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Arrival in Veliko Tarnovo for Christmas

Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo


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Breakfast at Hostel Mostel was excellent, one of the best hostel breakfasts I've ever had; Bulgarian yoghurt, Bulgarian feta cheese ('cirene'), boiled eggs, olives, salad items, scrambled eggs, sliced apple, sliced kiwi fruit, waffles, jam, chocolate spread, cereal, milk, juice, tea and coffee. After filling ourselves up we had a game of pool on the free pool table, packed up our stuff and asked reception staff to order a taxi to the main bus station for us.

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The time was now about 9.45 am. As soon as we arrived I bought tickets to Veliko Tarnovo, though not as easily as I'd expected. The company I wanted to use, ETAP, had no spaces left on any bus until 2pm, so I checked another company option instead, seeing from their timetable that their next bus to VT was at 11.30 am. They professed to have no tickets whatsoever for any bus to VT, however, so I had to go back to the ETAP desk and buy the 2pm tickets after all.

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So a long wait was ahead of us. Oh well, we'd been in similar situations before on our various travels and knew there was absolutely no point getting stressed out or annoyed about it; a laid-back approach is by far the best to take. So we took ourselves, Dave's big case and my rucksack upstairs to the seating area, made ourselves as comfortable as we could and played a mammoth 10-round game of 10-card rummy, a process which took up nearly an hour. (Dave won.)

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At 12.30 we wandered over to a food counter and had a very leisurely lunch of pizza and (in my case) créme caramel. Then we went down to wait by the bus until the doors opened and we could get on.

The journey was uneventful, though we did see a beautiful sunset. It was completely dark when we arrived in VT. We stopped for a few photos on the way to my flat so we didn't get in until just past 6pm.

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Dave started unpacking and sampled one of the bottles of Bulgarian beer I'd bought for him a few days ago. We also went next door to buy some 1kg tubs of honey from my landlady.

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After about an hour we went out for dinner at Han Hadji Nikoli. We shared an antipasti plate, Dave had a Bulgarian pork grill and I had stuffed chicken breasts, with buttered broccoli as a side. Great quality, as always.

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It had been a long day, so we went straight back to the flat after dinner, finished unpacking and headed for bed.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:18 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged night christmas hostel buses dave sofia bulgaria veliko_tarnovo han_hadji_nikoli bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Beautiful walk this morning

Veliko Tarnovo


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It's beautifully sunny today and my Saturday class - my last class before the Christmas holidays - was cancelled, so I decided to go on a nice walk down to the river.

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I explored cobbled streets, walking past picturesque houses and churches, a man roped to the top of a tree sawing off branches, piles of chopped firewood, the occasional cat and the clear, shallow and swift-running Yantra itself.

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Mist-laden Tsarevets Fortress looked over me on one side; other hills did so on the others. Basking in the sun, I felt very peaceful and happy.

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I came across the Churches of St Dimitar, St George and Sts Peter & Paul, all of which are historic and sound really interesting, but for some reason the gates to all three were locked. Oh well, I will definitely return another day, maybe on a Sunday when they'll be more likely to be open.

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The mist still remained as I walked back up the hill and home.

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Before I got back to my flat I stopped at a general shop to buy some kashkavalki and snejanka (the 'j' is pronounced like the 's' in 'treasure') for lunch. Snejanka is like a more solid version of tarator; made from yoghurt and cucumber, you can stick a spoon in it upright. As I asked the shop assistant for it (it was in a chilled cabinet, reached from behind the counter) she told me out of the blue, in English, that 'Snejanka' is also the name for the woman who accompanies Santa. Very interesting! None of the other Bulgarians I've talked about Christmas with has mentioned her.

Posted by 3Traveller 04:17 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bridges bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra Comments (0)

Typical day for me in Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo


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I just thought I'd write a bit about what a typical working day is like for me here in Veliko Tarnovo.

Once I'm up and about I look out of the windows at one of the spectacular views you can imagine and think about how lucky I am to have it. Since it's winter, I eat my breakfast beneath the warm air blowing out of the heater on the wall near the ceiling. I walk to work in joggers and trainers because they are more comfortable than the work trousers and shoes I change into once I arrive at work.

For the last couple of weeks it's been very misty every morning; this morning is no exception.

