Bulgarian wines don’t give you hangovers, they said.

That time the guide books told us that Bulgarian wine doesn’t give you hangovers, so in the name of Science we tested that theory.

Where? Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

When? July 2015

With whom? Alone

In 2015 I made my way very slowly from London to Singapore overland. I went quickly through Europe because it’s right there and from north coast to the Bosphorus in Turkey took 11 days. Bulgaria was a stop on the journey and I read up on it in Lonely Planet guidebooks and various others, each of them had a few recommendations in common including the suggestion of trying out the local wine as it is unique in that it doesn’t give you hangovers. As a sceptical young traveller I thought the only way to test that theory was to get a group of people to drink it all day and see how we were feeling the following morning.

I was camping outside of the former capital,  Veliko Tarnovo, and used the wifi to find there was a free walking tour of the city. These exist all over Europe and are well worth trying out – they usually last a couple of hours but in my experience they give you a feel for the city and allow you to revisit sites of particular interest later on in your stay. All that the tour guides ask for is a tip that you feel is fair at the end of the tour.

Public transport didn’t extend as far as the campsite so I walked to the centre, which took about two hours. The campsite was next to a sunflower field and surrounded by mountains with a reservoir in the distance. Yellows stretched as far as you could see to heights well above my head, with sharp jagged edges of the mountain peaking out from behind. The walk was just as beautiful and I followed a river down towards the town where some fancy-looking bridges looked majestic against the gorge behind.

The tour started at 11am outside the tourist office and we walked first down the market street as we listened to the history of Veliko. From what I got from the story, there were a lot of people executed here. In one shop on the main street, we stopped to try on this furry mask – it was huge. Not just huge to me, actually huge – it came down to my torso. Legend has it that this mask wards off evil spirits. It was pretty stuffy inside.

The gradient of the town meant that buildings had to compensate, and on one street a building might have n storeys but on the next street down the same building has n+x storeys (n and x both positive integers). For example, the same building on one street had 5 floors and on the next street down had 17 floors. We walked across “failed suicide bridge” named imaginatively after the number of failed suicide attempts taken place there. It led to the memorial statue of the liberation from the Ottoman Empire. It was a spire surrounded by four massive horses representing the four kings.

After the walking tour I had recruited two Canadians, two Americans, another Brit, and a Kiwi to join me in testing out the wine theory. We found ourselves a bar and decided our warmup would be a pint before moving onto the local wine. We bar crawled our way towards the city’s fortress but when we finally made it to the fortress, it was closed! Too much time spent on the wine! Alas.

So we went in anyway. Two bottles of Bulgarian wine in and we were taking what we thought were hilarious photos of the castle. We then vaguely remember being escorted off the premises by the police.

The campsite was set up by two expats who had built it from scratch, including the bar. I woke up the next morning feeling very sorry for myself. My head hurt so much I could barely move. I packed up my tent, mat and sleeping bag taking 1.5 times as long as normal and lay down.  On the way into Turkey I didn’t move for the entirety of the journey apart from the border crossing. Bulgarian wine may not give you hangovers, but beer, Bulgarian wine, more beer, more wine and tequila definitely does give you a hangover.

Info: The campsite was called Veliko Tarnovo Camping, and was such a pretty little place with nice bathroom facilities. A lot of the people I met on the walking tour were staying at and raving about Hostel Mostel, and there’s one of these in Sofia too. Buses are the best way to get around Bulgaria from place to place, and can even get you to and from Romania.

Tip of the week: The free walking tours are a great way to meet people. I met some awesome people on this one in Veliko and others on the one I did in Bucharest. In both cases I ended up spending the whole day with the new people I’d met and had a great time exploring new places with them.

Product of the week: At the campsite I did a clothes wash – I took a 65 litre bag to last me 6 months on the road. This had to include my tent, camping mat and sleeping bag, so I only bought a week’s worth of underwear, two short-sleeved tops, one long sleeved, a jumper, shorts, skirt and trousers. I wore the same clothes way too often without washing them to be hygienic, but when I had the chance I was grateful for Woolite Hand & Machine Wash. I decanted into a smaller bottle before I left London and it lasted me my entire trip.

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