Veliko Tarnovo : The City of Cats

Veliko Turnovo Travel Blog

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Veliko Kitty 2

“Miaow?” enquires my four-pawed interrogator.  “Miaow-miaow” I respond.  The cat looks at me blankly.  “Miaow” ( “Dumb-ass tourist!” ) it sighs. 

Yep, I’ve hit yet another language barrier.  I don’t know how to communicate in Cat in Bulgarian.  I can do so in Greek, d’ya wanna hear? “Niaou”.  Are ya impressed!  Like all cat owners I am aware of the extreme difficulty and tonal complexity of Cat dialects.  As with other tonal and/ or diacritical languages (Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese being some that I have experienced recently) depending on the length, pitch and vibrato used words can have many different meanings.

Veliko Kitty 1
  Even more so in Cat it seems.  ‘Miaow’ can variously mean “I am hungry”; “I am very hungry!”; “feed me”; “feed me right now!”; “oi, you forgot to feed me”;  “you haven’t fed me enough”; “can I eat the dog’s too?”;  “hello”; “goodbye” (although this is more normally conveyed through body language i.e. turning tail and exiting) ; “I’m tired”; “I’m really tired”; “you woke me!”; “b**tard!”; “f**k off!”; “leave me alone”; “I like that” and also “I don’t like that”; “don’t touch me there”; “I’m warning you!”; “what are you doing on my bed?”; “the answer to the question of what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything is… miaow”; “broomsticks are uncomfortable!” and - apparently - “I intend to steal the breath from your children in the middle of the night”.
Historic Gurko Street (where I stayed)
  To list but a few.

Oh wait, “sh*t!” this is a travel blog ain’t it… uhhh… right… I was forgetting myself… cats?… why?… well I’m in Veliko Tarnovo the former capital of Bulgaria and the place is crawling with ‘em.  Everywhere I go it seems.  Or maybe I exaggerate.  You may not see them or notice them as much as I, but being a former cat owner I have eyes for cats’ eyes and ears for their cries, so I’m cool for cats and notice them lots.  They are one of the things I remember most about Veliko Tarnovo.  Travelling for so long it’s funny some of the incidental details that the mind uses over time to tack and fix the image of a place to the pin board of one’s memory.  Why are they all here?  I dunno.

  The cats left behind after the rats followed the Piper to their watery end maybe?  Lying around idle.  “Miaow?!“ ( “So what the f**k do we do now?!“ )  Veliko Tarnovo (VT), The City; The Capital of Cats.  Still it’s nice to be in a city softly swarmed by purring fur balls rather than rabid dogs with a fetish for tourists for a change.  Still one of ’em (a dog that is) manages to bark me b***ocks off walking past it and then bark me bum off 20 minutes later when hopelessly lost straight into VT I have to retrace my steps.

Sad to say that I am unable to impart much knowledge of the city and its history to you.  I’ve had a skim of The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Eastern… “oh wait a sec!”  I haven’t introduced you to my guidebook for this leg of my adventure have I?  Owing to the unexpected and unplanned nature of my little blitzkrieg tour of Eastern Europe (courtesy of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) the only resource material I have to hand is The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Eastern Europe.

The Lonely Plonker's Guide to Eastern Europe : Version 1.0
  This basically equates to one page of my tiny notebook into which I have scrawled a highly accurate and informative map of the region.  It has capital cities marked and named and everything!  In fact, so blown away was I by The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Eastern Europe Version 1.0 that I splashed out to purchase Version 2.0 which even highlights some principle towns on my route.  What else do ya need?!  “Hey!” I figure having survived over a month in China without a guidebook Eastern Europe’ll be a sinch right?! Hmmm.

In all honesty though it’s not a very expansive guide and The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Eastern Europe is unable to throw any light on the character and culture of VT.  It’s old and pretty at its heart where it sits on the slopes that descend to the banks of the wavering wander of the Yantra River.

Veliko Tarnovo Tunnel (yes you are definitely lost when you find yourself walking through a freeway tunnel in the dark! :)
  On one of the iron bridges spanning the Yantra a bunch of touring, ad-hoc bungee jumpers are setting up a makeshift bungee mechanism for the day.  10 Euros a jump or free after  2 o‘clock.  No thanks lads.  Sorry, but the idea of strapping an elastic band around me ankles and jumping 100 feet has never really appealed to me... although oddly I'm quite taken by the idea of one day jumping from 20,000 feet with a giant handkerchief strung to me back (skydiving).  Aren't we humans an  odd lot... or is just this one? ;D   They continue to ping themselves lemming-like off the tin-pot contraption, nearly battering their skulls on the bridges underbelly on the way back up. 

