Friday 6th June
I woke up excited about going to Bulgaria to see my friends Dee, Mika and Sky in a little village called Dobromirka and then the plan is to go on to Vitosha National Park and explore the mountains and forests.
Last time I was in Bulgaria 2012 I went to see the spectacular Devatashka cave, which I am tempted to see again this time but as time will be tight I shall look at other places of beauty. Devatashka cave was used during the war and has a stream and plenty of plant life growing inside it, this is one of the most beautiful caves that I have ever seen.
The flight was delayed by 4 hours, I flew with Whiz Air going out and sat in a seat with about 2 inches of leg room and the seat in front virtually touching my nose when it went back, I tried to sleep and pretend I was not really on that flight, but it did not work, so instead I put on some music via the ipod and remained cramped, it was not a long flight though, just 3.5 hours so to be fair it went quite quickly.
I had tried to get a message to the driver picking me up, a man called Stevche however, he did not receive it and had been at the airport in Bulgaria waiting for 4 hours.
He was not happy when I arrived.
On arrival I spotted Stevche holding a sign with my name on and went to shake his hand, he looked angry and unapproachable, he would not shake my hand, however he did help me with my rucksacks.
The car journey seemed to go on forever, 3 hours in the dark, nothing to look at and if I tried to make conversation Stevche would grunt at me grumpily, he appeared not to speak any English so I tried several attempts of offering him water and sweets, but he was having none of it.
We stopped off at a little stall where you could smoke, buy food and drink. There was an elderly lady serving at this roadside stall lit by huge bulbs which had attracted a deluge of large white moths.
A local lorry driver in his late 50’s sat at one of the tables outside, he was the only other customer apart from us, Stevche had a coffee, but I was ok with my water and joined the man at the table, although we had the usual communication problems, the man was cheerful and a relief to sit with after Stevche’s moody silence on that journey.
I looked up at the stars, the sky looked stunning, there was so little light here that the stars showed up and glistened with the moon as the showpiece of the night sky.
We said ‘Chow’ to the man and continued on the drive to Dobromirka, again it was a long, silent and rather awkward ride, I gave up trying to make conversation. The only time that Stevche spoke to me was more of a gesture really, he pinched my left arm hard and gestured for me to wind my window up, charming I thought!
We arrived at Dobromirka village at about 1am and I instantly had memories flooding back of this familiar place, Lola the Doberman began barking behind the large wooden gate and was joined by another dog Lotta, a new addition to the family. Dee and Mika came down to greet us, I was so pleased to see them as we all hugged each other, it was the warmest welcome, I turned to pay Stevche but he had already left.
Saturday 7th June
I awoke excitedly to a beautiful sunny day, it was already hot at 7am and I went downstairs and sat in the garden with Dee and her little boy Sky (aged 5) and we chatted and ate bread and cheese.
The downstairs of the house was flooded, a good 3-4 inches of water sat in the kitchen area where they had had so much rain of late, it was a shame to see this and I would try and get the level down each day, only for it to rise again the next, it was coming from underneath the floor.
Last time I was here I formed a special bond with a Dog called Zucho, he looked like a golden wolf and followed me everywhere, we went on long walks together up in the woods and he always led me back safely, I even made a camp and slept outside with Zucho loyally at my side.
The villagers here have been threatening to shoot Zucho, as he chases their livestock, thankfully they have not managed to get him yet, I would very much like to adopt him, however he is such a free spirited dog it would somehow be unfair to restrict him to a UK home, he lives wild much of the time, he will have a short life, but at least it is a free life.
He was not at Dee and Mikas when I arrived and I was disappointed, I had brought him treats and also a flea treatment to administer to him, Zucho comes and goes as he pleases, so I would just have to wait to see him.
Mika, Dees husband appeared at the gate and told us that it was Dead People Day a day when the dead are remembered and celebrated by sharing food around the village, we were given a little platter of cherries, biscuits, tomatoes and cheese pastries to eat, what a lovely gesture.
The Bulgarians have a folklore calendar of events that they follow avidly all year round.
Dee and Mika have rescued no end of animals in Dobromirka and really helped them to recover from some fairly traumatic states; at present they have a 3 legged cat called Ziggy (Ziggy has gone everywhere with Dee over the years and moved here with her); a Doberman called Lola, Lolas 3 puppies, a golden wolf dog called Zucho, Zuchos puppy Lotta, 2 rabbits Lucky and Dodo, 4 horses and a load of chickens complete with a cockerel who acts as our natural alarm each morning at about 4:30am.
