Travels in Bulgaria: Veliko Tarnovo

We left Bucharest and Romania and continued our Eastern European tour with a two-week visit to Bulgaria. We took another long distance train; this one was on its way to Istanbul, but we only needed to take it seven hours to reach our destination of Veliko Tarnovo, former capital of Bulgaria. We were in another four person sleeper car, this time joined by two Germans. It was a smaller compartment than the one we had taken from Budapest to Bucharest, and only had one working bathroom (which was pretty gross). It was not so bad though as we spoke with the German woman for a while about traveling; her doing a three month tour of the US, how we well we liked Bucharest and Budapest, and gave her tips on how to best enjoy Istanbul.

When we left the train we said goodbye to our temporary companions, glad we would not have to be on the further ten-hour longer journey in the small compartment to Istanbul. At the Veliko Tarnovo station, it was pretty quiet. There was one taxi we saw pull away right when we arrived; there were no others, so Jesse asked inside the small station, and they gave her a phone number to call (that did not work, of course). It was a 30-minute walk to our rental apartment, and it was hot, so we stood around for a bit, hoping another taxi would appear.

Lucky us, one did, and while he did not speak any English, we were able to communicate with him (while he also had some kind of loud conversation/shouting match with a woman who was sitting on a curb nearby, we couldn’t understand what they were saying but it was important enough for him to talk to her, while driving, with his door open, yelling as we drove away). In any case, he took us to the apartment just fine. After we settled in, we went to the grocery store right downstairs, bought supplies for our five-day stay, and relaxed after another long train trip.

Oddly, we were awoken at midnight to a full-on fireworks display less than 50 yards away from our balcony. It went on for at least ten minutes, with finale and all. We figured they were celebrating a wedding, but we couldn’t tell exactly where they were coming from, as Veliko Tarnovo is very hilly, and they were coming from below us. It was a fireworks display to rival some US towns on the Fourth of July.

We had scheduled a town walking tour for the next morning at the very reasonable price of $10 per person, and we met our tour guide, Iva (with her eight-year-old daughter, Teana, in tow), in front of the Monument of Mother Bulgaria near the center of town.

Iva told us about the importance of Veliko Tarnovo in the history of Bulgaria and that it was the first capital. We crossed the Yantra River on the Stambolov Bridge, which gave a great view of the historical city.

Then we saw the monument to the Assen Dynasty.

The Assen dynasty rose as the leaders of Bulgaria after a rebellion against the Byzantine Empire in 1185 and ruled Bulgaria until 1280.

Next we walked up toward the white homes with Spanish tile roofs, down Gurko Street. Iva told us it was named for Yoseph Vladimir Gurko, a Russian general who was instrumental in helping the Russians free the Bulgarians from Ottoman Turkish rule.

We stopped at a little cafe, and took a much needed rest, as it was a very sunny and hot day. We learned more about Iva, that she was married to a Norwegian and had lived in Norway for many years; her daughter spoke Bulgarian, Norwegian, and English, and was learning Spanish. They wanted to move to Spain, to the city of Málaga, (that Jesse and I visited way back in April) because there was a Norwegian school there. We told them our thoughts on Spain, and how it seemed like a great spot to live for a while. Iva told us all about Norway and that we should visit in October (which we will one day).

After we had enough water, we walked on to the Old Town of Veliko Tarnovo, our destination; The Nativity of the Virgin Mary Cathedral, the largest Cathedral in Veliko Tarnovo.

Iva told us that if we returned later that evening, we could watch a light show that was done on the Trapezitsa Fortress, which was a huge walled fortress across the Yantra river from the Cathedral. She said it was really something, so we made plans to return later that evening.

Iva was nice enough to be our personal photographer for the morning as well.

Then we walked back through Old Town, with Iva pointing out some shops and bars that were worth visiting. As it had been near three hours, Iva pointed us in the direction back to the center of town, and we said our good-byes.

We passed the Arts University Building, which has a clock surrounded by all different types of flowers, reminiscent to the one we saw in Geneva back months before.

We walked back to the rental apartment, rested a while, and ate a bunch of tasty Bulgarian food (with french fries, of course) at an outdoor restaurant right across from our apartment. Then we were on our way to see the light show. When we arrived the first showing of the night was just ending. The Cathedral was all lit up, too.

We waited until the people from the first show left, and found seats, as the later show was much less populated. The pictures do not do it justice, but the light show was every bit as cool as Iva made it seem. Not too often does one get to see a light show beamed onto the walls and amidst the trees of a centuries old castle.

For our final day in Veliko Tarnovo we were to visit the Boris Denev State Art Gallery.

Boris Denev was an important Bulgarian painter from Veliko Tarnovo, and the museum was a two floor exhibit to Bulgarian painters. Here are some paintings by Denev.

We also saw a whole room dedicated to the modern painter Vladimir Dimitrov (1882-1960), known as the Master. His paintings were unique and very good. Here are just a few.

Here are some other pics from the Gallery.

“Gurko Street, Tarnovo” by Veselin Staykov
“Woodworkers from Novo Selo” by Tsvyatko Dochev
“Florist” by Asen Vassilev (1930)
Contemporary Art by Nikolai Dyulgerov (owned by the Master)

There was also a temporary exhibition on famous artists illustrating the Opera Don Giovanni, the story of Casanova, by Mozart. Salvador Dali did a set of illustrations, as well as others, including Rockwell Kent, who did my favorite illustrations.

We had a very early train in the morning, so we called it an early night. Here are a couple of stations we passed along the six-hour train ride, our destination: the city of Plovdiv. It was a great beginning to our Bulgarian adventure!

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog:

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