15 August 2013

from Blagoevgrad to Sapareva banya
Geyser?
bad hotel
bad food

We are heading out to do the 7 lakes walk.  This is supposed to be one of the best nature walks in all of Bulgaria.  There are a few towns to choose from for accommodation, and we decided to go to Sapareva.  All the rest are ski resort towns, and this is supposed to be a proper town.

SBpostchurchIt was pretty easy getting the bus out there, we could go directly from Blagoevgrad.  On arriving in town, we have the usual effort of finding a place to stay.  There are a few hotels around, and we had seen some of them as we passed through town.  These all turned out to be too expensive, full, or both.  What is going on?  Everything is booked, and the cheapest we could find was about 70 euro!  Canvassing the streets looking for a guest house was our only option.  There was one place to stay, but I would not keep my donkey there.  We started asking about a bus to another town, and nobody knew anything about it.  Trying a few other guest houses, we were annoyed to find that people have signs out, but no way to contact them other than by mobile phone, as there was nobody there for us to talk to.
We did eventually find one place.  We had checked it earlier, but they were a bit pricey, and only available for one night.  Even then, the place was not that good.

SBpostgeyserSapareva Banya is a thermal spring town, and as such, a lot of people go there to do the lakes walk and hang out in the springs.  They also have the only thermal geyser in Bulgaria.  So after settling in, we went looking for it. SBpostgeyser2 We had walked past it a few times, but had assumed that it was a fountain, as every town we have been to has at least a couple, and Sapareva Banya is no exception.  The thing with the geyser is that it is not even natural!  They drilled down between 50 and 70 metres to hit the water, and then put in pipes in to bring it to the surface.  When it comes up, it is through a monstrosity of a fountain that to us looks pretty sad.  When you get to the main square of town, you can see the EU funded fountain that has been created to resemble the geyser!  What a waste of money for both counts.  Considering what the millions of euro could accomplish, and the fact that the fountain will probably not work in about 5 years.

SBpostfeatureThat’s about it.  That is town.  We had seen almost all of it dragging our bags, so now decided to try a cafe.  It was not too bad, a bit overpriced, and after the waitress spilled Anna’s beer all over her with only an apology (she didn’t even replace the beer) we decided to go somewhere else for dinner.  There is not that much choice in town and we picked the most popular.  It must be popular as it is the only place in town. Not for the quality of the food!  It was pretty bad, and we ended up hitting a corner store to buy some nibblies to silence our stomachs and some wine to drown our sorrows.  Only hoping that tomorrow in the mountains will be better!

AA

14 August 2013

Kosta
Rila monestary
Bush walk
crawl though cave
Views of stob pyramides
beer in the park

The 13th:  We spent all day trying to find tourist information in Blagoevgrad.  This turns out to be impossible.  We dont even know if there is even one in town.  Asking at the town hall got us nowhere, asking at the municipality building got us nowhere, asking strangers got us nowhere.  Still, we got to see town.  Then we gave up and went for a drink.  However in the morning we had met a man called Kosta at the hotel.  While asking the girls working here if they knew where tourist info was, they grabbed him to translate.  We struck up a conversation and found out that he had worked in Italy, and most recently been working in London, but was home to relax and spend his hard saved money.
He wanted to take us out to the Rila Monastery tomorrow, and we happily agreed.R79postpano1R80postpano2

R78postviewThe 14th:  Meeting up with Kosta again this morning, we piled into his small Fiat and set off.  A great little car, and although he is not too worried about how it looks on the outside, the inside is perfect.  It gets him around, and us as well for that matter.  Bulgarian drivers are a bit scary, and Kosta is no exception, but for all the interaction between drivers and cursing other people, there was no problems.

