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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)

Signs of Spring

Veliko Tarnovo


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A beautiful sunny day today, so I took advantage of the day off work and walked to the market in town.

On the main road leading into Mother Bulgaria Square I saw lots of stalls selling martenitsas; these are red and white tassels, bracelets woven from intertwined red and white threads and little wooden doll figures called Pizho and Penda. These are exchanged by Bulgarians on 1st March to mark Baba Marta Day, the day which traditionally marks the end of the cold of winter and the beginning of spring. You aren't supposed to buy martenitsas for yourself; you should only wear ones given to you, and you're supposed to wear them until you either see a stork or a blossoming tree. Once you do see a blossoming tree, you should tie the martenitsa to it or hang it from a branch.

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I noticed other signs of spring once I got to the market. Old women were sitting on stools, selling bunches of snowdrops and white plastic cups of colourful flowers (possibly primroses). There were fewer winter vegetables such as swedes, turnips, cabbages, pumpkins and nuts; salad vegetables were starting to appear - spring onions, lettuces, peppers and a huge amount of tiny onions! I had never seen such small onions before.

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Another interesting thing I saw was massive chunks of 'byala halva' (white halva) with walnuts - it looked like nougat. I found out later that this type of halva is traditionally eaten on the last Sunday before Lent; given that this was nearly two weeks ago, I guess there must still be a bit of a backlog to use up...I also saw some massive knotted sugary buns which I had not seen before, so I assume they must have some connection to spring or to Lent. I bought one and it was fantastic!

Posted by 3Traveller 16:20 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine mother_bulgaria_square baba_marta traditional_customs Comments (0)

Monument to the Assen Dynasty

Veliko Tarnovo


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Today I went on a walk to a place I see every day on my way to and from work; the Monument to the Assen Dynasty, which is on a hill surrounded on three sides by the River Yantra.

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On the walk over the bridge to get there I noticed something one of my students had told me about the week before; padlocks locked to the bridge railings. On each padlock was engraved or scratched two people's initials. Apparently, couples come here with an engraved/ scratched padlock, lock it to the railings and then throw the key into the river below. This symbolises the strength and longevity of their relationship. I got the impression from my student that this is quite a new tradition, and I don't know how seriously it's done, but I still think it's interesting.

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Once I reached the monument I admired it for a bit, took in the amazing views of Veliko Tarnovo on this side of the hill and took some photos. I couldn't see my flat because that looks over another part of the river from the other side of the hill. The Assen Monument consists of an upright sword, flanked by four Bulgarian Tsars on horseback. From 1185 to 1241, these Tsars helped the Bulgarian State reach its political, cultural and economic height, with Tarnevgrad (as VT was formerly known) as its capital.

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Behind the monument there was an art gallery, but to my surprise (considering it was a Saturday and a nice sunny day to boot, so quite a few people were around), it was dark inside and locked up. A notice said to ring the bell for entry, and that it was open today, but I chickened out of doing so. I thought it would feel really awkward having someone open up the whole thing just for me, even if maybe other visitors would come in after me. I will definitely go inside the place before I leave Bulgaria, however.

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So instead of going inside the gallery, I continued walking, taking more photos as I went.

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Soon I came across a fork in the road, with an extremely long set of steps up a hill in the middle. I climbed all the steps to the top of the hill, which is part of Sveta Gora Park. I climbed higher and higher until I could see all of VT and the hills surrounding it; I couldn't get many photos, however, because from the viewing point there were lots of trees and shrubbery in the way on each side (which were too steep and slippery to attempt scrambling down). It was great to get that sense of height though!

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After I had climbed back down all the steps and walked back past the art gallery and monument and across the bridge, I went on to the little Christmas market round the corner from Mother Bulgaria Square. To be honest, it didn't seem to sell anything that you wouldn't see in a Christmas market in the UK, and I didn't buy anything. Then I went back to the flat to rest and have some late lunch. I wanted to preserve my energy for the school Christmas party that evening!

Posted by 3Traveller 03:17 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bridges art market bulgaria veliko_tarnovo river_yantra mother_bulgaria_square assen_monument sveta_gora_park 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)

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