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The Turkish Quarter, Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo


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The Turkish Quarter in Veliko Tarnovo lies at the foot of Sveta Gora Hill, next to the River Yantra. Cross the bridge and Tsarevets Fortress looms up in front and to the right of you. I had passed through the Turkish Quarter by car before, but never looked round it on foot, so I took advantage of no Saturday class this morning to do so.

My walk went in a big circle. Sveta Gora Hill is behind the Assen Monument (the sword monument), so in order to get there I walked along Gurko Street, up Hadji Dimitar Street and round the corner to the bridge to the monument. I wonder how many times now I've walked along Gurko Street since September? Hundreds, I reckon, bearing in mind it's on my way to and from work. I feel so lucky to have been able to do so - it is so picturesque and interesting; even during rain, when I have to dash from overhanging building to overhanging building, avoiding streams of water pouring from eaves and pipes above! All so different to the UK.

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The sun was shining and I was surrounded by beautiful flowers and green leaves. Once I reached the Assen Monument I walked behind it until I got to Sveta Gora Hill - to get to the Turkish Quarter I could just follow the road around the base of the hill, but I wanted to go right up and over the hill instead. Lots of steps up, and then one or two terraces. On one of the steps I nearly stepped on a slow worm by mistake (not a worm, or a snake, but actually just a lizard without legs). The first I've ever seen in the wild.

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More than one tarmac path led off from the terraces down to the right, but I continued upwards until I reached a small and very steep path down through some woods and shrubbery. I had clearly reached the top of the hill and started downwards, but I couldn't actually see where the path was going - I wasn't sure whether if I kept going I would hit the Turkish Quarter or would go past it without realising it.

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I decided to keep going anyway, just to see where I'd end up. It was a pleasant scramble downhill and I managed to keep my footing; the earth was very dry. Maybe if it had rained recently, the resulting mud would have made me slip! I came out onto a road which I soon worked out to be in the Turkish Quarter. At nearly every turn there was a fantastic view of Tsarevets Fortress on the other side of the river.

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I wandered around side streets of old stone houses, cobbled streets and flowers, before turning onto the main street and walking past the blue and white mosque. I had never got a proper look at it until now. The writing on the gate was in Bulgarian and Turkish. Carpets had been flung over stone walls round the back of people's houses nearby - to dry, I assumed.

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Eventually I crossed the river, still in blazing sunshine, and walked back up to my flat to complete the circle.

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A nice cold Diet Coke and a shower were definitely in order when I got in!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:40 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged lizards mosque bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications tsarevets_fortress river_yantra assen_monument sveta_gora_park Comments (0)

Return to Plovdiv - this time with Mum!

Plovdiv


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Half term has just started in the UK, so Mum has come to Bulgaria for a week! She's flown into Plovdiv this time, rather than Sofia. I've come to Plovdiv to meet up with her; tomorrow I return with her to Veliko Tarnovo, where we'll stay until next Thursday. She flies back from Plovdiv too, so on Thursday I've arranged for us to go back there via the Shipka Pass, Kazanlak and the Valley of the Roses.

Mum arrived in Plovdiv yesterday, while I was still in Veliko Tarnovo. I had work yesterday and this morning, so I wasn't able to come until this afternoon. In my absence she had a nice walk around, taking note of all the architectural details on the colourful buildings, before joining an excellent free city walking tour. Apparently, two days ago Plovdiv found out that it had won the competition to be European Capital of Culture for 2019, so the whole city is still celebrating. Before the tour started she saw people in traditional dress going down the street, and once the tour had started and had reached Nebet Tepe (the hill with ruins on it), they saw hundreds of helium balloons released in the distance. Credit to Mum for the following two sets of pictures;

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After the tour finished, she went back for a proper look round the Roman amphitheatre and some antiques and handicrafts shops, including one where she could see weavers at work in the back and another which had the most amazing painted wooden chests.

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Meanwhile, I was on the bus from VT; great weather, wonderful scenery... lots of poppies in bloom now, by the roadside and in fields. I arrived at a different bus station to the one I was expecting, but I'd cunningly brought the free city map I'd saved from March, so I found my way to the hostel easily enough. I arrived only five minutes after my ETA of 18.30. We're staying at the same place I stayed at in March - a hostel/hotel in a wonderful wooden National Revival building right in the middle of the Old Town.

We had dinner at a restaurant in a historic building which used to be the Muslim equivalent of a monastery for the mystical sect of Islam (Sufism) that had whirling dervishes in Ottoman times; in fact in the main dining area dervishes used to whirl. The building had two floors and a garden - there were extensive wall remains built into the main dining area. We ate in the garden; bread, tarator and a mixed grill of kebapche (flattened meatballs), kyufte (similar to kebapche but enlongated), a pork chop, two curly sausages on a skewer and some chips. We also shared a salad of roasted red peppers, raw onion, parsley, olives, tomato, cucumber, a mixed vegetable dip-like mixture and some large white beans in a garlic sauce. The beans had a taste and texture very similar to potato.