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Sometimes the mist is so heavy I can't even see the hill directly opposite my windows, or the River Yantra, or Tsarevets Fortress on the hill on my right hand side. Everything beyond the road running above the Yantra but below my windows is completely blanked out. Sometimes most of the Fortress is shrouded in mist, with only the Patriarchate Tower rising above it. On other occasions, the mist has lessened, so that the Yantra and the Fortress and the hill opposite can be seen but the hills and enscarpments beyond them either cannot be seen at all, or they move in and out of sight as the fingers of cloud drift by.

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Sometimes as I step outside and turn to double lock the outer door, one of the local street dogs trots up to say hello. She doesn't officially belong to anyone but is fed by several people in the neighbourhood. I stroke her and say hello before walking down a steep set of steps to the main street. Sometimes she trots along with me for a while before continuing along the main road into town; I soon leave the main road and go down two more steep sets of steps onto Gurko Street. The dramatically hilly nature of Veliko Tarnovo means that steps and slopes are everywhere.

I often smell the aroma of woodsmoke around Veliko Tarnovo, unsurprisingly given the fact that the vast majority of people have wood burners; the school's radiators are powered by one. On this typical day, I smell woodsmoke on my walk along Gurko Street to school; I see that one of the houses has just received a delivery of chopped wood. The view from this side of the hill is also fantastic. The many cats and kittens that spend their time on Gurko Street look at me when I pass by. Two or three street cleaners in bright orange uniforms appear and begin sweeping up leaves and any rubbish with straw brooms. Sometimes a rubbish truck squeezes through the street, passers-by like myself stepping aside to let it pass.

When the weather is wet I nip from beneath overhanging building to overhanging building, sheltering from as much rain as I can but avoiding the streams of water that flow from the pipes and guttering above; but recently the weather has been misty and cold but dry - the only water in the open air on Gurko Street has been the water flowing into stone sinks set into the hillside side of the road. The water is clear; maybe originally the sinks and water supply was the residents' main water source? Occasionally I see residents fill up buckets from them. Maybe the sinks were there before cars became common, meaning that horses used to drink from them. I know that in the Bulgarian villages, some people travel by horse and cart.

Sometimes I hear church bells ringing in the distance; this always reminds me of my walk to work in Guayaquil in my last three weeks of the job in Ecuador. I had an IELTS one-to-one between 7 - 9 am from Monday to Friday, so I'd set off from my new flat about 6.20. At 6.30 every morning, just as I was walking through Urdesa Norte neighbourhood and nearing the river, I'd hear a church bell clanging nearby. Then, as I crossed the river, I'd sometimes spot an iguana or two in the trees or on the brick wall to one side.

Once I've reached work I get changed and prepare for my first lesson. My exact teaching timetable is different every day of the working week, but I always have at least one or two classes in the morning, afternoon and in the evening, except for Tuesday when I don't have any evening classes. The average number is about five classes a day; most classes are an hour and a half long, but some are an hour and one of mine is only 45 minutes.

For lunch I usually nip out to a shop and get a bottle of Coke Zero, a couple of cheesy rolls and a clear plastic box of sweet things to eat in front of the computer at work. I save one of the rolls and about half of the sweet things for later. Bulgaria seems to have quite a large collection of different types of cheesy rolls. Some with yellow cheese on top (kashkavalki), or variously-shaped ones with white cheese (a lot like feta) inside and on top. The sweet things I normally get are balls of a brown, moist, sweet stuff, rolled in dessicated coconut. I've never quite worked out what exactly is in them apart from coconut, but they're delicious! Another type of sweet thing I get sometimes are a bit like little circular meringues, but chewier and nuttier, a little bit biscuit-like. Sometimes, if I have enough time, instead of buying cheesy rolls, I go to the deli round the corner and have a plate of hot food - normally stuffed aubergine or stuffed courgettes - and a little plate of créme caramel or rice pudding.

Then it's time for afternoon and evening classes, interspersed with planning, marking, topping up the fire in the heater with pieces of wood, chatting and going on the internet to check my email and Facebook, check various sports scores, read articles on BBC Sport and BBC News and play games on Sporcle. The amount of time I get for lunch varies and sometimes I don't get a chance to have it until mid-afternoon.