R64post1R65post2The drive out to Rila is not that far from Blagoevgrad, up in the Rila mountains.  As you get there, you are struck by massive walls rearing up at you as you go around a corner.  From this side it is an impressive fortification.  Bypassing it for now, we went through to the other side to try and find some free parking.  This ended up being on the side of the road a few millimetres from the cliff below us.
R82post8Walking back, we got to see all the new buildings under construction here, and it is a shame to think that in a year or two, it will be similar to any other resort town in Bulgaria.  Most of the buildings at the moment though are trying to fit in with the style of the place.  Entering the main gate we were immediately impressed with the paintings on the walls and roof.  Then you come out the other side into the Monastery itself.  I am speechless.  My fingers have tied themselves into knots and I cannot even begin to describe it.  I won’t even try.  Here are the photos, and even they don’t do it justice.R75postfeatureR74postbig5R73postbig3R72postbigR72postbig2

R70post7R67post4The massive fortified walls on the outside are now buildings surrounding the central courtyard.  About four stories high, with balconies and all in white.  The archways decorated in Moorish style with the red bricks and whitewash.  Small niches with paintings of people or animals and a large stone yard.  In the centre are two buildings.  A bell tower and the church.
The outside of the church is stunning.  The vibrant colours of the paintings, and the depth of detail.  R66post3R69post6Romanians go on about how good their churches and monasteries are.  They are nothing compared too this.  Bulgarians go “It’s just another Monastery”  It’s stunning!!  Admittedly the paintings are being renewed all the time.  Repaired and repainted, where the Romanian ones are all still original.  There is something to be said about both, but this is a place that needs to be seen to experience it.R85postpanopaint
The inside of the church is just as decorative as the outside, but it is all the devils scattered through the designs that make it special to us.
Kosta has been here a few times, so after watching our initial reaction, he headed out for a while.  We walked around then went to join him.

R84postview2R76postholeAfter seeing the monastery, we expected to head back, but Kosta then took us on a walk.  This went down to the river with its clear streams emptying into it, and up the other side.  Over a few bridges, and people camping out in the clearings.  Some seemed to be just on a day trip, and others settling in for a long stay.  Then there was a small busy path that took us up the hill to a small church.  Half built into the rock, and very plain on the outside, as are most of these little churches.  On the inside it was a bit dark and gloomy, with the smoke of years blackening the walls.  With a bit of effort you can see the frescos painted in there.  Behind this is a small shrine, created a long time ago by the same rock collapse that the church is made in/under.  R83postpeacockA small section of light pierces the gloom, and making your way to it,you can see a passage with stairs leading up through the rocks.  There is an old legend that if you are thin enough to make it through the gap,all your sins will be forgiven.  It was a bit of fun climbing up through it, but the only sin that wouldn’t be forgiven is gluttony!

Following the path further up, we came to an offering wall, with money strewn around and pieces of paper stuck in the fractures of rock beside a small well.  The path pretty much ends here, although We tried to continue up the hill.  It got steeper and steeper.  The track disappeared and we were now scaling the hillside.  Eventually we had to give up, as it was a bit too steep and dangerous.  A few places gave great views out over the valley though, and was worth the climb.
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Having explored the place, it was time to head back to town.  We took a quick look at the Stob Pyramids nearby, but did not go in.  Apparently they charge an entrance fee, and are basically the same as the Melnik rocks, just a smaller isolated patch.  The rest of the trip was spent listening to gangsta rap, some of it was not bad, and Kosta was a fan of this music.

R77postkostaBack in town we picked up one of the 2L bottles of beer that are common in the country (not just common, but everywhere) and went out to the park for a drink.  It is a nice peaceful place, with a small artificial lake with water diverted from the river.  Around the sides there are all different things as usual.  The small “zoo” was a bit different.  Dear, birds, pigs and the like attached to a very well laid out traditional restaurant.  So it was a good end to a good day.

AA

11 August 2013

Melnik town
No bus to hotsprings at Rupite
Walk along fortress and churches and more pyramids
Famous Kordopulov House
Wine cellars and bad wine

Breakfast was a plain affair, a few slices of French Toast and a cup of coffee.  I am sick of not being able to get any milk for my coffee though.  Is it that much more expensive for a few drops of milk?  Although we got whole glasses of buttermilk on the side!

