- Alex, our Veliko Tarnovo hostel host and surrounding area tour guide.
During our stay in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria's former capital, we experienced this Bulgarian-ness on a few occasions.
At the Tsarevets Fortress, arguably the city's biggest tourist attraction (both in size and popularity), the only rule seemed to be not to kill yourself. Maybe because April is still low season, but even the purchase of tickets wasn't really enforced. Our first clue should have been that the woman in the ticket booth had to be woken from her nap, but no one checked them at any point on the grounds, and it wasn't until a few days after visiting that we found out amateur photography is meant to be another small fee.
As evidenced in the first picture below, "Don't do stupid stuff but we're not going to do anything more than put up this tiny sign." You could literally walk on the edge of the fortress walls like you were a guard on watch! The only differences between now and nine hundred years ago is that the wall has deteriorated quite substantially and you can't don armor and medieval weapons. Wait, this is Bulgaria, maybe you can!
I would not be surprised if a large section were to crumble with the slightest agitation. Furthermore, there were children, human baby children, running around on the edges of these walls. I thought for sure we were going to hear the bone shattering chorus that gravity so cruelly sings to the unsteady. If this was North America you would be admiring everything from a few feet away behind an obnoxious rope. (Thanks a lot pesky insurance companies.)
But that was the fortress, a place we could reach on foot. Surely an organized day tour to the local sights would mean a little less freedom?
On to the first stop. The Dryanovo Monastery and Bachokiro Cave.
Parking in the back lot for the monastery (normally used by locals and tour guides) wasn't accessible because of a bridge under repair, so our guide Alex brought us around to the front. Unfortunately, the greasy S.O.B. who wears a laminate and "patrols" the parking lot is willing to walk the distance between you and his seat if he sees you park. After some gentle words from Alex but no money exchange the man huffs and puffs and waves his hand in frustration. "That's Bulgaria, everyone wants money to do nothing," Alex says as we stroll past the gates.
After a hearty Lunch, and a few less exciting stops, we drive through Shipka Pass and over some snow (with the help of a tow) to our last destination: the Bezludzha Monument, better known as the "UFO".
It's locked, it's dilapidated, the road up is barricaded. No problem, we'll just drive around the gate, pry the doors open, and go inside to throw huge rocks around and climb on everything. The entire time I was completely unsettled because I was envisioning this thing sliding off it's base and rolling down the hill.
Originally built by the Bulgarian Communist regime and opened in 1981, the Monument was a masterpiece of marble, red velvet, and shimmering mosaics with a concrete core. But after the fall of the party and many raids by industrious gypsies the only parts that remain to show it's past glory are it's massive size and bits and pieces of the original tile work.
Full circle view of the inner hall.
Please let the building stay intact just a little bit longer. Thank you to Alex for a great tour, and everyone at Hostel Mostel for the beautiful place to stay. Hello Romania.