Try a Trabie with Classic Car Holidays

Driving through narrow lanes and peering out of the little windscreen, I feel like I can just keep trundling back in time for miles yet. I imagine myself setting off on an adventure with my battered, old suitcase on the Trabant’s back seat in the days before motorways and traffic as we know it. Meandering through villages, waving at locals en route, passing horses and carts working in fields, only stopping for a bite to eat before continuing with my journey on the open roads.

If this sounds like an idyllic secret pleasure to you, then it could become your reality too.

Classic Car Holidays

Classic Car Holidays is a new venture based near Veliko Tarnovo which is offering self-drive holidays, either for day tours in the local area, or longer tours around the Balkans, and from the comfort of your very own Soviet designed, iconic Trabant. The brains, inspiration and CEO of the company, Neil, was motivated by his own nostalgia for classic cars, and Bulgaria seemed to be the perfect choice to showcase the combined aspects of the country and a unique driving experience: ‘The Trabant is Bulgaria in it’s mechanical form. It fits Bulgaria: simple, robust and keeps on going regardless. This also applies to Bulgaria and its people.’ And he should know, having travelled and lived in Bulgaria for a number of years, the tour itineraries have been hand-picked from his familiarity and knowledge.

Classic Car Holidays

One of the first things that might come in most people’s minds when they think of a Trabant is its reputation as being an unreliable vehicle, but fear not, as this pristine fleet of ten classic cars is kept in tip top condition. CCH works with two very passionate and enthusiastic Bulgarian experts, Macho and Toncho, who maintain each vehicle with great attention to care and detail. The cars themselves have been sourced from all corners of the country, and are often abandoned or in need of an comprehensive overhaul before lovingly being restored to their former glory and ready to be taken back the road.

Classic Car Holidays

If you have any further doubts, rest assured that the tours are accompanied by support vehicles and Neil as your guide. They drive either in front or behind you so you can enjoy the authentic driving experience safe in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong, help is never too far away. Additionally, cars are fitted with GPS, phones and tracking so you have peace of mind and they’ll always know where you are.

As Neil explains, ‘we aim to offer flexibility so that clients feel hosted, not herded. We are determined our guests feel like it’s their holiday, not ours.’ This said, he stresses that they’re always on hand for advice about local attractions, restaurants, etc but ultimately, ‘you can be as independent as you want to be.’

Classic Car Holidays

It’s both common and easy to make fun of the Trabant, usually for it’s basic design: a body made from Duroplast, not dissimilar to fibreglass, two-stroke engine and it’s tiny frame belching out smoke, but this symbolic icon of Communism is also a fabulous example of inspired ingenuity that just keeps on chugging away. However, you don’t have to be a Trabie fan to experience the Balkan countryside in this way, just a desire to do something different…and here’s how:

Try a Trabie for a Day Tour

If you’re visiting Veliko Tarnovo and are looking for something different to do whilst wanting to explore more of the surrounding area, then their Day Tours are an ideal solution. CCH offer Countryside Tours to the local attractions of Dryanovo and Tryavna, or Bespoke Tours, tailored to your personal specifications, to other landmarks in the area. Drive yourself to caves, monasteries or waterfalls and experience a Trabant on the open roads to see the beauty of the Bulgarian countryside further.

Try a Trabie for a Week

Whereas many Eastern European cities offer the experience of driving a Trabant, it’s very often only for a few short hours, a day if you’re lucky, but with Classic Car Holidays, you also get the opportunity to take one on holiday for a whole week! Routes to and around Bulgaria, Macedonia and Romania have been carefully chosen so only scenic itineraries have been mapped out, allowing you to drive, stop off and simply do as you please at your own leisure. They also take the stress out of organising your travel plans by arranging all your overnight stays in 3/4 star hotels, which, along with your fuel, insurance and airport transfers are included in the price.

Travelin2bulgaria Tries a Trabie

So, what’s it really like to Try a Trabie? Neil kindly offered me a test run in one of his fleet of Trabants who runs by the name of Chantilly, and I jump at the chance, despite my initial nervousness. Before I get in the driver’s seat, Neil talks me through the mechanics and gears as he steers her first, a procedure that every driver goes through before taking the wheel themselves.

