When I left Buzludzha things almost went very bad for me, as it was a race against time to get to the road before darkness set in and I ended up taking a wrong turning which cost me a precious hour of daylight. In the end I had to stumble along the last 5km in the dark, but half of that was on a wide track, so it all turned out OK in the end. I hitched down to the nearest town but the last bus to Veliko Tarnavo, where I wanted to go, had already gone (in this part of the world buses rarely leave after 6pm). Instead I took one to the town of Dryavno, which was half-way, where I knew there was a monastery. Monasteries are great places. Not only are they usually aesthetically beautiful and set amidst stunning scenery, but you're almost guaranteed to be able to stay the night - and if you do have to pay anything at all, then it's usually very cheap.
|Dryavno monastery in its beautiful valley setting.|
In the morning I was very glad that I hadn't made it Veliko Tarnavo. The night before as I was approaching the monastery I was completely oblivious to everything but getting there and getting some rest; but now, in the morning light, I could see the fast mountain stream gushing past the monastery walls and the narrow, cliff-bound valley that it was wedged into. The monastery is also dear to Bulgarians as it was the scene of some of the first battles in their struggle for independence from Ottoman rule. The whole area of the Balkan foothills, both north and south, is dotted with innumerable picturesque valleys and quaint villages, some displaying many National Revival houses that I've really grown to like (see picture below). Furthermore the area is a hiker's paradise, with well-marked trails radiating out from every village, criss-crossing the region in every direction. It's late in the year and no-one is about, but the weather has been unbelievably pleasant, so I'm enjoying the deserted trails for as long as I can.
My main destination there was Veliko Tarnavo, which, for 200 years during the 12th to 14th centuries, was the capital of the Bulgarian empire. The erratically winding river and steep cliffs made it the ideal location for a fortress-city, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to stop the Ottomans who razed the city. One can still get a good idea of how imposing the place must have been by wandering through the ruins of the citadel. However the current city is worthy of admiration as well, with more National Revival houses stacked one on top of each other on the steep hillsides forming a magnificent panorama at sunset as the fading sun warmly lights them up.
|National Revival houses in Veliko Tarnavo.|