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Day 7: Veliko Tarnovo

We woke up this morning excited to explore Veliko Tarnovo.  Veliko Tarnovo was the medieval capital of Bulgaria and is supposed to be one of the most picturesque towns in the country :) 

Armed with a tourist map from our apartment, we set off in the direction of the town centre. First of all we passed the military monument which we had seen last night.


Unbeknown to us when we booked our trip, 6 September is a national holiday in Bulgaria. We'd noticed earlier in the week that some of the places we visited had roads called "6 September Street" and it turns out that's because 6 September is Unification Day, which commemorates the unification of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia in 1885.

It seems to be a holiday which is taken seriously here, and we'd arrived at the monument just in time to see a Bulgarian military parade :o

That was rather a surprise! Once it was over, we continued on our way down the main street.


Lots of the buildings here were decorated with Bulgarian flags and also bright purple ones, which we assume must be the flag of Veliko Tarnovo.


The guidebook said that there was some interesting architecture in Veliko Tarnovo. This house was marked on our tourist map as "The Monkey House".


It's got this creature, which we assume is supposed to be a monkey on the facade, but we're not sure why!


After the monkey house, we found ourselves on a street called Samovodska Charshia.


This is the street where the town's market and craftsmen used to be located.


Today there are lots of souvenir shops, but it's still a really pretty road to walk along.


There were lots of pretty buildings back down on the main road too.


As we turned a corner, we got a glimpse of what we assumed must be the town's cathedral.


As we began to walk towards it, we got our first proper view towards Veliko Tarnovo's most impressive sight: the Tsarevets fortress.


Veliko Tarnovo is situated on the banks of the Yantra river, and we could also see some of a rocky river gorge in the distance.


From here we could look up towards the cathedral.


The cathedral was initially built in 1844 but was destroyed by an earthquake in the same year and had to be rebuilt!


Just past the cathedral, there was a booth to buy tickets for the castle. It cost 6 lev each (£2.76).


Once we had our tickets, we were able to begin walking up towards the fortress.


This big lion marked the entrance.


It was impressive how intact the fortress walls are and how much of them it seemed like we were going to be able to walk along.


The fortress at Tsarevets was the most important fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire, which existed between 1185 and 1393.


Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the empire and the most prosperous city in Bulgaria during the period.


Inside the fortress walls were a church, royal palace and over 400 residential buildings.


The fortress was repeatedly attacked by the Ottomans and was ultimately conquered in 1393, after a long siege, marking the end of the Bulgarian empire.


It was clear when walking around what a great location it would have been for a fortress. We could see down towards the town...


...including back towards the cathedral...


...and we could see along the river gorge in the other direction as well.


From here we really got a feel for what an unusual town Veliko Tarnovo is, perched on the banks of the river, and why it had been so hard to figure out where to walk to get from the train station to where we're staying.


The building at the very top of the fortress hill is the Ascension Cathedral.


This was the home of the Bulgarian patriarch until 1393. The building was destroyed by the Ottomans and reconstructed in the twentieth century.


From up by the cathedral there were some amazing views :) 


There was a bit of a breeze, but it wasn't quite windy enough to blow the huge Bulgarian flag on the top of the fortress to its full extent.


Looking down from the fortress we caught sight of some churches in the lower part of the town. There was this one, which looked like it was made out of brick...


...and this one (you may only just be able to make it out, below the bridge) which looked like it had a gold-domed roof.


As we climbed down from the fortress, we decided to head down to that part of town next to explore.


We began to walk on a downhill road, in the shadow of the fortress walls.


As we got lower we could see two bridges across the river Yantra.


Before long, we came to our first church.


This was the Holy Forty Martyrs Church, originally built in 1230.


The church was heavily damaged by earthquakes but has been reconstructed to look how it would have done in medieval times and the remains of various Bulgarian emperors are buried here.


Just behind the church, there's a big stone bridge across the river.


Beyond that, we found the church with the golden roof :)


We crossed the river on a wooden bridge, known as the Bishop's Bridge.


It was built in 1774, funded by the local bishop. The wooden boards felt a bit creaky in places as we walked across, but there were some beautiful views :) 


We found a little restaurant to get some food, just below the bridge. 


It was one of those places where the menu was a list of all the things it might be possible to order at some point in time :D The waiter explained to us that our options today were grilled pork, grilled chicken, kebabs or a salad.


Tim went for the chicken, while I had kebapche, which tasted very similar to Croatian ćevapi.


The food was beautiful, and for pudding we both had baklava :) 


Definitely one of the best views we've had lunch to, and the entire meal cost around £17.


Once we'd finished eating it was time to climb back uphill towards the town centre.


On our way back to the apartment, we took a slightly different route to the one we had in the morning, and found a couple of viewing terraces we'd missed.


From here we could see out across the more modern part of town and the countryside beyond.


Then it was back along the colourful streets and towards our air-conditioning to cool off for a bit :D We were planning to go out again later in the evening, in the hope of witnessing a light display to celebrate the national holiday.


Edited by Clare

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