On Mondays and Wednesdays I don't finish work until 9.30 pm, so I don't bother cooking anything for dinner, unless on Monday I can just reheat a portion of something I'd made at the weekend. At weekends it's a different story - I usually make the effort to do some proper cooking.

On more than one occasion in the late evening I hear the almost-unmistakeable sound of a train passing through Veliko Tarnovo. It's not unpleasant at all - it's a very low, rhythmical rumble. I say 'almost' unmistakeable because I remember on my first few days in VT I couldn't work out what the sound was - I thought it sounded a bit like a group of people beating drums in the distance. I thought that maybe there was some kind of parade going on, even though I couldn't see signs of any such thing when I looked out of the window. Eventually I realised what it was, however!

That reminds of my first couple of weeks in Ecuador, when I thought that the tune the rubbish truck made on its rounds was actually a theme tune from a television programme I seemed to hear people watching all the time. It was only until I heard it properly for the first time (starting up in the distance, becoming louder and louder before fading away again) that I realised what the sound actually was!

Posted by 3Traveller 02:10 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged trains bulgaria ecuador veliko_tarnovo english_teaching bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street Comments (0)

Lunch in the countryside

Veliko Tarnovo and Mindya


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I left the hostel early and walked through near-empty streets to the main bus station. I left too early to get my free breakfast at the hostel, so I had a kashkavalka instead. I had to get a ticket to Veliko Tarnovo from a different bus company than usual, because the one I wanted would have left far too late, so I arrived at a different bus station that usual in VT.

I'd only been back in Veliko Tarnovo for an hour or so before I went out again, this time with a group of colleagues to the village of Mindya. We'd been invited to lunch by our colleague and her partner. They absolutely plied us with delicious food, and lots of chat, laughter and alcohol were had! We stayed until late evening; I had to leave a little earlier than the others because I had a Google video chat date with Dave.

Posted by 3Traveller 01:06 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged buses dave sofia bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine mindya Comments (0)

National Revival Day

Sofia


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The first place I went to contrasted greatly to the traditional Bulgarian Orthodox church interior and icons I'd seen the day before; the Monument to the Soviet Army, which was built in 1954. Unsurprisingly, it looked very uncared-for, with some graffiti about and some grass growing between many of the paving stones. I stood about for a while, picturing parades that may well have taken place there. Rather surreally, there was a sculpture of a giant spoon next to it.

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After that I walked back past the fruit & vegetable market, which was still setting up when I'd come past before.

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I had to get a photo of one of the stalls because for a while I couldn't work out what was on it. I'm still not entirely sure what they were but I think they could have been halves of extremely large hollowed-out squashes that had been lightly grilled on a little grillstand next to the main stall.

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Next to the market I bought a 'kashkavalka' from a typical Bulgarian bakery where the products are displayed in the glass window, you say what you want and the assistant passes it through a hatch. Kashkavalki are spiral rolls with melted kashkaval, a type of yellow cheese, on top. That kashkavalka was simply the best cheesy roll I've ever had.

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From the bakery I walked to Sveti Nedelya church to take some photos. As I stood by the side of the church, which is raised up some steps, a rather surreal incident happened where Charlie Chaplin tried to persuade me to come to his café...

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After this exchange I went inside the church for another look-around. It was quite crowded due to it being a public holiday (National Revival Day). There was a security guard inside. I sat down for a while on a seat at one side and watched a blessing of bread and wine ceremony unfold. First of all a priest and a man holding a large, lit candle walked anticlockwise around a small altar table with some bread and a bottle of wine on it. The priest was chanting and swinging incense as he went. While they were doing that, a small semicircle of people gathered in front of a central altar table, which itself was directly in front of a very dark, carved wooden table with icons on it. This table also had bread and wine on it and after the priest had finished with the first table, he processed around this one as well, chanting and swinging incense once more.

Just as that happened, a woman came up to me and the couple of other people sitting down and gave us each a chocolate biscuit. The others ate theirs straight away, so I did too - it turned out to have jam inside. As I finished eating, the priest chanted to the the semicircle from a Bible; he then placed it on the main table and chanted directly to it, with his back to the semicircle.