Mica told me that one day one of his hens came to the window and kept tapping it with his beak, Mica looked up to ‘tap, tap, tap’ as it kept on going trying to get his attention, he went outside and the Hen led him to her nest where a Pine Martin was stealing the eggs, Mica successfully chased it off and the hen went back to her nest. It is good that she felt she could go to a human for help and shows her trust in Mica.
I went off alone in search of Dragonflies, further on in the village I walked past an old farm that I remember from last time when I was here two years ago, the same Donkey was sat down in the grass and the pretty stream ran through the area with the water level considerably higher than the last time.
Later Dee, little Sky and I went to the village shop for some food and sat outside the shop, as is customary, with a large whiskey each.
Sadly, my friends here have been embroiled in some serious trouble, which (in my opinion) is totally unjust, however it will rage on for some time yet and endure it they will, I cannot say on here what it is about nor can I name anyone, I can say though that due to this unfortunate incident some of the villagers have turned against them.
As we sat drinking our whiskey, a rather sinister looking man came walking over and stood behind Dee at a doorway glaring at me, he would not take his eyes off me so I returned the icy gaze and held my stare, he was clearly trying to intimidate me and I was not having it.
Later we left and went up to the meadow to see to the horses, the meadow is stunning following a steep walk up to it you come out on a hill top with a field covered in tiny, colourful wild flowers.
After a short time the sky changed from blue to grey cloud then black and a lightning storm raged at us, we sheltered under some trees with the horse, but were still getting soaked from the storm.
My Great Grandmother was struck by lightning not once but TWICE in her lifetime as she worked as a Midwife, often having to attend to late night calls, she survived but was paralysed down one side form the second strike.
I have not forgotten this story and kept thinking of her, my camera equipment was protected but I was also concerned that the rain would eventually get to it as it was so heavy, so suggested that I head back. Little Sky came with me so we took the dogs and made our way across the hilltop, at one point we had three strikes of lightening surround us in a triangle and that really panicked me.
I was much happier once we got down off the hilltop and started to walk back down, water poured past us as the storm raged on and made a little stream down the hillside, it was also getting dark, so we hurried on. I told Sky, who was crying, that it was a real adventure and that he was being very brave, for a 5 year old a storm like that was more than a little scary.
Once down we met up with Dee and Mika and had some supper and wine, the storm raged on until about 1am and I watched a solitary firefly brightening up the window with the terrific flashes of lightning in the background.
Day 2 Sunday 8th June
Today I woke up tired, I had acquired a lot of bites up on the meadow the day before and they had made me feel shivery and a little unwell. My friend Dee is trying to sell one of her horses and an Irish family was due to come over and see the horse, a chestnut beauty called Cash.
The family arrived and we all made our way up to the steep meadow to see the horses, on the way the father told me that one day in England they talked of starting a new life elsewhere, so they stuck a pin in a map and Bulgaria was where they ended up. The couple have two girls aged 7 and 10, so it was a brave move, but they seem very happy, they are in a small village, similar to the one of Dobromirka, about 20 miles away.
On the way up we found a dead snake on the path and then a large mound that was an ants nest up by the horses, once up there I went off on a walk to find a small lake that I could see in the distance, it was a good walk through the long grasses and up and over then back round and down to the village, took about 2 hours.
I topped up my water bottle from a natural spring by an old wall and as I walked on discovered a wooden plank attached between two trees as a little seat, I called it the secret seat and had my packed lunch sat there by the bubbling stream, it was very peaceful.
Back at the house, I was resting in the hammock when I heard a loud squeal, Lola the Doberman dog was chasing the two rabbits and had hurt one of them, I leapt up to try and stop her, Dee and Sky appeared and we all jumped to it in getting Lola off the rabbits, she was going to kill them for sure.
We caught both rabbits and held them to calm them down then took them into the house and upstairs away from Lola to keep them safe until another solution could be found.
Later I spent some time bailing out the flooded water downstairs and put some fresh flowers in for Dee, but it seemed that no faster than you remove the water, it would reappear again, which was very disheartening.
Day 3 Monday 9th June
I had a sleepless night as the dogs were barking for most of the night, something had spooked them and they would not let up, I thought I heard someone trying the back gate, but could not be sure in all the din.
I got up early and went to the village for some supplies, then lay in the hammock with Sky blowing bubbles, we used up all the bubbles so made another solution with water and washing up liquid.
Then I made a couple of rolls and headed off to the secret seat to eat them by the little stream, I was about to put my foot over the bench onto the ground when I saw something move, it was a snake, so I grabbed my camera and got two quick pictures of it as it slid away. I was hoping it would be a Horn-Nosed viper (Vipera ammodytes) however I could only get a shot of its mid section so could not identify it as it slithered off so quickly.
