Veliko Tarnovo, to put it mildly, is pure magic. It has that medieval, old-world European vibe that I adore, with a historic old town and vibrant new town.
This one-time capital of Bulgaria is situated on three hills: Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora. The Yantra River sleepily winds its way through the city on its way to the Danube.
We arrived in the city late in the afternoon and decided to head straight to Tsarevets–the most commanding and symbolic spot in the city. On top of the hill sits an ancient fortress by the same name, as well as the ruins of over 400 structures, and a modern day church built on the site of an early Christian church.
As we bought our tickets, the employee told us to be out of the site by 5:00pm when they lock the big metal gates, or we’d be locked inside for the night! It’s a bit of a scary place, especially at night, so I made sure Vince was checking the time on his cell phone often!
We made our way up the stone steps (not for the faint of heart) to the church, The Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God. After walking around the grounds for awhile, we made our way inside. I wish I could have taken photos (I managed to snap one quick one before I was given a “look”) as I have never seen such murals inside a church. The modernist artwork, done by artist Teofan Sokerov, is visually captivating. Interestingly, it is because of these somewhat controversial murals that the church was never reconsecrated and does not hold actual services today. Other than the murals on the walls, I found the small church unremarkable; that is until I spotted the stretch penny machine! I collect them and have tons. It’s pretty rare, in my experience, to find coin stretching machines outside of North America. The only other European country where I have come across them is Italy.
After getting my penny stretched (which was 1 lv and didn’t require me to put in an actual penny, which is good because who carries pennies around with them in Bulgaria?), we explored the many ruins located throughout the site.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous. It was a bit cloudy and the sun was shining down in rays that highlighted the city down below. I went off by myself while Vince explored the ruins to use the ladies room. Afterwards, I sat on a bench and waited for him (for a bit too long as you can see from the pic below), all the while in complete awe of the view before me. It is something I will remember forever.
As it was nearing gate lockin’ time, we began our way back down the cobblestone lane to the entrance. All was fine until I placed my foot too far to the edge of one of the stones and rolled my ankle with an audible CRACK.
I didn’t fall, but I was immediately in tears from the pain (and horrifying sound) and made my way to a stone bench to sit down. Vince, who doesn’t handle my tears very well, was obviously at a loss for what to do. We were still quite a ways from the gates and there is no way on earth my boy could carry me, so I sucked it up, leaned on my hubby, and hobbled my way all the way back to the car, which at this point seemed like it was parked in B.F.E.
I wasn’t about to let an injury ruin my time in the city, so I grinned through the pain and we went to our hotel to check in. We were in an awesome location and had a great view, so that cheered me up a bit. Finding out that the water in the entire city was out, however, did not. Thankfully, it came on not too long after we checked in and we were able to get ready and head across the street for dinner.
We picked the closest place, Ego Pizza and Grill, which luckily, turned out to be awesome (and was even one of only 4 restaurants listed in my Lonely Planet guide). We had ourselves a fancy dinner next to the restaurant’s back windows, which had a fabulous view of the river, old city, and Tsarevets. I realize now exactly how lucky we really were, for just a few minutes into our dinner we were treated to the light and music (which we couldn’t hear, obviously) show on Tsarevets. Turns out, the show is only held on special occasions and when a large enough group pays for it. I don’t know which of the two it happened to be that night, but I am thankful for whatever/whomever it was! The entire hill, walls, ruins, fortress, and church light up in tons of colors and flashes. It was awesome, and more than enough to help me forget about my throbbing and ever-swelling ankle (which was a cankle by this point).
After a huge dinner we walked back across the street to our hotel and turned in for the night.
We had planned on exploring more of the city’s old and new towns in the morning, but it was clear that I was in no shape to walk anywhere. Sadly, after sleeping in a bit and eating breakfast at the hotel, we got back on the road and on to Burgas, making a stop at nearby Arbanassi on the way.
I am super bummed that we didn’t get to spend more time in the city, but I know this is one we will be coming back to many more times in the future, to be sure. It was lovely.