After our quick jaunt to Istanbul, we return to Bulgaria and Varna to spend more time with Maggie’s grandma and other extended family. I think they find me very odd. To say thank you for letting me stay with them, I cook dinner one night and choose chili as a sort of American meal – give them a taste of something different. They are kind, but I think they are unimpressed. In my defense, Mexican spices are hard to come by in Bulgaria! It was still good fun.
Another food tradition that I end up enjoying quite a bit is eating garlic cloves after a dinner. I thought it might be too spicy to eat straight raw, but maybe the garlic is different in Bulgaria because it’s really enjoyable. And it helps with the digestion, too!
Once again, it’s time for some solo exploration. I leave Varna a day early to head to the town of Veliko Tarnovo. Maggie will meet me there on the bus the next day and we’ll continue on to Sofia and eventually home, but first, I’m going to check out the Tsarevets. When I arrive at the bus station, I have a hard time getting a taxi and end up walking the 3 miles to my hotel. At least the views are pretty!
Bulgarian kitty! It looks so much like my old cat, Ellie, I have to resist the urge to pet it. But it’s so fluffy!
I check in to my hotel, drop my stuff off and head straight to see the Tsarevets before the sun goes down. Entry is free via the Main Gate, but it closes at dusk. Plus, the setting sun makes for some beautiful colors.
Tsarevets is the name of both the fortress, and the hill the fortress is built on. It was constructed during the Second Bulgarian Empire and served as the primary fortress during that time (1185-1393), and is where the royal family lived. Today you can see remains of buildings that would have been the shops and houses of local merchants.
I make my way up the hill to the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God. While there used to be a Roman basilica here, it is long since gone. The current structure was built in 1981.
The views from up here looking out over Veliko Tarnovo are lovely, especially with the changing color of the leaves.
The cathedral costs 10 lev (about $5) to enter. The paintings inside date from 1985 and are very abstract and modern, though they portray the usual Christian images, as well as scenes from Bulgarian history.
It doesn’t take long to see all the paintings and admire the building, so I head back down the hill towards the ruins of the palace. Inside is under reconstruction, so I admire the views from outside.
As the sun sinks lower in the sky, I make my way back out towards the main gate, snapping photos along the way. This place seriously looks good from any angle. Once again, I pretty much have this place to myself. Thank you off season!
Before leaving, I decide to walk along the outer wall towards Baldwin’s Tower.
The tower is another modern reconstruction of a medieval tower, built in 1930, and is located on the spot where Baldwin 1, Emperor of Constantinople, died as a prisoner of Kaloyan of Bulgaria.
I climb the steps to the top. There is no handrail on the outside and I pray with each step that I’m not going to fall off and die. Seriously, it’s a miracle that I don’t. I’m notorious for tripping and falling and hurting some part of my body.
There are some great views up here back towards the main gate.
But finally it’s time to head back to my hotel. The Tsarevets are closing soon, and I’m starting to get really hungry. I wander through the city until I find a place to stop and eat.
And with that, my time in Bulgaria is done. Tomorrow I meet up with Maggie again and head for Sofia where we’ll catch our flights back to the US – her to Boston, me to Seattle. This country is so amazing and full of interesting sites. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an off the beaten path European destination. You definitely won’t be bored!