My day and a half in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria and the surrounding area was exactly what I was picturing when I decided to do a little solo travel. There were mountains, trees, a beautiful fortress, wonderful people and a random festival. As if that was not enough, I also had one of the most adventurous, scary, and strange excursions, EVER!
I arrived at the bus station around dusk and took a lovely stroll down to my hostel, which was located in the old part of town, down by the river at the base of the fortress. The hostel was still serving dinner (fo’ free!!!) so I chowed down while getting to know some of my hostel-mates. A few of them had heard about a light and sound show at the fortress, so after dark we walked up and joined the crowd that had gathered at the base and watched, no experienced, a show of sorts with music and choreographed lighting. It was emotional and colorful and astounding and totally wonderful; the perfect way to start my time in this strange and magical region.
When I was researching where to go in Bulgaria I messaged the one person I know who had been there and he told me I could absolutely not skip Buzludzha. Never heard of it? Neither has almost anyone else. But after his high recommendation (the best thing he did during his whole year in Europe!) and a little Google-ing I decided that I simply had to go. So what exactly is this mystery building and why did I want to go there? Well first of all, there is the fact that it looks like a spaceship. On top of a mountain. With a tower. See?
Then there’s the fact that it is an old (well, not really old… it was built in 1981) Communist building that was once beautiful and sparkling with mosaics covering the walls and is now a dilapidated remnant of this not-so-awesome part of history. Technically you are not supposed to enter this building, as is indicated by locked doors with locked gates in front of them. Luckily for us determined seekers of random historical experiences, someone has created a hole through which you can climb to enter the abandoned building to explore.
The problem is that this abandoned communist spaceship is not on any bus line and no one really does tours of it because it is not really what one would consider an “attraction”. However, since getting to the dilapidated UFO was at the top of my to do list in Veliko Tarnovo, a lack of public transport could not deter me and I had to turn to a newly discovered (well, new to me) form of transportation: the rental car!! A group of us decided to pitch in and for $11 each (including gas!) we were able to visit not only Buzludzha, but a few other hidden Bulgarian gems as well. Our group represented four continents (none of which was Europe) and we spent a wonderful day exploring, laughing, sharing stories and giving words of encouragement. The encouragement was mostly reserved for our driver, an American who had really never driven a stick before but did an amazing job getting us around the area.
Our first stop was a Bulgarian memorial on top of a mountain where the views of the surrounding countryside was beautiful.
On the adjacent mountaintop was the main draw of the day, the spaceship itself!! We climbed up the hill and then through the hole and into the UFO. One of the workers at our hostel had told us how to find the tunnel (the DARK, scary tunnel), which would lead us to the bottom of the tower, where we would find the ladder to climb up the 250-foot tower (the DARK, scary tower). And climb it we did. The other American had the foresight to bring a lantern and he led the way up the metal ladders, which seemed never-ending. I am not particularly scared of heights or the dark, but the combo of the two and the fact that we were in a haunted feeling, abandoned building equaled a truly terrified me. The four of us who decided to make the climb did so in silence, until we got to the top, where we marveled at the view and gave ourselves hearty pats on the back for making the climb.
After descending the tower we got back in the car and drove down the valley, making our way to the rose capital of Bulgaria (and possibly the world), Kazanluk, where they were having a rose festival. We wandered around for a bit, enjoying the festival before heading back to Veliko Tarnovo. On the way we found a beautiful golden domed church, where we of course had to stop and take some pictures.
Buzludzha was everything I hoped that it would be, and then some. Our day trip around Bulgaria was one of the best days I have had traveling, and it was easily the best day I had on my solo-week. I was sad to leave Veliko Tarnovo the next day, but since I was not going too far I decided to get a little last minute sightseeing in and first thing I went up to the fortress for a little exploration. Before I left town I also took the free walking tour, where I learned that the Cyrillic alphabet was actually invented in Bulgaria and I got to try on this cool headdress.
I loved Veliko Tarnovo and I wish I had been able to spend more time there, but alas, the Black Sea was calling and it was almost time for Logan and I to be reunited!!