Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vivacious Veliko Tarnovo and the Troublesome Train

Note: This is another big entry that covers a few places, so I'm going to split it up into several posts.

I'm now not only a few cities behind, I'm a country behind. I last wrote while on the way to Veliko Tarnovo, a small town in the centre of Bulgaria. The train ride was alright. There were some nice rock cuttings along the way my grandmother would have liked.

The main attraction of Veliko Tarnovo is an old fortress that is reasonably intact. There were also a few old churches around the place and a few monuments. On the Sunday I wandered around town taking in most of these sights. On Monday I lazed around the hostel and did a little shopping for supplies.

The guests who were there were an interesting mix. On the first night there was a pair of German cousins on a road trip, a British/Israeli woman who was buying a house in a nearby village and her sister and and an Australian and a Swede who had joined up somewhere and decided to travel together. On the second night there was a pair of Chinese people from Germany. The girl was obsessed with shoes and had bought so many pairs in Bulgaria she'd had to buy two new suitcases to take them back home (I think it was around the 40 pair mark). Her friend, who was not quite so keen on shoes, was named Shu.

The train to Istanbul got off to a rocky start. While I was waiting a guy came up to me and said he worked on a nearby archeological dig and showed me some Roman coins he offered to sell me for what was left of my Bulgarian money. It's just as well I didn't as when I got on board I got some bad news. The carriage my ticket was for had broken down and been left behind in Romania, and since the remaining sleeper car was run by the Turkish railways, the guard wouldn't just give me a berth on his carriage without paying for a reservation. This struck me as particularly rough since the carriage was reasonably empty and I ended up having the berth to myself.

Immigration was also a bit of a hassle. I had to pay for a visa and had checked before and found out that they would accept Turkish Lira, Euros and US dollars. I thought I would be fine as I had a bunch of US 100s left, but they wouldn't take it as they didn't have change. I managed to change one of the 100s into Euros at one of the duty free shops (the first I've seen since Korea) and all was well, but I was worried for a little while.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I am going to be in veliko tarnovo and am looking to travel by train to Istanbul this July and was wondering how easy it was for you to book your ticket and how long the train took? Thanks,

Esonlinji said...

The train is about 12-14 hours. I left Veliko Tarnovo at about 6pm and
got into Istanbul around 8-9am.

Booking the ticket was pretty easy. I checked the schedule online
and wrote down the details of the train I wanted and then took that to
the transit center in Sofia and booked it two days in advance. It was around 100 lev.

Also, as I mentioned above, make sure you have small bills to pay
for your visa at the border.

Hope this helps.