Ruse and Veliko Tarnovo

The next stop on our vacation was Ruse, a city on the Danube and on the border with Romania, that is sometimes called a “Little Vienna.”

Imagine Vienna on a tiny scale, and what it might look like if nobody had been maintaining it for the last 200 years; if weather and time were allowed to claim its beauty, and no craftsmen continually polished and painted every cornice and window pane. Then add burger bars, graffiti, and pigeons to the crumbled Baroque architecture, and I guess this could be very charming or very sad, depending on how much you love Vienna? Ruse is not quite the Vienna we know, but the rooflines were familiar enough to make us all a little homesick.

The Seven Generations Winery, however, quickly restored our faith in Ruse. We drove up to a rolling vineyard and an infinity pool gleaming in the afternoon sun, straight out of Italy or maybe Napa. We had dinner al fresco, as the orange light of the sun warmed our cheese plate.

History oozed from the house’s thick wooden beams and the bed was so comfortable, I took a picture of the mattress. Despite being aged though, nothing felt old, and the carafe of house wine was perfect.

In the morning, Mike and I went searching for a trail down to the Danube. My greatest blessing is that I have a husband who loves me enough to wake up early and wade through the weeds, even though he’d rather be sleeping. I love this guy. He skipped rocks with the boys and we discussed river cruises, wondering if one day the Danube cruise lines might eventually make it to Bulgaria, too,

The last stop on our journey was Veliko Tarnovo, a city that clings to a winding riverbank and is famous for its looming medieval fortress. The town itself is a labyrinth of wooden houses and cobblestone lanes, barely wide enough to allow a car to pass. Most of the hotels are historic homes that have been restored and turned into guesthouses.

Breezy cafes and restaurants joined artwork and weird, Soviet things.

We explored the fortress….

Visited an outdoor miniature museum….

….and tried some of the local sweets.

But despite the fortresses and museums, the best part of the day was the car wash! With the hoses and air dyers and soap flying everywhere, I’m reminded how unexpectedly wonderful it is to be the mother of boys.

It is a blessing to have our kids still with us, to live close together as a family when we’re already on borrowed time. At this age they should be pushing off, but instead I get to hear about their video games and the funny things the swim coach says. These kids, more than any fortress or cobblestone street, are the life experience I will never have again.

The moments I notice now are collecting shells, watching seagulls swoop at sunset, jumping away from waves as we run down the beach, and maybe hearing an occasional hope or dream, which only happens if we’re listening.

So we keep listening, as well as we can, while we still have the chance.