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Wedding plans get going!

St Albans


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Since yesterday morning Dave and I have caught up on sleep, been amazed at Mum's travel-themed redecoration of what was my old bedroom, looked round some of the sales in St Albans city centre and had a nice relaxed evening in with Mum involving her lovely Scandinavian meatballs, a fire in the grate, cherry brandy on ice and a game of Upwords.

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We have also been to the church to see the vicar about our wedding, and the cemetery to visit Dad's grave.

Our wedding date is now officially set!

Off to Manchester tomorrow for a night - a flying visit to see Dave's family.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:22 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom christmas dad dave mum st_albans st_peter's_church Comments (0)

Back in England

Sofia Airport, London Luton Airport and St Albans


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The rest of our wait at Sofia Airport went quite quickly. In the Departures lounge there was a temporary display of beautiful photographs of Bulgaria for us to look at, duty-free to browse (if not buy from) and a café to consume toasted baguettes at.

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Having been up all night, we were incredibly tired and drowsy by now. Almost as soon as I sat down on the plane I fell into that disconcerting, dreamlike state between sleep and wakefulness. I remember opening my eyes and looking out of the window, wondering hazily what the noise was outside; it turned out we were still stationary and an ice-and-snow-melting process was going on. I swear I saw hot air being puffed out around the bottom of the plane. Then I drifted off again, away into the distance, time seeming to stand still and move forward simultaneously. After what seemed like hours, I looked up dazedly at the night sky and thought 'we're in the air'...only to see when I looked down out of the window that we were moving, but on the ground. Only half an hour had gone by. Then the next time I was conscious, we were actually in the air. The take off had completely passed me by.

At some point over the European mainland there were no clouds at all and we were flying quite low. It was just at the point where the darkness was pretty much total but one part of the horizon was just starting to turn blue - the very earliest stage of sunrise. We flew low enough over a city for me to get a good view of the layout of the city all lit up by streetlights - I'd never had such a good aerial view of a city at night from a plane before.

It was raining when we arrived at Luton... welcome to Blighty!

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We quickly made our way to Luton Airport Parkway rail station via the shuttle bus and got on the next train to St Albans.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:17 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art trains united_kingdom airport dave sofia bulgaria Comments (0)

Boxing Day

Veliko Tarnovo and Sofia Airport


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We spent most of the day in Veliko Tarnovo, lying in, eating Christmas dinner leftovers for lunch and doing some shopping. I bought myself a lovely real leather handbag and a beautiful, colourful handpainted icon of St George & the Dragon. The latter was something I'd been thinking of buying for myself ever since I arrived in Bulgaria (St George is popular here, so his image often appears in icons). The shop was small, but still managed to have two sections; both were filled with antiques, but the smaller one also had lots of icons on the walls. While I looked at the icons, Dave inspected the antiques and bought a fancy wooden box - he originally looked at another box but it turned out to belong to the owner and was the only one not to actually be on sale!

We took the 5pm bus to Sofia without any problems. I'd bought our tickets in the morning, just in case the buses got booked up (I've never done this in Bulgaria until now, but I didn't want to risk the chance of missing our flight due to not being able to get a bus to Sofia at all). After I'd done that, we both sampled some hot chocolate from the Italian hot drink vending machine in the street in front of the ETAP bus station. These machines are spread out throughout Veliko Tarnovo; the drinks names are in Bulgarian but the instructions are in Italian. The hot chocolate was only 50 stotinki (20p) each and was quite small, but delicious.

At Sofia bus station I hoped the OK-Supertrans taxi desk would be open, but although it was only 8.30pm, it was closed. The opening hours listed there and in my guidebook claimed that it remained open until 10pm. I was hesitant to catch a taxi from outside the station without having gone through the taxi desk, because the only time I'd done that before I'd got royally ripped off, but now it looked like we had no choice. To guard against being ripped off I got Dave to take a photo of their listed rates. Maybe the driver we ended up with had seen us do this (or maybe he was just nice and honest), because as it turned out we didn't get ripped off at all.

It was snowing in Sofia. Inside Sofia Airport it was lovely and warm though and for the first few hours of our wait we were almost the only people in the whole terminal apart from two security staff. Our flight wasn't until 5.30am. We took turns to wander around (Dave went outside and took some pictures of the snow), we played another long game of 10-card rummy and I read part of a biography of Captain Cook on my Kindle. Dave tried to sleep but failed because lying across the seats was too uncomfortable.

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Posted by 3Traveller 09:23 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow airport christmas buses dave sofia bulgaria icons veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

Christmas Day

Veliko Tarnovo


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I wasn't quite sure how today would go, considering that it was Christmas morning last year when Dad lapsed into unconsciousness and never woke up. I thought of Dad even more than usual today, but having Dave with me helped massively whenever thoughts turned back to the horrible events on that fateful day a year ago.

