Bulgaria part 1

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October 10th 2017
Published: October 12th 2017
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Thursday 5 October
The rasping sound of a tongue licking our campervan was what woke us up this morning. All around us was the tinkling of bells and loud 'moo' sounds. When we looked out the window, there was a herd of cows ambling past!

Last night we had arrived after dark, and wondered where on earth the coordinates given to us by Vasco would lead us! The roads in Bulgaria are not very well maintained and tend to be full of potholes. Passing through one village, daddy didn't see the speed bump (which had no marking), and the campervan gave an almighty jump, with everything going flying! Toward the end of the drive, we took a dirt road that seemed to lead into the middle of nowhere! Indeed, when we awoke we were surrounded by incredible rock formations that the Pirin area is apparently known for.

After a light lunch, we went for a walk up the road to discover the nearby Rozhen Monastery. We hadn't seen it the night before in the dark, but we had passed right by it a couple of kilometres back. The walk was hot at dusty in the beating sun, and mummy found it a bit tiring. The monastery, however, was very pretty and had an interesting history. It is the only monastery restored during the first centuries of the Ottoman rule which has survived to this day. The Melnik ruler, despot Alexia Slav, built it in 1217, but in the 17th century it was destroyed by fires. Later it was home to a famous calligraphy school, a centre of faith and the arts. Within the monastery are beautiful stained glass windows, ancient icon paintings and detailed woodwork. The most interesting icon is the Miracle icon of Saint Mary, an exact copy of the icon from a monastery in Athos (the third peninsula in Chalkidiki).

We continued our walk to the little village down below the monastery. There, we decided to eat again in a quaint little restaurant that sold local wares (painted gouds, woven cloths, woven socks, various jams, honeys and pickles and local tea) out the front. As they spoke no English, mummy and daddy negotiated their way in Bulgarian by asking them (using gestures) what they would recommend. Out came a plate of local hot pepper spread, another of feta, homemade sausage, and a homemade flatbread. I think they liked the meal! Watching mummy and daddy eat made me ravenous, but I only got my squeeze tube of baby food which I devoured!

We returned home through a sunset over the beautiful pinnacle cliffs and autumnal forest - a distinctly different climate to back home in Australia!

Friday 6 October
Mummy and I slept in so late this morning that daddy was itching to do some exercise! He took off for a big run up around one of the peaks and returned with a big grin. Running always seems to make daddy happy!

Then we packed up and drove six kilometres to Melnik where we stopped to have some lunch and get some internet access to find out where to go next! Melnik was an independent principality, with Melnik as its capital, ruled by Despot Slav until he was killed in 1230 and his brother inherited the throne. We had no idea how beautiful a town was in store for us, and ended up spending all afternoon exploring it!

First of all we walked up the main street past all the Tavernas through the pretty little village. We continued right to the end and decided to follow a path up a steep hill to the St Virgin Mary of the Holy Place Monastery. We continued up many steps along a dirt track, winding its way through the trees. Mummy was tempted to head back down, when daddy exclaimed that it was just ahead! The monastery had been built at the beginning of the 13th century on the top of a precipice - the sand peaks being a feature of the town, rising up steeply on both sides of the main street. The precipice, however, had gradually eroded, taking parts of the monastery with it. Today, a church has been built alongside the ruins of the former monastery, and is the subject of a yearly festival. There was a magnificent view of the town we had climbed up from, as well as the surrounding peaks, from the top.

When we returned to the town, we stopped at a Taverna for lunch. I had a HUGE chair with table all to myself - it was a very bright pink! I had a ball picking up peas, corn, carrot pieces and broccoli that waa spooned onto my table. Mummy and daddy had a mixed grill of meats that looked yummy and some crumbed cauliflower which they loved! The serving man was very shy, but he gave me a few smiles and made some funny faces at me.

After lunch, we headed back up the road to Kordopulov's house, built in 1754 specifically for wine production, and bought by the rich Greek merchant Manolis Kordopulos. The first floor, where the wine was made, was most impressive, with over 200 meters of tunnels which were dug over 12 years!! Mummy and daddy were so impressed with the wine that they even bought a bottle! Another feature of the house, making it unique in Bulgaria, is its Venetian glass windows that are a mix of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. The house was indeed lavish, with splendidly plush Bulgarian carpets, enormous rooms for welcoming visitors, and spanned several floors.

Before we left Melnik, we stopped into a pretty little shop with lots of paintings and mummy and daddy um-ed and ah-ed about several before finally choosing one to buy!

About half an hour's drive further along, we reached the town of Kromidovo and the campground recommended by Vasco, Kamping Kromidovo. As we drove through the town, the campervan gave a huge kangaroo hop, and everything went flying! Luckily mummy was holding onto me tightly! The roads in Bulgaria are often not maintained and full of potholes which makes for a bumpy ride. Not only that, but the speed bumps aren't marked, hence daddy had not seen the one we went over.

