Sofia has this one indisputable advantage of being surrounded by the mountains. In whichever direction you would go, you would meet one range or the other. South with a city bus – there’s Vitosha (Cherni Vrah, 2290), to the west Lyulin Mountains (Dupevitsa, 1256), to the east – Stara Planina, known also as Balkans (Botev, 2376), and with a train towards the north – Vrachanski Balkan (Beglichka Mogila, 1481). In the winter break we decided to visit this named in the last place.
Last minute preparations – a map printed out from the internet on a single sheet, just before closing of the printing point. It was already in the train when we realised, that our designed three-day trip was reduced to a A6 format, rest of the map being unnecessary. Ah, but come on, it has been worse – every time when I see a crappy map I have in mind my hand-drawn map which guided me through Romanian Muntii Cindrel. Most important is that we have the relief of th terrain printed out in color, we can figure out the rest.
Shops closing early in the Christmas season, there is no gas. And when I made peace with fighting with bonfires in the cold December nights, I recall that over a year ago I left a gas container with Mitko during my first visit to Bulgaria. Quick phonecall – he still got it, great!
So the last thing remaining is to check which station to get out of the train and everything’s ready. Last minute, but succesfully….
Hitchhiking in Bulgaria
… not entirely. The train departured at 7, so we had to get up still in the dark. We’re regaining the lost sleep on the hard benches of the train in the meantime losing track on how many stations have we passed – and the lack of signes on the platforms doesn’t really help. So, obviously, we get out in the wrong place, something like 15 kilometers before our destination point.
The looks of locals suggest, that tourists are not frequently seen in Tsarovo in the middle of the winter. We roll into a bar like a couple of aliens with full backpacks and a tent attached. We cheer oursleves up with a cheap coffee and think what to do. Dani is a bit sceptical towards my statement, that hitchhiking is ridiculously easy in Bulgaria, and even more disbelieving when I say that I have never waited more than 15 minutes on the side of a road…
… the scepticism last for the first 10 minutes. We get out of the hitched car close to Ochindol.
For the not so high mountains – the highest peak is only 1481 m – Vrachanski Balkan is surprisingly steep, rocky and treeless. In addition not so popular for this time of the year, so it is perfect for finding a weekend pinch of adventure.
Heaven for rent
On the road from Ochindol to shelter Parshevitsa we encounter a small “zaslon” with stone walls. Not marked on the maps that we had (at this point two already), something like 30 minutes from the place that we’d set the tent last night… But no regrets, it had been already taken by then by a guy, that made dibs for a New Years Eve. Good destination for the future, a few days in a mountain house with a view on the peaks and valleys – why not?
Taste of the past and shkembe
Not much later we get to shelter Parshevitsa, in which we encounter several people even though the ski season is dead. Insides remembering golden times of mountains tourism and perfectly suited for cheap and great tasting meal, which consists of two dishes and beer for two people – for around 12-13 lv (6 euro). Hurray for Polish shelter, where this kind of prices would never appear…. Nor the great shkembe chorba, spice soup made from animal’s insides.
Next part of the trip mainly consists of views that many mountains of similar height could be jealous of:
In the evening of the second day we start going down, while it gets colder than on the ridge. Temperature inversion that we have seen as a sea of clouds the night before gets in our way when we fall asleep and wake up in the middle of this sea. And where there’s sea, wet there is.
This way we get to Milanovo, but our descent is not yet finished. Ahead of us lays a kind of road that is the most frustrating to any walker in the mountains, with it’s twists and turns stretching few kilometers to alomst 3 times as long:
We put 4-5 kilometers behind us, rounding in zigzags and I’m pretty sure at least one circle, trying to cut the turns through the steep walls. After an hour of walking a first car appears, so we decide to test the “ridiculously easy hitchhiking in Bulgaria” thing once more… after few minutes we leave the car at the bottom of the mountains, just by the train station.