Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria: A Playground for Easily Amused Big Kids


Are There Tri-Peds Here?

We arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria after an uneventful — although cramped — minibus ride from Plovdiv. (See Pat’s Plovdiv post if you missed it… ahem… Mom and Dad.) A taxi took us into town from the bus station and up a hill to our apartment. It seems like we are always up a hill, doesn’t it? Oh well, it’s good exercise and Bulgarian food is not the type that makes one lean.

Veliko Tarnovo on the hills along a winding river

We got out for a ¬†stroll around town and dropped into the tourist information office. On our way, we passed a few restaurants, many clothing stores, and an obscene number of shoe stores. Veliko Tarnovo isn’t a very large city. Who is buying all of these clothes and shoes? Do people have a non-standard number of feet in this area? Our questions went unanswered and if there were tri-peds and quadra-peds, they were kept out of public view.

The game is afoot!


A Challenge Was Presented

After a short walk, we arrived at the Tourist Information office where we obtained a map of the town and tickets for the much talked about Light and Sound Show. The tourist office volunteer asked if we were planning to tour the fort, to which we nodded, and asked if we’d like to play an adventure game. Of course! Well, at least I thought it sounded like fun. He handed us a booklet filled with clues for the scavenger hunt/mystery game to be played in Tsarevets Fort. Time to get to work!

Off toward the fort we went, past oodles of clothing and shoe stores. Pat was eyeing a pair of silver sequined open-toed platform shoes for himself. He has the legs for that type of shoe you know. I had to remind him that they were hardly appropriate for scrambling around a fort trying to solve a mystery and a bear to pack to boot. He pouted a bit but agreed, so we continued.


First Things First

At the foot of the hill, where the fort loomed large, we figured it was our duty to be properly fed and watered before embarking on our mystery-solving quest. You see, once we solved all of the riddles and found the related symbols we would know who stole the keys — that was the mystery. We were to return to the Tourist Information Office with the name and then we’d be rewarded with why this person stole the keys.

We ate a very Bulgarian lunch. I had a bowl of cold yogurt, cucumber, dill, and walnut soup. Pretty good and nice and light on a hot day. To my surprise, Pat ordered pig’s ears. I think we were both expecting something crunchy and salty like chicharrones. What he got were chewy, greasy, gristly, bland, pig-bits and they weren’t nearly as good as that sounds. Nevermind, we had a mystery to solve!

Chewy, greasy, gristly, bland pig’s ears. Mmm mmm. At least the fries weren’t bad.

The Game Is Afoot!

The guy at the tourist information office told us to take a picture of the map at the entrance to the fort. “It will help with the clues,” he said. We did as suggested then read the first clue scanning the text for a landmark. Third gate? There is no third gate on the map! Where the heck is the third gate?

“So, this is supposed to be fun?” Pat asked. I told him he couldn’t quit already and read the second clue. Ok, this time the landmark in the clue was on the map. We clambered over a small section of ruined fort houses for about 15 minutes and found the symbol. Pat grunted, “Great fun.” I glared at him and read the next clue.

The imposing and monstrous Tsaverets Fort on the hill

We had a couple of successes in a row, then got stuck again. The next symbol was supposed to be found in a church’s ruins. The church was marked on the map so we went there and crawled all over the area — undoubtedly in places we shouldn’t have been. Although the game was probably meant for six to twelve-year-olds, we were getting to the point of cursing.

“This doesn’t even look like a friggin’ church!” Pat intimated to me and anyone within a 50-meter radius. It didn’t look like church ruins to me either so I said, “OK, let’s go.” I read the next clue. Pat scowled. We silently walked down the path.


Completing the Mission

According to the map we had arrived at the monastery. It looked more like the foundation of a church to us. Sure enough, we found the symbol from the previous clue. Maybe the Bulgarian version of the clues was better. Maybe we just stink at games. Pat wasn’t very amused. I tried to cheer him up by saying we were really getting our money’s worth out of the entrance tickets. That didn’t go over very well…

“How many clues are there?” Pat demanded. I told him there were nine. We had four to go and already missed one. He glowered. We had been at it a good two hours by this time.

With a bit of tension in the air, we traipsed around for another hour and found one more symbol. The fort was huge and very interesting despite the game. We went five for nine and headed back to our room.


Now for Some Real Entertainment

After a shower, some food, and some wine, we went down to the Light and Sound show. You can see it from the square or from a private viewing platform with a nice sound system. Basically, colored lights and lasers dance on and around the massive fort and light up the night sky. The music was written specifically for the show and signified the rise and fall and rise of the city. It was a very unique experience and far less exhausting than the scavenger hunt.

Mystery Solved!

Speaking of the scavenger hunt… we took our book with scribbles of the symbols back to the tourist information office. Since we didn’t get all of the symbols, we had to take a quiz. We aced it! They gave us a commemorative key and the secret revealed by the symbols. Oh my! What a story! I’d share it with you, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise in case you decide to play.

Veliko Tarnovo was one of those unexpected little gems. There was much more to it than the fort. It had great restaurants, pretty parks, and a friendly vibe. Pat got a little electrocuted, but that’s another story. So if you are in Bulgaria, it is worth a few days to visit and don’t forget to leave a few hours open to solve the mystery in the fort!

Hike Drink Live Laugh

The a/c unit that mildly electrocuted Pat


Probably the weirdest looking hotel we have ever seen. The rooms had little balconies the size of diving boards.

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