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.
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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?
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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.

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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!

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