A weekend in the 19th century.
Although the hustle and bustle of Sofia is oh-so-appealing, I was thrilled to leave the city for the weekend. I chose Koprivshtitsa by recommendation of a friend - as a well-preserved world heritage site, the entire village is a living example of Revival architecture and 19th century Bulgarian life. Plus, being nestled in beautiful green mountains makes everything a little more appealing.
My train ride took a full hour and a half longer than scheduled -I wouldn't have been so cranky about it if the man next to me smelled like anything other than curdled milk and unwashed human. I'm assuming the forty-five minute stop in the middle of nowhere was the result of mechanical failure (it happens a lot when the train is 50 years past due for replacement). My patience wore a bit thinner as a child nearby entertained himself by spitting loudly and repeatedly on the floor...charming I know...and I was just about to go bulgarian-ballistic when we lurched back into action.
My first glance of the town was breathtaking- as I said before, the village is nestled in the mountains and the diminutive structures only emphasize the grandeur of the natural surroundings. A great majority of the homes (380) were built in the Revival-period style, while everything else has been built in a complementary fashion. No high-rises, no soviet blocs, no traffic…I was stunned. (I was in love!) The entire place is tiny and easily navigable by foot – it took me less than twenty minutes to walk from one end to the other. The air was clean, the people were friendly, the timber houses were simple and utterly charming. I was particularly thrilled to see that the horse and wagon were still a staple of existence. The air smelled crisp and warm at the same time – an intoxicating mix of mountain air, horse manure and wood smoke. Indeed, my frontiers-woman fantasies were realized at last. (Now if only I’d packed my covered wagon…)
I stayed with a local family – none of whom spoke English. When I met the matriarch, a jolly, plump old woman, she dodged my handshake and reined me in for a Bulgarian bear-hug. I knew I was going to have a wonderful time. Unfortunately, the sky darkened just after my arrival – threatening to rain away my cheerful mood. My hostess and I shuffled to her lovely home as the downpour began. She bundled me in a sweater, confiscated my soaking wet shoes and chatted at me in Bulgarian as I waited for the skies to clear.
I was fortunate…within a couple of hours the rain let up and I was free to roam the village. I was even more fortunate to be arriving on that particular day…some sort of folk festival/performance was going on in the main square that night. I never could get a straight answer out of anyone about the reason behind the celebration…but I’ve also learned that Bulgarians scarcely need a reason for a little folk dancing. The 30 or so performers of every age were costumed in traditional garb – the gorgeous embroidery was complemented by clinking coins, festive flowers and a patriotic color scheme of red, white and green. As the performers danced, the riotous combination of color and rhythmic folk music was utterly hypnotic; I could see why these celebrations survived the centuries. When the show was over, the party began. The locals joined hands and started dancing – from the very young to the very old, the citizens of koprivshtitsa knew how to live it up folk-style. Well, until it started raining again. I started the walk home drenched but utterly enamored.
I wasn't too wet to pick up a bottle of wine for my hosts - we spent the evening lightheartedly attempting conversation via dictionary and pictures (or should I say, pictionary?). As the night wore on, we understood more and more of one another (ha) and we even did a little folk dancing in the living room. I went to sleep full of wine, delicious homemade cheese and killer new dance moves.
Thanks to the roosters outside my window, I woke up early enough the next morning to see the locals getting their horses ready for the day. Aside from these grumbling early-risers, the streets were completely abandoned. As the sun was peeking over the mountains, I was ready for real exploration. Although it isn’t mentioned in lonely planet OR rough guides (I’m going to write them), there’s a wonderful panorama of the village at the top of a very long staircase up the mountain. From there, once you look past a terribly unfortunate-looking Soviet monument, civilization feeds into pristine and peaceful nature. I spent the remainder of the morning walking through mountainside meadows and exploring an utterly gorgeous, dense forest. The only other human being I encountered was an old woman looking for mushrooms; the only sounds were the birds, the little waterfalls, and the very distant echo of horse-hooves on cobblestone. It was stunning to see the morning rays filtered through the trees in the forest. Ahhh, absolute contentment.
I walked as far as I could, but it was eventually too steep even for my monkey-climb. I picked my way back down the mountain and spent the remainder of the day wandering the streets, indulging in the local fare (red meat, red wine, bread and baklava...so unhealthy, so bulgarian, so delicious!), and chatting with the locals. Five construction workers even bought me a cup of tea during a mid-afternoon break (what a sight, as you can imagine). Unfortunately, reality was waiting and I caught the last bus to Sofia at five pm. My incredible experience in Koprivshtitsa left me feeling refreshed, revitalized and rededicated to my passion for a simple life.