When we arrived at Kamping Kromidovo, we were given a warm welcome by owner, John, and his French woofer (who had arrived yesterday, hitchhiking all the way from Turkey), Luco (Luc-Olivier).
John showed us around, and shared a story or two to boot. We were invited to partake in a dinner of ratatouille which was to be cooked by Luco. We couldn't have hoped for a better place to spend what promised to be a weekend of inclement weather!

There were also another older French couple staying. The man had a great many stories to tell mummy in French, one of which was his experience with the speed bump in town. His caravan had actually got stuck and seesawed on the speed bump because it was a lot lower to the ground than ours! To his surprise, this led to the neighbouring Bulgarians emerging and offering him wine, as well as their British neighbours coming out to help! He was most touched by the Bulgarian hospitality!

Saturday 7 October
We awoke this morning to pouring rain! Vasco had warned us of the bad weather, hence we had decided to stay south in a camping ground. It was the perfect day to work on catching up with my blog entries by the fire!

First though, daddy had promised to make pancakes for breakfast. He slaved away in the kitchen for hours, but everyone gobbled them down ravenously. I think it was a good idea. I got my own banana which I gobbled down too (well, a big chunk of it!).

Daddy set up my peapod by the fire and we hung out there all day blogging. I especially liked the wooden barrel table where I practiced grabbing on, standing up, and doing my squats. I can even hold on one handed now, and daddy thinks I've grown because I can hold on to both sides of the cot at once when I'm standing, whereas I couldn't reach before. There are also 5 dogs (three resident and 2 from the neighbours who are away) and some cats who I like to watch and try to touch.

Dinner was a big affair as there were so many groups of people staying - an English couple, John's friend Julie from England, a German family, Israelis, Bulgarians (whose mother had just done a 30km race up a nearby mountain) and Luco. An American couple were also going to stay (in the tipi which got rained out) but, even though they were offered a room inside, they changed their mind. John hadn't expected so many guests, and his partner Sara was away in the UK, so he was a bit stressed getting the house ready.

We had suggested using the wood fire pizza oven for dinner, and John had agreed, but we weren't sure how many would join for dinner. So daddy and Luco set about making a pizza dough. They weren't sure there would be enough, but in the end only John, Julie and the English couple ended up joining us, so there was plenty! Everyone pitched in to help, chopping up ingredients, making the pizzas, and daddy cooked one pizza after another in the oven. I was captivated by the fire, the red lanterns hanging up, the animals, the people... there was no way I was going to sleep! Eventually, mummy left daddy to chat and took me to bed, but it was very cold away from the fire!

Sunday 8 October
Today we tried to get a few chores done before leaving - a load of washing (which we could hang out to dry in the sun - yay!), more blog, filling the camper with water and so on. I got to play on the whicker fence in the sunlight.

Mummy and daddy didn't even have to make breakfast as some Israelis who were staying made their traditional breakfast for everyone to share. Julie made me a special breakfast - my first scrambled egg! It was so yummy I ate it all!

It was such a beautiful sunny day compared to yesterday. Julie made toys for me out of bottles and stones and set up a blanket for me to play on in the sun. She is so lovely! She even helped mummy and daddy hang out their washing!

John was passionate about military history and had some interesting stories to tell. He told us of a place near the border in Greece called Rupel (also the name of a local Bulgarian winery) where there were ruins of a fort and a series of tunnels underground that had been built over the decades between the first and second world wars. Apparently during WWII, they managed with their ancient weaponry to hold off the Germans with all their state-of -the-art machinery for four day thanks to these tunnels, following which the Germans finally decided to circumnavigate the mountains to reach Thessaloniki and take over the town. The story goes that Hitler was so impressed he gave a letter to all those who fought giving them free passage back to their homes!

We called grandma and grandpa as well as Uncle Jeffrey and Aunty Susan to organise our Hong Kong visit in early November. It was fun to see grandma and grandpa again, but it's a bit funny to see their faces move in mummy's little black box. I tried to touch them but she just kept pulling it away. I'm not sure how they get inside there, I guess it's something I'll learn when I get bigger!

It was late afternoon by the time we went on our way to the Rila Monestary in the Rila Mountains. Apparently it has been so cold there might be snow and ice! On the way daddy stopped for fuel and gas and we raced around Sandaski supermarket for provisions! It was 6pm before we began the 2 1/2 hour drive!

Monday 9 October
I awoke this morning to a completely different landscape - snow! Apparently daddy had made a hairy ascent the night before up a very windy road dropping off to sheer descents on one side. He drove very slowly as there was snow on the side of the road and he was worried about ice on the roads. He seemed to have got us here safely as, when I awoke, we were parked in a big empty car park with a big pine forest all around us - Rila National Park.

Mummy jumped out of bed and pulled on her clothes, much to daddy's bewilderment. She dressed me up too and jumped out the caravan door with a big grin, excitedly exclaiming that I was going to play in the snow! I, of course, had no idea what snow was, apart from the distant white mountain tops we had seen hiking in Switzerland. Was I in for a surprise!