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After that we walked to Nebet Tepe and wandered around the ruins while looking at the sunset over the city spread out before us. The air was balmy and there were lots of locals sitting in groups on the fortress walls. Mum said it reminded her a bit of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, with groups of local youth congregating in the fresh air in the evening. The atmosphere was very pleasant.

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On the way back from Nebet Tepe we looked in some art and jewellery shops which were still open.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:39 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged night hostel buses bulgaria mum plovdiv fortifications roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Another scorching day for April

Veliko Tarnovo


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I was teaching all morning today from 9am-1pm, so while I was away Kate and Andrew took the opportunity to look round Tsarevets Fortress. It was another very hot and sunny day and from all accounts they had a really good time, looking round nearly every part of the fortress and taking plenty of photos.

I met up with them for lunch on the balcony of Stratilat Café, the place where Emma, Kate and I had lunch on our birthday back in January. It has a great view of a section of VT and swallows periodically flew around us to nests under the eaves of the building. This café lies on the craftsmen's street and before I arrived, the others had enjoyed window-shopping. Kate enjoyed watching the coppersmith at work with his tools and fire outside his workshop.

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I didn't need to be back at work until 4pm, so we got to spend some more time together after lunch. First of all we walked over to the fruit and vegetable market in order to buy some veg for dinner, buying a bun much like a kozunak (Easter Bun) on our way. It's always interesting poking around this market and today was no exception; Kate especially enjoyed looking round the stalls, which sell not only fresh fruit, veg and herbs but also produce such as honey, eggs, nuts and suchlike.

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After I had got some courgettes, spring onions, aubergines and long, thin red peppers, we popped into a supermarket where Kate bought a 2-litre carton of apricot juice for herself and a big bottle of beer mixed with grapefruit juice for Andrew. We then had a 10-minute sit down in Mother Bulgaria Square before splitting ways; I had to get back to work.

While I was at work, Kate and Andrew relaxed back at my flat until the evening, when they went for an evening stroll to an area of VT they had seen from the fortress earlier - the historic Asenov quarter next to the River Yantra. Apparently it was light when they set off but dark when they got back - in the dusk they saw bats flying around and swooping under the bridge as they crossed it.

Dinner preparations continued later on, once I arrived back. In the middle of these preparations we saw a Tsarevets Sound & Light Show from my windows; no soundtrack, but we could hear the bells. To go with the vegetable sauce we had the sautéed potatoes and scrambled egg left over from dinner the night before, cooked together, plus a couple of boiled duck eggs each. We rounded the meal and day off nicely with the kozunak-like bun.

Posted by 3Traveller 05:12 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bridges market sisters bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications tsarevets_fortress river_yantra mother_bulgaria_square extreme_weather Comments (0)

Bulgarian Orthodox Easter Sunday

Veliko Tarnovo


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The first excursion we went on today was to the fruit and veg market; I needed to buy some vegetables for dinner and I knew Emma was curious to see it anyway. She kept an eye out for quinces to take back to Mum, but there weren't any. Lots of salad vegetables, courgettes and peppers available. Only about half the stalls or less were occupied, but it was enough to give them a good idea of what it's like normally.

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We had to stop off at a bakery on the way home for a Bulgarian Easter essential - Kozunak, which is basically a huge fat sugary bun a bit like an oversized, puffy, round and not so tightly wound Chelsea bun. We bought an absolutely huge one to share later.

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When we got home Emma and Mark hung out some laundry they'd put in earlier, while I got lunch ready. We had mozzarella, roasted red peppers from a jar, pesto, snezhanka (essentially a more solid version of tarator, make with strained yoghurt), a long string of preserved sausages, bread, and cheese triangles. We ate out on the terrace since the weather was gorgeous.

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Next, we headed out to craftmen's street. Emma had a hankering for a cowbell, so she bought a small one from the same shop I'd bought her St George and the Dragon icon from on our birthday. Mark bought a couple of colourful finely woven table runners - one for him and Emma and the other for his family - and a pair of dangly leaf-like copper earrings for Emma from the coppersmith's workshop.

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After we'd made our purchases, we stopped off at Stratilat Café for pudding. Emma and I had Bulgarian rice pudding (which, by the way, isn't served hot like it usually is in the UK, but cold - it's beautifully creamy and sweet), and Mark had a decadent looking slice of banana and chocolate pie. Emma also had a strawberry milkshake and I had a frappé.

After a brief stop-off at the flat to dump their purchases and take in some laundry, we wandered down to Tsarevets Fortress.

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I'd been there three times before, so while Emma and Mark went up to the Patriarchate Tower first, I walked round to Baldwin's Tower, the part I hadn't seen before.

