Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria

I’m actually not really in Bulgaria anymore. I’ve moved on to Romania already, but am a bit behind on this blogging stuff, it would seem. Veliko Turnovo was cool enough though that I wanted to get in a post about it. I’ve awarded it my coveted Best Place In Bulgaria award, out of a competitive field of 3 cities. Veliko Turnavo is a fairly small town in the Stara Planina (which means ‘Old Mountains,’ which is what Bulgarians call their part of the Balkans), built on the steep hillside around this really exaggerated S-shaped bend in the Yantra River. The landscape there is totally amazing. Really lush green mountains with these great gray outcroppings of horizontal sedimentary rock layers that would make my dad go nuts.

The town itself has a great, well-preserved Old Town with tons of little cobbled streets running up the hills; some (like my hostel’s) are so steep and worn that taxis refuse to drive up them. Lots of cool old houses in the almost-falling-down style that seems to have been popular in previous eras. Veliko Turnovo was the capital of Bulgaria back when the state was at the height of its influence. That’s the 13th and 14th centuries, for those of you who arent up on their medieval Bulgarian history. It was the seat of the unfortunately named Assen dynasty, who were responsible for liberating the country from the Turks, I think. There are lots of monuments and historical thingies all over about old Bulgarian history, including this one enormous statue of four really angry-looking twenty foot-tall Bulgarian warriors on really musclebound, angry horses which was pretty impressive. The town also has the second-largest university in the country, which makes up about a quarter of the population, so there are lots of young people all over. It’s a fun place.

But the coolest thing about Veliko Turnovo is the old Tsarevets Fortress which used to house the royal palace and various monasteries. It’s on it’s own hill, just outside of town; you reach it on this little causeway over a river from the main town. It’s enormous. The walls of the fortress are still pretty entact, and now enclose mostly ruins and natural parkland. The location and design of the walls are incredibly picturesque. It’s like the walls are an extension of the rock outcroppings I mentioned before. Hard to describe. You’ll just have to wait to see my pictures I guess. But it was amazing, and I’d rank it as the coolest-looking fortress I’ve seen. Actually, tied with Dubrovnik, though the two are completely different. Coolest-looking fortress I’ve seen that doesn’t enclose an inhabited city.

On top of the fortress hill there’s a little church which is a modern reconstruction of a much older church. It was interesting because it looks ancient, but on the inside it’s painted in a bizarre dark eastern-european modern art style. Lots of very exaggerated guys with white beards pointing at each other, and things that look like pipes, or barrels of guns. It was creepy. I heard a guy who was there at the same time I was call it the “church of Saruman,” which both identified him as a fellow nerd, and described the place pretty well. Also on top of the hill are the ruins of the old royal residence. Some kids who were sitting on top of it mooned me when I was trying to take a picture of it. Apparently this was hilarious.

At night I guess there’s usually a ‘light show’ on the fortress walls, and the hill, but it was rained out when I was there. It sounds pretty cheesy, but people at the hostel said it was cool, so I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad to have missed it.

All through Bulgaria I was on a bit of a quest to buy a t-shirt with Cyrillic writing on it. I failed. All any store has in eastern europe are big-name westen european brands. Tons of shirts with “Diesel” in huge letters all over the place. Every eastern european guy seems to have his favorite long-sleeved Diesel shirt. That’s the main male fashion trend I’ve been able to pick up on. And if I can pick up on it, it must be pretty prevalent. That and jeans with weird dye jobs and lots of straps and zippers in bizarre places. And funny mullets. There’s also a significant segment of the population that dresses in American hip-hop style with doo-rags (sp?), sideways hats, and big basketball sweatsuits. Lots of eminems running around Bulgaria. The only female fasion trend I’ve really noticed, other than the tight pants (ive noticed lots of those), is that they all have these enormous, enormous, almost wrap-around sunglasses. They look like bugs. So anyway, no cyrillic t-shirt for me. I’ll just have to turn an american t-shirt inside out — that should approximate it pretty well.

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