A few years ago I had the misfortune of living with Creepy J. He was creepy in 2 senses of the word. One night, I woke up in the middle of the night to find that a) he had creeped into my bedroom and b) was standing there while I slept.
The thing was, he’d seemed quite normal when he came for the flat viewing. Except for one thing. When offered a cup of tea, he had said ‘no thanks, I don’t like hot drinks.’ Who doesn’t like ANY hot drinks? I should have known at that instant that he wasn’t to be trusted.
Similarly, last weekend when the man who offered a lift in his white van pulled over at a service station, ordered an espresso and then topped it up with coca-cola, I should have known there was something seriously wrong with him, and run, instead of enduring a four hour journey during which he showed me his bullet wounds, made me watch a video of a man having his head cut off, and told me about his wife and three girlfriends (I thought I was mistaken about this until he explained that he ‘didn’t do anything’ with his girlfriends – ‘just walk, and sex’).
So it was quite a relief when Veliko Tarnovo came over the horizon and (shortly after I refused his offer to be his fourth girlfriend) we reached our destination. When Q and I checked into the hostel, we asked the owner what we should see in the town. He replied ‘it’s not really about what you see, it’s about what you feel.’
I mainly felt hot (it was an epic 40 degrees) so we sat on the balcony drinking ice tea and listening to the jazz music that was being played in the centre of the town. The surrounding hills act as a natural amphitheatre, so there were rather good acoustics.
By the time we ventured out of the hostel, at around 6pm, it was still exceptionally hot. So about 10 metres up the road we stopped for a drink and a banitsa. To be honest, the fact that we managed to make it to Tsarevets Fortress at all was astonishing.
According to bulgariatravel.org, Tsarevets hill has been occupied since the 3rd century and “in 1185 when Tarnovo was declared the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire Tsarevets became its principal fortification and home of its aristocracy. For more than 200 years the city bustled with political, economic and cultural activity and was one of the largest cities of Southeast Europe.”
In 2012, when we were there, the main activity going on at the fortress was us stopping for yet more drinks. By this point, our main feelings were tiredness and hunger, so we returned to town for dinner. So we never saw any other sights, of which there are quite a few, if Lonely Planet Bulgaria (rather than the hostel owner) is to be believed. Nor did we find out any more about the town, which is a shame as it’s played an important part in Bulgaria’s history.
Apparently, in 1393, Tsaravets fortress was captured and destroyed by the Ottomans. 500 years later, in 1877, the Russian General Gurko liberated the town from the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War. It was renamed Veliko (or ‘Great’) Tarnovo, and was the location for writing Bulgaria’s Constitution in 1879, and where the independence of the Bulgarian state was officially proclaimed in 1908.