My second last trip as a tour leader ventured into Bulgaria. It was my first time in the country and I was as amazed as my travellers. I took every opportunity to explore the cities we were visiting, but since I was working I didn’t have that much free time. Last March I was meant to visit Bulgaria again. It was also for work, but this time to train my new team. It would be hard work, but also an opportunity to explore new things. But two weeks before departure everything got cancelled. And soon the world got cancelled.
So I’m looking back at my time in Bulgaria. I was on a stressful trip. So many things were new for me and during our time in Romania we’d had a lot of problems with taxis. They tried to overcharge, threaten us, didn’t show up… you name it. I felt so relieved when we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo. At the same time my heart was racing since I found myself on new territory. It’s nerve wrecking to take people somewhere you’ve never been before yourself. They rely on you for all the answers.
I was in luck. Our bus trip from Bucharest had a big delay and therefore everyone was ready for dinner when we arrived. My colleagues had recommended an amazing restaurant right in front of the hotel and thus we finished our first night in Bulgaria on a high note. One of my travellers had trouble with getting money out, so after dinner I tried to find out what other ATMs we could find and made a list.
The next morning I got up early and made a round through the town. In every new town we do a walk with the travellers to get them familiar with the new place and show the main attractions. Whenever I have the chance I walk/run my route before I ever do it with travellers and I got lucky this time that the bus was late and I pushed my walk to the next day. Otherwise I didn’t have this opportunity. I kept my eyes open for ATMs as well. Then I had a quick breakfast and got prepared to do it all again with my travellers.
Veliko Tarnovo’s sights
Veliko Tarnovo captures your attention immediately with its beautiful houses built against the hillside. The center is actually quite small, but there is a photo op around every corner. Between Vasil Levski boulevard and Hristo Botev street stands the Mother Bulgaria monument. The monument is dedicated to the Bulgarians killed in the many wars. You see a statue of a woman on a large pedestal. “Mother Bulgaria” is kneeling in memory of the dead Bulgarians. The men around her represent Bulgarian soldiers from the different wars.
Down by the Yantra river you will find the Asenevtsi monument, dedicated to 4 Bulgarian kings. During their reign in the 12th to 14th century Bulgaria was liberated from the Byzantine empire. Veliko Tarnovo was the proud capital of the country and development was going rapidly. The monument was erected 800 years after the rebellion and liberation. It’s pretty impressive in size and stands at a prominent place. From here you have a beautiful view of the colored houses of Veliko Tarnovo. You also have access to the Sveta Gora park, which has some pretty views over the town as well. And if you still have energy at the end of the day, it’s also a popular place to watch the sunset.
One of the lower street layers is General Gurko street. It’s incredibly cute and you can find many beautiful houses with plants along it. They are made in the traditional revival style. This is when Bulgarians began to form their own identity after being under the Ottoman rule. You see the typical features: the 2nd floor is leaning over and the upper floors have big windows. The street level was usually a workshop, while people lived upstairs. Many guesthouses and hotels lie on this street. From the terraces or balconies the people look right at the Asenevtsi monument and the river.
Another popular place for tourists is Samovodska Charshia market. It used to be the place where people from the surrounding towns came to sell produce. Now it’s a very short street with lots of shops aimed at tourists, mostly of arts and crafts.
Besides the main attractions, it’s the details that make Veliko Tarnovo special. There is some art to discover, like the a long drawing on a staircase. It’s the scenic location of the town. It’s beautiful food you can eat at places like Shtastliveca. I didn’t even have time to check out the Tsaravets fortress, which is meant to have a quaint little church right in the complex. I really hope I get to come back here. Bulgaria hasn’t been explored enough, not by me and not by many others.