Hostelest with the Mostelest

Trip Start Oct 02, 2010
Trip End Oct 26, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostel Mostel

Flag of Bulgaria  , Veliko Tŭrnovo,
Saturday, October 23, 2010

The train from Plovdiv to Veliko Tarnovo took about 5 hours.  I made  some small talk with a guy who lives in Stara Zagora, the first town of  any size on the way. There, he got off and 5 others filled into the 6 person compartment.  One guy (Dmiter?) spoke English.  An older gentleman was pretty animated and funny and talked a lot. Eventually, all 5 Bulgarians were taking part in a conversation.  The younger guys chuckled a few times at things the old man said and the older women kept up the banter, nodding in agreement with him, or shaking their  finger when they disagreed.
Dmiter started translating for me because they wanted to know what I did and where I was from, what I'd seen in Bulgaria, etc.  I thought it was nice how 6 strangers could become friends so fast. The old guy was a 30 year army veteran. Dmiter was probably 20 or so and studied history and Econ at the University in Veliko Tarnovo (VT). His English was pretty good. He started telling me about Bulgarian history and filling in the blanks about what I didn't know. He was very proud of his people and started talking about the political party he belonged to.
He showed me his party card and on the back, it had it's tenets. He translated them for me. But before he got to this point, he had told me about how Bulgarians hate the Turks after I told him I'm flying out of Istanbul. I asked if it's just him, or everyone here that hates them, and he said "everyone."
They also (according to him) hate the Greeks and the FYROM (that's the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to you).  It's a long story, but I think 3 countries want to use the name "Macedonia" and it's a very contentious issue. The FYROM has been in negotiations with Greece and the EU for years over the name.  The FYROM, the NE part of Greece, and the European part of Turkey are part of ancient Thrace and Macedonia, which "was all Bulgarian" he explained. Um, that was like 500 years ago.
Well, that about covered the borders, so I asked what he thought of Romanians. "Oh, they're OK. We have no problem with them." 
Naturally, I had to ask about Gypsies, even though I already knew the answer to that one.
So, when he read the basic tenets of his political party to me, they sounded innocuous enough. But after what he said, I had my doubts. I asked him how many seats his party had in their Parliament, and he said  "None. Yet."
Got it.
Then the old man wanted to know what I did. I told them and he immediately wanted to know what I make. "I'd rather not say" I  replied. This is a really common question in developing countries. I've been asked it more times than I can count and I learned not to bite.  
He responded with a knowing look and said that he knew I made up to 2,000 Euros a month. He was a little short of the mark, but we left it at that.
We arrived in VT, as I later came to call it, after hearing it at the hostel. It's a lot easier to say. We said our goodbyes and a guy from Hostel Mostel was waiting for me at the station. I had called (via Skype, on my netbook) to reserve a bed in a 6 bed dorm at what was picked as the best hostel in Europe last year by, the most popular site for booking a hostel.  

That was easy, so now I'm feeling my age a bit. It's so much easier now to find nice lodgings, what with sites like this, laptops, and smart phones. No more slogging your way through a town, up and down stairs of hotels and hostels on a hot day, only to be told that the Inn is full.  
Oh, the nightmares of Barcelona!
Two American women I met in Meteora, Greece said they reserve rooms on a bus with their Crackberries before they get to town.  Damn! They haggle with text or email via phone! In the country they're visiting! I  gave them a bit of the "back in the day" routine after that and how hard it used to be, and how you had to settle for crappy places so much because you were hot, tired, and needed a shower.  I think I even called them whippersnappers. 
Anyway, Hostel Mostel truly lived up to its reputation and it was one of the best hostels I stayed at in my life, and this was a trip full of great lodgings.  For about $15, you get free pickup at the train station, free coffee/tea all day, free internet and WiFi (crucial to today's travelers), a clean bed, a towel, free breakfast, a free dinner waiting for you and a free beer to go with it.  Amazing.  And when I left town the next day, they gave me a free ride back to the train station.
The staff were so authentically nice, it really took me by surprise.  Usually, when staff work with tourism, they burn out pretty fast. But whoever was running this ship knew what they were doing. When I arrived, about 10 people were sitting at several tables with soup, bread, and beer in front of them. They were waiting for me and the guy who picked me up.  I'm alway a little nervous when I first approach a group like this, but within minutes (as usual) everyone's fast friends after you get the "Where you from/Where you going" stuff  out of the way.
An Austrian guy about my age sat next to me and asked if the potato soup was OK. It was delicious, which made him happy since he made it.  He quit his job to travel for a year and was working at the hostel to hang out and do something constructive.  You could tell that he didn't need the money and the company was more important.
The artists from Bristol, England were on the other side of me and had just come from Transylvania. They joked about getting bit on the neck and wanting to sleep all day now.
Later that night, I enjoyed a few beers with Romanian bikers who rode down from Bucharest for the weekend.  And what a small world it is. One guy spoke English very well and after a beer, we discovered we both had worked on high speed document scanning projects. We swapped notes and laughed at the coincidence.
I had only one day left and made the most of it.  In the morning, the sun was out and the light was good. I explored the medieval fortress called Tsavarets, right near the hostel.  This was the seat of the Bulgar Empire in the middle ages. It was rebuilt mostly by the Russians after WWII and it was quite impressive, with grand views of the city.  VT is situated on a couple big hills on a horseshoe bend in the Yantra river.  It's a great place to build a citadel.  But, in the 1300's a traitor opened the gate during a siege, and the Ottoman Turks made quick work of it.  A hundred or so years later, they conquered Constantinople, my destination the next day, and the whole area was Ottoman. A few wars later, and some major European political moves, led Bulgaria to become independent. The Turks still have part of Eastern Thrace, the part that is European Turkey, and apparently, the Bulgarians are still bitter.
After the castle, I did my share of walking around the rest of town-  Lots and lots of shoe and clothing stores. My one stereotype of Bulgarians is that they love fashion, and the chicks are obsessed with shoes.  Tight jeans and thigh high boots with stiletto heels are in. How they walk on these cobblestone streets is anyone's guess. 

I met up with the British couple on the street later and we shared lunch at restaurant with sweeping views of the valley.  They were headed to Istanbul in a few days, and I gave them some advice and a restaurant recommendation.
Later, I got a free ride back to the train station, wishing I'd had more time to make new friends at the hostel.
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