The weather was very sunny and relatively warm, so in the morning we went on a long walk round Tsarevets Fortress, Gurko Street and the main street, taking photos with Dave's camera as we went.

On the way to the fortress;

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Tsarevets Fortress:

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Gurko Street;

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The rest of our walk;

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We also walked past my workplace, where I discovered a Christmas card to myself from Dave's parents in the postbox by the door. :-)

Unfortunately Dave dropped his camera's lens cap at the fortress, losing it for ever just after he'd taken some pictures of me standing on the Execution Rock. This rock overhangs the side of the hill; centuries ago traitors were thrown off it to their deaths. He dropped the lens cap to the side of the rock, but although I thought it may have landed on a ledge of earth a couple of metres below, I decided not to try and find a way down there in case I slipped to my death. Although it was very sunny, there was still mud around. At least it wasn't his camera that was lost!

We ate our Christmas dinner very late, because we didn't get back from our walk until between 1 and 2pm, which is when we started cooking. We had homemade tarator to start; for the main we had herb-sprinkled chicken breasts cooked in foil, roast potatoes, stuffing, carrots, leeks fried with mozzarella cheese (an experiment I shall definitely repeat) and lots and lots of lovely handmade bread sauce.

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We were so full after this we had to have a lie down for a couple of hours; it wasn't until we got up that we realised the thought of pudding had not even crossed our minds! We were still too full to eat anything - we didn't have anything else until about 10pm - so until then we opened presents and relaxed. I had some presents for Dave waiting in the UK, plus the plan was for him to choose his main present from me tomorrow in Veliko Tarnovo before we left for Sofia, so the only thing I had for him to open was a box of Bulgarian baklava and kadaif. Amongst other things, from him I got a really interesting-looking book called 'This Way Southward' by A. F. Tschiffely, published in 1940. It's an account of a journey through Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. He also got me a lovely calendar using photos we took in Ecuador last June.

Speaking of books, Emma and Kate each got me a really good book as well. Emma got me 'What Caesar Did for My Salad: The Secret Meanings of our Favourite Dishes' by Albert Jack and Kate got me 'King Harald's Saga'. I will keep all of these with me in Bulgaria to read after Christmas, rather than take them back to the UK on Saturday!

Before we had tea we played a game of Mapominoes, a game Mum gave us. As the name indicates, it's very similar to dominoes, but each card is a European country and you can only put one country next to others if it shares a border with them. You also get Transit cards which you can say is a particular country or sea. A very good idea for a game!

Tea was quite brief because we still weren't as hungry as we could have been. We didn't have the Christmas pudding at all in the end, because we knew it would be filling.

All day I kept a Christmas candle burning for Dad. Mum had given it to Dave to take with him to Bulgaria.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:13 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged christmas sisters dad dave bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo fortifications tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street Comments (0)

Christmas Eve

Veliko Tarnovo


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On Christmas Eve morning Dave and I walked to the fruit & vegetable market and the supermarket below it. The stalls had a heavy emphasis on what is in season - they were filled with squashes, swedes, beets, onions, potatoes, cabbages, nuts and apples - but they also had some presumably imported oranges, mandarins and other fruits. I looked for brussel sprouts without any luck. There were also some stalls filled with loose dried fruits, such as apricots and figs, as well as more nuts, jars of preserved peppers and tomatoes, bagged dried herbs, dried peppers, jars of honey and last of all, slabs of raw, white animal fat. Near the entrance to the market some women were selling bare branches of a certain type of tree, that I think I mentioned I saw sold in Sofia, along with branches of fir.

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After stocking up on Christmas food, we dumped the stuff at the flat and had a rest before going out again for lunch and some shopping in the old town. I had my old favourite, tarator (a cold soup made from yoghurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, vegetable oil and chopped nuts) as a starter. I've forgotten what else we had apart from the pudding, which I will always remember due to its unusualness. The dish I had was 'Frumenty'! I'd only ever heard about that as a dish people used to have at Christmas in the UK in Medieval times, so I was intrigued to see it here. I'd always assumed it was served hot, but here it was cold; it was a lot like rice pudding but with giant grains of (presumably boiled) wheat or some other kind of corn, instead of rice. It also had a fruit which looked and tasted a lot like tiny, sweet green gooseberries.

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Strictly speaking, on the menu it was called 'Diet Frumenty'. It was listed on the same dessert page as 'Diet Cake', which I thought was quite funny. Maybe Diet Cake is made with sweetener instead of sugar, or something like that...

We had a look in a couple of craftsman's and tourist souvenir shops after that, but didn't buy anything. We knew we'd be back either the next day or on Boxing Day. It was a lovely sunny day, like yesterday, so it was very pleasant just walking around. As the sun got lower and lower, the light looked more and more golden.

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We didn't do much in the evening apart from have pizza for dinner (with added mozzarella), play cards and have some clementines before getting an early night.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:35 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market christmas dave bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

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