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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)

Going to the Rugby World Cup next year! :-)

Veliko Tarnovo


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Dave and I have managed to get tickets to see Argentina vs. Namibia at the Rugby World Cup next year! I'm so happy! It will be in Leicester, a city I've never been to before, on Sunday 11th October 2015. I have a feeling that this will be quite a quick running game, filled with tries, and that Namibia will do a lot better than people might expect.

Work has been much busier than usual in the last couple of weeks, because my colleague 'S' left quite suddenly and we're yet to get a replacement. Apparently this is the worst time of year for hiring. It looks quite likely that we won't get a replacement until after Christmas, in fact.

Posted by 3Traveller 01:37 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged dave bulgaria veliko_tarnovo english_teaching Comments (0)

Mum in Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo


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Monday 27th October

This was our view from the kitchen window first thing this morning :-)

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I was teaching nearly all day, starting at 8 am and finishing at 9 pm, but I had a couple of hours free in the middle of the day, so Mum found her way to my workplace and met me at 12.30. I'd shown her where it was on a map I'd got from the tourist information office. I showed her round the school and then we went to a deli round the corner for some lunch. I had the Bulgarian version of moussaka and Mum had a rice dish which unfortunately turned out to have lots of little chunks of liver in it.

I bought a loaf of bread and some milk on the way out and then we walked past the school and along Gurko Street for a while before rejoining the main street. Gurko Street is filled with Ottoman buildings where the first floor is wider than the ground floor and there are lots of wooden balconies and the roofs have red tiles. Once we got to the main street we looked in some shop windows - some of the shops looked closed because they were in darkness, but when we looked more closely we saw the shopkeeper just sitting at a till or table, looking out at us! Quite peculiar and disconcerting. Then we crossed the road and joined a road nicknamed the 'craftsman's street' - quite touristy now but has been filled with craftsman's shops since the mid-19th century. I left Mum here to explore because I had to go back to work.

I finished at 9.30 pm and arrived back at the flat to some dinner - it was so lovely to have had dinner cooked for me! Mum told me about the shops she'd gone into and showed me an embroidered cloth she'd bought.
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Tuesday 28th October

Today I didn't have a class until 9.45 am, so Mum and I had breakfast together. We started the last jar of Dad's raspberry and redcurrant jam he'd made in 2012; Mum had brought it with her.

I only had that one class today so I came back as soon as it finished at 11.15. We had lunch a bit early. Then I looked in my guidebook and found out that apparently the places I wanted us to go to in Arbanasi would be closed for the winter. We decided to go there anyway, just in case they weren't, but we waited quite a long time for a taxi and eventually we decided just to carry on into Tsarevets Fortress instead.

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The fortress was extremely peaceful because apart from two workers at the main tower, we were the only people in the whole complex for most of our visit.

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The views were fantastic and I took lots of photos.

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I thought how surreal the sight of the snowy hills, trees and buildings looked to me when I could remember so clearly the weather I experienced in Guayaquil a year ago; very hot and humid, the complete opposite to the cold and snow of now.

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On the way back from the fortress we went inside an Orthodox church round the corner from my flat. There were some beautiful icons, but the interior as a whole was very gloomy. The priest followed us around too, which was a little bit offputting.

We rested for a couple of hours on our return, before going out to a restaurant called Han Hadji Nikoli. This is the same place that we teachers got taken out to in my first week in Bulgaria. On that occasion we'd eaten in the courtyard, but now due to the cold we ate inside. A pianist kept us and the other guests entertained throughout, with music in the background.

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To begin with I had tarator and Mum had an appetiser plate.

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Then Mum had trout with almonds and I had a chicken breast wrapped in thin bacon and stuffed with mozzarella. Mum's dish came with some sautéed potatoes and mine came with two small baked potatoes with garlic butter. To finish with Mum had baklava and I had an 'Iced Parfait' with caramelised crushed almonds - it turned out to be a lot like ice cream.

