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!

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