Classic Car Holidays

When it comes to my turn, it takes a few kilometers to get used to the pedals and gear changes, but after a while, I get accustomed to the feel of her, start to relax and enjoy the drive. I’m surprised how comfortable it is, and although I’m concentrating on the road, we barely encounter much traffic in these winding lanes and my imagination starts to wander. Anyone who’s driven a Trabant would know it’s certainly not about speed but the actual experience of the car, and in this instance, also enjoying the landscapes at your own pace.

(Disclosure: I received a complimentary drive with Classic Car Holidays in exchange for posting my honest review. All opinions are my own and reflect my personal experience.)

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Want to Try a Trabie with Classic Car Holidays? Check out their website or Facebook Page for more detailed information, pricing and itineraries. In the meantime, get a taster with this promo video from the team.

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Visit Tsarevets and Trapezitsa Fortresses in Veliko Tarnovo

Visit Tsarevets Fortress

It’s safe to say that the biggest attraction In Veliko Tarnovo is the Tsarevets Fortress that dominates the landscape of the city. Tourists, from Bulgaria and beyond, flock to visit the ‘castle on the hill’ and wander around the old Capital’s ruins for a visual lesson in Bulgarian history.

Museums in Veliko Tarnovo

As with many historical places in Bulgaria, Tsarevets’ construction and subsequent reconstructions have suffered turbulent times: initially the Thracians and Romans used it in defensive conflict but it was the Byzantines who built the first important fortress (5th to 7th centuries AD). Later, it was rebuilt by the Slavs and Bulgars before the Byzantines fortified it once again in the early 12th century. But it was the years between 1185-1393 when Tarnovgrad was the Second Bulgarian Empire, that Tsarevets became notorious for its magnificence…until the Ottomans destroyed it yet again.

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Walking past the entrance’s lion sculpture and up the cobbled path to the gateway, will take you left and along the castle’s walls. Wander northwards, you’ll see the Execution Rock, from where traitors were pushed into the Yantra River. In addition to the fabulous views at the top, you’ll pass the bells, used to their full effect for the Sound & Light Show.  Its hard to imagine that many of these remains once belonged to monasteries, numerous churches, grand houses of the aristocracy and hundreds of dwellings on this hilltop.

There has been extensive restoration of the Church of Ascension which was rebuilt on the foundations of the Royal Palace where no less than 22 kings ruled Bulgaria from. Originally constructed around 1235, it was then reconstructed in 1981 when the interior’s modernist and detailed frescoes were also created. Although they may not be to everyone’s tastes, on first sight these colourful murals will most certainly take you by surprise – good or bad!

Tips for Going to Tsarevets Fortress

  • Visiting Tsarevets is an all season venue but beware that in the summer months it can get hot up there so you’re best planning your visit early mornings or late afternoons.
  • There is a small cafe on site but you’d be advised to take water in the hot weather.
  • The Sound & Light show is free to watch on official holidays; on other occasions, tickets can be bought from the tourist centre in VT where you have the opportunity to watch it from the viewing tower. You can still watch it for free from the street if you catch it on the day others have paid. A full itinerary is here for this year.

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Additional Info:

Open: 9:00am-18:00pm, Apr-Oct – 9:00am-17:00pm, Nov-Mar

Closed  Mon 9:00am-12:00pm (Last admission 1hr before closing)

 Admission: 6 lev (adults) 2 lev (students)
Children under 7-free

Free admission the last Thursday of the month
Amateur photography 5 leva
Guide services in a foreign language 20 – 30 leva

Website

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Visit Trapezitsa Fortress

Museums in Veliko Tarnovo

After many years of restoration, Trapezitsa Fortress, finally opened to the public at the end of last year. There are two ways of travelling to the top: the first is simply, to walk your way up the hill, and the second is by an inclined lift which leaves from the newly-built, historic railway station of Trapezitsa. Travelling by the funicular takes only a few moments but once you’re at the top, incredible panoramic views of Veliko Tarnovo can be seen.

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Surrounded by three sides of the Yantra river, the second most important fortified hill of medieval Tarnovgrad comprises of a modern Visitor Centre in addition to the partially-built fortress. Inside here you’re able to see collections of artifacts found by archaeologists and includes fragments medieval frescoes, tools and household items made from bronze or bones. In contrast to Tsarevets, information is available in English and interactive screens offer more detailed records.