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When I met back up with the others, lower down the hill from the Patriarchate Tower, they raved about the views they'd got of the whole town and beyond, not just from the top of the tower but at every turn on the way up as well. After that we continued to the overhanging Executioner's Rock, where photos had to be taken of us standing, and climbed along the outside walls before finally making our rather sun-burnt way back into town.

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Emma and I went home while Mark made a detour back to the craftmen's street to buy a couple of very colourful painted glass bottles that had taken their fancy earlier.

'F' came round for dinner in the evening. The others chatted and drank hot drinks while I made a chicken and vegetable sauce, then while that finished cooking, I went down to the plaza with Emma and Mark for the sound and light show at Tsarevets. This happens on a regular basis, but usually the soundtrack is reserved for paying guests only (excepting the bells). Today though, since it was Easter Day, the mayor had paid for it to be available for everyone. Great timing for Emma and Mark! I've seen the show plenty of times, but not with the soundtrack until today. It lasted about 20 minutes and was extremely dramatic. It tells the history of Veliko Tarnovo, which evidently involved a lot of bloodshed and gunfire, judging by the wails on the soundtrack and the large amounts of red light and sudden flashes.

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After going back for dinner, we went round to 'F's to attack the Easter Bun and some wonderful chocolate brownies that she had made. We stayed there for a long time just eating and chatting, before reluctantly going back so that Emma and Mark could pack for their trip to Varna in the morning.

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Posted by 3Traveller 23:41 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market sisters bulgaria veliko_tarnovo explorations fortifications tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine easter_celebrations Comments (0)

Bulgarian Easter Eve traditions

Veliko Tarnovo


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At about 23:45, after we'd returned from Ruse and rested a while, Emma and I walked round the corner to the cathedral. I'd heard about an Easter tradition Bulgarians have, so we wanted to have a look for ourselves!

Inside the cathedral there was no service going on, but it was filling up with people. A guy was selling candles inside the church. I looked in my wallet and saw I only had about 30 stotinki, enough for one of the smaller candles. I bought one but Emma couldn't because she didn't have any cash on her at all.

Soon the church was so crowded with people we could barely move. The church lacked pews, so we stood along with the others; as the clock ticked towards midnight I noticed an atmosphere of heightened excitement and expectation in the air. I wished I could take a photo, but didn't dare. Then, two minutes before midnight, the lights in the giant hanging candelabra turned off. The murmur quietened. At midnight two priests emerged from a door in the iconostasis with lighted candles and the people near to them crowded forward. Once people had lit their candles, they squeezed their way outside, where there were many other people waiting. I waited for the church to empty a bit and then as the priest moved toward the exit behind me, I lit my candle from his as he went past me. It almost immediately went out, however, so I had to re-light it from the candle of a lady ahead of me in the queue for the exit.

Meanwhile, Emma had left the church through another exit and gone round to the front, in order to see me coming out with my candle. She took a picture of me as I emerged. There was a tiny wooden stage outside the exit; the priests stood there, reaching down for people to light their candles, whilst those of us who'd been inside the church emerged and went straight down the steps on each side. Although I'd cupped my candle flame with my hands to prevent the wind blowing it out, after about a minute the wind succeeded. I re-lit it from the priest's candle, but then it went out again soon after.

Emma and I then went to the back of the crowd and just watched for a while. The priests chanted and swung incense whilst bells clanged.

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Eventually we wandered over to the side of the church which looks out over the same side of the hill as my flat does. Just as we got to the railing, fireworks started exploding over Tsarevets Fortress!

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Once the fireworks had finished, we turned round so we were facing the church again and watched people processing round it, anticlockwise, with their lit candles. We walked back round to where the crowd was and watched the crowd and the priests again for a bit. The bells started clanging a very particular tune over and over again. I hear the same bells clang this tune quite often - several times a week - but this time it lasted longer.

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Then we walked down the road to the plaza in front of Tsarevets, just to see what was going on there. There had been a service going on at the church tower there, and now hundreds of people were processing across the bridge with their candles. It was a grand and beautiful sight. There was a table set up and a woman standing next to it, handing out small plastic bags to the people as they emerged onto the plaza. She gave me and Emma ones too - they had a dyed boiled egg and a large slice of Easter bun inside. As she gave me the bag, she said 'Hristos vozkrese!' (Christ is risen!'). I couldn't remember what the official response was to that (apparently it's 'Vo eesteena vozkrese' - 'Truly he has risen'), so I just said 'blagodariya' (thank you) instead. Boiled and dyed/ painted eggs are cracked together after midnight, a bit like conkers; whoever's egg doesn't crack, gets good luck.

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We walked back to the flat after that, really happy about our experience. When we looked out of my windows, in the distance we could still see lights moving down the hill of Tsarevets and across the bridge.

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Posted by 3Traveller 15:08 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged cathedral sisters bulgarian bulgaria veliko_tarnovo fortifications orthodox_church tsarevets_fortress traditional_customs easter_celebrations Comments (0)

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