My rockin' good time in Belogradchik
Just before the Serbian border and snuggled in between the hills, remote Belogradchik was the ideal weekend destination…no tourists, no traffic congestion, a direct bus (I know, I’m lazy) and absolutely stunning scenery. What exactly makes it a “rockin’ good time?” Well, believe it or not, the rocks.
Well, rock formations, really. Ancient, otherwordly giants punctuate over 90 km of an undulating, densely green landscape. The scarlet, gray and cream tones are a striking contrast; the sheer height of the rocks…awe inspiring.
Historically, the rocks were a natural fortification between the Danubian Plains and the Serbian Morava Valley. The “Belogradchik Pass” is marked by a fascinating, mish-mash castle…which, as noted by Rough Guides, was “begun by the Romans, continued by the Bulgars during the eighth century, and completed by the Turks a millennium later.” Although there is little left to see, several sets of mildly terrifying staircases put me right at the shoulder of one of the giants.
I started early in the morning, as the Bulgarian sun beats down with serious force starting around ten a.m. I was completely alone – the tour buses rarely find Belogradchik, the school groups were eating breakfast, and the ticket-takers were still romancing their morning narcotic (Turkish coffee, that is).
So, when I climbed to the very top – bouncing from the designated viewpoint (and across a terrifically terrifying crevice) to a perch on the edge of the world – I felt like the only human being in existence. It was silent – all sounds of the small town were buffered by fluffy wooded hills. The giants, hundreds of them, stood tall and glistening in the morning sun. Creative Bulgarians have quite delightfully designated the most intriguing of formations with identities… the Nuns, the Gossip, the Schoolgirl, the Horse and Rider. I stretched out, breathed in the (temporarily) crisp air, and let my own imagination personify the limestone.
I stayed until my clothes were stuck to my oozing pores…suddenly realizing that “brrrgaria” was somewhat preferable to “boilgaria” (haha! cleverness!). The moose-quitos were also having a midday buffet of my flesh - (they are huge, and their bites drive one to insanity). I took that as my cue to find my adventure in the cooler, forested paths of the hills. On my way down to civilization, I passed a typically “fashionable” Bulgarian woman hiking her way to the top in the most impossible stilettos. Talent or stupidity? Probably the former.
I spent the rest of my time wandering the quiet, mildly abandoned streets of Belogradchik and exploring the forest nearby. The café culture was obvious – it seemed the entire town spent all day, every day relaxing on patios with beer and coffee. Most of the stores were closed, most of the taxis were abandoned. the low-key, laidback atmosphere was perfect for a weekend repose.
My hikes in the forest were equally as peaceful – towering trees were dwarfed by even more impressive rock formations. I hiked fairly extensively, until an absolutely enormous anaconda slithered inches from my toes. Stunned, I had an unfortunate mental image of a very undignified (snake-digested) death…so I screamed like a pansy and ran.
With my heroic snake-battle, my hiking, and my gawking at the beauty of the world at an end… I caught a scenic, four hour bus ride back to reality. As we passed by fields filled with thousands of sunflowers, tiny villages blooming with life, and peaceful mules lunching on the medians, I decided that Bulgaria is truly enchanting.
Now that you’re all warm-fuzzies, may I present the small (well, Italic) print:
Unfortunately, (and I continue to mentally pinch myself for this), I actually forgot to bring my camera. Completely. I brought my extra SD card, just to make sure. I brought my charger, just to make sure. But I left my camera – you know, the most important part? – sitting on the kitchen table. It was absolute torture for such a snap-happy adventurer. Luckily, there are lots of photos I can pirate off the internet and post for you to see.