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Happy birthday!

Veliko Tarnovo


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After a lie-in and breakfast, we had a really lovely video chat with Mum. During the chat we opened our presents to each other and from Mum - amongst other things, I got some fascinating-looking books which I can't wait to read; Alexander von Humboldt's 'Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Region of the New Continent', a Folio Society copy of Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán's 'The Happy Captive', a Hakluyt Society's copy of 'Pieter van den Broeke's Journal of Voyages to Cape Verde, Guinea and Angola, 1605 - 1612', Oliver Rackham's 'The History of the Countryside', Richard Cohen's 'By the Sword' and last but certainly not least, 'Wild Planet', a book of amazing photographs celebrating Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

After that we went out for a walk. The sun was out, but it was due to cloud over later. To make the most of the sun, I took Emma and Kate onto the terrace...

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...and then down Gurko Street;

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Then we popped into my workplace so they could have a look inside it (and print off their boarding cards for their return flight) and walked down the main street, Stefan Stambolov.

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We were all quite hungry by now, so I took them to a café on the craftsmen's street for some lunch. For pudding I had rice pudding and Emma and Kate shared a Diet Frumenty; they'd wanted to try this ever since I'd had it at Christmas.

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Then we did some shopping. My main present to them was something each from the craftsmen's street, within a certain budget. Emma chose an icon of St George and the Dragon and Kate chose some colourful, beautifully painted and glazed cups. I bought myself a sugar pot with two handles, which was also vividly coloured and beautifully painted and glazed. We also stopped at a tiny secondhand bookshop, where Emma bought some books but Kate and I didn't. Nearby the bookshop we found a slightly random giant chair!

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Once we got back to the flat, 'F' came round with a surprise chocolate birthday cake she'd made for us! How lovely of her. We cut it there and then, each having a slice of it with a cup of hot chocolate or tea.

At 5 o'clock I had a Google Video chat with Dave. While I was speaking to him I opened the parcel he'd sent; a box filled with a mixture of books, fancy shampoo, my universal plug adaptor that he'd fixed and an IOU for a hot air balloon trip with him! (This was also from his parents - thank you so much!) To go on a hot air balloon trip is a dream I've had ever since I can first remember.

After a little rest, Emma, Kate and I went out for dinner at Han Hadji Nikoli. We all ended up ordering the same things; tarator to start and then chicken breasts stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in prosciutto, with vegetables and a baked potato with garlic butter and rosemary. We were all too full for dessert!

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From Melodie Bar we all went on to Lino Bar, which has pool tables and electronic darts; the pool tables were all booked up until late, so some of us played darts while others sat down and had more drinks. The last bar we went to was Sammy's, next door. Here I just had a hot chocolate. When we left here the heavens had opened; it was pouring with rain. Instead of getting a taxi, however, we walked/ ran from roof shelter to roof shelter, avoiding the streams of water coming off the roofs or out of pipes, until we reached the flat.

Posted by 3Traveller 22:57 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged parties sisters dave cocktails bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo han_hadji_nikoli gurko_street extreme_weather birthday_celebration Comments (2)

Bulgarian Chinese food

Veliko Tarnovo


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Edit from January 2019: Although I stupidly forgot to note down the name of the Chinese restaurant at the time, I remember it was near Lidl - having looked at Google Maps, I think it could have been Hua Zhou, just off of Bld. Bulgaria.

The cold weather has finally properly hit us at times this week; it's been a mixture though. Today is the warmest day so far this year, at about 15 degrees, but most of the week has been very cold (although still sunny). Once in the morning it was -8 degrees, on another morning it was about -13! There was a bit of snow around for most of the week, but the weather today has finished it off. Apparently the sunny weather will continue all next week, except for tomorrow when there'll be more snow.

I took these photos of the view from my terrace, Gurko Street, the Assen Monument and the River Yantra the other day;

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On Friday we had a staff meal at a really nice restaurant in town called Shtastlivetsa ('The Lucky Man'). I'd eaten there once before, but back in September at an outside table, so I hadn't been downstairs before. I've forgotten the name of what I had, but it was roasted vegetables like aubergine, courgette and onion on a very thin base of filo pastry. I had Turkish ice cream for pudding, which was an interesting texture - a mixture between normal ice cream texture and a slight stretchiness, like mozzarella but more solid.

To keep on the theme of food, last night I went to a Chinese restaurant for the first time in Bulgaria. I went with 'R', 'F' and a couple of friends of hers I hadn't met before. I hadn't known there even were any Chinese restaurants in VT before then, but apparently there are two or three, in the outskirts rather than the centre. The food was very similar to British Chinese food, except for a simple but delicious salad containing sesame seeds. They also had veal, something I've never seen at a Chinese restaurant in the UK, instead of beef. For pudding I had 'fried ice cream' - ice cream fried very quickly in batter. Only a little bit of it had melted. It was delicious, but very filling! It came with a colourful paper peacock on a wooden stick. Its tail spreads out like a fan.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:40 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow bulgaria veliko_tarnovo tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra gurko_street assen_monument 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)

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)

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)

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