Land Of Nightingale

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June 2015

Nature pushes back somewhat in recent times in Europe’s many states. Mainly due to the fact that people are leaving rural areas for the towns and modern lifestyle. This is true for the UK as it is for Central and Western Europe. It’s also true for Bulgaria but we noticed the phenomenon here is on a different scale.

The first thing you notice when driving across Bulgaria is that there is no one to be seen around. You drive tens and hundreds of miles into the night and all around you is nothing but dark and that is pretty much all that surrounds you as far as you can see as any villages are very sparse. The second thing you will notice by day is how powerful comeback nature is making and despite the similar course taken in other parts of Europe, here it is truly on a vast scale. You see fields reclaimed by nature, whole areas gone wild, covered with lusty new growth, woodlands mixed with rich grasslands which make for large expanses of a very diverse and naturally spread “park” or savanna character forest. This space is full of life and animals and botanically indeed is very diverse and healthy as the number of insect and amphibian species we saw was confirming. You move through the areas where you struggle to have any fields in sight at all. When you come across them, they are often sort of separate group of specially managed parts set apart from the wild and very vigorous growth of the rest of this countryside. It is a very unusual sight for Europe but from the nature point of view, it could be hardly more positive. I am sure it has something to do with somewhat relaxed attitude to strict management other parts of Europe seem to have adopted or simply it is a part of the culture characteristics for given region for a long time that is, in a way, helped by overall low population in Bulgaria (just 7 million) of which majority is, and is becoming increasingly more, urbanised. It’s not just the fields but whole villages are swallowed by this (amazing) forest as parts of the rural areas mix with it in a varying degree. In Strandzha we were driving a road that had whole one meter of its width reclaimed by the native forest on both sides. Not something you can clean or remove easily! Speaking of the roads and rural areas, for a general picture, I can add our experience we had up in the north of the country and it’s again an interesting one.

We foolishly listened to our Lusi (SatNav got the name after a Cyclone in New Zealand) and she came, foolishly, with a route that wasn’t 100% in our book but she claimed it’s the fastest so she convinced us to test it out. We were relatively close to the place we wanted to get to when we took those small roads. Nothing wrong with that, we do it all the time, just that it was our first day in Bulgaria and so some caution is usually due, especially when the navigation coverage proved, and is even reported to be, a little patchy. But time wise we were doing pretty OK and were making good progress just as expected or even a bit better and so we thought we can try this.

We were driving through some really interesting landscape I mostly described above and a few ghost villages and settlements and a few semi-ghost ones were something we were becoming more accustomed to. We also noticed our new red car was evidently an element of surprise for an odd inhabitant bumping into us. It seemed as if he would know pretty much any car that might appear there and also the time. But we were making progress and crawled on led by Luci’s commands and getting successfully closer to our target. The only negative was perhaps that we observed that this definitely is not the fastest way to get there. But our experience taught us many times to let the things go their way at some point and look around with our eyes open instead of worrying too much.

When we were just a short distance from our target we hit a sign that was clearly saying (in Cyrillic) that the fork we needed to take is not drivable and that we need to take another one instead. A diversion we figured. Then, when coming through the next village we spotted a driver. He stopped his car, left the door wide open and disappeared into a small building, for probably some refreshment or similar. We grabbed the opportunity to use our hands and map and Zlatuše had a chat with someone who actually drives in the area. Reassuringly, he agreed that we should continue our direction and begin the steep climb looming ahead. This pushed us further still quite confident. Our route took us along some more bizarre places like edges of huge escarpments we first saw from below from a far distance (photographer looks differently into the landscape). Lusi got also squared with our new idea and adapted; only occasionally saying something clearly stupid like jumping off a cliff. When we got to just 20 min. from our target, we hit the familiar looking sign again. This wasn’t looking good. Zlatuše suggested ignoring the sign and that it means maybe something else. I tried to be more rational, despite the heat (reaching over 30 degrees in the shade) and concluded the sign cannot just mean anything else than what it clearly means. And besides, all the signs were, it simply was stating something what, after driving through the “normal” roads where not just a wheel but the whole car could disappear, you better trust.

This time the map didn’t quite agree with this alternative no matter how we turned it. Time from our location was increasing rapidly and Lusi went hysterical so she had to be switched off (we knew that will upset her and she won’t talk to us for some time later but that's something we have been through before). The situation changed because we had our plan for the evening.. And that was, despite the good margin we had, slowly coming. Driving back was not an option, or simply just the last one in case we get definitely trapped. So we pressed on no matter where we emerge to get ourselves orientated again and this time we will head for the nearest “big” road we will find. The road was as if it was freshly bombarded and the real problem now was to get through. The pace we were advancing forward was about 10, 15, 20 km/h max.

Eventually we got lucky and made it out without meeting another sign and without any major upset. After a long ride and a small let-down with what we promised to ourselves from a “bigger road”, or after helpless wandering about a village to find ‘the right exit’ , with Luci on protest, we finally arrived on a bituminous surface with some traffic. After a few shots in Asenovtsi and washing down the car a bit we shot towards our place where we spent good time until the last light of the day with everything just perfect!

Otherwise Bulgaria is known to be a crossroad of various influences and various sources of these influences as this space has been for millennia. And talking of diversity and treasures of nature no one can quite omit the kind of wealth the country possesses culturally and spiritually. It certainly wasn’t the last time we visited it.

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