Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Hannah originally chose Veliko Tarnovo as a stopover on our way to Bucharest, Romania. I didn’t know much about it, but I am very glad she did. Veliko Tarnovo is a much smaller city than Sofia; it fits more the definition of a “town”.

Veliko Tarnovo is a getaway for Bulgarians, as well. There are gelato stands dotting corners alongside touristy restaurants. A local university is built into the side of one of the hills and a dark river runs through the valley. There is an abundance of history and nature that make it alluring, and it’s small, folksy charm evokes a feeling of comfort.

The hills of Veliko Tarnovo starkly rise out of the earth with stone ramparts brushing the sky. On the tallest central hill, a small church from the 14th century can be seen at the pinnacle. Down the grassy slope lies a medieval fortress with large grey bells used in centuries past to summon villagers in the event of foreign invasion. Droves of tall pine trees stand as silent dark sentries in the valley separating each of the 3 hills. Rain drops gently roll off our puffy synthetic jackets to a soft ground with a storied past. As I stood at the top of the corner fortress parapet, my imagination takes me back to simpler times of what life might have been like in the 14th century. I do not envy the struggle of pulling a hand cart of vegetation up these crooked cobble stones. Nevertheless, Hannah and I enjoyed touring the fortress and getting lost in a smaller city. We also enjoyed our lodging.

As I sit in the central shared room of our hostel, an elderly pair of Bulgarians eat pizza from a local restaurant and chat with their 5 year old granddaughter. We cannot understand each other, but a smile and a wave indicate friendliness and acknowledgement that we are all sharing the same home. The giggling little girl points to the namesake colorful, eclectic rooster painting adorned in aged yellow and bright red that hangs on the wall of The Rooster Hostel. She reaches for the card deck and begins playing with her grandfather while leaning forward excitedly in her chair. She slaps the cards with a laugh and pulls them toward her while her grandfather smiles.

Behind me in the kitchen, our new Irish backpacking friend Brian cooks dinner for he and his Chinese girlfriend, Carol. They met in China and have been living a travel lifestyle since June. Prior to the Balkans, they were backpacking through South America. The 4 of us spent one night sipping black English tea and local Bulgarian beer between laughs and stories. We discuss mutual frustrations with the Schengen zone travel limitations and the possibility that our paths could cross again in Croatia in a month or two. Carol and Brian generously provide cautionary tales, tips, and suggestions that we diligently note as we continue our journey. This was our first hostel stay of the trip and definitely one of our favorite nights thus far. It was exciting to make new friends and discuss the common focus of extended travel with others. Knowing what was ahead might have persuaded us to extend our time in Veliko Tarnovo.

We were faced with a difficult decision regarding forward travel while here. We had the option of busing to a close by city to then catch a train to Bucharest, or we could take a direct bus, but at 2:45AM. We chose the early morning and left the hostel in the 30 degree cool and still night. After an approximate 1.5km walk to the bus station with our packs, we waited for roughly 1.5 hours for the bus. It was an hour late. Not only this, but the bus driver tried to tell us our tickets were invalid. We sighed with relief as we piled into the Flixbus seats. I couldn’t help but think of Harry Potter catching the Knight Bus as the bus swerved around passing other vehicles on the dark curvy roads of Bulgaria. Neither of us got much sleep as the bumpy Bulgarian roads and jerky bus movements continued until 7:30AM in Bucharest, Romania.


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