Bulgaria II: Churches, Monasteries, and the UFO Monument to Communism

May 27-June 1, 2023

It may sound strange, with us suffering “castle burnout” and “church burnout” after our second year in Europe visiting all of these amazing places, but we were headed to visit some churches and a monastery in Bulgaria. Though admittedly these are a little different.

Shortly after crossing the border from Romania and riding through Ruse, Bulgaria, we turned off the main road and snaked our way down a small backroad to our lodging for the evening: Complex Orehite, aka Hotel Walnuts in Bozhichen, Bulgaria. About a mile before our destination, the skies turned black and the wind picked up. It was obvious that the weather was about to get very bad. We pulled up to the entrance to this small family hotel, and I walked past the rooms to the main house and restaurant. Finding nobody available, and the rain starting, I quickly returned to Diana, who was standing near the six or so rooms. There was a key in the door of Room 3, so I opened it and looked inside. It was empty, and clean, so we made the executive decision to check ourselves in. We ran back to the bike and pulled our luggage off just as the hail began to pelt us and the lightning began to strike nearby.

It hailed hard for several minutes, mostly just pea-sized, but some larger. We sat on the back balcony of our room watching the hail and rain, thankful that we had made it to the hotel just in the nick of time. Had we stopped for coffee or a snack earlier, there would have been no place to hide from the storm, and it could have been painful.

The rain eventually let up and we began to see movement down towards the restaurant. I walked down there, and found several young men who clearly worked there, and I’m guessing were probably brothers as well (as I said, small family hotel). They confirmed that we should take Room 3 (good to know), and we agreed to return for dinner around 7pm.

I can read exactly one word on the menu…BBQ. Thank you Google Translate Camera Mode for allowing us to order, and thanks to the staff for some great suggestions.

“Fresh Grilled Bacon with BBQ Sauce”…More like Pork Belly…and “Broccoli with Four Types of Cheese”. Excellent.

“Boneless Pork Knuckle with Wild Mushroom Sauce” and “Chicken Herb Filets with Parmesan”. Delicious. Not the cheapest meal we’ve had at about US$29 total, but worth every penny.

The next morning we rode a short ten minutes or so north to Basarbovo, to the rock monastery of Saint Dimitar Basarbowski.

The Rock Monastery of Basarbova. It was founded in the 12th Century, but is best known for St. Dimitar Basarbovski, who lived (and died) in the rock cliff in the 17th Century.

After waiting out another small rain shower, we headed south another 15 minutes or so to the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo.

This small path leads up to a ridge that then leads to the main church.

At the top of the short climb you can look across the valley from this cliff to another cliff. We had been talking for a while about the idiots that climb over the railings at National Parks to take photos in dangerous situations, like at the geysers at Yellowstone National Park, or at the rim of the Grand Canyon. Some of these idiots insist on doing “yoga poses”. There’s a website that logs the antics of these morons in the hope that the National Park Service will identify and arrest/fine them (and it’s working). The owner of the site coined the term “Touron” to describe Tourist Morons. So here’s Diana doing her Touron Yoga Pose, but on the correct side of the railing. (And just to finish the rant, we consider anyone who insists on blocking access to these places for the rest of the general public while they spend long minutes taking dozens (if not more) Instagram pose photos to be dangerously close to the Touron category.)

The entrance to the church is a bit narrow…

The frescoes on the walls are original and unrestored, but preserved (to some extent), and date back to the early 14th century.

This painting on the ceiling of the Last Supper pre-dates the famous DaVinci painting by 150 years.

Our religious tour complete, we headed south once again to Idilevo and MotoCamp, and once again got caught in the rain. We spent a night at MotoCamp, which now had many more visitors than the first time we arrived a week earlier. In all, we counted riders from thirteen different countries this time, including Austria, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, France, UK, Australia, Romania, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, and Germany.

We stopped at a roadside station for petrol and a quick snack, and while seated at a picnic table, happened to notice this dog who had found a cool, shady place to take a nap.

While back at MotoCamp, we briefly ran into Chloe Jones, who is riding this Honda C90 from her home in Wales to Tajikistan. She has a great Instagram and YouTube channel.

The next day would be our last riding day in Bulgaria for a while. We headed south from MotoCamp, back over the Shipka Pass that we had come over a week earlier, to the Buzludzha Monument, formally known as the Buzludzha Memorial House.

Built in the 1970s during the socialist communism era of Bulgaria, Buzludzha was intended as a museum to communism. It opened in 1981 and was shut in 1989 at the fall of communism in Bulgaria.

The monument sits in a remote location atop Buzludzha Peak.

An adjoining 70m (230ft) tower has a Red Star on each side that measures 12m (39ft) across and is made out of synthetic ruby glass. The stars were lighted and reportedly could be seen as far away as the Romanian border to the north and the Greek border to the south.

With the fall of communism in 1989, the massive structure sat empty for many years, and was quickly stripped of all of its’ finer materials. It became a destination for “adventure tourism” until within the last fifteen years or so when an effort was made to try to save what was left of the building. More recently the building has been barricaded (too little too late?) to prevent entrance by vandals, and a guard has been posted.

We left the haunting structure of the Buzludzha Monument and rode back once again to MotoCamp, where we would spend our last day preparing for a trip home. We had planned several months ago to surprise Diana’s mother on her 90th birthday, but to our surprise, Diana’s parents turned the tables on us and planned their own trip for her birthday (yep, they are amazingly healthy people who continue to live happy lives on their terms at 90+ years of age). So she wasn’t even going to be home when we arrived! Nevertheless we were happy for them and we were ready to take some time off and be home.

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