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I tried a bit of Mum's baklava and it was delicious; it was in fact the second-best baklava I've ever had, after the stuff I had at a Turkish café in Auckland. It was much better than any I'd had in the UK. My chicken was really tender and tasty and the tarator was as lovely and refreshing as ever. Mum said that she had really enjoyed her food, too.

Wednesday 29th October

We had breakfast together in the morning because I didn't have a class until 9.30. When that class finished it was 11 and just as I stepped out of the door I saw Mum had just arrived outside. We walked to the fruit & vegetable market down the road and looked round; we bought a big bag of walnuts and two massive quinces for Mum to take back to the UK with her, along with a pomegranite, a punnet of figs, a big bunch of grapes and some pears for more immediate eating.

On our way back we stopped at a CBA supermarket to get some eggs for an omelette that evening, but they didn't have any. Then we stopped at the deli to have some lunch - I had intended to have lunch at the flat, but then I thought I'd run out of time to get there. It was only when we were sitting upstairs eating our lunch that I realised that I actually had an hour longer than I thought! This time I had stuffed aubergine and we shared a little tub of absolutely amazing syrupy sweet things that I couldn't believe I hadn't come across before. They were balls of batter, a lot like the softer version of jalebi batter, with a bit of a bubble inside; they were soaked in syrup.

Because I had longer than I had thought, I walked back to the flat with Mum along Gurko Street. I found the little National Revival house museum that she had tried to find earlier but failed, so that she could go to that once I was back at work. Back at the flat I relaxed for thirty minutes before I had to go back to work.

I finished at 9.30 pm, like on Monday, and like Monday I arrived back to a lovely dinner that Mum had cooked for me :-D She showed me some purchases she had made that afternoon, and told me that the little house museum was amazing.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:28 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow market bulgaria mum icons veliko_tarnovo explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress han_hadji_nikoli bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street Comments (0)

SNOW!!! - Long journey to Sofia though!

Veliko Tarnovo and Sofia


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Next week is half term for many schools in the UK; with that in mind, Mum is coming to visit for a few days and arrives at Sofia Airport tomorrow. I went to Sofia today so I could stay the night and not have to travel on the day itself.

I had my usual one-to-one FCE class from 9.30 to 11.30 am, arriving at 9 to do a bit of marking first. It was raining slightly as I walked to work, but half an hour into the lesson I noticed that it had started snowing! I thought to myself that it wouldn't settle, because of the rain earlier, but after another half hour I noticed that a lot of snow had already settled! It was the first time I'd seen snow first hand since February or March 2013, so I was excited.

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I went back to the flat straight after work, sorted a few things out and set off for the little ETAP bus station. The snow had got even deeper by then. The first step I took onto the road, I slipped and fell onto my back - I had my rucksack on though, so I was OK. I arrived at the bus station to the news that the Sofia bus was delayed due to the unexpected snow and they weren't selling tickets yet because they didn't know how long it would take to get there. It arrived an hour and a quarter later and the journey itself took six hours instead of the three hours and twenty minutes it should have taken. This was because it went via Pleven, a city to the north-west of Veliko Tarnovo, instead of the normal route.

The six hours didn't feel that long, however, because I spent a lot of time looking out of the window at the scenery. It was still snowing. I realised on this journey that it was probably the first time I had seen whole forests of snow-laden coniferous trees stretching into the distance and definitely the first time I'd seen snow-laden deciduous trees with their leaves still on. When we passed by fields, quite often I couldn't tell where the fields ended and the sky began.

I arrived in Sofia at about 10 pm and got ripped off a treat by the taxi driver, who took me on a much more roundabout route than needed. I made a mental note just to walk in the future. I arrived at Hostel Lavele, letting myself in with the key that had been left for me. I had been upgraded from a 4 bed dorm to a twin room for some reason! I'd bought a hot dog and some chocolate at one of our stops on the journey, so I had that for dinner.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:51 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow hostel buses sofia bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo english_teaching extreme_weather Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

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