I continue to admire the  sword-like immensity of the Assenevs Monument that sits here to mark the 800th anniversary of the rebellion against Byzantine rule which - the statue informs me - ended in the liberation of Bulgaria and the establishment of VT as its capital.

"Ooof! I'm f'in parched after all that sermonisin', gimme a feckin'Coke!" ;D
  A man observing the bungee shenanigans, sat on the wall with his wife, rocks forward on the balls of his hands and lets a rip-roaring fart out into the Tarnavo airs.  Mrs Wife doesn’t flinch or comment a jot.  A sign of true love in middle aged couples I guess.  “Must be English” I think to myself.  And so they prove to be.  Whilst my nation labours under many forms of prudery and political correctness both old and new; strained archaic ideas of social decorum, we are generally incongruously comfortable to make loud and proud public pronouncements of our internal body movements.  I've been introduced to Caroline and Ian.  A very nice, talkative and well-travelled couple from Dartmoor.  “Pleased to meet ya!”.

The main attraction in VT is the old citadel walls and remains of the fortification complex on top of Tsaravets hill.

PING!!! There goes another lemming!
  It contains The Patriarchite Ensemble of buildings and walls and includes at the hill summit a small church that contains one of the most fascinating interior fresco compositions I’ve ever seen in a house of reverence.  It’s a modern interior, revamped in the communist era ’70s by a contemporary artist and covering every single available surface are semi-biblical, semi-martial montages of a disjointed, partially abstract nature studded with flashes of realism.  It looks like a Cubist interpretation of the Sistine Chapel after Picasso’s ‘Guernica’.  To my eyes it’s fabulous.  Fresh.  A reinvigoration of tired themes and images.  Complemented by tasteful, ultra-modernist chandeliers for lighting.  A fantastic use of an interior space of worship that had probably fallen victim to the various indignities of age and neglect.
The groovy, 'Guernica' interior of the Tsaravets church.
  But I bet it rubbed a whole bunch of people up the wrong way when it was unveiled.  I think to myself that such forward looking, creative re-enlivenment of certain sacred spaces ( I.e. those in need of it); a reaching out to the contemporary is one possible way to bring these environments to positive reappraisal.  The fate and use of ’abandoned’ or run down churches is a recurrent debate in the UK owing to the phenomenon of falling congregations and lack of funds for preservation leading to a good number of them having been sold off to be turned into fancy converted abodes for wealthy property developers, wine bars and even nightclubs.  The Methodist Church in Harborne, my stomping ground in Birmingham, was up ‘For Sale or Let’ as I departed the country.  I’m not a religious man, but this is a sad sign of decline along certain lines I feel.
Tsaravets church (detail)

Other than the Citadel I just stroll and stroll and stroll.  My usual, preferred travel roll.  Up, down, along and around old, undulating and pitted cobble-stone backstreets.  Some smaller churches being reclaimed by creeper and vine and locked up ( St Constantine & St Helenas, St Cyril & St Methodius) and I am ‘chugged’ for a donation in St Nicholas’s.  ‘Chugging’ here to refer to ’Church’ not ’Charity Mugging’, the situation the term was coined for in Britain.  “This is not a museum.  Is church!  Not a museum! Church!”  Shake-shake of the tin.  “Easy love!” I think to myself and fumble some pennies God’s way. 

I am likewise accosted by kids canvassing for one of the major candidates running in the Bulgarian General Election which takes place next week and who has had a stage erected for him in town for a rally tonight.

  “Please take one” says a lad directing a campaign flyer at me as he passes.  “I’m afraid I don’t believe I have the right to vote” I reply moving on through their press of bored enthusiasm.  “Pleeease take one!” next implores a pretty young thing.  “Sorry, I’m not a Bulgarian national”.  “I KNOW you’re not but you HAVE to take one!” she says thrusting a pamphlet towards me with both hands.  “Okay okay! Thank you!”.  I’m voting for The Other Guy though ;D

I amble alongside the cats.  The cats amble alongside me.  The cats who sit and stare from window sills.

