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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)

Lunch with a view

Veliko Tarnovo


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I was teaching in the morning and I thought Mum was going back to the fruit & vegetable market while I was gone, but when I arrived back I found her just finishing off deep cleaning my bathroom! She hadn't gone to the market after all.

After a while we headed out to lunch at a place I had not taken any visitors to before. It's a little restaurant/ café down a set of steps off the main road; we ate on the wooden balcony with a fantastic view of the sword monument hill and around. This time Mum had pepper burek and salad, while I had mishmash and chips. Mishmash is a mixture of scrambled egg, crumbled up white cheese and chopped up and cooked peppers and tomatoes. It was fantastic; I could tell the ingredients were ultra fresh.

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It was still sunny at this point, but after walking across the bridge to the sword monument, it started raining. Typical! Neither of us had brought our umbrellas. Oh well, it was still nice to look round and get the views of the houses on the hillside opposite. We spotted the balcony where we'd just had lunch. No snakes to be seen this time, though some small lizards skittered about.

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From there we moved on to the supermarket. When we came out of there the rain was hammering down, so we went back inside for a bit until it had subsided a little. We started walking back, but then decided to get a taxi to save us getting completely soaked.

After an hour or two of rest, we went out again, this time to the craftsmen's street but via historic Gurko Street. The sun had come out again by now. I left Mum in the craftsmen's street as I had to go back to work.

When I got back from work at about 9.50pm, Mum had dinner ready! Flattened meatballs with a vegetable sauce and some of the seafood-shaped pasta Kate had given me for my birthday. For pudding we had an 'Eton mess' but made with tinned mandarins instead of strawberries.

Posted by 3Traveller 23:55 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged lizards bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street assen_monument extreme_weather Comments (0)

Medieval Town of Cherven

Cherven


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Today was a day of adventure which took us across the northern area of Bulgaria, between Veliko Tarnovo and the Romanian border. 'F' was kind enough to take us in her car - thanks so much!

The first place we went to was Cherven, the ruins of a medieval town on a hill dramatically set within a gorge on the edge of the Rusenski Lom National Park. Although the journey there took over an hour, time flew past, partly due to the entertaining conversation and partly due to the scenery and other things we saw out of the windows. We saw white storks, villages of terracotta tiled roofs, a tractor with such incredibly large wheels a Mini could have driven beneath the chassis, a shepherd with goats and sheep by the roadside and lots of nests, mistletoe or both in the trees. At one point we also saw some animals that looked a lot like gophers on the grass at the roadside. We stopped briefly so I could try to get some pictures, but they ran off or disappeared into holes too quickly for me to get any good shots.

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Cherven was amazing. As well as a fortified palace, the town contained a tower, many streets of houses, administrative buildings, churches, metalworking workshops and underground water passages.The weather was perfect and we all got a little bit sunburnt. Lizards skittered from hole to hole in the wall foundations.

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Needless to say, the views were absolutely stunning. We looked out over the modern village of Cherven, the river and all the enscarpments beyond. There was a very steep drop from some of the rocks round the edges - not for people with a fear of heights!

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There was a café, souvenir stand and some toilets at the foot of the cliff, so once we'd wandered around the ruins for a long time, we descended and had some lunch at the café. We shared some kyufte (flattened meatballs), kebapche (similar to kyufte, but shaped like a long sausages), shopska salad (the classic Bulgarian salad, made from cucumber, tomato, raw onion and grated cirene cheese), chips and some parlenka (a type of flatbread with herbs and salt sprinkled on top). I also walked up and down the river at the foot of the outcrop.

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While we were eating, we suddenly heard the sound of clanging bells... we looked up to see a goatherd walk past with a herd of five or six goats. Each one wore a cowbell (or should it be a goatbell?). After another twenty or thirty minutes, we saw the same man and goats come down the steps in the cliff. 'F' said they had probably gone up there to graze.

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Next stop - the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo!

Posted by 3Traveller 11:20 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged birds lizards sisters bulgaria storks explorations fortifications bulgarian_cuisine cherven traditional_customs 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)

Guayaquil: Urban regeneration and green lizards

Guayaquil


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Having visited the 'main' Malecón (waterfront; Malecón 2000) on many occasions in the last year and a bit, I thought it about time I went to Malecón del Salado, the other, less well-known one which is on the other side of the city centre.

To get there I walked down the main street of Urdesa, crossed two different branches of the same river (the second time over a zigzag bridge) and then followed a path next to the river, down Parque Lineal del Estero Salado.

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The zigzag bridge, the park, and both Malecóns in their current form are all some results of the massive urban regeneration which has taken place in Guayaquil over the last ten to fifteen years. There were sculptures, monuments, benches, neatly planted trees and bushes.

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I especially liked the benches laid out in a semicircle with a kind of trellis above it which was covered in greenery and yellow flowers. I also especially enjoyed the sight of the green lizards which stood around on the grass and in the flowerbeds.

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I had to cross the river again to get to the Malecón del Salado.

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I walked up and down, followed a path which took me over another branch of the river and then realised I had entered the grounds of the University of Guayaquil without realising it. The place looked surprisingly crowded for a Sunday! After looking round for a bit I left the way I'd come and walked back down the Malecón, followed another path past an interesting fish sculpture and then retraced my steps to the Plaza de Mariscos, a food court with a focus on seafood.

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Maybe because it was mid-afternoon by now, I was almost the only customer there. I had some tasty seafood rice which came with a large crab claw sticking out of the top, plus the usual avocado, plantain and raw tomato. How I wish I liked avocadoes and bananas! They are two of the main exports of Ecuador, are extremely cheap here and are supposed to be particularly delicious.

After finishing my meal I walked out of the Malecón and along Avenida 9 de Octubre, the main street of Guayaquil. If I had continued to the end, it would have taken me to the main Malecón, but I was tiring by now and stopped at Parque Centenario before turning back.

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Posted by 3Traveller 06:28 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bridges art lizards ecuador guayaquil explorations parque_centenario ecuadorian_cuisine avenida_9_de_octubre malecón_del_salado Comments (0)

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