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High and Dry in Veliko Tarnovo

sunny 35 °C

In the evenings, Euro 2012 games are being shown in the hostel courtyard. I tried to watch one last night, but fire flies kept appearing and it was all I could do not to chase them around and squeal with delight.

It wasn't quite so delightful to wake up this morning to no water. You can imagine 22 backpackers in 35 degrees, and not a shower between them. Apparently it happens once a month here, when they have to turn the area's water off to patch up the last patch up job they did on the ancient system. Since I had plans for the day and having had recent natural disaster experience, I managed to go without.

A small group of us joined the hostel's Great Tour, which is an understatement to say the least. First we headed up a forest covered mountain, past Gypsy camp sites and views over the Valley of the Roses, to Shipka pass, the highest point between northern and southern Bulgaria. It's a special place for Bulgarians and a monument sits at the top to commemorate the local heroes who died in a lost battle against the Ottoman Empire there. Further on up the road was our first destination - Buzludzha. Built by the Russians in the early 1980s as a symbol of their friendship with Bulgaria, it was a strategically positioned conference centre, set high on a mountain in the hope that the backlit red star would be seen as far away as Turkey. The shape of the building may be due to the space race at that time.

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From a distance it's impressive, from close up, it's even more imposing. It cost the Russians 7 million euro, and was used just half a dozen times before the Berlin wall fell, and the Bulgarians fell out with Russia.

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Today it is abandoned and totally gutted, with the locals, vandals, and Gypsies having stripped everything of any value from inside it. In its day, it was adorned with white marble walls and floors, red velvet ceilings, and colourful ceiling high mosaics depicting scenes from Russian history.
Once we had marveled at the outside, the door creaked open and we slowly ventured in. Inside, it was dark, cold, and spooky. I couldn't see a thing, was cursing how dull my torchlight was, and we had to be very careful where we stepped with the debris and rubbish scattered around the floor. After about 10 minutes, I realised I still had my sunglasses on, so removing them brightened things up a bit.

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It was eery though, and just a little bit scary. We went down just one of about 9 underground floors, as the others are too dangerous to reach now. Then we climbed whats left of the staircases to the main conference room, or what remains of it.

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The building won't last much longer. What people haven't already stripped, the weather is eroding every day. Soon the roof and floors will collapse and it will be just a ruined momento of communistic madness. I declined the offer to go further down into the basement and was pleased to be out in the fresh air and daylight.

Next stop on our Great Tour was an excellent restaurant where I enjoyed my first proper Bulgarian meal. Forget about leaving this country early, I have to stay and eat. I had milk salad which is very like Tzatziki, a very tasty garlic bread, and a vegetable and meat dish called sach. One of the guys had mish-mash which looked nothing like I expected, but I definitely have to order it once. Bulgarian food is divine.

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After far too much lunch, we walked across a little bridge and into a museum town where local artisans make crafts in traditional houses from all over Bulgaria. There were potters, turners, weavers, and all sorts making their wares on mostly water powered machinery. I made my first official purchase, a gorgeous sterling silver ring, in a style unique to the maker, for only about NZ$25.

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After a couple of hours wandering around (and stocking up on Bulgarian sweets at one of the shops) we were back in the car and off to our next destinations, Bacho Kiro Cave and Dryanovo Monastery. The cave was once inhabited by 3 metre tall bears, and evidence of Neanderthal communities has been found in it. Since it was getting late in the day, we just did the short tour but it was interesting to see and a nice break from the hot humid conditions outside. After the cave, we took a stroll around the monastery which again, is an important historic site for Bulgarians, due to another losing battle with the Turkish invaders. It's nestled in the top of a horseshoe of towering cliff faces and it's no surprise the soldiers hiding out here never stood a chance once they were discovered, there's nowhere to escape.

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It was a brilliant day out, and after 10 or so hours we were all pretty quiet on the drive home. Fortunately, when we got back, the water was back on and a lovely hot shower awaited us. I was just enjoying a nice beer, updating my blog, when the tell-tale sounds of church bells began to ring and we raced up the hill to see the light and sound show. This is where they light up the entire fortress and hill it sits on with laser beams and blue, red, green, and gold lights. I tried to capture it on camera but couldn't so just sat back and watched in awe. It was something I really wanted to see, so I'm thrilled it was on while I was here. After my less than enthusiastic start yesterday, today I saw a fascinating side of Bulgaria and am looking forward to exploring the rest of the country.

Posted by Gotmybindle 12:39 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged veliko_tarnovo dryanovo buzludzha

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