May 26, 2008

Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria

Feeling rested and refreshed from a few days in the countryside on the Black Sea coast, Renee and I were more than prepared for the uphill walks we would encounter on the quaint and winding cobblestone streets of the former capitol of Veliko Turnovo. We arrived in the late afternoon at a great hostel at the base of town situated close to the banks of the Yantra River and we immediately made friends with the other outgoing and interesting mix of international guests. A group of us set out for food and on the way I was quickly charmed by the stunning views of the well maintained red slate roofed houses stepped in ascending order up the picturesque green mountains. Dining on the edge of a cliff and drinking the local beers which are almost cheaper than soda and juice, the atmosphere and landscape were reminiscent of small towns found in Italy or Spain and spotting reminders of four decades under communist administration is virtually impossible to do; other than the obvious lack of priority or funding for the much needed lawn-cutting and tree-pruning services in the city parks and a visit to the rather austere looking building of the Art Museum in which after ringing the bell and purchasing a ticket from the matching personality of the woman in charge we were non-verbally chided for an invisible injustice of which we couldn’t quite figure out other than, perhaps, the fact she was born with a moustache and we weren’t.
The next day was spent wandering the streets photographing images of the town such as lace curtains hanging in windows and the fragrant rose gardens of the neighborhood homes and visiting Tsarevets Fortress, which houses a chapel that the inventive team at Bulgarian Tourism, much like the folks over at the Cistern in Istanbul, turned what could have been a dark, damp stone interior into a vibrant and energetic showcase of commissioned modern artistic interpretations of biblical events and important saints.
While taking an ice cream break on the front lawn of the University, Renee and I started to get a taste of the prevailing Eastern European fashion sense of which we found obsessively entertaining and which boasted the major “it” trend of the moment - extremely wrong-dye-lots of bright yellow and green fabrics– yes, that means, perhaps, a combination of skin tight yellow jeans with an equally bright green satin shirt and maybe silver stilettos of which we witnessed no one walking properly. I am no fashion diva but I will go as far as to say that unless your name is Kenny Kenny, green or yellow jeans of that intensity should be a general no-no.
Renee and I ended our stay with a fun impromptu party at the hostel in the evening and a collection of fond memories that seem to be occurring with great frequency as we travel through Bulgaria; a country which was not on my original itinerary but one that I feel so fortunate to experience before it becomes a major tourist hub.

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