Veliko Kitty 2
âMiaow?â enquires my four-pawed interrogator. âMiaow-miaowâ I respond. The cat looks at me blankly. âMiaowâ ( âDumb-ass tourist!â ) it sighs.
Yep, Iâve hit yet another language barrier. I donât know how to communicate in Cat in Bulgarian. I can do so in Greek, dâya wanna hear? âNiaouâ. 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. âMiaowâ can variously mean âI am hungryâ
; âI am very hungry!â; âfeed meâ; âfeed me right now!â; âoi, you forgot to feed meâ; âyou havenât fed me enoughâ; âcan I eat the dogâs too?â; âhelloâ; âgoodbyeâ
(although this is more normally conveyed through body language i.e. turning tail and exiting) ; âIâm tiredâ; âIâm really tiredâ; âyou woke me!â; âb**tard!â; âf**k off!â; âleave me aloneâ; âI like thatâ
and also âI donât like thatâ; âdonât touch me thereâ; âIâm warning you!â; âwhat are you doing on my bed?â; âthe answer to the question of what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything isâŚ miaowâ; âbroomsticks are uncomfortable!â
and - apparently - âI intend to steal the breath from your children in the middle of the nightâ.
Historic Gurko Street (where I stayed)
To list but a few.
Oh wait, âsh*t!â this is a travel blog ainât itâŚ uhhhâŚ rightâŚ I was forgetting myselfâŚ cats?âŚ why?âŚ well Iâm in Veliko Tarnovo the former capital of Bulgaria and the place is crawling with âem. 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 catsâ eyes and ears for their cries, so Iâm cool for cats and notice them lots. They are one of the things I remember most about Veliko Tarnovo. Travelling for so long itâs 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 oneâs 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. âMiaow?!â
( âSo what the f**k do we do now?!â
) Veliko Tarnovo (VT), The City; The Capital of Cats. Still itâs 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 âem (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. Iâve had a skim of The Lonely Plonkerâs Guide to EasternâŚ âoh wait a sec!â I havenât 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 Plonkerâs Guide to Eastern Europe.
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 Plonkerâs 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?! âHey!â I figure having survived over a month in China without a guidebook Eastern Europeâll be a sinch right?! Hmmm.
The Lonely Plonker's Guide to Eastern Europe : Version 1.0
In all honesty though itâs not a very expansive guide and The Lonely Plonkerâs Guide to Eastern Europe is unable to throw any light on the character and culture of VT. Itâs 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 oâclock. 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 doesnât flinch or comment a jot. A sign of true love in middle aged couples I guess. âMust be Englishâ
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. âPleased to meet ya!â.
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 Iâve ever seen in a house of reverence. Itâs a modern interior, revamped in the communist era â70s 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 Picassoâs âGuernicaâ
. To my eyes itâs 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 âabandonedâ 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 âFor Sale or Letâ as I departed the country. Iâm 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 âchuggedâ for a donation in St Nicholasâs. âChuggingâ here to refer to âChurchâ not âCharity Muggingâ, the situation the term was coined for in Britain. âThis is not a museum. Is church! Not a museum! Church!â Shake-shake of the tin. âEasy love!â I think to myself and fumble some pennies Godâs 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.
âPlease take oneâ
says a lad directing a campaign flyer at me as he passes. âIâm afraid I donât believe I have the right to voteâ
I reply moving on through their press of bored enthusiasm. âPleeease take one!â
next implores a pretty young thing. âSorry, Iâm not a Bulgarian nationalâ. âI KNOW youâre not but you HAVE to take one!â
she says thrusting a pamphlet towards me with both hands. âOkay okay! Thank you!â.
Iâm 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 âCats sleep anywhere, Any table, any chair./ Top of piano, window-ledge, in the middle on the edgeâŚâ *
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, Bulgariaâs own grape-distilled Devilâs liquor chased down with sips of traditional salted, preserved tomatoes. âYum!â it is not. Iâd have preferred a saucer of milk frankly for âOpen drawer, empty shoe, anybodyâs lap will do./ Fitted in a cardboard box in a cupboard with your frocks. / Anywhere! They donât care! Cats sleep anywhere.â *
Sound and Light on Tsaravets 3
* âCats Sleep Anywhereâ 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 wonât be able to hear anything but who cares, itâs the pretty colours and lights that count! ]