From Grey to Green.
Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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We headed out of Sofia yesterday morning to visit the town of Veliko Tarnovo. Thankfully the rain had stopped and the sun was shining brightly. The bus journey was quite beautiful. Our ride through verdant rolling hills reminded me a lot of my childhood home in the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. Of course the occasional horse-drawn cart trotting down the shoulder of the highway would punctuate that Bulgaria isn't Oregon. Unfortunately for Katie, she missed a few of the beautiful views since she was entranced watching "Pretty Woman" played on the motor coach A/V system! I never though I'd see that movie while rolling down a Bulgaria highway...
Anyway, we journeyed to Veliko Tarnovo because it was highly recommended by our resident Bulgaria experts, Kate & Brian
Although there have been a number of tourists we have encountered here, the place is far from being overrun. Locals still make up a bulk of the people on the streets and restaurants and there are only a handful of postcard vendors and souvenir dealers. Looking at all the great things about this place, I have a feeling that in less than a decade Veliko Tarnovo will be a big stop on the Eastern Europe tour circuit. Luckily for us it looks like we happened upon here just before mass tourism and all the tacky gift shops, sightseeing busses, and hoards of package tourists arrive. (See my comments after Katie's "She Said" for more on this) I just hope it is touristy enough now so we can find a Bulgaria refrigerator magnet for our collection!
We spent a relaxing day today wandering around town, exploring the castle and enjoying the local cuisine. We went to the railway ticketing office and purchased seats for our journey to Bucharest, Romania tomorrow.
What do Paris Hilton, Nick Lachey, Nellie Furtado and Shakira have in common besides the fact that they are all guaranteed to be in the next 10 issues of US Weekly and People magazine? Apparently they are the only "artists" that have ever released a song in the history of the world
Veliko Tarnovo is a really cute town and I wish we could spend a bit more time here. Due to train schedules, we have to leave tomorrow or spend another 3 nights here, so we opted to move along. One of the best things about this place (besides of course the pretty hillside houses, cobblestone streets, and amazing gorge) is recognizable food!! We actually had salad with real lettuce and fresh veggies yesterday. My body practically went into shock from all the nutrition.
Now before you think that this town is on a heath kick, I feel I should mention the smoking situation
Additional Comments from Todd:
On the topic of mass tourism, I've made a few observations so far and thought I'd write a bit about some of my experiences, questions, and conclusions.
In most of the countries we have visited thus far on this trip, we have encountered substantial numbers of package tourists on bus tours. Having been on a few of them when I took students around Europe, I can say that they definitely have their merits for a traveler
In a way though I'm starting to find that mass group tourism can really spoil a lot of what makes places special. Any sites we have been to which cater to package tours tend to share a few commonalities: store upon store of souvenir stands selling pretty much the same items with aggressive sales pitches, very few local people (non-vending) or street life in the vicinity, and tourists who at times are blatantly insensitive to local culture and customs. In our experiences, there is often a sharp contrast between the package tourist and the independent tourist (such as us) although independent tourists are far from angelic either! Generally though, when we see a bus unloading we try to get into the place before the herds or else sit down a while until the wave has passed. We have found it is just too frustrating to fight the crowd or be lumped in with people who do things like climb into the ritual washing fountain at a mosque to cool off (we actually observed a woman do this in Morocco.)
I guess it's more about the effect the huge numbers of people that bus tours bring will have upon a place. As an economics teacher, I know that is unreasonable to think that vendors will not be drawn to places where they can both sell and get the highest prices for their wares. The very places that people want to see because they are beautiful, quaint, charming, authentic, or original are also the sites that mass tourism makes the most lucrative places to set up shop. So that's the quandary, how do you preserve a place so it doesn't get "ruined by all the tourists" and yet still allow people to see it?
Any ideas? Fellow independent and package tourists please free to give me some comments!