MM48Having looked up Rupite again last night, we wandered down to the big board on the road where the buses stop to try and work out how to get there.  After a while we were even more confused.  The map did not look at all like town, the times made no sense and we couldn’t make head or tail of anything there.  Staring blankly for a bit longer, we worked out the problem…  No, it was not upside down, yes there was an English translation so we could read it, no there was no graffiti covering important sections.  It was just one small basic flaw.  The map and timetable was NOT for Melnik!  It was some other town entirely.  I think I would be safe in saying that this incident represents Bulgaria completely.

MM02We had wanted to go to Rupite to see a thermal spring that has not been turned into a spa complex and, to our knowledge is just welling up out of the ground, untapped of its tourist value.  It sounds just perfect to us.  Still, without a car, it would take all day to get there, and we don’t even know if we could get back.

But there are still things to amuse us here.  We have only had a cursory glance around town, and there is another track to take.  This doesn’t even take into account the wine tastings of the best wines in Bulgaria!

Walking around a different part of town

Walking around a different part of town

Starting with the walk, past an old abandoned church that there was no way to get close to, and up a different gully to yesterday.  This was a very steep ascent. At the start were a lot of remains of old walls.  These could be anything from Thracian to last years attempted buildings.  They had the feel of being pretty old though.  Town has been inhabited for a couple of thousand years, with big periods under the Byzantines and the second Bulgarian Empire.
Passing those, we continued climbing.  At the top was a sign pointing us to a couple of different monuments,and we chose the fortress first (of course!).  Taking this path to the right, we came across the remains of another old church.  This one built in the 13th century.  Only the nave was left, and to protect it there was a sharp pointy fence along the remaining section.

Pity about the fence..

Pity about the fence..

It had been placed here to protect the last of the remaining plasterwork on what had originally been the inside.  There were a few patterns evident and even the idea of some pictures.  Knowing human nature of “I’ll just take a little bit home” then throwing it out, or loosing it on the walk back, we do understand the fence, it just doesn’t make the photos look as good.  The outline of the church was a bit weird as well, as it is almost square according to the partially rebuilt walls around it.  The length of the church making it seem stubby to us.

MM51postfortressThis marked the beginning of the Despot’s Fortress.  Built under the Byzantines and redone in the 13th and 14th century by the local warlord.  A great position as you can look west out over the plains and not be worried about a major force behind you in the massive jungle of trees, gullies and steep ascents.  Although one drawback is the softness of the hills and the crumbling soil for the foundations.  Here and in a few other places, the ground has eroded taking the walls with it.  A bad place for a fortress, but it creates great views and landscapes!

Following the path onwards we passed a group of people going the other way.  They did not look happy, and were panting and struggling to keep going.  Anna was a bit worried that we were heading out into the green yonder of a long trek, but was thankful to find that the path ended at the fortress.  We have no idea why the others were so out of breath, as it was not that bad a section.

Here they have also rebuilt a wall or two, in typical Bulgarian fashion.  It seems to be a standard thing in the country to do a little excavation work and make a wall or two in the way the archaeologists assumed it was. Just with extra concrete!  Still, it was a good walk to get to it, and it does have the views.  Have I said that from the corner of the fortifications you can see all the way to Greece and Macedonia?  The views!  Really, the views!MM17

Following the path around the plateau, we came to the remains of another church.  This time, not rebuilt, but apparently disappearing down the side of the cliff.  Again the views out over the forested landscape with white cliffs and peaks sticking up through the green covering.
The path gets a little interesting from there, as it is right beside the crumbling edge, and covered with loose rocks and dirt.  One slip and you are going the fast way down 100+ meters!