Throughout the whole thing, lots of people were wandering around, praying to icons and lighting candles as if there wasn't a ceremony taking place. I walked over to a carved wooden box I had seen before when I was with Mum; this time the metal statue of the saint lying inside the box had been dressed in purple shoes and a purple velvet robe with gold brocade. As I sat down again the priest was talking to the semicircle, which then broke up and departed.

After leaving the church I went on to the Royal Palace to visit the Ethnographical Museum and the National Gallery. On the way there, I finally managed to catch the Changing of the Guard outside the President's Building! It was a small ceremony, but involved colourful uniforms and lots of goose-stepping.

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Seeing as I was so close by, I diverted and went inside the Rotonda Church of St George, the little circular church with Roman remains that I mentioned in a previous email. Mum and I had visited, but didn't have time to go inside it properly.

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It had some murals on the walls and some of the brickwork showed; the bricks were very narrow and obviously very old, like the ones at the church of Sveta Sofia, where I'd been with Mum the day before.

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There were some tables set up in the middle with food and drink on them and various people standing around eating and drinking. I guessed it might be a special thing put on for National Revival Day, with any visitors allowed to partake, I decided not to join in. I bought a postcard and a fridge magnet and went outside for another quick look at the Roman remains instead. There was a little shrine to St George next to the outside wall.

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The Ethnographical Museum was interesting, just as I thought it would be. I didn't know that Bulgaria was a major silk producer in Ottoman times, after silkworms were introduced to Byzantium from China. It didn't say exactly why Bulgaria was such a centre of the silk industry, but maybe it was because to breed silkworms you need lots of mulberry trees for them to feed on, and Bulgaria had/ has exactly the right climate or soil to grow them. The industry continues in Bulgaria right up to the present day, but is much reduced these days.

There was also interesting information about and exhibits from the traditional building, tobacco, linen flax and cotton industries, embroidery, woodcarving and traditional soap made from pig fat and limestone.

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As well as Bulgarian exhibits, there was a room of Japanese prints and woodcuts and another room with traditional, colourful, spun cotton balls made for the Japanese New Year; this room had Venetian mirror on the walls and an inlaid wooden floor with five types of wood (a museum attendant told me) - it still looked like the interior of a palace. Apparently the last Queen of Bulgaria died in this room.

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Then there was a marble staircase down to a marble-floored corridor to rooms filled with photos and momentoes of Boris III, the last Tsar of Bulgaria, and his wife, who was Italian. The signs here were mostly in Bulgarian and Italian, unlike the ones in the rest of the museum, which were in Bulgarian and English.

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Next came the National Gallery, which wasn't quite as big as I was expecting. There was a photography exhibition by an American called Brian Dailey, mostly very colourful portraits but also a 'Morpheus' series of surrealist, dreamlike photos that I particularly liked.

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Upstairs was a big exhibition of works by the 20th-century Bulgarian artist Nikolay Nikov. It was filled with photos of the artist, watercolours, oil on canvas, cardboard and wood, linocuts, lithographs and ink on cardboard; quite a range of styles, but colourful and well worth seeing.

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There was also some Bulgarian, Italian and English information about Michelangelo, but no paintings, which I found slightly bizarre.

On the way back to my hostel I bought a massive slice of pizza for only 2.19 leva (89p) from one of the many pizza counters in Sofia. As I was eating it I came across a small marching protest on Boulevard Vitosha. I think it was by refugees or in solidarity with them. Lots of flag-waving and chanting, but no sense of danger at all.

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After they had passed by I took the opportunity to go inside the big H&M nearby, to look for work trousers, but didn't find any ones I liked. Then, seeing as I was on Boulevard Vitosha, I bought from my favourite cake shop 5 syrupy batter-like things that I had tried before....

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Last stop was a visit to the same bakery I'd been to in the morning, to buy 5 kashkavalki; two to have for dinner and three to save for breakfast and the journey the next morning. The woman gave me a free chocolate-filled roll and a glazed ring of bread with poppy seeds. Then straight back to the hostel, because I was knackered. I did have to go back out for a bottle of Coke Zero, but after that I just collapsed in bed, read my Kindle, had dinner in bed and then went to sleep early, because I had to get up very early the next morning.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:32 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art market museum hostel sofia bulgaria procession icons orthodox_church roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine boulevard_vitosha soviet_monument traditional_customs Comments (0)

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