Day 13: Ankle Breakers

Today is our only full day in Veliko Tarnovo, so we decided to visit the Tsaravets Fortress, previously mentioned.  We wanted to do it early, because today was supposed to be a scorcher (it was).


The winding road to the large gate is not particularly strenuous, but the cobbled road is so uneven and wobbly that every muscle in my legs were tense and straining, trying to avoid any sort of ankle break.


The Fortress gives you a pamphlet when you buy your entrance ticket, advising to not sit or dance on the walls, safety rails are rare, and beware of reptiles.  Ma was extra vigilant, making sure she didn’t step on/see any snakes (no snakes were seen, only little gecko-type guys).  In typical Eastern European fashion, there were not a lot of safety rails or safety features for that matter, having the kind of attitude of “if you fall off and die, it’s your own dumb fault.  We warned you.”.


We walked to the south end of the Fortress, where stood Baldwin’s Bastion, then decided to ascend the hill, up to the Cathedral.  The only thing we saw there that sort of tainted the experience, were 3 janky animatronic figures, a king, queen and other (???), some armour that you can put on and a wooden horse that you can sit on and have your photo taken.  The animatronics looked like rejects from Kiev Disney.


We climbed all the way to the top and entered the Cathedral, the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God, and the interior and icons were like nothing I had ever seen – minimal, a few brass chandeliers, and most of the saints in black and white in almost a graffiti style.  Very different, very effective.


After enjoying the view from the top, it was time for lunch so we began our wobbly descent.  We ended up at an outdoor table at a little restaurant where I had a Bulgarian must-have dish – Shopska salad.  The salad is cucumber, peppers, red onion, tomato and topped with cheese.  Essentially Greek salad.  But the cheese the put on it is delicious – not quite as salty as feta with less crumble.

After lunch we headed back to Samovodska Charshia to pick up any gifts or postcards that we were missing and just wandered until the sun got too hot.


We decided to find some ice cream and a nice patio to enjoy it from, so we found this one that overlooks the river as well as the Monument to the Asen Dynasty, an interesting looking and dramatic obelisk and statues dedicated to some of Bulgaria’s ancient leaders.


All of our feet, ankles and legs were getting pretty sore, so when we were finished eating our ice cream, we found a leafy terrace beside a fountain and enjoyed some libations.


For dinner we went to an inn that came highly recommended on the internet, and again sat outside (this entire trip we have not had one single dinner inside) and feasted on chicken kebab, broccoli, fries and Turkish coffee.


We headed back to our hotel, grabbed a couple of bottles of beer and headed up to the roof top patio to watch the Fortress light up and enjoy our last night in Veliko Tarnovo before heading east tomorrow, to the Black Sea.


Day 12: You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

Today is my birthday!  This morning we were up early and ready to go to meet our driver Viktor, who was to drive us from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria.  We met Viktor and his grey Passat wagon, and off we went, leaving Bucharest and Romania behind, heading for the third and final country on our trip, Bulgaria.  To say that Viktor is an aggressive driver is an understatement.  Not only was he fast, but he had a full sized iPad attached to his dashboard where he would respond to text messages and look at photos of his kids.  After 2 hours and falling into some sort of stress sleep, I woke up to us pulling into the hillside Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo.  We thanked Viktor for the ride and not killing us, checked into our hotel, and went for birthday lunch, where we had beer, pita and kebab.


Veliko Tarnovo is a pretty town, architecturally very different from anything we’d seen so far on this trip.  The town is prized as it is an example of Bulgarian Revival architecture.  The town is built on the side of a hill, with Tsaravets Fortress on one end.


We decided that that afternoon we wanted to check out a street called Samovodska Charshia.  It’s an old time-y street filled with shops and craftsmen hawking their wares, as well as a few cafes.  Unbeknownst to us, this weekend is a Bulgarian national holiday (their Independence Day), so there were celebrations at every turn.


As soon as we started researching where to go in Bulgaria and found Veliko Tarnovo, Ma wanted to pick up some handmade dishes.  There were so many to choose from, but she settled on some, and for myself I picked up a handmade steel pocket knife (I have a thing for knives) and a pair of hand stitched leather and sheepskin slippers (when I picked them up, the grim artisan looked at me and said ‘I made this’).


There was music, food and revelry on every corner.  Everyone seemed pretty excited about the 3D laser show that would be projected at 2000hrs (I’m assuming a laser-Floyd type of production, showing the fight for Bulgarian independence).

For birthday dinner I wanted to try a restaurant called Shtastliveca as it purportedly has delicious food and a beautiful leafy patio, and sure enough it did – I had pizza margherita and a beer, Pa had pasta bolognese and Ma had chicken and baked potato.  For dessert Ma and I had the restaurant’s signature Biscuit Cake – a decadent concoction of marscapone and chocolate.  By the time we left, revellers were crowding the balconies overlooking the canyon, eagerly awaiting the 3D laser show.  We got back to our hotel in time to stand on the balcony and watch the fireworks (and I pretended they were for me).