Views back over town

Views back over town

At the far end, looking back towards Rozhen Monastery, we could see sections of the walk we had done yesterday, and a different view, we found an old Monastery.  This still had a building left intact, and the sign said that most of the 1000m2 area had now disappeared over the edge.  There was a concrete basin set up here, and Anna was bitterly disappointed to find out that the spring was no longer flowing.  (As we forgot to take some water along for the walk) The views from here were back down over Melnik town, and again were spectacular.

Taking a break to finally try the famous Bulgarian yoghurt.. Very nice, a mix between yoghurt and cottage cheese

Taking a break to finally try the famous Bulgarian yoghurt.. Very nice, a mix between yoghurt and cottage cheese

Then it was a simple walk back to the split in the track and make our way back down the hill.
Then, after a walk well done, we decided to visit Kordopulov house.  This is apparently the best example of Bulgarian Revival architecture in the country.  This period is under Ottoman rule and around the 18th century.  Kordopulov house was owed, unsurprisingly, by the Kordopulov Family.  A very rich and influential family in the town.  Now it is a small museum and wince cellar.  Getting our tickets from a lovely little old lady, we headed in.  The layout of the building is a bit strange for us, a bit of a hodgepodge, but it works.  Large central rooms with other rooms off to the sides.  Hidden staircases to the attic (which on one area of the hill is the ground floor), Sauna rooms and small discrete outdoor patio areas on different floors with a large terraced space at the top.  External doors at all different levels, and fantastic Venetian stained glass windows.  The decorations and some of the wall paintings are distinctly Ottoman, and others are what we now associate with Bulgarian Traditional styles.

MM30We had a small mishap here though, as we were snapping away with the camera, the battery went dead, and we had forgotten the spare!  I shouldn’t have taken all those landscape photos!  Still, if you are in the region, it is well worth a look.  We really enjoyed it.
After finding all the nooks and crannies in the upper levels of the house, we descended to the wine cellar.  The first section of this is a large open room in the basement of the building, although still at ground level!  Um? you are saying.  The rooftop terrace is at ground level, and the basement four stories down is also at ground level?  Well, the house is built onto the side of a steep hill.  Every floor is ground level somewhere!

Because the hills are so soft, a lot of houses have carved out their own winecellars

Because the hills are so soft, a lot of houses have carved out their own winecellars

OK, so, a large basement with fantastic old wine barrels.  The same as we had come across rotting away in Romania, but put to use here as decoration.  They also had their entry into the biggest wine barrel in the world competition.  I have been into smaller houses than that barrel.
The places has been simply set out, with a few benches, and a bar area for tastings.  Skipping this at first to let the Asian tour group have their fun, we made our way into the cellar.  This place is a small warren of tunnels. Back in the day, I would assume that barrels lined every wall, but now there are only a couple in different places to show you what it would have been like.  There were lower levels that we could not access, and assume that these store the barrels that are still in use.  People have also left money here.  Another Bulgarian tradition.  Leave money everywhere.  Window sills – Lets put a few coins down.  Waterfall?  It would look good with a few coins at the base!  Flowerpots, Just stick them in on their edge.  A wine cellar?  This is no challenge.  Get your coin, find a nice open area of plasterwork and push on it until it sticks in.  This has been going on for some time, and a lot of the coins that have fallen off, have been pushed deeply into the floor as well.

Back at the wine tasting, we got our first glass.  We have been looking forward to this.  It was a Melnik grape (they have their own variety here in town).  Very sweet and a little fruity, yet dry and tanniny. Not that good at all.  It was young, being the 2012 vintage, but the house wine from last night was better!
MM52posttownfortressOur second glass was a 2012 Merlo.  This was, well, how do you put it nicely?  You can’t.  It was disgusting.  If I had been served this in a restaurant, I would have sent it back!  Sour and vinegary, leaving a vile after taste in your mouth that makes you pucker up like the shriveled up grapes they must have used to make it!
The third wine… Well, it was a mix of the two grapes, and tasted like it.  ‘Nuf said.
Anna tried their one white wine and was equally disappointed.
Still, the Asians loved it, and were buying massive quantities.  We walked out a little deflated and empty handed.  For us it again looks like the now familiar halfarsedness of the Bulgarian way of doing things.  I am probably being a little harsh, as we have met a few very nice Bulgarians (although most of these live abroad!) and are generalising on the whole country.

