Mark and Mika Take on the WORLD!!! travel blog

The new King and Queen of Bulgaria

Storming the Castle

The first fall leaves

After the excitement of Istanbul, we once again boarded a night train and headed towards Bulgaria. The train, of course, was 3 hours late in departing. By now, we should have known that it would be impossible to ever sleep on a night train. It seemed when we were about to fall asleep, we were awaken at the frontier in order to get our exit stamp in our passports. We fell asleep again, then an hour later, of course, we were awakened in order to get our entry stamp into Bulgaria. So, we barely got a wink of sleep before the sun came up again...traveling with a lack of sleep has clearly become a habit of ours. In addition, since our train left so late, we had no idea when we were supposed to arrive in the little town of Veliko Turnovo. To make matters worse, neither of us knew how to read the Cyrillic alphabet, so we couldn't recognize any of the names of the stations we stopped at. Our conductor, also, was no help. Whenever we asked him any questions about our current location or when we needed to get off, he simply shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and told us he didn't know. So, we waited anxiosly on the train, trying to decode the Cyrillic letters at every stop to decipher when we needed to get off. When our train finally arrived, our helpful conductor notified us just as the train was pulling out of the station. What a putz! When we looked at him for an explanation, of course, he just shrugged his shoulders. So, there we were, stuck on the train for another 20 minutes, after which we got off, only to have to buy another train ticket to go back in the direction from which we came. In this manner, we finally arrived in Turnovo at 4:30 in the afternoon, as opposed to 10:30 in the morning as planned.

Of course, the fun was just beginning. The best part was once we arrived at the station, we were accosted by a crazy tout named Victor. Touts work at all the bus and train stations, and it is their job to get people to stay at their employer's hotel or hostel. They usually range anywhere from pesky to stalker. This one was definiely a stalker. Keep in mind that his hair was disheveled and he had a crazed look in his face. He came up with every reason in the book why we should stay at his employer's place, even making up a sad story about how his mother was in the hospital with a life threatening heart condition. Probably the craziest thing about this whole encounter was that we decided to go with him. Without a picture of the place, he wanted to show us the place. He had us walking along side the train tracks, (a short cut?) and we eventually came across a long, dark train tunnel. We thought he was nuts. There was no way we were going in there only to get hit by an oncoming train. When we refused to go on any further, he went crazy! Pleading, begging, pleading...finally we convinced him to get off the tracks to the safety of the street, and take the bus. Yet after 15 minutes of waiting at the bus stop, Victor became impatient. He decided to flag down a random car and began to negotiate a fare with a complete stranger. Then he expected us, again, to go with him. "Come, come! Same price as bus! I pay!" he said. We just stood there looking at him in disbelief. Finally, disappointed, he consented to wait for the bus, which came shortly after. We finally got into town, and his place, of course was nothing like he described. It was furnished with the two worst beds ever...the mattresses were only about an inch think mounted upon a trampoline-like system underneath. Of course, we could feel every spring upon our backs, and everytime we sat on the beds, they would sag down the center like hammocks. But, we were tired, and the place was cheap. So, we stayed.

Veliko Turnovo didn't have much in terms of sights; only a fortress that was used as a base of the uprising that eventually lead to its independence. The fortress felt like an old castle, full of hidden stairways. Since the town itself was nestled against hillsides, the view from the fortress was beautiful. Fall was approaching, and all around, we saw various trees changing leaves. It's been years since we've seen fall leaves, so we spent a bit of our time playing amongst them. While we were there, we also sampled many traditional Bulgarian dishes. We ate sausage, bean soup, Bulgarian burgers (like ours but with eggs and french fries added), a sort of omelette with meat and potatoes, and a soup of yogurt and cucumbers served cold. The only disappointment about this town was that the nearby river was polluted with trash of all kinds. It made us sad to see a pretty town such as this set in amongst the litter. But, when traveling, we have to take the good with the bad.

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