My plans for today fell through in a big way. I had hoped to travel to Belogradchik Fortress in northwestern Bulgaria near the Serbian border. It’s only about 400KM, so easily doable in a round trip, right? Well, not so fast. I thought that travel was slow going in Mexico, but it borders on the ridiculous in Bulgaria. In just a few days on the road here, I’ve learned that 400KM is a really full driving day here and would take seven to eight hours. Add in the time to view the fortress and it just didn’t make sense. My host strongly recommended that I not attempt the trip, especially since I need to be in Plovdiv tomorrow to return the car.
Moreover, work is picking up, so I had to work this morning and will have to work again this evening. Finally, I am exhausted. Vacationing is hard work!
I had a talk with Max last night and he suggested a driving loop and a few sites I could see in a full afternoon. The drive in particular appealed to me, just a chance to enjoy the car and put it through its paces on twisty mountain roads. He also vetoed my planned route to Plovdiv tomorrow, saying that there is a very long rough stretch that I shouldn’t attempt in a rental vehicle. Good thing I asked! He traced out another route that will go through a bit of what I’ve already done and then take me straight to Plovdiv. He said to plan a full four hours of driving time for that. The car is due back at noon, so I plan to be out the door by seven.
Here’s my route today. I went from Malak Izvor through Glozhene and Teteven on through Ribaritsa and Shipkovo to Troyan, then headed towards Yablanitsa along “the reservoir.” Then on to Etropole by way of Pravets (because Google Maps was being stupid), then back to Malak Izvor and up to the Glozhene Monastery.
I stopped at the fountain in Glozhene for cold water:
And then, I drove. There wasn’t really anything extraordinary or landscapes I hadn’t seen before, so it was a bit of a meditative drive to clear my head, much needed after so much people time in the last week! I stopped for more water here. What a pretty spot and there’s even a picnic table!
Shipkovo is a spa town, but there was literally nothing of interest to me. Same thing with Troyan, which I’ll be going back through tomorrow.
After Troyan, I turned onto the road Max had told me to take and was surprised to see poplars!
And a beautiful willow!
I could quickly see why he sent me this way!
Here’s the reservoir.
I emerged onto the main road I had taken from Veliko Tarnovo and reached the turnoff for Glozhene that would take me straight to Malak Izvor or I could continue on to Yablanitsa. It was only about two, so I decided to keep going to Etropole Monastery to see the waterfall near it. The road up there was very narrow and single lane. I had to pull over twice to let someone pass. Good thing there was room to do that!
Bulgaria has so many monasteries and churches. The one at Etropole isn’t that interesting, architecturally speaking. People mostly come for the waterfall.
The waterfall is really hard to find. There is a path, but it leads in many directions, with no signage. There was no one around for me to ask either. My word of the day is водoпад (vodopad — waterfall).
After walking around the area for a bit and almost ready to give up, knowing the waterfall would be nearly dry anyway, I had the bright idea to ask Google Maps (yes, the same Google Maps that routed me through Pravets). It seemed to know where the waterfall was, so I took a path in the direction it was telling me to go. A couple of groups of tourists joined me as I appeared to know where I was going and followed me like a flock of Bulgarian ducks. We took a path that ended abruptly with a washout:
After doubling back, we tried another path and tah-dah! I’m glad I was expecting it to be quite dry or I would have been disappointed. Instead, I was delighted by the cool mossy cave!
The path back up was fun…
I wandered around for a couple more minutes, at the back of the monastery.
A real flock of Bulgarian ducks.
And here’s the only sign for the waterfall. It’s useless! I guess that the waterfall is loud in the springtime and findable by sound, but at this time of year, another sign or two would have been welcome!
I made a new friend!
It was past four at this point and I was hungry and tired, so it was time to head home. Coming back into Etropole:
Back in Malak Izvor, I finally took the road up to the monastery. Max told me I could walk it, but he underestimated how far Yablanitsa is, so I didn’t trust that it would be “only” six kilometres straight up the mountain. This road was also very narrow, very twisty, and had scary drop offs. I had a couple of moments where the only reason I didn’t turn around is there was no place to turn around! The climb was worth it! This monastery dates back to 1224!
The views up there were the best I’ve seen yet, and that’s saying something!
The father of the church came out to greet me. I am only going to share my first impression of him because Max knows him and said that he’s pretty sure this is the look the father is going for: Rasputin! I didn’t know until departure, when I ran into him again, that he is the father of the monastery. He was very hospitable and spoke good English. Max calls him “quite a character.”
I’ve been assured that I have seen a very good representation of Bulgaria even not having gone into the northwest and southwest parts of it. I have seen the coast, the mountains, and the plains. I have had a good sample of churches and monasteries and seen a fortress. I have been through villages, towns, and big cities. The villages and towns all look identical, with the same style of construction. To be honest, it’s been enough and I’m ready to move on. Max confirmed my departure date (the 22nd of September) so we’re on the same page. I will have a couple of days before I absolutely need to be out of Bulgaria, so I’m hoping that my routing there will take me through Belogradchik, but if doesn’t, so be it. You really can’t see everything!
It’s been wonderful having the car and I don’t regret the experience. Now, to get it back to downtown Plovdiv!