A refreshing afternoon rain storm that was a little heavy in places, and a lot of rumbling.  How things quickly change.  A month ago I could not stop complaining about the rain, but now it is “refreshing”  Still, if it does not happen every day, I don’t mine a few showers here and there!

The greatest cars in Bulgaria are the old UAZ .. Russian cars with attitude!

The greatest cars in Bulgaria are the old UAZ .. Russian cars with attitude!

The 12th was not that interesting a day.  We found out that the bus back to Blagoevgrad does not leave until 15:50 in the afternoon.  We waited around for breakfast, not that interesting either, just a reheated pie from yesterday and REAL MILK.  Just no coffee to put it in!
We walked around town a bit more, checking out a few ruins.  Most were old cellars that came out of the hills, then an old fortress type building.  It was a lot bigger than the house yesterday,but nothing was left other than a few walls and a tower.

Then it was a relaxing afternoon of playing cards and drinking house wines.  These wines were much better than at the tasting rooms!  It was a good few hours, even if we did not achieve anything.
The bus back was long and hot.  The air conditioner was not working and the wine was kicking in.  Still we made it and checked in to the same hotel.  A bite to eat then typing.  I have a lot to catch up on!

AA

10 August 2013

Bus to Melnik
Country side
Finding room
Wine
Bus to Rozhen Monastery
Walk among pyramids
More wine

M61postdriveSo we never made it to Melnik yesterday, but there are a few buses a day out there.  Catching an early one, we had a pretty drive.  We had not realised how high up we were yesterday, as most of this bus ride followed a river downstream.  Then breaking away to the east and winding up into the mountains again.  There were vineyards around, but most of these seemed pretty unkempt.  Overgrown and not looked after at all. The plots were fairly small, and considering this is supposed to be the wine capital of Bulgaria, not that many were in view from the road.

Cute town surrounded by stunning hills

Cute town surrounded by stunning hills

M66posttown2On arriving in Melnik, we were deposited just outside of town.  Dragging our bags up to the main street, we were pleased to find that it was as similar to Smoylan as, well, I can’t think of a metaphor, but it wasn’t at all the same, for which we are grateful.  The town is pretty small (It is supposed to be the smallest town in Bulgaria), and not too much built onto the side of a mountain.  Although there is a river flowing down the main street, the buildings are pretty close to the road level.  The first few places we looked at staying were all full, and when tour buses kept coming and disgorging their loads of tourists, we started despairing.  Still, before we were half way through town we found a place that looked ok.  M67posttown3Right on the main square.  It is funny though, when you are looking at a place, it seems ok, but as soon as you check in, all the problems start appearing.  The TV didn’t work.  We were not too worried about this, but it is not the point.  If you show us a room with a TV we expect it to work.  OK maybe not any English channels, but still.  The aircon didn’t work.  This was more annoying as it has been pretty hot at night lately.  Finally, you couldn’t lock the door.  Not that it is likely that we will have our stuff stolen, and when it happened to us before, it was a locked room anyway.  But still…  Then there was the bathroom.  It seemed… OK.  and we will leave it at that.  Still, we would get a free litre of wine with dinner!  A major selling point if ever I saw one.  M76postpano

The young guy here also spoke some English, so we got a bus time for the Rozhen monastery.  It would not leave for a while, and we decided to sample the wine now.  It was pretty good for a house wine, and only 10Lev a litre.  Considering this was at a restaurant we thought it was pretty good.  Until we found one two days later for 3.50Lev a litre!  It was a better wine too, but more on that another day.
M70postrock1
It was good sitting on the terrace, drinking wine and watching the tourists flood past.  It is a very pretty town done in Bulgarian Revival styled architecture, and well done at that.  With eroded sandstone cliffs rising up above town, green trees and nice houses.  It is an architectural reserve after all.

