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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)

Veliko Tarnovo!

Gatwick Airport, Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo


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I've arrived and been settled into my new flat. The bus journey from Sofia was smooth, just over three hours, and the scenery was fantastic - for a decent proportion of the time, I could see forested mountains disappearing into the distance far as I could see. It reminded me of the mountains surrounding Mindo in Ecuador, though with trees suited to a more temperate climate rather than with rainforest.

I took these photos of the ETAP bus station where I arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, views of the street outside it and the St Cyril & St Methodius University building directly opposite.

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I can't believe what a spectacular view I have of the hills opposite. These are mostly forested but have a sizeable streak of bare rock running along just below their peaks (possibly karst - not sure though). These hills are separated from the main part of Veliko Tarnovo by the River Yantra, which looks very far below us. I haven't been down there yet. To my right is another hill, this time with Tsarevets Fortress on top of it - I've decided to visit it either tomorrow or on Thursday. I look forward to exploring Veliko Tarnovo; I think I have definitely landed on my feet here!

In contrast, my experience at Gatwick Airport early this morning wasn't the most pleasant. The queue at the bag drop was massive and when it was my turn my case was overweight so I had to take it aside and squeeze some stuff from there into my rucksack/ carry it; then when it was re-weighed it was still a little bit overweight. Luckily the girl told me not to worry about it and accepted it without making me pay extra. Then the guy at bag x-ray was a bit rude, muttering "you obviously didn't understand me, did you" in a snarky way when I didn't put my laptop case in exactly the position on the tray that he'd apparently told me to, and a minute later another guy pulled my rucksack aside to search it. It was fine, but did mean I had to spend a few minutes trying to get it arranged again and wrestling the zip shut.

I was lucky in comparison to one woman in the boarding queue, though. She was directly in front of me, was stopped and made to pay 30 euros because her carry-on bag was a little bit too big. I suddenly felt nervous because I thought they might think my bag was too (it was the right height but because I'd packed so much into it, I thought they might think it was too wide), but they didn't stop me. I think they were too distracted by the other woman arguing to really notice me walking quickly past the desk and into the boarding tunnel.

Once I got on the plane I realised I needn't have bothered paying £3.99 to reserve a seat right at the back and next to a window, because although I did get the seat I'd reserved, my back was against a wall so I couldn't lean back at all (I thought I'd be able to lean back without inconveniencing somebody behind me)... Oh well, at least I know not to bother doing that in the future!

Everything went smoothly on arrival in Sofia, apart from a few minutes of what-is-going-on confusion at the bus station, when the right bus hung around for a few minutes, didn't allow anyone on and then drove away, leaving me and everyone else waiting somewhat confused. Then another company's bus to Veliko Tarnovo drove up but didn't allow anyone on; luckily a few minutes later another bus to VT from the original company drove into the next bay along. Although the departure time displayed on the front had an hour's difference to that of the first one, I showed my ticket to the driver and he indicated I could get on, so I did, hoping I had done the right thing. We left shortly afterwards so everything was OK!

Posted by 3Traveller 07:53 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains airport buses sofia bulgaria veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

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