Veliko Tarnovo… Is It Worth The Effort?

People who’ve been following my blog are now going to say ‘I knowwww…‘ at what I’m going to say next 🙂 Indian passport holders who have a Schengen Visa can only spend 5 days in Romania, including the days you get in and out.

Now that we’ve got that out of the day, let’s begin.

I spent my 4th (and definitely last) night in Romania in Bucharest at Liliana’s place. Again, people who have been following my nonstop blahblah-ing will know that Liliana was a lady I met on the train to Bucharest who insisted I stay at her place instead of going to a hostel. Much as I enjoyed the exciting experience of getting invited to stay at a local’s home, I was faced with a problem. I HAD to be out of the country by the following night. I did not have the option of adjusting my dates, because I could get into a lot of trouble.

Having had spent the summer roaming all around Central and Eastern Europe with no hassle, finding buses and carpools in any direction, I didn’t bother planning ahead. The hostel could always help me find my way if I couldn’t figure it out myself. But… I didn’t end up staying at a hostel.

My tentative plan was to go to Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria from Bucharest, and then move on to Sofia. But the only resource I found online about how to make this journey was Wandering Earl‘s extremely complicated and terrifyingly long way. I would have to be out of the house before 6am and I would spend most of the day changing buses and trains and taxis and reach well into the evening. And since it was dead winter, it would definitely get dark. Really dark. Which meant no hitchhiking either (that, and plus I look like ‘Roma’). And a full taxi ride would cost about 100 Euros. Liliana went through some Romanian websites for other options but couldn’t find anything other than a looooong train ride (about 8 hours, with a change in between). The carpooling websites I’d been using are not common in these countries.

Considering these two places are only about 200kms apart, I never really thought I’d have such a hard time finding a ride.

Suddenly, I chanced upon a rather shady website which had convenient minibus transfers 4 times a week. The website didn’t convince me at all, and I had more or less resigned myself to the fact that I’d just have to take the looooooong train. That slow feeling of dread crept up on me. I would reach the outskirts of Veliko Tarnovo really late, and the idea of finding my way to the hostel at that time of the night in a country people barely spoke English was NOT appealing.

The next morning Liliana insisted that we go check out the minibus stop. To my enormous surprise, there were 3-4 other people waiting for the same bus. And when the vehicle ultimately showed up, it was a shiny, well maintained thing, with a well dressed, well mannered, English speaking driver!!! To my utter relief he had space, and Liliana handed me a box of nuts (so I wouldn’t get hungry on the way) and bundled me in.

TLDR?

One way of getting to Veliko Tarnovo is this. But if you’re lucky enough to want to go from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday… Check this out.

Now, you’re there. What next?

I’ve never heard of Veliko Tarnovo.

Don’t worry, neither had I. Veliko Tarnovo is a little city in north central Bulgaria. It is one of Bulgaria’s oldest settlements, was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and is located on the Yantra river. It has a number of Universities and many students, so gives out a largely youthful vibe (not when I was there though, there weren’t many people on the streets in that wretched snowy weather).

What do I see?

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I really like this picture… Miles to go before I sleep

The first thing that comes to mind is Tsarevets. It is a fortress which was in use when Veliko Tarnovo was the Bulgarian capital, and is built on one of the three hills of the city. The name of the hill is also Tsarevets.

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The pillar kind of thing in front is the monument of the Assenevetsi kings, is a symbol of the city and is dedicated to the four powerful kings of the second kingdom. Behind that is the monument of the Assen dynasty.

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There are a lot of sights in the city, and there’s a charming part of the market that has these old handicrafts makers (something seems wrong with my English here :/ ) potters and ceramic workers etc etc. It’s called Samovodska Charshia, and I think it was lovely. Cobbled streets, very ‘old’ looking. Charming.

Where can I stay?

There are a number of accommodation options in this city for different budget ranges. Out of several hostels available, I chose to stay at Hostel Mostel. Very nice, and barely 2 min walk from the Tsarevets. A dorm bed costs a mere 10 Euro per night (I got an additional 10% discount because of some other hostels I had stayed at), and includes a good breakfast and dinner. Dinner. Really!!

Oh, and this was where I met the ridiculous Japanese guy who inspired this post. A bunch of the points are about him… Can you guess which ones? 😀

What do I eat?

Thanks to the hostel serving 2 meals a day, I just needed to get out to find lunch one day. The hostel recommended Shtaslivetsa and it was excellent!! I ordered a Katuk salad (which is easily right up THERE in my favourite things to eat, ever), a meat dish and dessert (that was before I knew how humongous the salad was going to be. I groaned with every step while walking back to the hostel). Very good value, because the salad was so cheap I expected very little food and ordered the other stuff, and very tasty, because even when I saw it was too much I couldn’t stop eating.

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I got a nice table by the window, and thanks to the greenhouse effect, I was absolutely toasty. Perfect. The view was fabulous too… The window faced the Assen monument and the river around it. Lovely!!

How do I get out?

The bus station is about 20 mins from the hostel by taxi, and it costs 2-3 Euros (I know, amazing, right!!). I paid a little over that because a few minutes into the journey I realised I had forgotten my specs. Genius 😀 After that there are multiple buses and trains to a number of places nearby. Hostels will always help, so there’s no issue there. I was supposed to go to Sofia next, but changed my mind at the last minute and went to Plovdiv instead without a hitch.

Is it worth it?

Weirdly enough, this city reminded me a great deal of Aizawl in Mizoram, India. I loved Aizawl, so it’s safe to say that I liked Veliko Tarnovo very much indeed. Unfortunately, I went in the winter, and I really really dislike snow. If you want to see just how gorgeous it is in the summer, have a look at this blog post. Ooh lalaaa!!

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There are lots of day trips you can make from here… Plenty of villages nearby, hikes, cycling. I think you can easily spend a number of days there without getting bored. There’s a walking tour of the city as well, apparently, that I missed. And everyone knows I love free walking tours! I would have liked to hear of their history. You can tell it must have been glorious!

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There are a lot of churches and museums, and, all in all, tons to do. I just had 1.5 days here because of lack of time and planning, and I think it’s definitely worth a short visit atleast!

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Look, I left my handprints on the Snows of Time 😄

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At the end of my first day there, around 10pm, another fellow stumbled into the hostel when we were eating dinner. He apparently took the train from Bucharest that I was going to take and reached the station about an hour back. He said it was completely deserted and he had to call the hostel to get picked up!! Thank God I found the minibus! A 9 hour journey and then I would have been completely stranded because my phone didn’t have any balance. He also said that the hostel I had planned to go to in Bucharest had been completely full the previous night!! Phew, thank God for Liliana!!!

Overall, I liked this place a lot, and I know I would have liked it a whole lot better if I had gone in the summer. Go there, enjoy the food and tell me what you think 🙂

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6 responses to “Veliko Tarnovo… Is It Worth The Effort?

  1. Pingback: Home(s) Away From Home… Hostel Reviews- Part 1 | perpetuallyperipatetic·

  2. Pingback: Surya in Sofia! 2 Days in the Bulgarian Capital | perpetuallyperipatetic·

  3. Thanks for this post! I was thinking about visiting there this summer, while I’m working in Bucharest. Now I have an idea of what it looks like.

    Too bad you can’t stay in Romania that long due to your passport. I hope you have enjoyed it though!

    • Oh so cool, Rose! Veliko Tarnovo is going to be amazing in the summer. I looked at pictures and wished I had gone there at a sunnier time!
      I did enjoy Romania, but I could have enjoyed it a lot more if not for visa issues :/

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