Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Veliko Tarnovo

The first time I heard about Veliko Tarnovo was a few months ago at a Youth in Action exchange in Greece. Two Croatian girls, Lily and Iva, were talking about this Bulgarian city, "the old Bulgarian capital", in which they had done their Erasmus. I knew even then, before I knew whether or not I'd be coming to Sofia for certain, that if I did, Veliko Tarnovo would not be a place I'd want to miss. The pictures sealed the deal.

And so it happened. Two EVS projects, ours and that of Smart Foundation, the people of which, incidentally, we have our Bulgarian classes together with, we decided all together to head out to Veliko (Bulgarian for great) Tarnovo for the weekend - 4 hours from Sofia by train and 25lv each for the return ticket.

Everybody was sleeping and missed the fantastic winter view
outside the train window. Well, not exactly everyone...
It's very difficult to describe this city's beauty. Imagine a river having created a canyon, and that canyon having its ridges built with fortresses, walls, churches and other old buildings generally accepted to be impressive and grand.

The problem with these stunning locations is that it's almost impossible to convey with pictures the feelings of awe they inspire you with their multiple layers, bridges connecting their sides, how impressive the fact seems that they even exist. The above picture might look good, but the view to other side looked just as good, not to mention what there was to the side of that and even directly behind me. All I'm trying to say is that I could definitely see why someone would want to build on this spot in particular and then call it his castle and capital. It awoke something ancestral in me, something like the pride of being king of the hill, master of my domain and watcher of all.

We spent Saturday night in Hostel Mostel which turned out to be a fantastic choice: 20lv each for a shared bedroom + light dinner (a kind of curry rice) + a free beer and breakfast. But that's not all. What really made it stand out for us was the very cheap local beers they had in the fridge in the common area, free for all to pick at will and pay for at check-out for the very low price of 1,30lv per bottle. Let me just say that some of us took better advantage of this deal than others.

Hostel Mostel. Innocent enough during the day...

...but a haven for evil drinking games at night!

Ralitza's baba's surprise pickled vegetables -
great for beer munchies.
In the hostel we met other travellers from around the world who happened to be in Veliko Tarnovo at the same time as us. If we were a multinational group before, all of a sudden we became truly intercontinental: our group of three Spaniards, a Greek, a Latvian, a Dane, an Italian, a German and two Bulgarians was joined by two Argentinians (who had met earlier in their travels and decided to stick together) and an American from New York. We spent the rest of the night together, went out together and didn't separate until when we had to say goodbye the next day, probably never to see eachother again. Those are the bittersweet moments of the world of travelling by staying in hostels, but also doing youth work and being involved in youth projects, I would add...

The highlights of our two days and a night in Veliko Tarnovo would be:

• Visiting the City Library, home to many old publications and books and staffed by people really keen to show us around:

April 1st, 1933

Our mentor and trip manager Boris with
the kind and helpful employee of the library.

The library doubles as a museum.
•The train from Sofia doesn't stop directly inside the city so you have to take either a bus or a taxi from the station of Gorna Oriahovitsa for about a 10-minute ride to reach Veliko (the railroad going through the city connects Plovdiv to Ruse and is a different line from the Sofia - Varna one). In the station we saw something no-one else in our group had ever seen before but which all of us found very amusing: a free call-a-taxi service embedded into a coffee vending machine. We're living in the future!

•Visiting a restaurant recommended to us by the very sweet people of Hostel Mostel, a spot called The Artchitects' Club. While in summer it might be nice and cozy sitting in the terrace outside as advertised in that embedded link, visiting it at this time of year made it necessary to order more rakiya than we would have otherwise. We filled our grumbling traveller bellies with Chiushi biurek (stuffed peppers panĂ©), parzhieni kartofel c kashkaval (french fries/chips with grated cheese), various forms of meat in giuvetsh, kavarma and kebab forms and other if we left freezing our socks off, at least we left satisfied! The greatest moment of the afternoon? The ringtone of the owner/waitress that served us was The Imperial March.

Tsarevets, the old fortress of Veliko Tarnovo and probably its most iconic symbol.

 Again, the pictures don't do the place justice, so here's my suggestion: you go there as soon as possible and experience "the city of Tsars" for yourself. We know we will; just imagine all the above in brilliant green!

A truly international party.

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