There are more mountains, villages nestled in the valleys, a white landscape of trees laden with snow. This is a heavy old train, just another young woman in my compartment.
At every station the station master in their uniform pops out to greet the train.
Sometimes they salute as the train moves through the station.
On arrival in Veliko, it’s an awkward affair to get from the station into the town. You have to walk across the railway line, past piles of gravel waiting to be loaded onto cargo trains, cross a river, pass under a motorway junction, then under another road, then up around 150m of tall steps between buildings, only to pop out around Marno Pole park. The other people I saw get off the train here seemed happy to wait for a bus up into the centre. I should’ve done that.
The town stretches out along a thin stretch of steep hills. Houses are all piled on top of one another, and either side of the slope the buildings jut out into the hillside, connected up and down with circular staircases.
I walked up past the castle, and was most curious about the ‘mini Bulgaria’ theme park behind it. The park holds miniature versions of famous Bulgarian landmarks; a guy hanging around the entrance told me it was owned by an Ukrainian oligarch. I could see the miniatures well enough behind the fence, so carried on walking to the remains of a medieval monastery. I walked up to it but the path was covered in dense thicket, which was itself covered in snow. I was careful of where I put my feet. On reaching the ruins I saw some tents, which I guess were either a homeless camp or an archeological dig, either way nothing to see there. I retraced my steps, crossed the river to the holy mountain, and scrambled up the huge hill behind St Cyril and St Methodius University. It was a slippery climb up a long muddy path, and at the top I was rewarded with a much better view of the city.
There was a laser show at the castle in the evening to mark the national day. I was exhausted and not keen to go traipsing back out for another hour after sunset in the freezing cold. I hoped to see the show from my hotel window. Nope. There was definitely something going on but I missed out. Ready to collapse for a long sleep after a long day.
The following morning I woke up to see the monument to the Assen dynasty. Across the Yantra river there’s this hotel built into the hillside, with a free-standing staircase extending outwards and then down to the platform below.