If there was a better way to wrap up our three days in the Veliko Turnovo area than with a guided tour from Free Veliko Turnovo Walking Tours, I cannot imagine what that would be. Our guide Plami was absolutely delightful – knowledgeable, humorous, and somehow able to stand in blazing sunshine on a blistering day for minutes at a time, imparting wisdom to us on Veliko Turnovo history while we tourists cowered in the shade.
We met Plami in front of the Tourist Information Center, and our tour began across the street in front of the Mother of Bulgaria Memorial. She started out by giving us some of the basics on Bulgaria history and that of the city as well.
Then we headed to the old town, and after a couple of blocks we were in the middle of the oldest part of Veliko Turnovo. Our first stop was across the street from the House with the Monkey, a nineteenth century residence designed by Kolyo Ficheto, the most famous architect of Veliko Turnovo (this would not be the last of his designs we would see). The building gets its name from a sculpture of an enigmatic figure that is attached to the center of the facade – some think it is a monkey, while others think it might be a person.
From there we made our way to another Ficheto design, the city’s most colorful hotel/restaurant, the Hadji Nikoli Inn.
Not far from there was a popular street for shopping, Samovodska Charshia. Therese and I knew we would come back here later in the day with Teddy, so I will skip over that for now and tell you about it when I talk about our shopping excursion.
Next we came up to an overlook (more on that in a moment), from which we had a great view of the city’s two most historic hills. On the right was Tsaravets Hill, with the castle and cathedral atop it, where Turnovo’s kings once lived and worshiped (Therese and I had seen this hill the previous day, but this view was from a slightly different angle).
On the left (or the middle, depending on how you are looking at it) was Trapezitsa. To tourists like us, Trapezitsa is less exciting than Tsaravets simply because it has not been preserved as an attraction, so there is no reason to go there. Apparently, of late it has been developed and fancy condos are being built there. There is a bit of an old fortress on the front edge of it, but otherwise it’s not too exciting to look at.
So yes, we were looking from right in front of another Kolyo Ficheto design, the Cathedral of the Birth of the Theotokos.
For some reason, this church gets less attention than other area churches – if you Google it, not much comes up other than photos of it. I think it’s because of the long unwieldy name. And what the heck is the Theotokos, anyway? Well, that is the Orthodox Christian name for Mary – the Mother of God (in Greek). It’s very mystical, but nowadays, that kind of stuff is a bit too obscure for the average tourist, I guess.
We looped around the cathedral and emerged on another street, from which we soon arrived at what I am calling Constitution Hall (the Internet calls it something else, but I am pretty sure that’s what folks in Turnovo call it). This is, you guessed it, another building designed by Ficheto. This is where, after the end of Ottoman rule, the modern Bulgarian constitution was written. Now it is a museum.
And in front of Constitution Hall is a bit of landscaping, with some sculpture and stonework. In the middle of it is another guy who looks like he could be a monkey or a gnarly man, just like the one on the outside of the House with the Monkey.
Our tour was nearing its end at this point. We walked down General Gurko Street, with some lovely old buildings along both sides of the street.
Plami stopped at a couple points and gave us details about some of the buildings here, but I don’t remember anything. No, none of them were designed by Kolyo Ficheto.
This street did have great views of Asen’s Monument in the middle of the city.
Teddy had arranged with Plami that she would direct us at the end of the tour to a good local restaurant, where Teddy would meet us for lunch. It took Plami a couple beats to recall what restaurant this was, but then she said, “oh yes, it’s right over here.”
We had a very lovely lunch at Mehana Gurko (what else would you call a restaurant on Gurko Street?). I had baked trout again – boring, I know, but it was so good the day before in Tryavna that I was happy to eat it again. A little lemon juice, careful not to get any bones, good lunch.
The restaurant was very rustic – lots of dark wood and stone – and with a floor fan, it was just that much cooler than the blistering heat of the day to make it a refreshing break.
When we had eaten, it was time to do some shopping. We went back to the beginning of Samovodska Charshia, and made our way down the street, looking at handmade rugs, a sea of ceramic plates and bowls, antique lapel pins (my thing) and hand-hammered copper Turkish coffee pots. We were choosy, and found much of good quality at good prices.
If the shopping was the icing on the cake, then I don’t know what the dessert at Shtastliveca Restaurant was – I am at a loss as to what food-related metaphor to use for, well, a food-related experience. Anyway, you’ll have to wait until next time to hear about that.
This was our last full day in Veliko Turnovo, with our friend Teddy. The next day she drove us into town, to the Yug (or South) Bus Station (which is very close to the Tourist Information Centre), and we took the bus to Sofia. The ride took about 3 hours, and Therese arranged for a shuttle from the Sofia Hilton to pick us up at the bus station. The bus passed through the middle of the country and we got to see the many rolling hills that characterize Bulgaria (on our way from Sofia to Veliko Turnovo, it had been dark so we had not seen much of the countryside then). The ride was very pleasant, and we bought some sandwiches and drinks and snacks from a restaurant next to the bus stop to sustain us on our trip.