Ok ok, here it is…the story of my weekend in Veliko:

We (Kanye and I) began our journey with a rather typical Bulgarian bus ride. We met up in Plovdiv (she was coming from the south, I was coming from the north, Plovdiv is in the middle). We had a small meal and then got on the bus heading for Veliko, a ride that is supposed to take 4.5 hours. We chatted for a bit and then there was one small issue.

You see, Kanye is a Chinese American teacher from the U.S. And here, in Bulgaria, the people don’t always handle people who “look” different very well. You will remember my long post on MLK Day where I explained how racially intolerant it is here. Kanye expereinces issues related to this all the time. People actually STARE at her. They look at her and when she turns her head toward them, they pretend they were never even looking. Other people skip the staring and go right to the name calling. So…she has it a bit rougher here than, say, I do. Of course, there was a dude on the bus who kept doing this staring/looking away/staring thing. Kanye finally had to tell the dude (in Bulgarian no less) to stop staring at her. Then he acted like he couldn’t hear her, as if he were deaf or something. But at least he quit staring.

Kanye and I then spread out on our own seats, hooked up to our individual iPods and proceeded to try to nap. And it was all going well, until…..

the bus STOPPED. Not for a minute or two. More like an hour or two. We later learned that way, way, waaaaaay up ahead, a truck had dumped out a bunch of crates of something and we all had to wait on the mountainside until it was cleared up. We were stranded on Shipka Pass, which is actually a beautiful, woodsy place not too far from the Valley of Roses. Oh, and it’s historical as well. One of the major revolts to try to end the rule of the Turks was fought here.
And I would have enjoyed the scenery, but for the freak occurence of my feet swelling up. This has NEVER happened to me before. EVER. I felt something weird. My feet kept feeling really hot. HOT. Like on fire, HOT. Which is odd for me because my feet are always ALWAYS cold—just ask Mark. Then my shoes just felt, well….uncomfortable. Finally, I looked down and there were my feet, all swollen. My toes looked like fat sausages and it felt weird to walk.


Of course, my rational thinking told me that this was a result of a lot of traveling in a short time and not enough water. My paranoid thinking said this was some strange ailment, some blood clot perhaps, that was headed to my brain, lung, or heart. (Did I neglect to tell you all that any time I get a small ailment, there is a part of me that thinks it is a sign of impending death?? NO? I never told you that?? It’s my…umm..crazier side.) So I got out of the parked bus and cruised around. My feet started to get a little better. But still…weird.

So this was not beginning to be a great trip. But, soon, the bus got going again and Kanye and I fell fast asleep. SO asleep that the bus driver had to wake us up to get off the bus. Luckily Veliko was the last stop on that particular route, because seriously, we were SO asleep that had the bus kept going, we could have ended up in Turkey.

We rubbed our eyes and crawled out of the bus. Kanye called the hostel where we were going to stay and they actually came to pick us up. Good thing, too, because there was almost no way to find the place otherwise. But it was a great little hostel. When we got there, we made our bunk beds (ahhh, so cute, just like a college dorm), and headed downstairs to check in. We were just trying to decide if we felt like walking down the big hill to get some dinner when the hostel hosts handed us a plate and gave us some shopska salata (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and cheese), some kyufte (grilled pork meatballs), and kebabche (grilled sausage). These are staple Bulgarian foods, and at that point, perhaps some of the best food we had eaten–we were pretty hungry, and it was so so soooo nice that we didn’t have to walk down to get food.

We ate and crashed in our bunks. The next morning we took a shower in the stinky, stinky bathroom–think of the most pungent onion odor you have EVER smelled–then headed down to have breakfast. I know, I know, free dinner AND free breakfast…MY kind of place. While we were sipping thick, almost solid Bulgarian coffee, a bee stung me on the elbow then died right there on my sweater. I learned I am NOT allergic to bees. Good thing.

According to our guide book, our bible,


the thing to do here is to visit the fortress.

The brief lowdown here is that this used to be the capital of Bulgaria during one of its prior empires (I forget which, I think the 2nd one…) so this fortress was very well fortified. (get it? fortress, fortified. Man, I’m hilarious.) So we hiked over there and saw some magnificent views on the way.

Once there, we cruised all around the place. We rested for a bit on this rock that had an amazing view.


Turns out, the name of this rock is Executioner’s Rock. Umm, yeah, because that’s where they “executed” people in the 11th and 12th centuries. They took them to the rock and shoved them off. So barbaric, so medieval of them, no?

We saw the grounds and Baldwin’s Tower.


The story of this tower goes something like this: Lord Baldwin of Flanders was captured by the Bulgarians and they kept him in this tower until they decided to execute him. Well, at least he had a nice view for his last earthly moments:


While walking around the uneven, crumbly cobblestone paths, we happened upon a lady walking in front of us:


Look more closely:


Yeah. Those are heels. HIGH heels. On cobblestones. Oddly enough this happens often here in Bulgaria. Women wear these heels and then trip on the cobblestones. You’d think they would figure it out, but really they don’t. Just the day after I saw this lady, I saw another lady near our flat actually fall down while just standing in place. She shifted her weight, the stiletto moved a centimeter left, into a crevice in the cobble, and she bit it. Sad but funny. Funny but sad??

After the fortress, we were hungry. So we did the Bulgarian thing and sat in a restaurant for 3 hours, ate and talked. Then we thought we would go on this hike that goes through the woods. We started up the path that we understood to lead to the hike. We found a playground in the middle of nowhere and played for a bit (this is pretty typical of what the playgrounds here look like):


Then we continued on the path, but after about 10 minutes or so, we ended up in yet another village, as if we had just completed one giant circle. Plus there were storm clouds and thunder. So we gave up on the hike and headed down through the village. We found some bizarre statues–one giant, mis-proportioned one and one grahic one of Levski (will talk about Levski later…basically national hero who was hung for planning a revolt):


After this second walk, we found a cafe and sat in it for a while. A WHILE! We consulted our bibles to see what else there was to do. Nothing, really. We had already decided we were museumed out–they all look the same after the first dozen. So that left….nothing. We had coffee and tea, then walked around town for a bit and found a place to eat dinner.

At night they light the fortress up. It is their claim to fame, but really, it is kind of a sad 70s disco show. Seems like they should just let history lie asleep at night. But we saw it on our way up to the hostel. And we were exhausted by then. So again, off to bed we went.

We got up early on Sunday morning and we each took a different bus back to our respective cities.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but really, it was probably one of the best places I have visited here in this country. The truth of the matter is that there is almost no place that has more than a day’s worth of sites here. The country is small and the sites are spread across it. This city was quaint and clean and the people were nice and hospitable. They actually had some customer service skills and we didn’t feel too terribly foreign there. And there was hardly any trash or graffiti. Nice. I would definitely go again if I had the chance.

So, Veliko Turnovo gets a thumbs up!

**See more pictures in the gallery on the right (remember…it is the picture of the yellow church on the right hand side of the blog here).