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Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
 
May 15

The train station is a little out of town. With Terry’s preplanning, we were able to bypass the fellows trying to get us to take a taxi into town ... even the one who told us the bus into town had already left. In town Terry took an educated guess as to where we should get off. On the sidewalk he took out a map to try to orient himself as to where we were so we would know where to go. A middle aged man approached us and in very clear English asked, "May I help you?"

"No, I think we are fine," Terry said.

"Are you looking for a place to stay."

"We are staying at the Hotel Boliari."

"I have a place. Much cheaper and very nice."

"That’s nice. But we have reservations," a lie but a necessary one in order not to be hounded. "Do you know which way we go?" Terry asked showing the fellow his map.

The fellow wasn’t entirely sure ... or he wanted more time to win us over.

"Where are we now?" Terry said.

"Here," said the man pointing to the map. "Thank you, I’m sure we will find it."

"It is down this way," the man said following the direction Terry was already taking. A block further down he was still telling us the virtues of his place and that we should stay there tomorrow night..

We got a little persistent and thanked him again and said good bye then quickly crossed the road in the direction he had indicated. It was only a matter of steps and a little lady, again in perfect English, asked if we were looking for a place to stay. We told her the same thing as we had told the man and she told us the upside of staying with her. "Where do you come from?" she asked.

"Canada."

"Ahh, Canada. I had people from Canada last night," she said (not to our surprise) and added, "From Quebec." She pointed us in the direction of the Hotel Boliari and then politely let us be on our way.

A block later we made a left turn, as directed by the lady and who should be standing there but our bus stop man. What were they – a tag team? We exchanged a few words, again said good-bye and walked down a street passed an English instruction school until the road bent to the left and turned into a narrow laneway. Some ladies were standing near the turn. "Hotel Boliari?" we asked and they pointed to a set of stairs which seemed intent on reaching the height of Mount Everest. "Up?" we pointed and they shook their heads (from side to side).

We began the climb. Somewhere around the 1500 metre mark (or so it seemed) some young teenage boys passed us, but by the time we had reach the top of around ten storeys they had slowed down and we were, well at least Terry was, close on their heels. At the top we found ourselves between stores, like a mini mall with an opening at one end. It was shady, cool and nearly flat.  

We stepped back into the bright sun, made a sharp right and continued in the direction, or what we thought was the direction of the Boliari Hotel when standing there without any perspiration on her face or other evidence of a climb was the little lady with the room to rent. Winded, we said hello, and asked if we were still moving in the direction of the Hotel Boliari.

She said yes. We thanked her yet again and again said good bye, half expecting the bus stop man to pop up once more.

As we walked we were trying to make out names on the buildings ... not everything is written the same as the anglicized tour books indicate. Finally we saw something that looked close,  "Hotel Bolarski" and we turned passed the doorman into a cool stylish hotel lobby.

We asked the standard questions: Do you have a double room with shower? How much?" The answers all came back positive. Terry had caught a glimpse of the outstanding view from a café terrace. This wasn’t what Sherrie had remembered from the internet. "Are you Hotel Boliari?"

"No," said the receptionist, "Hotel Boliari is farther down." We just couldn’t imagine it being better than this nor having this view. We looked at each other. The thought of trekking any farther when a cool drink was waiting for us on the terrace ... besides we didn’t have a reservation elsewhere. "Do you have internet in the room?"

"Yes." That cinched it and we signed into the Rachev Hotel Bolyarski.   The only glitch was that the room was only available for one night and they would not know if they had a cancellation until 3:00 the following afternoon.

We were not expecting for the price to get a view room but we did, and it was impressive. We looked out [photo at left] to where the river bends around almost making an island out of the thin treed peninsula of land on which an impressive structure dominated with a trail of steps and wide balconies (as large as the building) down to a tall thin obelisk pierced upward from a circle of four horsemen statues. Within our view two bridges crossed the river. The longer one on the right showed people crossing to join the crowd that was gathering on the steps and large concrete balconies while the last of the day’s sun kissed the surrounding hills and buildings.

We returned to the lobby and went out on the terrace to have the anticipated drink. A live band had taken to an erected stage on the peninsula between the building and the monument and the gathered crowd was enjoying the music. The hillside on our side of the river must be acting like the seating area around one of the Roman theatres we had visited because even at this distance the music was loud and thumping.

