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Mum's here in VT

Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo


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I woke up from one of the best night's sleep I've ever had. The stairways at this place were pretty dingy, but the bedroom (and especially the mattress) was nice. I had a pretty basic breakfast in the basement, took a shower, checked out at what I thought was 11.30 (leaving my rucksack to pick up later) and went out for my first walk around Sofia.

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My aim was to find the hotel where Mum and I would be staying the following Thursday night. I passed by a copper-domed cathedral, intending to have a look inside if I had enough time after finding the hotel. Then I walked down Boulevard Vitosha, one of the main streets. There were remnants of snow around, but it didn't look as if it had snowed nearly as much as it had in VT. I could see snowcapped mountains in the distance. After walking down Bld. Vitosha for quite a while and then along a side street I found the hotel, Hotel Niky.

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By the time I had walked back again, there was no time to go inside the cathedral, because it was time to pick up my rucksack and get a taxi to the airport! As soon as I got there I realised that I had arrived an hour too early... I hadn't realised that the clocks went back in Bulgaria! Oh well.... time passed quite quickly just waiting for Mum's arrival.

Once she had arrived we did what I'd done when I arrived in September; took a taxi to the main bus station and then the bus to VT. This time the journey was the standard time, though the woman I got the tickets from didn't understand me when I tried asking if the bus was direct, so throughout most of the journey I wasn't 100% certain if our route was the direct one or not. We talked loads on the journey, plus did a crossword together. She also told me some very sad, medical family news :-(

It was dark once we arrived in VT, but it wasn't that late, only about 18.30. There was still loads of snow around. I showed her the flat and she rested for a bit while I nipped to the shop to get one or two things. Once I got back we went out to a restaurant down the road for some dinner. This place, Malkia Inter, is rather eccentrically decorated with a fish tank, icons, several types of musical instrument, souvenirs from different countries and lots more. I had one of my favourites, chicken kavarma (chicken and vegetable stew in a clay pot), and Mum had the pork version.

When we got back the flat was freezing but I couldn't get the air conditioning to turn into the heater mode. Eventually it did start working, however. It turned out that because it was the first time I'd tried using it as a heater, it just took a while for the air blowing out to become warm.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:35 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow airport cathedral hostel buses sofia bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine boulevard_vitosha Comments (0)

SNOW!!! - Long journey to Sofia though!

Veliko Tarnovo and Sofia


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Next week is half term for many schools in the UK; with that in mind, Mum is coming to visit for a few days and arrives at Sofia Airport tomorrow. I went to Sofia today so I could stay the night and not have to travel on the day itself.

I had my usual one-to-one FCE class from 9.30 to 11.30 am, arriving at 9 to do a bit of marking first. It was raining slightly as I walked to work, but half an hour into the lesson I noticed that it had started snowing! I thought to myself that it wouldn't settle, because of the rain earlier, but after another half hour I noticed that a lot of snow had already settled! It was the first time I'd seen snow first hand since February or March 2013, so I was excited.

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I went back to the flat straight after work, sorted a few things out and set off for the little ETAP bus station. The snow had got even deeper by then. The first step I took onto the road, I slipped and fell onto my back - I had my rucksack on though, so I was OK. I arrived at the bus station to the news that the Sofia bus was delayed due to the unexpected snow and they weren't selling tickets yet because they didn't know how long it would take to get there. It arrived an hour and a quarter later and the journey itself took six hours instead of the three hours and twenty minutes it should have taken. This was because it went via Pleven, a city to the north-west of Veliko Tarnovo, instead of the normal route.

The six hours didn't feel that long, however, because I spent a lot of time looking out of the window at the scenery. It was still snowing. I realised on this journey that it was probably the first time I had seen whole forests of snow-laden coniferous trees stretching into the distance and definitely the first time I'd seen snow-laden deciduous trees with their leaves still on. When we passed by fields, quite often I couldn't tell where the fields ended and the sky began.