M64postrock5Finally it was time to make our way to the bus stop.  The bus failed to appear.  For the next two hours the bus failed to show up.  We looked at the bus times, but could not make heads or tails out of it.  Eventually a bus like thing turned up going in the right direction.  Asking him if it was the bus, we didn’t even get a grunt.  Nothing.  No response to our existence at all.  Stuff him, we got on the bus anyway.  A couple of other tourists had the same problem and decided not to risk it.  We have no idea where we are going to end up.  It could be close, it could be five towns over.  Lets find out!

The bus followed a valley further into the mountains.  The eroded sandstone creating some great features.  This is one of the reasons we are here.  The monastery and the Melnik Pyramids (a sandstone formation created by erosian over thousands of years).  These formations cover about 50km/2  and are very impressive.  Similar to the Pinnacles but much bigger.  With trees.

Past a few small villages.  Each with plenty of places to stay.  If we had known this, we would have continued up into the mountains, but what can you do when you can’t find tourist info?
M69postfeature
We were dropped at the end of the line.  For us it was fortunate.  It is Rozhen town, and only about 2km from the monastery.  2km uphill that is…

M73postrozhenFollowing the signs to the Monastery (and the eco walking track to Melnik) we got to Rozhen Monastery.

The monastery is walled, and on entering the area you pass through the main gates into a small courtyard.  Here is the compulsory souvenir shop, but it is closed today.  Not surprising considering that other than us, there are only two or three people here.  The inside of the wall it taken up by living quarters and the like, leaving the central area clear except for the church.  This church has been painted on the entrance side.
This is the same motifs as in Romania, with the path of souls to heaven or hell.  Filled with demons trying to pull the souls down and angels fighting them off.  Weighing the souls on scales and all sorts of monsters along the way.  The inner rooms were slightly different, mainly saints in the outer chamber, but not being tortured or executed.  Inside the main section are scenes from the new testament.  It is a very beautiful church.
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Back outside, you can walk around the two story housing.  Seeing the dining hall and a couple of chambers.  These would have been intricately decorated as well, but are now just covered with white plaster.  The balcony is lovely and looks stunning.  Coupled with two sacred grape vines that are over 100 years old, it is a very nice and peaceful place.  A small fountain to get fresh flowing water inside would have made life a lot easier for the monks, and provided us with some much needed water.  Very cool, and definitely refreshing.
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M62postrock3Going back out, we tried to find the walking track to Melnik, but everything seems to stop at the monastery.  There are now no sign posts, or even trails around.  Trying to go below the monastery was impossible, so we walked above it. Finding the faintest outline of a path, we followed that.  There was a radio tower on the hill, and we were worried that this path only lead there.  On finding a small picnic ground we thought that was the end.  Here was a great view out over the formations.  There was even an old partially destroyed sign pointing a way to Melnik.  This must be it!
M65postrock6The path was a bit hair razing at the start.  One section had eroded so badly that they needed to put up railing, but this had also slipped down the hill.  One false step and you would be joining it 100m lower down.  Not good at all, but from there it improved.  Following ridge lines gave great vistas in all directions, and although the sun was in the wrong position for this section, throwing the formations into shadow, it is still stunning.  The area is covered with trees giving a green matte with orange sandstone ridges and formations sticking proudly up through it.  We had expected to find an almost desert landscape, not the rolling green, but this was nice.  Finding one spot with a tree for a bit of shade, we sat there soaking up the view.  After a little while we were joined by some Bulgarians that had walked a lot of the Pirin mountains over the last 5 days or so.  M72postrock7

Apparently this is a special spot, known as “The Tree”  Understandable with the views on offer, and the tree sticking proudly up above the rock around it.  Nice guys and we spent a while chatting to them before heading down into the valley to walk back to town.  A steep descent followed by a leisurely stroll along the wadi, or dry creek bed.  A few times we thought we must have lost the path, but there was nowhere else to go.
Finding a walled section of the creek with no signs, we had to climb down and hope, but we were not too far away from town by now.