For dinner we went one floor down to the hotel’s restaurant. We were one of only a few tables and the wait staff were most attentive. The food was delicious, fresh, attractively presented and well priced. They even had live entertainment. First a lone fellow who sang and played a couple of instruments accompanied by electronic background followed by a man and a young woman who both sang well and when together their harmony seemed effortless. Our tummies were full so for something sweet to finish off the meal we each just wanted a tiny scoop of ice cream. To our surprise the little scoops came with tassels on a stick and sparklers. By the time Sherrie grabbed the camera the sparklers were almost done. The waitress, a most pleasant lady, motioned to us to wait and returned with two more sparklers to reset the scene. A grand finale to a day of unexpected pleasures.

May 16

We awoke as the sun kissed a hillside of homes and spotlighted the building on the peninsula. It was quiet now. The stage had been dismantled and other than a morning runner there were no people.

We had our showers. The idea of shower water management in bathrooms here is not what we are familiar with. The floor of the bathroom is slanted towards a drain (ie: in the middle of the floor). Rather than caulking to stop the water from running between the bathtub or shower basin and the wall, they leave a space so the water can flow against the tiled walls, around the outside of the tub, under the tub, across the floor to the drain. You have to be careful not to have anything on the floor (ie: socks or bath mat) because the water flows over the floor and puddles around the drain.

The breakfast buffet was in the same restaurant where we had dinner last night. Sherrie had put the little tassels from our ice cream dish in the flower vase with the rose. A couple were sitting at the table and the tassels were still there.

After breakfast Terry made a run around the neighbourhood and came back with the good news that he had located a laundry (hotel laundry services are grossly overpriced). We put together a bundle of clothes and stored our half empty backpacks with the hotel in hopes they might be able to come up with a room for us.

The laundry was only a couple of blocks away and down some stairs. On the left side of the door and in front of the desk there were a stack of round plastic laundry baskets. The lady behind the desk indicated to us to put our clothes in the basket. Soon we were joined by a young lady from the internet shop next door who spoke English. She helped us in translating as we had to tell the lady behind the desk what we wanted done (just wash and dry, no ironing), the temperature of water, the kind of soap and the kind of fabric softener, if any. Sherrie, putting our camera down on the desk, made checks next to the words the girl pointed to and printed our name at the top. The laundry basket was taken into the adjoining room with its row of washing machines and dryers. We said our thanks and left. As we started up the stairs the young lady called out. We turned around and saw that she had our camera in her outstretched hand. Sherrie turned and went back just as the girl stumbled a bit and the camera slipped from her hand to the concrete floor. We heard a crack and picked it up, said our thanks and continued up the stairs. At the top, we took a look at the camera. It was split open, but at a seam and there was a little something sticking out. Perhaps if we could find a screw driver small enough we could undo the screws and see if it could be repaired.

Back up at street level we took a look around and spotted a red, blue and white GSM camera store with large signs reading "Photo" "Digital". We went across the street and showed them our dilemma. Two staff got to work on it right away with just the right size of screwdriver, moved the little thing out of the way, clicked the seam together again and put back the screws. They did not want any money from us. They refused our offer in fact but they had been so kind, we insisted.

Outside we tried it out. It opened and closed and took a picture without any change to what it had done before and we sighed with relief.

We and the camera were ready to enjoy Veliko Tarnovo. Along our hotel street there are spaces between buildings where view lookouts are located and some buildings have three story high murals done in three tone relief (like oversized printers blocks). They (and others we saw around town) seem to have a medieval theme to them. Very attractive.

From the main street we veered downhill along irregular cobbled streets lined with homes whose second stories protrude over the first and the third over the second. The street turned a switchback and continued, but not as steeply. This picturesque street with the overlapping buildings, tiled old uneven roofs and shuttered windows still keeps the Renaissance atmosphere of Tarnovo. It is the oldest high street of the town. On July 7, 1877 this street was lined with newly-liberated Tarnovo citizens shouting and waving in celebration and welcome as the Russian army, headed by General Gurko, marched through.

Leaving the old streets behind, we headed uphill again and were delighted to see two ladies in traditional Bulgarian costumes. On Terry’s run around laundry search earlier, he had seen a gathering of people in costume dancing and singing in the town’s main square. They were pleased to stop for a photo.

