Sunday, 30 May 2010

This green and pleasant land

Written 29th may

Veliko Tarnovo is very nice. 

Once capital of Bulgaria (1185-1393 just before the Ottomans)  it is now a bustling university town which clings to the steep sides of an s-shaped, river-bottomed gorge in a valley in upper central Bulgaria.

After a bit of faffing and dropping our washing off, we parked Jules on a quiet side street by a park and set off for a wander.  We came first across the footbridge to the Asenevs monument, which is set on a ridge, on the inside curve of the valley, with the town wrapped around it on the otherside of the river so everywhere in the old town can see it from every window. 

 The monument depicts the four Tsar's Assen, Petar, Ivan and Kaloyan) who liberated Bulgaria from the Byzantine Empire and established what the plaque described as 'The Golden Age' of Bulgaria, which is coincidentally when Veliko Tarnovo was also the capital  - I guess other capitals before and since just haven't had what it takes... ;)

And back across the bridge and on through the dark typical streets before we eventually stopped for beer (german branded but brewed in Veliko) and delicious typical bulgarian pot meals.  Yummy.

We had worried that the park might turn into a den of iniquity full of drug-using, beer-drinking yoofs but all was silent when we got home - perfect.  We awoke in the morning after an undisturbed night's sleep - a very nice change from the last two nights in traffic-buffeted laybys on major truck routes! - to find that the reason it was so quiet was that we seemed to have parked right out side the police station, so we were probably the most iniquitous yoofs there :)

What with one thing and another, a slow wander for coffee and an unexpected electronics shop

- we didn't need anything and Will nearly resisted but any shop which has pictures like this outside is too good to be true (not that he's cooked anything more serious than a diode recently!) and we haven't been into an electronics shop for at least two countries, and even that was only by proxy as actually kiri went for us.  And as always, it depends on your definition of need...

- we didn't really get going that day so arrived at both the impressive looking castle in town

and at the Nativity Church in nearby Arbansi, which apparently has good paintings, too late to go in.  Being not sufficiently bothered about either to stay another night, and having three hours of daylight left, we pressed on and were just climbing the long, slow hill out of Bayala, when we passed a man pushing a bike with a trailer up a hillwhilst sporting a Union Jack flag.  Well that had to be investigated!  And thus we met Johnny Jeeps.

Johnny is cycling from the UK to China - cycling!! - for no better reason than that he can - which is reason enough! - and 20 years ago when he first looked at doing it, the cost of all the different visas was just prohibitive whereas today, he can get through 90 percent of the countries he needs to without - good old EU.

He is 47 days and c2000 miles in, having travelled through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia to get here - I think he's actually travelling faster than us, and we have an engine! - and headed to Bucharest to sort his Iran visa out before goung back down through Bulgaria and Turkey to get there.  With no set milestones for time and distance,  he cycles as far as he can during the day, pushing the bike up hills, and stops when it gets dark to pitch his tent somewhere hidden and out of the way.  If you ever thought we are crazy for sleeping in laybys, now you know we are perfectly sane... :)

We stopped by the side of the road for a cup of tea and a chat - Johnny has met lots of astonishingly kind people on his journey, particularly in Serbia, who have helped him fix his  bike or invited him into their homes for meals or a bed for the night, but this was his first cup of english tea with english chat in 47 days and we are always up for any excuse for both! - whilst the fireflies danced around us.  I've never seen actual fireflies, I had envisaged small, gently glowing things but these were proper neon snaps of light - just like the one in Bug's Life! - amazing.

We regretfully had to move on once it got dark, vans and tents needing different places to hide themselves overnight and this particular bit of noisy truck route being good for neither. So we bid him goodbye and left him to his trudge up the hill - despite all being headed the same way, we just couldn't quite have fitted bike and trailer in.   We did half expect to see him again the following day (or more accurately, given that we are not known for getting up, we expected him to overtake us, sometime whilst we were making tea!) but we didn't, so we wish him well and hope to hear what life on the road further east is like!

Yesterday did not turn out as expected.  The lp raves about 'underrated Rusenski Lom National Park' which it reckons 'potentially offers two days sight seeing so the plan had been to follow its suggestion and pop into the park office in Ruse and then head out there.

Ruse is the main border town crossing the Danube to Romania.  Like all border towns we have been to, it feels like a border town - an indefinable grandeur they all share which marks them out as different from the towns you find on either side.  This one is particularly different and grand, calling itself, as it does, 'Little Vienna' thanks to the influx of Viennese architects to floated down the Danube to rebuilt it in the 1880's after it was razed to the ground during the war for liberation.  And it is rather lovely, full of wide tree-lined boulevards, shady squares and fancy ornate buildings.

We found the parks office, which was shut, so we headed into town where we found the most willing to try and be helpful tourist office in the last two countries.  Although he couldn't give us any information about the park.  But we had a map and he suggested some sights,

so we found the opera house,

and the semi-subterranean Church of the Holy Sprit, with is unexpected painted panels and iconography inside,

and the very underwhelming Pantheon of the Bulgarian Heroes - looked better in the picture and definitely no Shipka church!

And I have some new shoes!  Although nothing to get to excited about, they are sensible, flat ones I can wear with my skirt which don't rip my feet to shreds whilst walking - as regards shoes, I am a changed woman, I tried to wear my heeled boots out a while ago and nearly fell off them, this is not good! and, as will keeps reminding me, I haven't even worn the sparkly stilettos that I insisted were essential and had to be brought.... Something is not right here!

Still lacking in information, we headed out and back to the park, by way of Metro, the first big supermarket we have seen here.  It turned out to be more cash'n'carry than we expected but as we have loads of bulgarian currency to use up - we didn't need nearly as much as we got out, we haven't been here as long as we thought and things are so cheap after greece!  We haven't even used that much petrol as there have been more nice flat roads than hilly ones! - we have stocked up.  The catering sized jars of pesto and sun dried tomatoes were a particularly welcome find as they constitute the main ingredients of our new emergency pasta and somewhat unexpectedly, we haven't found pesto in shops since Croatia.  Who would have thought!  And, as it turns out, pouring olive oil into a jar of dried basil just doesn't produce the same result...

Anyway, we eventually found the park, it was plesasant but nothing special. 

A nice rock monastery with cave paintings from 14th century depicting the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist

and a bit of a walk to a river

- first brown river we have seen for ages!  But that was it.

So, a spot of daisy painting and fettling today.  A good tidy up.  Tomorrow, the last of our cash to spend on topping up with gas and petrol just in case.  A swab down of the van - apparently it is illegal to drive a dirty car in Romania but we don't know what the measure for 'dirty' is or how it is enforced.  And a last internet stop - wifi at every petrol station here! - and then Romania here we come!

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