01/08/15 – 04/08/15
Veliko Tarnovo (VT) seems by all accounts to be one of the most thriving cities in Bulgaria. Between its two Universities, it’s lively and full of young people –which is great news for us as it means it’s a city full of cheap eats and cool bars.
We’re staying at Hostel Mostel, which has been voted the best hostel in Bulgaria, along with a host of other awards as well. It’s not hard to see why, for only about 25euros we’re staying in a private room with ensuite –something we don’t take for granted after four months of leaving comfortable home. This price also includes breakfast and dinner, which is even better (although it’s a fairly basic spread). The hostel itself has a really relaxing vibe to it, it’s very open with a lot of common areas for people to mingle or find a nook in the corner to socialise only with their novel if they so please.
Tonight is Saturday night and we’re meeting up for dinner and drinks with Marc and Beau, along with other lodgers Colin and JC. It was bittersweet to be leaving our Workaway family, while the work was harder than we maybe anticipated it was such a good feeling to have a place to call ‘home’ even for only three weeks. The time at Marc and Beau’s gave us the chance to settle for a little while, and regroup for the next part of our trip.
After spending most of the afternoon relaxing, we head to Ethno Restaurant to meet the other guys at 6pm. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what lay ahead. Things started off fine enough, we were seated on the terrace overlooking the city, we ordered some drinks, Colin arrived a bit late and very drunk, which provided some entertainment for us as he tried to string words together. Alarm bells started going off though, when the service began to get slower and slower, and waitress more and more insolent. It all came to a head when, after a painful wait, Daniel received his (cold) chicken main, and then another 15 minutes later I received my alleged pork tenderloin with pesto –which was not tenderloin nor was there any sign of pesto. Plus, there was no sign of anyone else’s meals either. Marc decided to have a quiet word with the manager, and a few minutes later Beau asked ‘What’s that noise?’ –it was Marc shouting. Turns out Marc had been pointing out of complaints to the waitress, when she abruptly stated, “you’re wasting my time”. Ooft. Not the way to secure a tip. Customer service 101 I’d say. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long after she said that, which was when Marc really had enough. We paid for our drinks, entrees and the two mains that got delivered cold, and cancelled the rest of the bill –to which the waitress unbelievably said, “you can’t do that, that’s my money”. Ooft. Please, don’t.
So after all that uncomfortableness, we headed down the road to find literally anywhere else to eat. A few people were quite starving by now, so we ended up at a pizza restaurant where we shared two large pizzas and got some ciders too. Sometimes it’s the simple things.
After the difficulty of getting dinner, we moved onto Sammy’s Garden Bar to drink some cocktails to try and forget the unpleasantness of Ethno. Like Belgrade, we’re really enjoying being able to afford long drinks for a fraction of the cost back home. A Long Island Ice Tea might cost you at least $20AU in Perth, but only $6-7AU in Bulgaria. Cheers to that! Poor Colin was still having far too much fun and too much of a hard time trying to form sentences, so after Sammy’s Bar Marc and Beau headed home, putting Colin in a cab along the way. The two of us, plus JC decided that walking pass a place called ‘Tequila Bar’ looked like too good an opportunity to pass up, so in we went. I think I preferred here to Sammy’s, -it was much smaller and had a friendly, more casual atmosphere. The menus were all handwritten and the staff were outgoing and helpful –so it was the perfect way to end the night compared to how it began.
After a lazy morning in bed trying to avoid an inevitable hangover, we headed out into the blistering sun to the centre of town to try Take Two of dining out with our Workaway gang. This time, it seemed foolproof. We met at the restaurant Lucky Man, Marc and Beau swearing it to be the best place in town and having delicious food every time they have visited. Thankfully, they didn’t let us down and the food was really great. Daniel and I shared some calamari and a tabouleh salad, and it was all light, fresh and full of flavour. The menu is full of the standard pizza/pasta varieties we’ve come to expect all over Europe, but also some local favourites like the Shopska salad. Either way, it’s all simple dishes done really well, and often with a twist. The décor is really cool as well, a myriad of designs and patterns but it all seems to work together, Daniel compared to Alice in Wonderland. It was the perfect place to have our ‘farewell lunch’.
The rest of our days in VT were spent exploring the old town, enjoying another meal at Lucky Man, avoiding the searing heat of the middle of the day, and also wandering the old fortress.
The Tsarepets fortress is no Alhambra of Granada, but it is undoubtedly worth a visit and one of the main attractions of Veliko Tarnovo, if not Bulgaria. Many of the original ruins have been destroyed, but there are some still standing, and above all it’s a really nice walk, as the higher you get the more impressive the panoramic views are. At the top of the hill there is a small but interesting church, which has a pretty unusual interior. The walk is really not that tough, although we should have gotten up much earlier than we did. We arrived at the fortress base at just after 10am, and already the sun was beating down on us. This Eastern European heat just doesn’t seem to give up.
Overall although our time in Veliko Tarnovo was only for a few days, it was a worthwhile stop –and a good way to ease back into full time travel again. VT is a vibrant city with a lot to offer young people. And young people on budgets. For now, we’re heading to the Bulgarian coast, the resort town of Sunny Beach. We’re a bit nervous, as we’ve heard completely divisive reports about it. Either way, it will be our last stop in Bulgaria before heading to Romania, so hopefully it doesn’t disappoint.