We made our way across the bridge (the one on the right as viewed from our room) to the peninsula and met a number of other ladies in costume preparing to change back into everyday clothes as their bus waited.

The big building, the State Art Museum, appeared to be closed. We could easily see our hotel from the peninsula. A terrific site for a hotel with each floor offering views.

We wondered around the monument with its slim obelisk and four statues which is dedicated to the 800 year anniversary of the rebellion against Byzantine rule.

The four horsemen represent the leaders of the revolt - brothers Assen and Peter and their successors, the Tsars Kaloyan and Ivan Assen II. It was at the time of the rebellion when Tarnovo was declared capital of Bulgaria. During the rule of the Tsars of the Assen dynasty (1185-1241) Bulgaria reached high political, economic and cultural prosperity.

Veliko Tarnovo, at least the neighbourhoods close to our hotel, were wonderful to walk and we stopped for a drink and some people watching along the way.

For interest and to know our options if a hotel change was required, we stopped into the hotel we had been aiming for when we first arrived in town - Hotel Boliari. Although we did not view any of the rooms, our first impressions made us most pleased with our "find" at Hotel Balarski. The prices were the same but the views different and if reception is a reflection of the rooms there can be no comparison of class and quality.

We also stopped in at the Grand Hotel. It is pricier and has a view (not as attractive in our opinion) in the other direction towards the Fortress. From our findings, we were hoping that the Hotel Balyarski was able to find us a room for tonight.

On our way back, we again ran into our little room lady. She knew we had not made it to Hotel Boliari and were staying at the Balyarski (much more expensive than her rooms). She remained as pleasant as she had been the other two times and if we were indeed looking for a house room, she would have won us over.

To our great pleasure, Hotel Balyarski did have a room for us and we moved our backpacks from the storage room to our new room. It was a larger room than we had previous and even though it was below the reception floor, our room still afforded us stunning views. The only downside to the room is that it did not have an internet connection which worked like our previous room and we had to go to the lobby or coffee shop to use the internet.

Dinner had been so great the previous night, we decided to go back for an encore. This time the place was very busy. We were recognized by some of the staff from last night and they found us a table outside on the balcony with an uninterrupted vision of our favourite view. The night was warm, the food delicious, the service thoughtful and the music and chatter from inside was quietly muffed by the glass windows which separated us. It was a most pleasant way to spend our last night in a town we would highly recommend to anyone visiting Bulgaria.

 

May 17

A travel day by train and a change of countries from Bulgaria to Romania.

A cheerful gentleman asked us for our tickets. Right away he started speaking to us in English; quite good English. His name is Tihomir (Tiho, for short). He had to go about his business of checking tickets and selling fares. When he returned he brought Daniela (Dani, her friends call her) with him. Tiho explained that they had gone to English school together. Dani was shy about speaking English but Tiho was most enthusiastic about practising his language skills and acting as interpreter. Tiho seemed enthusiastic about life and bubbled with friendliness while his eyes sparkled. He is the kind of person people enjoy being around.

We talked about how much we enjoyed their town of Veliko Tarnovo. We talked about Bulgaria entering the EU and its affect on their lives. We talked about the Brits, Germans and Italians buying properties in anticipation of making a profit and driving up prices.

Dani showed us pictures of her two beautiful daughters – one a teen and the other preteen.  As pretty as their mother.

Tiho said he was forty years old. "Soon will be forty," he corrected and unmarried. We took out our travel photo album to show them our family and Canada. They spotted Ted in the pictures and were both delighted to see he was actually travelling with us. We have a photo of the three of them – a bit blurry because of the jiggling train.

They were both interested in the work opportunities in Canada and immigration policies. We teased Tiho that should he come to Canada, we would have to help him find a wife.   He grinned.

As we approached a station, Tiho told us we would have to move to one of the first four cars (we were in the fifth). Only the first four were continuing on to Romania while they and the other cars returned to Veliko Tarnovo. We exchanged email addresses and bid goodbye to two new friends wishing we had met them sooner.

The last we saw of Tiho was through the back door of the train as his section pulled away from the station.

 

click here to continue May 17 and Bucharest, Romania ... 

  
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