A murky but dry morning. I persuaded David to accompany Banjo on our morning walk. We used our favourite route, and though we came across no wildlife other than woodpeckers we were treated to an appearance by the sun and as a consequence some great views over the valley. Arriving back in Ritya we came across Mark toiling, barrowing a delivery of logs into his woodstore. We gave him a hand for half an hour and we took over the barrowing duties while he stacked the logs neatly in tiered rows.
The sun was in a good mood this morning and heightened our spirits enough to contemplate a trip out. Milen arrived back from Dryanovo and selling his old washing machine for scrap. He had been in contact with Crassy (another part-time Ritya resident) who owns a Subaru garage in Gabrovo and had arranged for David’s poorly car to be seen the following day. It was decided to shower and drive to Gabrovo, see Crassy and continue on to the Shipka Pass to see a space ship. And that’s what we did.
We followed the old route to Gabrovo over the mountains. It had been closed for a long time and had only been re-opened this year. There was only just enough room to fit a car down what was once quite a wide road, the bushes had encroached onto the carriage way and had soon knocked the wing mirrors into their protective position. The rest of the 8.5 miles over the mountain was to the sound of branches and twigs machine-gunning along the side of the car. We met no other vehicles.
We stopped briefly at Crassy’s garage in Gabrovo to confirm that the car did have an appointment with a mechanic (it was feeling quite poorly now and I guess not looking forward to the Shipka Pass inclines). Resuming our journey we headed in what I can only say was upwards. Luckily, they had now built a by-pass for this once only possible route over the mountains to the south of Bulgaria and in the past would have been just one long line of struggling lorries attempting the crossing. We met few other cars and many, now empty and derelict roadside cafes. The views through the forest displaying its stunning autumn colours begged for a photo or two, but I didn’t dare ask David to stop as I feared our struggling car wouldn’t care to start again after being given a rest.
We stopped for salad and beer at the top, choosing the first of a small line of restaurants that still managed to stay in business on the back of independent tourists and the odd tourist bus. The spot is quite important to Bulgarians as it is here where they repulsed the invading Turks (some time in their past) and they had built quite a spectacular and imposing monument. After feeding our stomachs we were back in the car and heading upwards again on the last section to the Monument itself. On arrival we parked alongside a few cars and with Banjo all excited climbed the long staircase to the top. The combination of thin air and our earlier wood-barrowing activities quite exhausted us. I can’t think of any other reason for the heavy panting and jelly legs, as our little dog seemed ok. After a lot of photos and scrambling around to see the magnificent sights all around us, David pointed to another, higher mountain on the horizon with a large building perched on its summit. That’s where we are going next.
The journey again was a lonely one through a beautiful forest that I am sure I had seen in catalogues of picture wall-paper, designed for elegant and sophisticated city dweller apartments (as seen in spy films etc.)
When we broke clear of the forest we emerged onto a little alpine meadow below what can only be described as the summit of a mountain with a huge flying saucer sitting on it. We were the only people there. Parking the car in front of what at one time must have been a very impressive plaza with an equally impressive and huge statue of some metalled fists and lit torch, we prepared ourselves for what looked like a challenging slog up the path to the top. We were not disappointed!!!!!!!!
We had released Banjo from his lead and unhindered by this mornings log lifting venture he bounded up the track. Every 100m or so as David and I stopped to take breath I could see him through sweat fogged eyes sitting patiently a further 100m ahead with a look in the eyes that shouted, well come on!
Remarkably, we managed to reach the top in 2013, pausing briefly to catch the few wisps of oxygen that were available at that fearsome height I photographed the views before turning the lens on the intergalactic vehicle itself. As imposing and huge as it seemed below, close up it was massive but derelict. It had been where the Bulgarian Communist Party faithful would entertain their fellow Eastern Bloc dignitaries and impress them. It would have. Even in its dilapidated state as it is today you can't help but feel awed and insignificant beside it. The hang-over from the communist era has left it unloved, vandalised and forgotten. A shame, it would make a superb hotel.
From up there we saw the occasional car drive by on the little road below, none stopping to marvel at the sight on the mountain, then all of a sudden a man appeared. He looked like a hardened mountaineer with all the proper gear (none of your flashy designer stuff, but stuff that was made for a purpose and worked). He watched us for a while, probably gauged that we were foreign tourists and then checked his map, nodded and then carried on with his journey. He looked as fresh as Banjo!
The journey down was just as tiring as that up. It would have been so easy to have attempted to run and lose a few teeth and a metre or so of flesh in the trying. Tempted by Banjo's effortless sprinting back and forth we resisted all the way to the car.
As we were getting into the car another vehicle stopped and asked if we could speak English. I was surprised as they were obviously German, so why not ask Sprecken Ze Deutch? They wanted to know if you could drive to the spaceship. We said yes, but didn’t know where the road up to it began and that WE (English winners of WW1, WW2 and the 1966 World Cup) had climbed up to it. They parked, got out an array of cameras and made as if to climb it also (Yeah, we were there first!) We drove away silently chanting “4: 2, 4:2, 4:2).
The journey off the mountain was just as pleasant as that up it, but without the worry that our little car would stop and die. Prior to passing through Gabrovo we visited a monastery on top of some very high cliffs. Significant because it is where the invading Turks threw the local Bulgarians over the edge, probably in an effort to see whether they could fly or not. A very picturesque little church was built on the edge to commemorate the Turkish experimentation. As I couldn’t read the Bulgarian explanation on the information boards , my interpretation is a best guess.