I arrived in Sofia at about 10 pm and got ripped off a treat by the taxi driver, who took me on a much more roundabout route than needed. I made a mental note just to walk in the future. I arrived at Hostel Lavele, letting myself in with the key that had been left for me. I had been upgraded from a 4 bed dorm to a twin room for some reason! I'd bought a hot dog and some chocolate at one of our stops on the journey, so I had that for dinner.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:51 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged snow hostel buses sofia bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo english_teaching extreme_weather Comments (0)

Place to play pool in Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo


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Edit from January 2019: The pool and darts place is called Lino Bar - still appears to be open, according to Google Maps. The Bestseller is too :-)

I've made this blog entry just to share my happiness about the fact that tonight I played pool for the first time in Bulgaria! There's a bar with two big pool tables almost the same size as snooker tables, plus an electronic dartboard where the board and darts are real but it calculates your score electronically. Before we went there we had a drink at a bar called 'The Bestseller' which has just opened again after being closed for the summer; I really liked the atmosphere there and I saw Malibu on offer for the first time in Bulgaria. After playing pool and darts at the other place, we carried on to a club where we danced for an hour until 2 am.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:31 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged bulgaria veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

Arbanasi: Absolutely fantastic experience!

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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After work today I went on a trip to a little village called Arbanasi, near to Veliko Tarnovo. I'd been invited there for lunch by one of my colleagues and her partner. Arbanasi is famous for having lots of very old churches with beautiful frescoes. One of my students raved about it to me only a couple of days ago.

We had lunch at a really cosy restaurant; they plied me with food and who was I to refuse? First of all we had garlic flatbreads with balls of a more solid version of tzatziki; then everything else all arrived at once. In Bulgaria, like in Ecuador, they bring food out as soon as it's ready, not in any particular order. I had tarator (I have that as a starter at every restaurant I go to, if I see they have it); roasted red peppers coated in a very light batter and stuffed with vegetables and white cheese; chicken kavarma, which is chicken and vegetable stew cooked and served in a small-ish clay pot; and some sautéed potato chunks.

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After a bit of a break we moved outside to have a drink and some dessert, before walking round part of the village. We went into one of the most amazing and unusual churches I've ever seen; the Church of the Nativity of Christ. It is a very old church, at least five centuries old, a museum now rather than one used for worship. From the outside it almost doesn't look like a church at all, a deliberate ploy apparently because it was built when the Ottoman Turks ruled Bulgaria and only allowed the locals to practise their own religion if they were very discreet about it. From the outside it looks a lot like an old stone barn, with some modern concrete supports, but step inside and you are transported. The interior is one of the most fabulous things I've ever seen... and I say this knowing I have been lucky enough to have seen many amazing buildings around the world.

The building is split into five rooms (two of which we couldn't enter but could look into) with ceilings that are very low for a church. All of the walls, ceilings and wooden roof beams are completely covered in very colourful frescoes of religious imagery - religious scenes and Orthodox saints with gold leaf haloes. In some places there was painted some Middle Bulgarian text. Round the walls of two of the rooms there are what I think are choir stalls and in the main room a wooden bench runs round each side. In one of the rooms there is a magnificent handcarved iconostasis (a wall of icons and paintings). I took some photos of the church interior but they don't do it justice at all. The batteries died before I could try taking better ones and I didn't have any spare batteries on me.

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I loved the beauty of it all and the historic atmosphere, both of which I think were enhanced even further by obviously ancient, uneven, thick wooden doors and door frames. Outside the churchyard there were one or two streetsellers with stalls selling handpainted icons, some antiques and large pieces of handmade lace. Apparently Bulgaria is known for its lace.

There are many other historic churches with frescoes in Arbanasi, plus a beautiful house museum and at least three working historic monasteries. The village is at the top of one of the enscarpments you can see from VT, so there are some lovely views. It's so handily placed in regards to VT, I can tell I will go back many times before I leave Bulgaria next summer!

In the evening, back in VT, I went out for a snack and a drink or two with most of the other teachers. This has become a regular Saturday evening thing.

Posted by 3Traveller 12:53 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art museum bulgaria icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church bulgarian_cuisine arbanasi Comments (2)

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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