I had arranged for Stevche to take us out for the day and he came to pick us up at 12:30pm and we headed off to an amazing Gorge with a waterfall in Veliko. It was a stunning place, the walk began through a pine forest, then onto a rocky trail following the gorge round, Sky pointed at the huge rocks and called then ‘The Stone Soldiers,’ they did look like stone soldiers, then you do a steep climb down through a forest, it was a slippery trail that we all took our time on as it was tricky.
The forest was full of mosquitoes which bit us relentlessly, in the end I put my mac on to try and deter them, even though it was very hot, but it worked and I managed to stop them as they could not bite through it.
The climb down was so difficult at times that we used trees to hold onto and lever ourselves down to the next bit, the muddy paths were so smooth and slippery from the amount of rain running down. Eventually we came to a rocky path which was much easier to walk on, then past some huge rocks through to a rickety old wooden bridge which led us directly to a lagoon with a waterfall.
I immediately set my backpack down, took off my walking boots and waded straight into the water, it was a mistake though as the current was extremely strong and I felt it pulling me towards the river which was fast flowing, so I hauled myself out of it, spluttering and emerging rather ungracefully onto the stony bank.
Stevche the driver, despite being so grumpy on my arrival the first night, made a real effort, he is a shy man and I think often misunderstood by people, he rarely smiles, but that is just him, he spotted some beautiful Demoiselles and knowing that I had been looking for some, pointed them out to me.
We all sat and ate a picnic and drank wine from silver goblets, it was decadent and fun, the whole day felt really good at this place and all of our spirits were lifted.
On the walk back up I found endless different species of bugs to photograph, which is my passion and it made the steep climb go almost unnoticed on my part as I stopped every few yards to take a picture of something else.
Back at the house, Sky and I curled up together in the hammock and talked about the days adventure, Sky said that he wanted more adventures and I was pleased that this 5 year old little boy was already taken with them.
Day 4 Tuesday 10th June
I got up early today, made rolls and went for a walk down by the stream then came back and Dee and I sat with the face masks I had bought and drank wine talking.
An ex pat from Liverpool called Pete popped over as he had heard I was visiting and kindly gave me a Stag Beetle mounted in a glass case, it was a huge specimen and in perfect condition, though I usually prefer to see them live in their natural habitat, it was a thoughtful gift.
While I had been staying here, I was a little disappointed that Zucho the dog who looks like a golden wolf had not yet turned up, as I had brought a flea treatment to give him plus numerous treats to eat.
I was planning to go into the village and try to talk to the character who was causing my friends some trouble, but without giving too much away to see what information I could gleen from him and just as I was about to leave, posing as a documentary researcher, who should turn up my Zucho dog. I was so pleased to see him and he accompanied me on my special mission, he jumped into a huge waste bin on the way there to get himself some food, I was saddened that he lives this way, but with Zucho it is choice, he stayed loyally by my side as a protector the whole time I spoke to the character.
I can not say any more about the encounter with the character or who he was on here as I was treading on dangerous ground and really it was just some research on behalf of my friends, but the whole time I was there Zucho stayed with me. Before I left I bought Zucho some fresh meat and once we were safely away, I sat on a stone wall and fed Zucho the meat as a thank you for staying with me.
Zucho walked back with me to my friends place then he left as silently as he had appeared.
That evening I spent telling my friends about the conversation as we drank wine and watched yet another terrific thunder storm, it was perhaps a good job that I was due to leave the following morning for a national park.
Day 5 Wednesday 11th June
I got up early about 5am and packed up my backpack ready to leave for Vitosha National Park in Sofia, before leaving I had a nice breakfast and wandered about the yard with the chickens, the three puppies came out for the first time and it was good to see them enjoying the early morning sunshine. I gave the dogs Lola and Lotta the last of the dog treats.
Mica had been to the village shop to get me a cheese pastry to take for the journey and made me a packed lunch, saying goodbye to my friends was emotional and as I was about to get in to the car little Sky gave me a piece of paper and said to read in the car.
Once in the car and a few miles away, I opened it, he had drawn me two stone soldiers from the day we had had out in the Gorge, it was very touching and pretty amazing that a 5 year old boy could be so very thoughtful. Stevche was driving me again, he seemed better this time, lighter somehow and although the drive was again in silence, once in Sofia I gave him a hug and he smiled, to see Stevche smile was wonderful and I was pleased that we were on better terms, he is a good man, just awkward around people.
The hotel was impressive, I had a huge room and it was a lovely area, however I missed my friends terribly and felt a little sad to be away from them after such a short time, still now was my time to go and explore the countryside. There was another lightening storm which I watched from the balcony then afterwards packed up my backpack with camera, lenses, etc. and went walking through a forested mountain, it was a steep climb up but the forest felt so fresh and the ground springy, to breath the same air as the trees was refreshing to the system.