Museums in Veliko Tarnovo

Whilst some areas have been left completely untouched, other parts have been partially or fully rebuilt although the fortress isn’t currently open to venture inside. However, it’s the magnificent landscape scene that really make this a great experience to visit.

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Additional Info: 

Open: 9:00am-18:00pm, Apr-Oct – 9:00am-17:30pm, Nov-Mar

Closed Tue 9:00am-12:00pm (last admission 1hr before closing)

Admission if you walk:  6 lv (adults) 2 lv (students) 3leva (OAPs); under 7s and people with disabilities are free.

Admission with lift: 16lv (adults), 12lv (students) 5lv (disability); family tickets for up to 3 children is 26lv

Map & Website

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‘Visit Tsarevets and Trapezitsa Fortresses in Veliko Tarnovo’ is the second part in a series of articles on Museums in Veliko Tarnovo. Part 1 can be found here. Have you been to any of the museums? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment box below 🙂

Prebrazhenski Eco-Trail & Kartal Waterfalls

Beyond the small, cobbled hills of Varusha in the old town of Veliko Tarnovo are well worn paths that will take you on various routes out of the city and into the countryside. Hike through gorges, waterfalls and craggy rock formations and be prepared to immerse yourself in awe-inspiring scenery. Without a map, it’s sometimes pot luck which path to take so you just have to follow your instincts to keep on the right direction although there are occasional red or white trail markings you can follow.

Route 1 from Prebrazhenski Monastery

A good starting point to take is above the Prebrazhenski Monastery. If you follow the track to the left of the Monastery, past the cemetery and travel upwards, you’ll come to the Belyakovo Plateau. There are some steep parts but there is an alternative way around that isn’t so vertically challenged; just be aware that it can be very slippery when it’s muddy! Once at the top, you’ll have the most fantastic views over the rolling landscape that stretches for miles. You can choose to continue north towards the village of Samovodene, or take the route back towards Tarnovo.

Route 2 from Veliko Tarnovo

From Veliko Tarnovo, you can start the route in one of two points – from behind Varusha or at the top of the Kartal district- but so many of the paths intertwine so as long as you know the direction of where you want to go, one of these ways will take you to Prebrazhenski Monastery.  The walk is about 7km and is relatively easy for all abilities of walkers with only a couple of awkward uphill sections. The route will take you through beautiful wooded areas, over rickety bridges, passing along small rivers and the Kartal Waterfalls.

Maps, online or otherwise, of these routes are few and far between but you can buy a map in Bulgarian from the Tourist Information Centre in Veliko Tarnovo for 2lv.

PREBRAZHENSKI ECO-TRAIL & KARTEL WATERFALLS

Happy hiking!

 

 

 

 

Museums in Veliko Tarnovo

Considering Veliko Tarnovo has a rich cultural history, it’s not surprising that its museums reflect the historical stories and treasures found in the region; even the buildings themselves have their own contribution to the old capital’s narrative. Here is the start of a three part guide to Museums in Veliko Tarnovo.

Top Tips for Museums in Veliko Tarnovo

  • Unless your Bulgarian language is pretty fluent, you might struggle with the descriptions of artifacts and explanations as not everything is labelled in English in the majority of the museums. You can, however, for an extra expense, hire a guide service for around 20-30 Leva.
  • On the last Thursday of every month, all the museums offer FREE entry except for the Wax Museum.
  • Although some attendants are not so strict, be aware that you might have to pay an extra fee (5lv) for taking photographs.
  • Two day individual ticket for 10 museum tickets 20 Leva
    Two day family ticket (up to 3 children)for 10 museum tickets 30 Leva

Archaeological Museum

Museums in Veliko Tarnovo

When you walk into the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum, you’re met with an assortment of Roman sculptures, many of which come from nearby Nikopolis ad Istrum, as do some of the clay objects on display. Inside this impressive, old building are historical relics from prehistoric to Medieval times. One of the most treasured exhibits is one of the oldest pieces of gold in the world (found in a local village, Hotnitsa) which dates back to 4100 BC. Other highlights include Tarnovo ceramics, pottery, tools and jewellery from prominent Bulgarian rulers.

