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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)

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)

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)

Bulgarian Independence Day, a Bulgarian lesson and more

Veliko Tarnovo


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Today was Bulgarian Independence Day; another very fine day, it was already very hot at about 9.30 am when I got up. I walked to the plaza in front of the bridge to Tsarevets Fortress, because I'd heard there was going to be stuff going on there, but although I waited for over half an hour nothing happened, so I continued to the fortress.

There were military figures standing around a monument there, plus several TV cameras were present. Not long after I arrived a short religious procession went past; this was the head of the main procession. I followed the religious banners back over the bridge; as I did so I noticed massive fireworks in the process of being set up.

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Once back in the plaza, the religious procession stopped and many other groups began joining the procession behind them. I saw a man in magnificently colourful religious robes walking to his position, with a cross in one hand, a bunch of flowers in the other, and a crown on his head. I thought he was probably an Orthodox bishop or something similar. He was flanked by another religious figure, an army officer and a man in a black suit wearing a mayor's chain.

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Once the procession started moving, I walked with it through the streets to Mother Bulgaria Square, right in the centre of Veliko Tarnovo.

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There was a short wreath-laying ceremony at the Mother Bulgaria statue (which is a war memorial) and then a military parade. This included soldiers firing blanks, something I wasn't expecting and as a result, made me jump. Some of the soldiers were in khaki and others were musicians, dressed in red-braided white jackets and plumed, white furry caps.

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After that I walked back to the flat along Gurko Street. This is one of the oldest streets in Veliko Tarnovo and is filled with beautiful wooden-beamed, red-tiled Ottoman houses. The distinctive feature of these is the fact that each floor is a little bit bigger than the one below, so they overhang the cobbled road. The views from this street are amazing - I walk to work along this street and feel lucky every single time.

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In the late afternoon I went back to the plaza by the fortress bridge to look round. This time there was a crowd there, a stage had been set up and there was traditional dancing going on. It had clouded over by now but it was still very mild.

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I stayed for a while to watch the dancing before going back to the flat. In the evening I went out for some dinner and a few drinks with the other teachers. The bar we went to for drinks is called Melody Bar, an atmospheric cocktail bar. I really liked it and will be back!

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On the walk back to the flat I heard lots of fireworks going and saw some in the distance; I ran up all the steps to my street and the terrace to get a better view, but just as I reached it, they stopped! Oh well. I did at least catch the laser show from Tsarevets.

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S, the other new teacher, and I had our first Bulgarian lesson yesterday! We learned how to introduce ourselves and others, and got to grips with the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet. The alphabet is slightly head-spinning; some letters are both look and sound like ours, others look the same but have different sounds, and others correspond to sounds we have but are written totally differently! The homework has helped fix it a bit more in my memory, but more practice will definitely be needed.

I've got a Bulgarian phone now. I had to get one because although I could send texts OK to people in the UK, texts I sent to Bulgarian phones never arrived! Originally I only bought a simcard, but although that worked OK in a Bulgarian phone it didn't in my UK one.

I've tried some more Bulgarian food; stuffed courgette in a very runny yet creamy sauce, a potato dumpling in another type of creamy, herby sauce, and rabbit and mushroom stew. I would recommend all of these to visitors! Stuffed vegetables seem to be very popular here - they stuff courgettes, aubergines, peppers and cabbage leaves.

Dave and I have applied for some tickets to the Rugby World Cup, which will be held in England in a year's time. We've applied for four matches, in the cheapest ticket category (as the other categories were too expensive), all at locations not too far away. Any matches that end up being oversubscribed will go to a ballot, so we won't know until the ballot next month which matches we've got tickets for, if any. Hopefully we'll get at least one!

I have my residency card now but am waiting for my ID card. It should be ready to collect in a month's time.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:23 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged dave bulgarian bulgaria procession veliko_tarnovo explorations fortifications tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street mother_bulgaria_square 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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