Expat Temptation Leads us to Veliko Tarnovo (Велико Търново)

Dave the motorhome’s listening to the grumbling sky, perched high on his chocks on a hillside overlooking the Bulgarian countryside (N43.0697222 E25.7530556). We’re in a grassy plot at Camping Veliko Tarnovo, highly recommended to us by other bloggers, especially Adam and Sophie (www.europebycamper.com). Dissappointed, we are not. It’s been built up from scratch by fellow motorhomer’s Nick and Nicky, and they’ve done a great job. For a motorhome and two people, without leccy (the sun’s been flooding our solar panel all morning), it’s €17 a night in high season. Once I’ve tapped this out I’m using the excuse of having ‘done some work’ to go and add a couple of beers to our tab.

Dave at Camping Veliko Tarnovo. It's been roasting hot again all day, but the clouds and breeze and (thankfully) with us for the afternoon!
Dave at Camping Veliko Tarnovo. It’s been roasting hot again all day, but the clouds and breeze are (thankfully) with us for the afternoon!

This excuse-making started last night, my birthday being used as the reasoning for heading off for a slap-up meal. Charlie safely locked up in Dave we walked over to the Gostilintsa, a restaurant described in the Lonely Planet guide as being ‘classy’ and ‘uninvitingly located behind a wooden door’. The place was spot-on, the prices had us slack-jawed (we’ve both eaten dirt-cheap grub in Africa and Asia, but this is Europe and we’ve not seen prices this low anywhere else) and we sat and ate in a small covered courtyard with two other couples for company, one of which we could tell were speaking English. As they stood up to leave they said ‘hello’ and voila, Paul and Christine were sat with us in a jiffy, another round of drinks ordered.

These guys were fascinating, having lived on and off in Bulgaria for ten years. They told anecdotes and stories with earnest enthusiasm while Ju and I supped our drinks, occasionally my head dropped coconut-like into my hands at disbelief. Although they are most certainly at the more adventurous end of the property-buying spectrum, picking up places which often needed serious renovation, the numbers were mad. I can’t recall the exact figures (I’d been drinking!), but all the numbers which follow are in the right ballpark: ‘yes, we really liked the place, and even though it was 4500 Lev we offered 3000 and he took it’. 3000 Lev is roughly €1500, for a house near the Turkish border. Prices have since gone up, but hey, they’d have to go up by rather a lot to get anywhere near to the astronomical UK market. Our food, for one starter, fresh bread, two mains, a large ice cream, 3 pints of local beer, three glasses of wine and a bottle of beer, came to €20, including the tip.

It's not just cheap, it's lovely too. Fluffy meatballs in a white sauce and some tasty liver and onions for me. Nom, nom.
It’s not just cheap, it’s lovely too. Fluffy meatballs in a white sauce and some tasty liver and onions for me. Meat-feast, nom, nom.

Invited back to their in-progress-renovation town house, which shared the cobbled street with the restaurant, they showed us around and told us tales about getting refurbishments done, showing us photos of the places they have bought to do up. Again we couldn’t quite believe the costs of things. Women working to clean up tiles earned 10 Lev a day (the men doing the other work were on 15 Lev), that’s €5 to €7.50 for a day’s work. They’d attempted to pay the women the same as the men, but were caught and prevented from upholding equal rights by their neighbour. A set of good quality patio doors were 250 Lev. We asked them what it’s like to live here, and their eyes glinted. They told us a story where they’d been caught out by the Bulgarian opposite-meaning-to-us of head shakes and nods, receiving an array of head shakes on the bus when they asked if this was their stop. Head shakes = no to us, but yes to the Bulgarians. When the penny dropped several stops later, the bus driver called a taxi who took them back a couple of miles to town, refusing any payment. They were invited to a neighbour’s mother’s funeral, being taken aback by the open coffin. At another yearly celebration for Saint Sophia on top of a nearby hill, sheep’s heads boiled away. Plans formed in our heads and after we’d said goodbye, we chattered away on the walk back to Dave. Money earned in the UK is worth so much out here, and it seems the communist ‘we’re all in it together’ philosophy hasn’t yet been even partly eclipsed.

Christine, Paul and Rupert the poodle, who surprised me and Ju by not being Charlie-sized!
Christine, Paul and Rupert the poodle, who surprised me and Ju by not being Charlie-sized!