M63postrock4
Around the next corner old walls and cellars started appearing, then town itself.  The guy where we were staying was right to say that the start of the trek can be hard to find, but we had made it.  This is definitely the way to do it.  From Melnik it is mainly steep uphill, and would have been quite taxing.  From Rozhen however, it is a very pleasant walk.  We were a little shocked however to find that over 100,000 Euro had been spent on this path, and it is still not even signposted properly.  Let alone any work done on the path itself!

A nice dinner at the restaurant attached to our guest house, and another litre of wine.  It is pretty good, and we are looking forward to the wine tastings tomorrow if this is the cheap house wines on offer!  I could definitely get used to this, if I don’t turn into a worse alcoholic than I already am!

AA

09 August 2013

Trigrad via Plovid to Blagoevgrad
walk around town
kids swimming in fountains

It is time for us to try going further west into the mountains.  Our next stop is Rozhen, as there is supposed to be a beautiful monastery there.

This meant an early start, as the bus left at 7am, and we were on the wrong side of the river.  Down to the bridge, then up the other side.  The roads are pretty pad, and we had to carry the bags most of the way!  The bus even departed at the time we were given.  Driving back through the gorge, detouring up the mountain to a small town and into Devin.

From here the fun started.  We thought we would be able to catch a bus West of here.  Thinking that we would be able get a bus to Melnik, where there are some interesting formations in the national park.

It turned out that we couldn’t.  We could get one or two towns over, and spend the night there to hopefully catch another bus west the next morning, but they didn’t know if these buses even existed.
We couldn’t even get a bus to Blagoevgrad, the major town west of here. The only things we could do were go straight to Sofia, or back to Plovdiv.

BpoststatueThis was very frustrating, especially as we ended up backtracking to Plovdiv.  This was a long and uncomfortable bus ride.  The scenery is not all that different to the rest of the area.  A few hills, mountains, rivers, fields of sunflowers and traffic.

Arriving in Plovdiv, we found that we would have to change bus stations, as you can’t just have one, can you?  So as we walked to the other station, we checked out trains.  No luck there.

At the other bus station, we could catch a bus to
Blagoevgrad. That was the extent of their knowledge.  Anything past this, we would have to find out when we get there.

So, after a long wait we had another long bus ride.  This time skirting the foothills of the Rila Mountains.
It was at least more comfortable this time, but that is about the best you could say.

Bpoststatue2Arriving in Blagoevgrad it was too late to continue on to Melnik, so we had to find some accommodation here.  This was not too hard, as we got some help from a friendly Bulgarian woman in one of the stalls at the station.  Of course there was no information available at the station.  That would make things too easy wouldn’t it.

The hotel we ended up in was pretty good.  A bit pricey, but the beds were way better than the other hotels we checked out.  Even ones more expensive had worse beds.

After checking in, we went for a walk around town. It has a few walking streets with a cafe culture, as is common in the country, and honestly, it is pretty similar to most of the other bigger towns and small cities in the country!

Благоевград_2681Massive fountains built with EU money, deteriorating footpaths, with a few green areas here and there. Although it was fun to watch the little kids swimming in one of the larger fountains outside the University.  We don’t think they were supposed to, but they were having a lot of fun, and nobody cared about it.  For us it was great, as each kid in the fountain was one less on the street trying to get money out of us.  There seem to be a lot here working the walking streets to get money.Bpostfountain

Blagoevgard is semi famous for their turn of the century buildings, but we could not see many..

Blagoevgard is semi famous for their turn of the century buildings, but we could not see many..

