Not the best choice, should I say. The train started very slowly (it took about 3 hours to get to the border), then stopped in Ruse and never went further, although my ticket was from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo. No-one bothered to offer me and my companions any explanations, so that is a yellow card to the Bulgarian railways. Add to this the problems we had coming back (like, we took the train from Gorno Orahovitsa, from a station where no-one was able to make some announcements for an international train in English, the train arrived 70 minutes late and stationed on a different line that the one announced on the panel) and that makes for a red card. So, after this experience, I say: do NOT go to Bulgaria by train and do NOT use the trains while in Bulgaria - you can get (unpleasant) surprises. I do not imply it is a rule, but two out of two is more than an accident, so it can happen.
Finally, we got to Veliko Tarnovo by bus. It was not simple to get tickets and the necessary information, as people do not speak foreign languages in a great measure (however, especially young people speak some English - some even do it well - while others manage pretty decently in German; also, I was very pleasantly surprised to see more than one person - including some of the organization stuff - speaking good Romanian).
An hour of delay from the original program and a lot of stress were the result of our journey from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo. The result was however worthy. The city, situated about 190 kilometers south from Bucharest and some 100+ kilometers from the northern border of Bulgaria, is a very pretty one.
I had the opportunity to check on my own skin the changes in the services sphere which took place in Bulgaria during the last years. The four star hotel Panorama, situated in the very center of Veliko Tarnovo, seemed to me by far the best hotel I ever stayed in. A ~30 sqm double room with a huge bathroom, a huge plasma TV set and the best panoramic view on Veliko Tarnovo made me feel hampered. Add to that the silk on the huge bed (it matters when you're like some 184 centimeters tall), the pool free of charge and the panoramic restaurant (benefiting of some good cooking). I inquired about the price for a double room such as mine, and I found out it is 60 euros/day (and 10% cheaper for an online reservation). The only small inconvenience was that wireless internet didn't work in the room, nor did the cable internet, because of a outlet malfunction, so I settled in the lobby bar to check on my mail.
I really enjoyed the restaurants and pubs - nice, cheap (prices at half as compared to Bucharest) and serving good food. Also, the beer was cheap too (for a man, it makes a difference), although not as good as the one available at home, and there was, too, a selection of Bulgarian decent red wines.
Since during the first two days I was busy with the conference (my presentation was programmed on the second day after the arrival) but also tired from the travel and the stress, the first real contact with the city was on Thursday night, together with some colleagues from Cluj. We visited the center of Veliko Tarnovo, walking through the old streets and wandering around the lake and the Asen monument until midnight. The second occasion to visit was on Friday, as we visited one of the oldest churches in Bulgaria - dating from the 13th century AD - and the village of Arbanassi, with some very nice examples of old Bulgarian houses and a wonderfully painted church disguised as a house, built during the Ottoman rule (the Bulgarians were not allowed at the time to build churches).
The last opportunity to visit was on Saturday nights, when our hosts guided the participants to the conference in the cultural/arts center of Veliko Tarnovo and held - especially for us - a cultural program. First, a local choir sang a few songs (some of them religious, some other popular Bulgarian tunes - and I have to say I preferred the interpretation of the last ones), and then a dance ensemble entertained us with popular - and splendid - Bulgarian dances, which I definitely loved.
I have to add that the weather was just perfect. It was warm and sunny - which is not common for Veliko Tarnovo in late November, so I could wear - without any concern - spring clothes.
Generally, my impression in Bulgaria is that the country did not recover yet fully from the Communist period (and even problems generated by the former Ottoman rule are still visible). That translates in poorness, some bad roads (in any case, worst than in Romania, which all Romanians know holds the worst roads in the world - or not?) and grieved people, fighting to survive an endless transition. I also felt sorry for the wonderful hotels and bars, empty because of the crisis, although their offer is fine.
In the end, in place of a conclusion, I put Veliko Tarnovo on the list of places to visit again. It is as close as Prahova Valley (if you live in Bucharest), but much cheaper and, in my view, more civilized. Do not be surprised if I pay it a visit, again, in the near future.