Excerpt from Chapter 9: Veliko Tarnovo

Elder Nelson was moved to Tarnovo, the ancient capital of Kingdom Bulgaria. He had six months left from his mission. His companion there was a missionary from Austria who had a very interesting background.

Tarnovo welcomed elder Nelson with rain. The air smelled like freshly-made “lyutenitsa.” Autumn was quietly settling in its brown uniform on the crowns of the trees. Something that the guest found interesting right away was how steep the streets were. In this city the business of brake parts for cars was obviously very profitable and that of selling bicycles – weak and almost non-existent. And what strong calves the local women had!

The taxi stopped in front of the missionary flat. Elder Nelson paid the fare and took his suitcases from the unshaven driver. His new companion met him smiling at the doors of the apartment.

“Welcome! Please, come in! This is our missionary flat. This is where we leave our shoes and this is the living room” said the elder in good English. “Let me introduce myself – my name is elder Adolf Hitler!”

Elder Nelson hadn’t had a chance to see his name tag and decided that he was joking. This happened quite often between the missionaries, especially when someone was moving and going to a new flat in a new city.

“Nice to meet you too. My name is elder Franklin Roosevelt!” he decided to answer to get in the tone of the joke, although he didn’t feel like making jokes after the long journey. At that moment elder Nelson turned around facing the Austrian and read his name tag. His face froze, his smile disappeared and he whispered: “Excuse me, but… elder, is this your real name?”

“Yes, this is my name! It’s ok, I am used to this! You are not the first to react this way,” said elder Hitler. “This is my name. I was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria and I am a relative of the Fuhrer. My family and I are active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I am blessed to be serving my mission in Bulgaria. True, my name creates some difficulties, but even people with my surname deserve to hear the Gospel, repent, and be obedient children of God, right? And you are…?”

“I apologize again!” said the newcomer. “My name is Mathew Nelson and I am from Vernal, Utah. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to see the apartment and unpack. Is this the bathroom? Oh, we also have a balcony? Great! And the view is pretty good!”

Down low, the river Yantra made a big almost round turn, crossing with its silver waters the most beautiful part of Tarnovo. A picturesque small bridge connected the two epochs – the ancient fortress and Tarnovo University. You could see all of this from the small missionary balcony.

It was time for lunch. The two missionaries decided to go to the nearby pizzeria. The rain had stopped and the sun was trying to make its way through the clouds. On the way, they passed by the famous Tarnovo khan “Haji Nikoli.” Perfectly renovated, the khan was one of the main attractions at the old “Samovodska Charshia” with the expositions of paintings and icons there. Ironically, this symbol of Bulgarians was currently owned by an American. The missionaries agreed they will see the khan the next day and hurried to the pizzeria. They finally arrived, went in, took their trench coats off and went to look for an available table. It was still early and there were not so many people; usually the locals filled the restaurant around 2 p.m. They chose a table and were just about to sit down when an aging waiter with lifted right arm stood in front of them and wittily exclaimed: “Heil Hitler!”

Elder Nelson could not say a word from anger, amazement, and distress, while his colleague sourly smiled and said, “Bai Georgi, stop with these jokes, we are friends. Let’s stay that way. Do you want me and my companion to never step in here again?” Elder Hitler then turned towards his colleague and said: “I apologize. They know me since we come in here quite often to eat and they sometimes joke like that. I put up with it just because they cook so well. I recommend vegetarian sarmi with vine leaves, m-m-m!”

Veliko Tarnovo is a place that everyone has to visit if they don’t live there. The glorious fortress “Tsarevets” is one of the few preserved monuments of the mediaeval times and wakes up patriotism in Bulgarians for a reason! Here, between the ancient walls, the Baldwin Tower and the functioning Orthodox Church, bring strength and pride to every true Bulgarian. Only here they can feel like a bolyar descendant, at least to some extent – even if they were born in Bourgas or Melnik.