On the Piste, Street Dogs & Rocky hits the road!
Zdrasti, greetings from Bulgaria! Having successfully crossed the border we travelled the short distance to Sunny Paradise Campsite in the small village of Chuchuligovo. We were made most welcome by the lovely owners Ana & Ivo, who welcomed us into their home and gave us a thorough introduction to the taste & consequences of drinking far too much locally produced red wine. Lessons learnt (until next time) we headed off to visit the hot springs at Rupite before continuing our journey to Bansko.
Situated at the foot of the Pirin Mountains in the UNESCO recognised Pirin National Park in South-Western Bulgaria is the town of Bansko, Bulgaria’s largest ski resort and our home for the next 7 weeks as we moved out of our tiny home & into a spacious apartment.
We’ve had the most amazing time in Bansko, plenty of skiing, plenty of apres ski & we’ve met some really great people. We were lucky enough to spend the day on the slopes as spectators at the FIS World Giant Slalom Final. We’ve spent a day on a snowboard, or should I say we spent the majority of the day on our bums. We did have a great laugh (at each others expense) but we’ll be sticking to our skis, its true what they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
Bansko is surrounded by nature, flanked on 3 sides by the Pirin, Rila & Rhodope Mountain ranges, its given us plenty of opportunities to go out hiking & biking. We also went out on a 4×4 ATV safari and had an absolute blast!
Whilst here we’ve been volunteering with Bansko Street Dogs, a non profit, charitable organisation set up to raise money to care for the street dogs of Bansko. Their first aim is to neuter to prevent more puppies being born, and then home as many as they can. It’s heart breaking to see any animal left to fend for itself, however the sheer volume of stray dogs on the streets is overwhelming. I came across Bansko Street Dogs on social media and I instantly knew I wanted to help. Our first visit to the shelter, affectionately known as the Winter Palace was to join other volunteers on a hike, taking with us as many dogs as we could physically manage. We were greeted by a pack of barking dogs who instantly welcomed us in. It was the first of many trips to the Winter Palace over the coming weeks, walking dogs, socialising puppies & cleaning up sh*t, lots & lots of sh*t, which I can only describe as comparable to cleaning out the bottom of a long drop at Glastonbury (not that I have). I can honestly say this was definitely not the highlight, but a job that had to be done & definitely not with a hangover.
We will look back at our time fondly, grateful for all the hard work that everyone puts in to help these deserving dogs. Bansko Street Dogs will always have a special place in our hearts & also our home, as we have taken a precious reminder with us, we’ve adopted Rocky!
It was time to hit the road again, we said our goodbyes and headed East to the city of Plovdiv, an ancient city built around 7 hills & the cultural capital of Bulgaria, it is also the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. We visited the ancient stadium as well as the Roman amphitheatre of Philippopolis. Hiked to the top of Nebet Tepe & watched the world go by from the pavement cafes in the Kapana district.
We stayed a couple of nights near Velingrad, in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains at a campsite which had both indoor & outdoor thermal pools before heading off to visit The Shipka Monument of Freedom, the monument was built with donations from people all over Bulgaria in memory of the fallen Bulgarian volunteers & Russian soldiers during the Shipka battle in 1877, a crucial role in the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.
Due to snow we were unable to drive over the Shipka Pass & had to take the long way round to reach our next stop, the Buzludzha Monument. Built by the Bulgarian communist government & inaugurated in 1981. It commemorated the events of 1891, when a group of socialists assembled secretly in the area to form an organized socialist movement that led to the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, a forerunner of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Probably one of he most controversial buildings in Bulgaria due to its communistic origin it now stands in a state of severe disrepair, abandoned, vandalised & visibly decomposing day by day. In recent years the building has been recognised & awarded a grant towards the creation of a preservation plan. The Ministry of Culture is now talking about giving the site official monument status which would allow the preservation to begin. Although we were unable to go inside due to it being unsafe it is still impressive to see, a true grand design of it’s day.
We continued our journey East towards to the Black Sea coast stopping at Boianovo, after several nights wild camping we were in need of a decent shower. We stayed on a small site owned by an English couple, a little oasis on the edge of a rundown village. After an al fresco shower we headed to the local pub, I say pub as it sold beer, however the resemblance was more akin to a small shack, but at only 70p a pint you can’t expect the Jolly Topers.
We spent the next week exploring & wild camping along the Black Sea Coast, sadly we were unable to appreciate it fully as most of the places we visited were only just starting to set up for the season. We camped at some beautiful spots in Sinemorets & Sozopol, where Rocky encountered the sea, felt the sand beneath his paws & discovered that eating sand is not as tasty as eating fresh snow. Rocky visited his 1st castle, his 1st yacht & we spent the night on the film set of the latest Liam Neeson movie. The film is called Memories and was partly shot at the Marina in Sozopol, if you happen to see it when it’s released and you see 3 shadows lurking in the background, that’s us, fame at last!
We have also camped in some not so nice spots, a grubby car park in he centre of Burgas, the deserted coastline of Nesebar & Sunny Beach, and the boy racers meet up in Shumen where we had the pleasure of watching the kids donut around the car park in their 1990’s Escort XR3i’s. Thankfully our stay in Shumen was enhanced by our visit to the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument, built in 1981 to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the First Bulgarian Empire & The ancient Fortress with historical links traced back to the early Iron age.
Our plan had been to travel from Bulgaria into Romania but with the borders still closed to all but essential travel we changed our plan and continued through Northern Bulgaria. We stayed in Velico Tarnovo, often referred to as the ‘City of the Tsars’ located on the Yantra River and is famously known as the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. We visited the stunning Tsarevets Fortress, wandered through the cobbled streets of the old town & spent an afternoon with friends of a friend, invited into their home where we sat drinking G&T’s on the balcony of their tastefully restored apartment, looking out over the most beautiful city in Bulgaria.
We visited the Capital Sofia from our Park 4 Night spot at the Vivacom Arena Georgi Asparuhov Stadium, home to PFC Levski Sofia football club. We wandered along the vibrant Vitosha Boulevard, marvelled at the Neo-Byzantine styled architecture of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral & watched the locals partake in a traditional Bulgarian dance on the steps of the former Central Mineral Bathhouse, now the Regional History museum.
As we continued our journey south we stopped to visit the magnificent Rila Monastery, the largest & most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. We had previously driven 95KM from Bansko to visit the site, only to be turned back by the police as a landslide had rendered the road impassable. Thankfully it was 2nd time lucky.
As we headed back to Bansko & the comfort of an apartment for a few days, it was lovely to meet up & spend time with friends we have made along the way. A big shout out goes to Heather & John, for their hospitality, hilarious stories & endless supply of wine. I hope one day we will meet again and Rocky & Rasmus will once again be reunited to run riot. It was great to see Yani, Yoris, Bear & Evie, friends we’d made during lockdown in Greece.
And finally, one last visit to the Palace, I couldn’t pass back through Bansko without helping out for one last time. I spent a lovely morning walking dogs, cuddling puppies, filled with hope that these beautiful souls will all find their forever homes & thankful that Bansko Street Dogs will continue in their mission to neuter & care for the street dogs of Bansko preventing more puppies being born, the circle has to stop.
Should you want to make a donation, more information or can offer a forever home, please see below:http://www.banskostreetdogs.com
As we left Bansko once more, our negative PCR tests at the ready, we headed down to the border. Our last night was to be in the same campsite as our 1st, a fitting end to our travels.
Bye bye Bulgaria, it’s been an blast!
Next stop Albania – Thanks for reading xxx