Open: 09:00-18:00 April-October – 09:00-17:30 November-March – Closed Mon

Additional Information: Admission  6 Leva (Adults) 2 Leva (Students)
Children under 7 – free

Address: Ivanka Boteva Str. 2, Veliko Tarnovo 

Website

 The Museum of The Bulgarian Revival and the Constituent Assembly

Museums in Veliko Tarnovo

Adjacent to the Archaeological Museum is the building where, in 1879, played its part in hosting the Constituent National Assembly of the Third Bulgarian State (formally, the Turkish Town Hall, Konak). Here you can see the recently refurbished, magnificent parliament room where the first Bulgarian Constitution was formulated. Two other floors have exhibits of old photos, documents, art and objects from 15th to the 19th centuries and a vast collection of icon paintings which contribute to the background of the region’s struggle from the Ottoman Empire and the economic development of the region during the Revival period.

Open: 9:00am-18:00pm April to October – 9:00am-17:30pm November to March – Closed Tue 9:00am-12:00pm

Additional Info: Admission  6 leva(adults) 2 leva(students)
Children under 7 – free

Address: ul Ivanka Botev

Website

Tsarevgrad Tarnov (Multimedia Wax Museum)

Tsarevgrad Tarnov, Wax Museum, Veliko Tarnovo

By far the most modern and kid-friendly museum is the Multi-Media Visitor Centre, also known as the Wax Museum. Here you’ll find a unique collection of medieval, wax characters – clergy, soldiers, craftspeople and rulers – set within authentic scenes. Walk through important figures from the Middle Ages including: ordinary peasant’s homes, a medieval chapel, the Throne Hall of Tsar Ivan Assen II, Tsar Kaloyan’s Coronation ceremony and a reproduction of the Tsarvet’s Defence Battle. Information is in English and you can also get to grips with history using their interactive computers.

Open: 9am-7pm Tue-Sun, 12.30-7pm Mon

Additional Info:  Admission: 10lv (adult) 5lv (child)

Address & Map: ul Nikola Pikolo 6

Preobrazhenski Monastery

Preobrazhenski Monastery, or Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration of God to give it the full name, is situated 7km out of Veliko Tarnovo off the road to Russe. It’s the biggest in the Veliko Tarnovo area, fourth largest in Bulgaria and can be busy at the weekends with visitors from all over coming to admire its frescoed church and stunning landscape views.

Walking through the monastery’s archway, beyond the ramshackled first impressions of old relics abandoned in the neglected entrance, lies a beautifully decorated little church. Exploring the faded, fresco artwork around the outside reveals the usual religious icons you’d expect, but also menacing scenes between devils and sinners, reminding me of similar scenes at Rila Monastery. More famously is the colourful Wheel of Fortune which depicts the stages of human existence combined with allegorical representations of the four seasons.

The Monastery, and its ensemble of buildings, lies to the side of the church and below the crags that carve out the backdrop. Founded during the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1360, further south from its current position, it was later burned, pillaged and finally abandoned during the Ottoman rule. The current reconstruction began in the 1820’s with two of Bulgaria’s famous artisans from the Revival Period, Kolyo Ficheto (architect) and Zalhari Zograf (fresco painting), leading the inspired vision.

Since then, many of the original outer buildings have disappeared over time and the biggest threat seems to be the repeated falls of rock boulders from above, some of which you can see have landed in random places throughout the terrain. The Clock Tower still stands and you can take the steps to the top and enjoy the ancient view. Look out for the Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Sveta Troitsa), a convent which lies directly opposite the monastery in the Dervent Gorge.

Preobrazhenski Monastery

If You Visit Preobrazhenski Monastery…

  • If you haven’t got a car, a taxi from Tarnovo will cost you around 7lv.
  • There are buses that run to the village of Samovodene which leaves every 20mins from the bus stop next to the Shtastlivestsa restaurant. It can drop you off at the turning on the main road below the monastery turning. You then have to take a 3km walk upwards along a potholed road into the forest.
  • Alternatively, you can walk from the back of Varusha, about 7km
  • Entrance is free but there is a 2lv charge to go into the church
  • Open everyday, 9am – 6pm