Rugged up in my winter gear - it was so cold I needed all the jumpers Yvonne in Exeter gave me PLUS my Patagonia onesie from mummy's friend Claire AND the gloves from grandma - mummy took me to the edge of the road to stand in the snow and put a bit in my hand. Silly mummy - I couldn't even feel it with my gloves on, so I pulled them off with my teeth!

Well, this thing called 'snow' was funny white stuff that crumbled from my hands when I touched it. And it was so cold!!! I didn't really know what to do with it, and it was a bit too cold for me - I was far more interested in trying to grab the plants that were peeping out from underneath! But mummy and daddy persisted! They let me try standing in the snow but my feet just sank down! It was soft to fall back on though, but I was a bit worried mummy was just going to leave me there!

Next, mummy ran into the snow and started packing it into a big ball. It became very firm when she did this. Then she put more balls on top of the first one and daddy and I rushed back to the campervan to get a carrot - what was mummy up to?! When we got back, there it was - my very first snowman!! We took lots of photos of me beside the snowman and mummy was more excited than I had ever seen her!

After breakfast, we rugged up again, packed my backpack and headed off to find the Rila Monastery. Instead, we found our way to the bottom of a ski lift! It turned out that the monastery was on the other side of the mountain! So we decided to wait until 12.30 to catch the chairlift up the mountain and do the 7 lakes walk. This region is apparently the most famous region for foreigners to visit, and we waited with several other Australians, Bulgarians, Israelis, a Saudi Arabian, a Canadian and some Germans - indeed a popular location!

As we had an hour before we left and the weather was rather cloudy, we all returned to the van to prepare ourselves for the hike. I put on another layer of singlet and leggings (onesie, two jumpers and Patagonia suit), as well as beanie, gloves and scarf! Wet weather gear as well as snacks and water were also packed. It was apparently-1C at the bottom, but fortunately no wind.

The chair lift was rather exciting. Daddy took me in my backpack on his lap and I looked down over the edge at the trees that went wooshing by. It was slow and long, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the view back over the snow capped peaks and of the incredibly tall pines dusted with snow. It was all terribly pretty.

At the top, we began our walk among the majestic mountains. It was so picturesque, but the snow was so bright for my eyes I fell asleep several times. Daddy's feet sunk right down into the snow at times. We passed each of the 7 lakes one by one and each had a name according to its shape - the kidney lake, the teardrop lake etc. Mummy and daddy had several conversations along the way, and at times the sun peeped through the clouds which made the landscape glisten beautifully. Mummy and daddy both looked radiant - I think they enjoy walking through the snow! Mummy was a bit worried on the way to the last lake that the fog might descend and make it difficult to find our way back, but the day turned out perfectly, and we managed the whole loop, winding our way back over the rocks and streams and melting snow to the refuge. When I awoke at one point, I was so hungry that I gobbled down a squeeze tube of fruit mummy fed me. But I had to wait until we returned to the refuge at the top of the chairlift before mummy finally gave me a long drink of milk. Finally I felt satiated, and finally I got out of the backpack and mummy carried me in her arms so I could appreciate the ride down in the chairlift! We made the last chairlift at 5.30 pm with half an hour to spare - what a day!

Everyone was happily tired when we returned except for me - I had so much energy! I copied mummy drawing in the condensation on the window and played pitter patter footsies with her on the ceiling of the camper in the bed. I also discovered zips - mummy's winter jacket is great fun as it has so many cords and zips I can pull on!

While we played, daddy made a monster chicken and pumpkin curry, but I was fast asleep by the time it got eaten!

Tuesday 10 October
Daddy stopped in the town of Belchin on the way to Plovdiv. We walked up past the medieval church and found a steep Eco-walk trail which led to the ruins of a castle on top of the hill. But that wasn't the interesting part, for behind the castle was an amazing sprawling playground! There was a long wooden suspension bridge from the castle to the playground, and the scene was made all the prettier by the mountainous backdrop and dappled sunlight through the autumn coloured oak trees! It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon! I tried my first slippery slide which was so exciting! Daddy also held me on the low ropes course, but that was a bit more difficult. Then we joined mummy on the rope hammock which I tried to climb up but my feet kept slipping! On the way down a pretty path through the oak tree forest, daddy gave me a ride on his shoulders. We were running up and over boulders, spinning round, and doing all sorts of fun things. I was laughing so much!

After lunch - I tried quite a variety of foods until mummy finally fed me some milk - we kept driving through the flat plains of Bulgaria with the snow capped mountains in the background, through the little villages with horse-drawn carts a plenty. I didn't notice much as I drank thirstily!

On the way to Plovdiv, we stopped at Bulgaria's answer to fast food - 'Happy bar and grill'. Mummy and daddy weren't too impressed with the food, but I loved it as the waitresses all came and played with me!

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