Visiting Veliko Tarnovo
One of Bulgaria's primary tourist destinations, Veliko Tarnovo is one of the oldest settlements in the country (having a history of more than 5 millennia, with the first traces of human presence dating from the 3rd millennium BC). Visiting the city was at the top of my list for things to do Bulgaria. In fact, it was the only thing on my list for the country.
So you can imagine my disappointment when every single CouchSurfing host contacted for the city either declined a visit from us, or just didn't bother responding to my friendly inquiry.
I was genuinely interested in meeting and getting to know our Kazanlăk hosts, but knew full well that doing as much would open up the opportunity to make a day trip to the town.
As expected, the big downside to this little excursion was going to be the transportation. Travel isn't particularly inexpensive in these parts, and for such a large town, the timetables for both bus and train connecting to Kazanlăk couldn't have been more limited.
At a cost of something around US$25 for the both of us (equal to several days worth of expenses), we'd be spending nearly six hours on transport getting there and back, with the bonus of a ridiculously limited amount of time to poke around the city (just two hours).
Kazanlăk is located in the middle of the plain of the same name, at the foot of the Balkan mountain range. I ended up putting us on a bus to get to Veliko Tarnovo, and a train to take us home.
Both routes had their own independent paths cut through the range, each of which offered up some really amazing views. Seeing the flat, agricultural Kazanlăk plains suddenly come to a halt by a sheer outcropping of snowcapped mountains was quite the way to start out the journey. Likewise, the unspoiled scenery as the isolated railroad track meandered through the twinkling landscape at sunset was equally memorable.
I was pretty excited about the snow on the ground; it's been years since I've seen the stuff. And what's the point of living in freezing Eastern European temperatures unless you can at least enjoy some pretty snowfall?
Tatiana and I were both captured rather instantly by Veliko Tarnovo. Although it's a touristy place (or at least in the summertime it's as much), it's also a big university town with a predominantly youthful population.
Compared with the lifeless streets of our prior Bulgarian towns, the sudden surge of energy and people happily walking this way and that made the place feel like a mountainous Manhattan. (As the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Tarnovo was a quasi-cosmopolitan city, with heaps of foreign merchants and envoys.)
I think we were both in agreement that we would've loved to have spent more time in this city. Despite the tourism outfits, the area is simply saturated with culture, history and little stores to explore.
At the heart of such feelings, perhaps this city has been a taste of experiences and opportunities available in Western Europe that Eastern Europe just hasn't been providing for us. The echoes of communism are depressing—even more so in winter.
(scroll the panorama below from left to right)
One of the (panoramic) shots in the gallery has made a pretty fine desktop wallpaper for my laptop: