Having returned from my time in St Petersburg I was worried that this blog would come to a rather sad end and fizzle into nothing. However, I am attempting to keep it alive if only for a little longer, until my final year at university overtakes all other activities. As a means towards this end, I have thus decided to divulge some of the details of my latest trip to Bulgaria. You may be wondering why I decided on going to Bulgaria as my destination of choice for a post-Russia holiday, and it may well seem a touch peculiar. However, I spent some of my formative years in Bulgaria. From the age of one until I was five my parents were based in Sofia and that was where I grew up. Given that I was so small it may not surprise you to hear that I remember little about the country that I grew up in. I have a few very vivid memories stockpiled in a curious cabinet in my mind that includes wearing a very large snowsuit in winter, eating the most delicious apricots in the world in summer and eating powdered angel delight. There are a few more equally strange memories locked in my “Bulgaria” file but it is nevertheless fairly sparse. My parents, however, fell totally head over heels for the country. My father, who has lived there for two continuous stretches and speaks Bulgarian, could not quite bear to sever all ties with the country he adored, and so when we moved away he decided to buy a sheep herder’s shack. Into this shack nestled deep in the Bulgarian countryside, my parents poured their love. They built two adjoining cottages and filled them with beautiful Bulgarian pottery, carved wood and wicker furniture. It was in these lovely, detached houses that I, and a few of my friends, spent our week.
Touching down in Sofia it is easy to see what the Bulgarian countryside is like, hilly. So hilly in fact that less than 10km from Sofia you can catch a ski lift to one of the many ski resorts of Bulgaria. However, having skied only once in my life and given that my holiday took place in high summer, the skiing was of little interest to me. I was much more drawn to the forested hills of Oreshak and Troyan (about two hours drive east of Sofia. In these hills are where our familial sheep shack is located. Up roads with sheer drops that certainly feel too steep to drive up are wildflower meadows, snow-capped mountains, glacial rivers and ancient monasteries run by equally ancient people. It is not a place of great activity but is nevertheless a place of great beauty. The walks are endless and the views are outstanding to the point of being breath-giving as they seem to pour new life into you rather than stealing your breath away. As a result of this most of my mornings were spent scrambling up every hill within reach to get a new view of the stunning surrounding areas. Then having forced myself to descend from the somewhat unbelievable heights we would wander to the river in the afternoon to while away the time reading, chatting and, if we could face it, swimming in the rivers caused by snowmelt from the tops of the mountains. Had the weather not been at least 30 degrees every day, I am not sure any of us would have made it into the icy waters!
A hundred or so kilometres away from this haven of nature and peace is the old capital of Bulgaria Veliko Turnovo. This ancient capital is unsurprisingly nestled among forested hills and walking around it you are afforded yet more views of the sweeping landscapes complete with long winding rivers and ancient fortresses. While the old capital can hardly be called a metropolis it is, compared to where we were staying, bustling. Tiny alleyways are lined with leaning houses and shops complete with decaying awnings while from the cobbled roads flowers push their way through the cracks. It is a city with immense charm and for someone who had just emerged from the depths of the countryside, provided more than enough human interaction.
Returning to our unpopulated corner of the country we spent the rest of our time blissfully walking the hills, seeing the monasteries and swimming in the icy and crystal clear waters of the river. The butterflies are overwhelming in both their variety and their quantity and among the neverending wildflowers, they are impossible to escape. Birds seem to sing constantly among the trees and it is certainly the right place to run among them in the style of a Disney princess. Not…that I’ve ever…done that… I am aware that as with St Petersburg, I am giving a rather rose-tinted and overly perfect view of Bulgaria. Perhaps it is because it is the place associated with some of my earliest memories, or perhaps it really is as beautiful as I say. I am afraid that to find that out you will have to take a trip there yourself! I can assure you that flights are adequately cheap otherwise I certainly wouldn’t have made it out there myself. With that recommendation, I will leave you all and return to my rather lovely memories of my time in the Bulgarian mountains.