Daily Wanderlust: Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

The quaint mountain town of Veliko Tarnovo is a far cry from the tourist-packed Sunny Beach and the charming Varna along the Black Sea.

I never expected to stay for as long as I did in this town. But, when Abby left to return to Istanbul, I decided to hunker down, soak up the air-con and laid-back vibe, drink some rose water (and other yummy rose-flavored beverages) and savor some quiet before heading to the Adriatic.

A top the town is an ancient fortress. While Abby was with me, we tried to get some culture, but were rained out. The next day, we returned under the blistering summer sun and explored the ruins of what was once a mighty fortress.

Destinations

Hanging in VK

Veliko Tarnovo is an easy place to get sucked in. Well, more specifically, Nomads Hostel IN VK is an easy place to get sucked in.

It’s a lovely hostel. The owners are amazing. The travelers who stay there are nice.

I ended up staying in the little town for five days.

The first full day, Abby and I went to the fortress and walked around for about an hour. Of course, it was ridiculously hot, so after that we decided we would eat. And drink.

“It’s our last meal,” I said, feeling suddenly very lonely and sad Abby was leaving to catch her flight in Istanbul in only a few hours.

Over a lunch of “diet pizza” and rakia, we sat and talked about the future.

I didn’t want Abby to leave. I was just starting to feel better. Now, I wanted to go out. But, it was too late.

As we sat at the train stop a in the early evening, I was sad. I had felt like such crap during Abby’s trip that I didn’t get to enjoy the company as much as I would have liked.

When she got on the two-car overnight train to Istanbul, we said our “see you soons” and then she was off.

For four more days, I stayed at the hostel, venturing out daily to explore, take photos and breathe in the fresh (and hot) mountain air.

The afternoon’s at the hostel included snacks of organic, home-grown sprouts, rose flavored water, homemade rakia and stories of life in the town.

I knew I had to leave and weighed my options. Belgrade? Pristina? I didn’t know.

Soon, I grew antsy and finally made an impulsive decision.

I wanted to go back to the Adriatic.

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Attempting culture

Growing up in America, I was taught that during thunderstorms, to seek shelter. Don’t stand under trees. Don’t stand under anything metal.

In Veliko Tarnovo, that little juicy bit of warning was completely unheeded.

Abby, our new Italian friend and I had learned “Carmina Burana” was being performed at the Tsarevets fortress for 15 LV so we decided to go and get some culture.

It had been a beautiful and sunny day in the little mountain town. But, as we ate dinner, clouds began to spill over the mountains surrounding us.

Ominous black clouds.

“I am really excited to see the ballet,” Abby said. She had grown up seeing ballets and this experience was a unique opportunity to catch a performance under the open sky in a fortress that was hundreds of years old.

It had such a romantic allure.

We purchased our tickets at the gate to the fortress.

I looked over the mountains to the black clouds hovering above the peaks.

“What happens if it rains?” I asked the girl who handed us our tickets.

“If the performance is rescheduled, you can go tomorrow night or if it is canceled, you can get your money back.”

OK.

We began to walk up the stone path towards the fortress towering above us on the hill.

Then, I felt it.

A big, fat drop of rain.

Damn.

We kept moving towards the hill.

Another drop. And another.

As soon as we reached the venue, for the second time in two weeks, the skies opened and let loose all of the water it had been storing.

Accompanied by wind, thunder and lightening.

We were on top of a hill. We were waiting for the show. We weren’t going to back down from the storm.

Instead, we looked for shelter. Under a tall metal umbrella crowded with people underneath.

This isn’t good. This isn’t safe.

But, we had no choice.

For 45 minutes, the storm wailed, pounding us with sideways rain, assaulting our ears with thunder over our heads and inching away at our lives as lightening struck around us.

Then, it stopped.

Maybe the show will go on.

An announcement came over the speakers in Bulgarian.

Nope. Not happening.

Everyone sighed as they moved from under the umbrella and began to inch their way back down the stone path towards town.

More rain.

Thankfully, no thunderstorm.

The three of us walked back towards Nomad’s Hostel and decided to go and get some drinks.

We found a bar with a covered terrace overlooking the city, our hostel 160 steps below, and warmed up with some rakia.

I had never tasted the strong liquor before.

Instantly, it’s sweet flavor trickled down my throat, warming every part of me.
We sat for a couple of hours, sipping our drinks and chatting.

Then, exhaustion crept in and I went home to dry off and to sleep in our dorm room.

I crawled into bed and let the rakia and the sleep do their thing as I looked forward to the next day and exploring the charming town of Veliko Tarnovo.

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Leaving the Black Sea

After nearly 10 days seaside, Abby and I boarded a bus to Bulgaria’s interior — the can’t-miss-town of Veliko Tarnovo. It’s not big. It’s not glitzy. But, it is breathtaking.

Little stone homes line old cobblestone streets. Stairs climb up the hillside, leading people to the main street packed with stores and delicious (and inexpensive) Bulgarian restaurants.

Abby and I arrived in the afternoon to VK and were immediately captivated.

“I wish I didn’t have to go back to Istanbul tomorrow,” she sighed as we arrived to the city. I didn’t want her to go, either.

We were picked up by the owner of Nomads Hostel, Georgi, and he drove us the quick distance to our hostel, a gorgeous and quaint home on the Gurko, a historic street, and overlooking the gorge which splits the city.

It was serene.

We entered the hostel and dropped our bags in our dorm room. With air-con.

It was a unique hostel — not only did our dorm have a bathroom en-suite, it also had bunk beds stacked three high. Different. And cool.

As we walked through the hostel, we learned it was one of Bularia’s green hostels.

From there, we made plans for the evening — a cultural experience …


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