Blagoevgrad doesn’t seem to be that poor, but we have already seen more people here sorting garbage to get the paper and plastics than anywhere else.  Also the towns we passed through to get here were not looking the best either.
Bulgaria is supposed to be the poorest country in the EU, but so far it has seemed to be pretty well off, compared to Romania at least.  Yet in Romania we could get to the very small non touristy towns, and here it has not been possible, so all we can go off are the amounts of Audi’s, BMW’s, Merc’s and other expensive cars driving around compared to the horse and carts.

AA

08 August 2013

Devils Throat Cave
Canyon

We awoke with massive hangovers this morning.  You would think that we would learn.  Not too much home made spirits!  Still, we don’t have the busiest day planned.  A quiet walk down to the Devils Throat and a closer look at the canyon.

Impressive high canyon walls

Impressive high canyon walls

Walking down, we took a look at the canyon first.  Just above the cave the river flows underground, and from there on it is dry.  There are plenty of trees down there, but no direct path.  We contented ourselves with just walking along the road.  Past a flying fox that has been set up along the edge, going over the drop to connect with the road further down.  On the opposite side the rock cliff towers above and below us.  It is apparently about 250m high and is very impressive.  Following the road, we came to the tunnel that has been carved from the rock to allow traffic through.  There was a large truck here that had pulled up at the side of the road with about 4 people trying to re-adjust the load of hay.

The manmade tunnel that turned out to be more interesting than the natural one..

The manmade tunnel that turned out to be more interesting than the natural one..

So hot today that the asphalt is melting

So hot today that the asphalt is melting

They had hit the roof of the tunnel and lost a lot of the bales.  Now they were loading them back on and straightening it all up again.  The tunnel is quite interesting though.  It has been spray sealed with cement when it was built, and now a lot of this is cracking open and falling off.  There were even holes carved into the side to allow light in.  Scrambling up one of them, you can go right to the edge and look out over the canyon.  On the far side there is a small area that gives a good vantage further down where the water reappears.  Coming back, we took time to appreciate the formations that are starting to appear in the tunnel.  Straws, shawls and other formations have already started as the water seeps through the rock and cement.

Devils throat carvern

Devils throat carvern

Back at the cave, we arrived perfectly.  The next tour is supposed to start in about 5 minutes.  The Devils throat is supposed to be the largest underground waterfall in the Balkans.  We know there is no decorations in the cave, but it is supposed to be very impressive.  Going in, we followed a long man made tunnel carved from the marble walls to where we stopped to get the information about the cave.  This was all in Bulgarian, so we didn’t get any off it.  However we knew already that they had done tests with the water, and although the distance from where it enters the cave to where it exits is only a few hundred away, but it takes the water over two hours to go that distance.

Carving inside the cave

Carving inside the cave

It was called the devils throat as when there is flooding and massive trees are washed down into it they never reappear, almost as if they were eaten.  It is also in the top 100 attractions of Bulgaria.

The amazingly ugly concrete staircases

The amazingly ugly concrete staircases

So, with that explained, we headed down into the cave itself.  There is a small stairway taking you into a very large cavern.  From here there is an observation point over a pool of still water.  Bats were flitting about in gloom, and luscious moss growing by the lights, and it was an impressive sized cavern.  You then go down to this and follow a very steep, wet, muddy staircase up.  All the way up to reappear near where the water enters the cave.

There is a waterfall hiding behind..

There is a waterfall hiding behind..

There was the sound of the waterfall, not the deafening crashing rumble that we had expected, but no sign of the water itself!  Back at the surface you can wander around looking down at the rocks carved with millennia of water flowing over it.

Then it was a walk back to town!  I know I sound a little jaded, but seriously.  If you advertise the largest underground waterfall, then at least let us look at it!  All in all the most impressive thing was seeing the formations in the tunnel on the road.

Back at the village we found that the one bus a day departs at 7am, so an early start to get to it.  We are not looking forward to this!

AA