It was a peaty, fresh smell and as I looked up the green leaves above were lit beautifully with the sunshine streaming through them, it was a magical forest.
I walked up the mountain, nor quite to the top as a thunder storm suddenly began to rage from nowhere and I needed to get back down fast, as I descended I jolted my right knee over an old injury where I once broke it and the pain seared through me.
I got down slowly then, once I was back, bathed the knee in warm water and salt to try and ease the pain, in the end I had to strap it up to support it, then went to dinner, it did not matter that I sat alone as I had a terrific lightening storm to watch, it was very impressive and I was glad to be off that mountain.
Day 6 Thursday 12th June
I got up with the intent to explore the area more and hired a taxi driver to take me to Vitoshi mountain across the city Sophia, the driver spoke just a little English and was pleasant to be around, his name was Alex. Once out of the city we drove along a narrow, windy road lined with huge straight fir trees until we got to an area where I could start walking, to my surprise Alex got out of the car and said he would come with me.
He was good company so I was happy woth that although of course I would have to pay for his time, it was good to have someone with me who knew the area. We came to a field of rock boulders, some of them were huge and we started to cross them, by hopping from one to the next, it started off as very easy but once we got into the middle of the rock boulders it got more and more difficult.
Alex would stop and point out a route that he thought might work saying “Tack, tack…tack, tack, tack” as he pointed ti various rocks, meaning I surmised “jump, jump, jump…” as he worked out the best way forward, I would also look and point out a route saying “tack, tack, tack….tack, tack?”
That is how we communicated and it worked well.
More than a few times we got stuck, we would find ourselves on a rock looking all around and wondering which one to jump to, some gaps were quite large and I had the fear of falling or getting a leg trapped in between the boulders, it was challenging at times. I slipped and scraped the skin off my left elbow, it bled a fair bit but I really just wanted to get across the rocks, it was enjoyable working out the route and I thought that we could then continue on a forest walk up the mountain.
Once we had crossed the boulders though we found that there was no way forward and that we would have to turn back and cross them again to find another route. So we tackled them a second time, again we got stuck a few times and Alex and I would both put forward our suggested routes with the “Tack, tack, tack tack….”
Poor Alex was coughing a great deal and kept pointing to an empty packet of cigarettes he had in his pocket, he clearly needed a smoke or better still to give up, but I think he enjoyed it too much to contemplate that as he looked horrified when I gestured to stop.
I was glad once we finally crossed them on the way back as the jumping was jarring my already injured knee and I wanted to do some plain walking after the rocks. We walked through the fir trees, I really loved the sound of the breeze through them, it was soothing to listen to and the coolness was welcome on a hot days jumping.
I took many photographs of the area and after a couple more hours walking, I spotted some really long rusty nails on the ground and picked them up thinking they would be good as a souvenir of the day, these emails were about 10 inches long and I put them into my rucksack. Then we headed back down to the car, on the way back I asked Alex to stop and jumped out to buy water and some cigarettes for Alex. Once back at the hotel, one of the staff came and asked me if my arm was ok as it continued to bleed as I walked though reception, dropping blood on the floor, this was probably not a good look on the white marble floor.
I went up to my room and bathed the elbow then covered it with some bandage and a plaster to hold it fast, of course it continued to bleed straight through, but at least it calmed it down a bit.
A dinner I was treated once again to a fantastic lightening storm, it was good to sit outside and watch the brilliant purple streaks of lightening every few seconds, I tried capturing it on camera and eventually got two shots.
Day 7 Friday 13th June
Today was the last day in Vitosha as I was leaving at 1pm for the airport, I spent the morning in the pool to ease my knee with some non contact sport and enjoyed swimming a few lengths, then I got ready to go to the airport and return back to the UK.
It is worth mentioning here that at the airport, I was stopped and searched then surrounded by men with guns as one of the officials went through my rucksack. He was firing questions at me and seemed quite angry, I could not think what I had done until he suddenly pulled out the 10” nails, of course they were sharp (even though rusty) and could easily be seen as a weapon on an aeroplane.
I apologised profusely explaining where I had found them and that I had forgotten to put them in my hand luggage, you are generally not even allowed to take a tiny pair of nail scissors on an aeroplane, yet suddenly the gunman backed off as an order was barked and the nails given back to me. I stood there quite amazed at this, but the official said “Go, you can keep the nails” I could not quite believe it, but packed them back into my rucksack and went on my way.
All in all it was a great trip.