Back in Dave, silence descended, even the fountain was switched off at midnight. We woke at about 7:30am as the place started to move, folks pulling up in cars and laughing, Tryavna’s got some life to it. As we left a small group of police and firemen pretended not to be trying to look inside Dave, and returned my thumbs-up with a wave before going back to chatting about who-knows-what, probably us nutters living in a car.

Today’s destination: Veliko Tarnovo. It gets a good review in the Lonely Planet, described as ‘evocative’, ‘sublime’ and ‘dramatic’ in a single sentence. We’d be coming here for that reason alone, although it also happens to be on the route north to Romania, and has the campsite here. On the way we spotted plenty more frozen-stone reminders of bygone days:

This one I love!
This one I love!

And we pulled in to snap these determined-looking fellas:


As I was pointing the camera at them, trying to discretely get a chap in the background with his horse and cart, he shouted over to me, pointed at the camera, and then at himself. He wanted a picture, so a picture he got. I doubt he’ll ever see it, but you never know…


Onwards and upwards, the road stayed pretty decent on the way to Veliko. In fact, everything started to look rather more appealing. Even the streaked-grey blocks of flats with their scattered-sequin decoration of satellite dishes didn’t look quite so depressing. Bulgaria is growing on is, or perhaps more accurately the promise of an affordable, laid-back lifestyle in a new and changing country is.


As Dave chugged his way into Veliko, we headed for the centre and looked for parking, a bit tetchy with the continual roasting-tin conditions in here, more so when we saw this:


Parking, 2 miles away? Or does it mean we can park anywhere for the next 2 miles? Confused, as no-one else was parked up on the road, Ju spotted a motorhome in a little patch of land below one of the bridges. Paid parking, but hey, it was close to the town. We pulled in and Ju went to check we could park here, asking the attendant ‘parking?’. ‘Nee’ said the woman, ‘no’, while at the same time nodding her head ‘yes’ or was it ‘no’?. Confusion, until her son arrived, ‘you can park here for free, no problem’. If you’re coming this way, the co-ordinates are here, might be tight for anyone over 6 meters long though: N43.08559, E25.64969.

We took a walk around the town, a pretty place set on the hillsides above an intestinal twist of the river. The sun was scorching (we’ve just been told it’s usually only this hot in August) so we quickly retreated to a shaded restaurant pumping out misted water over us. The town has a university, so has plenty life about it, and as well as the serious investment in cobbles, signs and street furniture from the EU, some enterprising souls have splashed paint about to keep the drabness at bay. Some photos of Veliko Tarnovo:

Ju and I both used to work for E.ON, a German-owned multinational energy company. They bought a stake in Bulgaria’s electricity system, but have since sold it after making very little cash. Later still, earlier this year, mass protests were held against the high cost of electricity, which resulted in 7 people setting themselves on fire (five died). The protests escalated and the government fell. While houses, fuel and utilities are madly cheap to us, they’re crippling to many folks here.
This lady offered us B&B and a parking space in the town for €20 a night. We’d already decided to head here though.
EU money in the form of lovely paving slabs.

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Heat-defeated we headed here. The campsite’s actually about a 20 minute drive away from the town, near to a small village. Other’s tales of satnav woes at attempting to find the place, coupled with the fact our TomTom maps don’t cover Bulgaria, had us working with a map, and we drove straight here. Once we’d cooled off a bit, Nicky came over for a quick chat, and then the campsite wardens Marius (a South African fella) and Joan. Lovely folks, this is their first warden job (the deal is they do about 20-odd hours work a week and in return get meals, electricity, use of the facilities and a parking place for their motorhome, not bad). They keep a blog, and are already thinking about where they will over-winter in 2014-15! Read about them and see their pictures here: A New Adventure.

Right, time for that beer! And a bit more browsing of Bulgarian estate agent web sites! Ooh, before I go, a few more pictures from today:

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Cheers! Jay



  1. Love the photos, what camera do you use?

    Also got an appointment to view the house for 12,000 Leva tomorrow!!

  2. You certainly run a very up to date Blog! Only arrived at Camping Veliko Tarnovo yesterday, but picture and Blog script are already there. Wonderful chat and a few laughs in the cafe last night on lives and lifestyles past and present ….
    Keep up the good work! And Cheers, or Nazdrovyeh as they say in Bulgaria!

    • Thanks guys! We update our blog every day, luckily Jay did it before we headed over to the cafe last night! We’ll venture outside once our hangovers have cleared. Julie :)

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