my eyes out for sightings of lizards lying on top of the sun baked foundation walls, because a sign had told me to look out for reptiles, but I only saw one very small brown one. There were more wonderful views here and as I walked round the outer wall to exit where I'd come in.

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On Thursday evening I was taken out for dinner with the other teachers at Han Hadji Nikoli Restaurant. This turned out to be in a historic building that used to be an inn and now contains a small museum and an art gallery as well as the restaurant. It lies on a cobbled street within the historic craftsman's quarter where some craftsmen still work. It's within five minutes' walk from my flat. I had baked trout with almonds for my main (it came with sautéed potatoes and onions) and créme brulée for dessert. I was also offered some plum rakia, a very strong traditional fruit brandy, but I'm afraid I didn't like it at all. I was hoping it would taste quite sweet and very fruity, like cherry brandy or like the Portuguese ginjinha and fruity Cape Verdian firewater that Dave and I tried in Lisbon, but it didn't. Oh well, at least I tried it! I also tried some 'liqueur wine', made from a type of grape that the Romans grew, and loved it. Now that was sweet and fruity. I'll definitely bear that in mind for future visits! After dinner most of us went to 'Tequila Bar' for a couple of drinks.

Speaking of food, I've tried 'Tarator' for the first of what I know will be many times; this is a cold, yoghurt-based soup made from unsweetened yoghurt, cucumber chunks, garlic, dill and very finely chopped nuts. In the same meal I also had a chicken dish I can't remember the name of but was cooked and served in a clay pot. It was basically chicken stew with sliced tomato and mushrooms, with cottage cheese-like white cheese and a fried egg on top. With a dessert, the whole lot came to nearly 15 leva - just over £6! Everything is so cheap here.

I bought some vegetables at a fruit and veg market on Wednesday; although I hadn't intended to get quite so many, I ended up with a sackful of red peppers! Peppers and aubergines seem to be the main vegetables in season here right now. I don't think I've ever seen such large aubergines before. Walnuts also seem to be very popular here. The almonds are just about to start dropping - there are two trees within a few metres from my front door!

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Earlier today I walked down to the river, visited the little Church of the Forty Martyrs and watched two fishermen at work in the river. One of them was using a three-cornered net which looked only about a square metre wide.

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The church is made from a peculiar type of stone with holes in, a bit like Swiss cheese! I saw some ancient murals inside, and lit a beeswax candle for Dad in a tiny chapel in the garden.

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I've met my new employers and colleagues, had a couple of training sessions (one of which was about TOEFL, something I never taught in Ecuador) and have been taken to the immigration centre to sort out my residency/ work permit and ID card. I've also been told about the Bulgarian way of indicating 'yes' and 'no'. They nod very decisively to mean 'no' and kind of wobble their heads from side to side to mean 'yes', though apparently the younger generations more often do it the way most other countries do.

I've been given my provisional timetable for next week; so far I have an FCE class, two Elementary classes and a Pre-Intermediate class. Thursday is my weekday day off (everyone gets Sundays off because the school closes then). The week after that I'll definitely be given more classes to add to these.

Last winter was very mild here, apparently, but when it's not mild there is usually loads of snow, with easily four feet falling in one night. Apparently the town and hills look magical in the snow; I can well believe it, considering how beautiful they look already.

I'm going out for some drinks tonight so I'd better go now and get ready!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:26 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art lizards market dad bulgaria veliko_tarnovo explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress han_hadji_nikoli bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra

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