June 30, 2009

Bulgaria on my mind

There's a town in Bulgaria that took up residence in a tiny corner of my mind some 20 years ago and still lives there. Over the past two decades I've thought of it hundreds of times, the fairy tale town I looked down on but never entered.

I was in a speeding bus on a high, smooth highway, enroute from Sofia, Bulgaria to Bucharest, Romania. I looked out the window and saw a magical, red-roofed town nestled between and climbing up hills covered in deep forest. I snapped one photo.

The sight of the town made me hold my breath, hoping that the highway we were riding on would curve down and to the left and that we would enter this beautiful place, if only to ride through it without stopping. That would be enough. To enter it and roll through some piece of it, so I could take it in up close.

But the bus kept speeding along the elevated highway, and the town was gone from my sight within a minute.

"What was that place?" I asked my busmates. Someone said, "Veliko Tarnovo."

Veliko Tarnovo, ancient town, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, bursting with history and superb architecture and one of the foremost tourist destinations in Bulgaria.

I have never forgotten its name. I did not go there. But I know it's beautiful.