Veliko Tarnovo with Tsaravets hill in the background.
  Lie atop clapped out old cars.  Recline in the shadows and grasses and grape-vines that bedeck many a home here.  They stare down at their tiny scented kingdoms from verandas on high.  At dinner I suddenly notice one curled up in the soil of the plant pot by my feet reminding me of a school time favourite poem ’Cats sleep anywhere, Any table, any chair./  Top of piano, window-ledge, in the middle on the edge…’ * 

A stroll back along the night darkened street and I am in perfect time by good fortune (around 21.00) to witness the infrequent Sound and Light show that flashes, illuminates and rainbow-paints the entire of the Tsaravets citadel Hill some nights.  And I see if for free and probably from a far better vantage point stood back on a hillside in town rather than up inside the complex with the too-close-to-the-action to appreciate fee-paying visitors.

  A 20 minute symphony of colour and light rippling hypnotically; kaleidoscopically around the hilltops and walls of this medieval capital.  Fabulous. 

Back to the gang ( George, Rossen, Fedio & Co) at the Nomads Hostel now where I temporarily suspend a moratorium on drinking local firewater imposed since becoming literally legless on the shores of Lu Gu Hu in China, to sample Rakia, Bulgaria’s own grape-distilled Devil’s liquor chased down with sips of traditional salted, preserved tomatoes.  “Yum!” it is not.  I’d have preferred a saucer of milk frankly for ‘Open drawer, empty shoe, anybody’s lap will do./  Fitted in a cardboard box in a cupboard with your frocks. / Anywhere!  They don’t care!  Cats sleep anywhere.’ *


Sound and Light on Tsaravets 3

* ‘Cats Sleep Anywhere’ by Eleanor Farjeon

[ VT Tips : Most museums, the art gallery and the Tsarevets citadel and church are free to enter on Thursdays.  For a fabulous FREE vantage point to observe the Tsaravets Sound and Light Show just walk to besides St Nikola Pikolo church on (I think?) Vasil Levski street.  You won’t be able to hear anything but who cares, it’s the pretty colours and lights that count! ]

Stevie_Wes says:
LOL, I didn't know that one Si. Wouldn't it be spelt "Myiaouughllanfairgynlianmyiouwch" though? ;D
Posted on: Jul 15, 2009
pyrrho says:

That's Welsh Cat for "funny entry".
Posted on: Jul 15, 2009
Transitory says:
I love this entry, was very amusing and witty.

Can't believe you voted in the Bulgarian elections, haha, so silly.
Posted on: Jul 15, 2009
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Veliko Kitty 2
Veliko Kitty 2
Veliko Kitty 1
Veliko Kitty 1
Historic Gurko Street (where I sta…
Historic Gurko Street (where I st…
The Lonely Plonkers Guide to East…
The Lonely Plonker's Guide to Eas…
Veliko Tarnovo Tunnel (yes you are…
Veliko Tarnovo Tunnel (yes you ar…
Ooof! Im fin parched after all …
"Ooof! I'm f'in parched after all…
PING!!!  There goes another lemmin…
PING!!! There goes another lemmi…
The groovy, Guernica interior of…
The groovy, 'Guernica' interior o…
Tsaravets church (detail)
Tsaravets church (detail)
Veliko Tarnovo with Tsaravets hill…
Veliko Tarnovo with Tsaravets hil…
Sound and Light on Tsaravets 3
Sound and Light on Tsaravets 3
The Lonely Plonkers Guide to East…
The Lonely Plonker's Guide to Eas…
The ultra modern altar piece insid…
The ultra modern altar piece insi…
Tsaravets church (detail)
Tsaravets church (detail)
Door to Tsaravets church (detail)
Door to Tsaravets church (detail)
The old Citadel battlements.
The old Citadel battlements.
Veliko Tarnovo Tree Print
Veliko Tarnovo 'Tree Print'
Several of these impressive scraf…
Several of these impressive 'scra…
George gives us some Ska grooves o…
George gives us some Ska grooves …
Fireworks over the Assavens Monume…
Fireworks over the Assavens Monum…
The Assavens Monument to Bulgarian…
The Assavens Monument to Bulgaria…
Statue atop a hill.
Statue atop a hill.
Beg to report sir... that I read…
'Beg to report sir...' that I rea…
Sound and Light on Tsaravets 1
Sound and Light on Tsaravets 1
Sound and Light on Tsaravets 2
Sound and Light on Tsaravets 2
Veliko Turnovo
photo by: delsol67