I think we’ve finally found the best part of Bulgaria. We woke today at the Hostel Mostel in Veliko Tarnovo at 7am thanks to Avi. He is back to his job as alarm clock. Downstairs we enjoyed some breakfast – cheese, tomato, cucumber and bread with jam. The Hostel folks then helped us figure out what to do for the day and gave us directions. Our first stop was the nearby town of Arbanassi. It’s only a few kilometers away, but at the top of the mountain. The views into VT were stunning and the day was gorgeous…sunny and warm. I actually wore short sleeves!
The appeal of Arbanassi is that its a quiet town to wander, so wander we did. Wandered into some old and pretty church yards and made daisy chains. Avi really likes crawling around in the soft daisy and clover mix that seem to be everywhere here. We also wandered around the winding lanes to see kittys and dogs and a horse eating grass in the central park. One cat in particular was super friendly and let us pet and play with him for a long time. Zoe named him pumpkin head.
For lunch we stopped into an outdoor cafe that we passed on the way up…the attached playground attracted us. While Zoe played in the playground Bethany and I ordered a couple pizza’s – pizza here is small and individual. They came out super wierd. The picture of mine in the menu looked like a veggie, but I apparently mistook pickles for peppers and tomatoes for odd sausage. I tried it as it came, but the pickles just had to go. Bethanys was odd too with corn and soft white not-mozzerella cheese. The view from the restaurant down into Veliko Tarnovo was incredible, so we stayed for a while even though the food was odd. Zoe had fun in the playground with the other kids; I took Avi down for a swing as well. There was also a nice ‘baby’ play area where Avi started to push around a stand-up toy. He seems closer to walking everyday.
After our wonderfully wandering morning in Arbanassi we drove back down the hill to VT; the kids fell asleep in the car so we explored a bit looking for a trailhead to a monastery. Never found the trailhead, but Bethany was able to perfect her mad tiny-town cobblestone offroading driving skills on the itty bitty windy streets. I’m amazed. Eventually we gave up on that and found a parking place near the fortress. Avi rode Bethany’s back in the kid carrier and we hauled Zoe into the big stroller.
So, with 2 mostly asleep kids we were off to tackle the Tsaravets Fortress. It was incredible. First you cross the river from a super super high bridge and enter the fortress grounds. It is covered with the ruin remains of hundreds of houses and shops and a palace and churches. It was fun to imagine what the fortress city would’ve looked like during Byzantine times. The fortress is up on top of one of the prominent hills in town and over a large u-turn in the river. There are views of cliffs and the river and buildings hanging onto the edge of the cliffs over the river. There are views of the forested hillsides, of hiking trails, and snow-capped mountains in the distance. incredible. Zoe awoke as we walked through the 3rd and primary gate of the fortress; there she could dress up like a Byzantine princess and get her picture taken for 4lev. She had fun with it and it really set the stage for an enjoyable visit to the fortress. She enjoyed running around all the ruins, climbing over things, exploring nooks and crannies, and pretending the homes were hers. At one point we stashed the stroller behind a big tree and hiked up the main hill to the new construction church. It is stunning from the outside, but has weird soviet-looking art inside. Odd.
Originally, we were only going to visit the fortress for a bit and then hike up to a monastery, but when we realized how cool and extensive the fortress was we decided to scrap the monastery and simply hike around the fortress. First, though, was a visit to the snack bar for some drinks and Avi needed to nurse. Then we walked all the way out along the walls to the end of the point where ‘execution rock’ juts out over the river waiting for convicts to be thrown off. We ended up spending hours, all afternoon, at the fortress. So, we walked downtown and found another nice outdoor cafe with a playground for some dessert and chill out time. This one was right in town so it was fun to people watch and just hang with the locals. Zoe enjoyed the playground again. The food was great, too. I got a banana pie. Bethany got a cream and chocolate cake, and Zoe got fruit kabobs. Yummy. Our final challenge for the day was finding the car and then the hostel. Veliko Tarnovo has lots of small alleys and walkways, and the car was parked down one that we entered from a different directions. So, we headed downhill and eventually found it without too much trouble.
Bethany drove it back to the hostel while Zoe and I walked with Avi in the stroller. It was so nice outside that walking seemed a better choice. I also thought I knew how to get to the hostel and that we’d beat Bethany there. I was wrong. We walked downhill and just kept going and going and going while the lane we were on kept getting tinier – it went from a paved one way road to cobblestone to a small dirt path between homes by the river. Amazingly we came out at the river just below the hostel. Of course, by the time we arrived Bethany had already gotten herself some tea. Spent a nice evening at the hostel in the courtyard playing until it got chilly and then in the common room for a while. Zoe and I made a new artwork on the public easle with Avi crawled around on the giant floor pillows. Being in Veliko Tarnovo made me want to stay here longer – it’s not only gorgeous, but also a mountain biking and rock climbing haven. Oh well, tomorrow is another adventure. We’re driving to Sofia to find the train station, by tickets, spent a few hours in the city and then take the overnight train to Bucharest.