We arrive in Bulgaria in bright sunshine. Immediately we head for the next town, called “Russian”, to supply ourselves with food, ice cream and cash. The outskirts of the city look like a ghost town: abandoned industrial ruins and empty streets in a very bad state accompany us until we reach the city centre and find the first signs of flourishing life.
The next morning we head towards the Shipka mountain pass. The pass is named after the nearby village and by reaching a height of almost 1.200m is one of the highest passes in Bulgaria. In 1877 and 1878 the pass was teh location of the decisive battle for the liberation of Bulgaria in the Russian-Ottoman War. A monument to the soldiers who died during this battle was erected at the pass, a 31m high pyramid-shaped tower framed by lions and cannons. From the foot of the mountain 890 steps lead up to the monument. After careful consideration (“Do we take the steps?” – “Uh, no?”) we decided to use our motorcycles and enjoy the view. On the horizon we can already see our next destination: Chadschi Dimitar, better known as the Buzludhza Monument.
The Buzludhza Monument has long been on my list of places I want to visit one day. After a few kilometres on an abandoned road full of potholes, it finally rises against the grey sky: the Ufo of the Bulgarian socialist movement. The monument is located directly on top of the mountain and was opened in 1981 to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian state. With the collapse of the socialist state eight years later, the building was abandoned again, and it is impressive how quickly the condition of such a building can deteriorate within a few years. We really badly want to enter the building to see it from the inside, as the large hall and the more than 500 square metres of mosaics are pretty impressive. Unfortunately, the building has been under 24-hour surveillance by a security guard since May 2018 due to its ailing condition and increasing vandalism, and the last known entrances via a hole in the basement of the building are closed with wooden boards and a pile of stone. Plans to lock the guard in his hut or to sneak to the entrance at night from behind are as quickly discarded as they were born, and so we have to be content with the view from outside. Which is still impressive enough. Located on top of the mountain, the concrete slab looks really out of this world, water drips after the rainfalls of the last days from leaking parts of the formwork and the view of the surrounding mountains and hills is really unbelievable.
After a few hours of admiring the monument, it is already late and the decision is made to visit the camping spot recommended by Jason in the forest on the neighbouring hill. Arriving in the forest we find a clearing from which several trails lead to different directions. The possible paths are divided and explored individually to find the perfect place for the tents: Slightly secluded in the forest and with a direct view of the monument. But a perfect campsite also means that you have to walk up the hill for Internet access! Or riding the bike to collect wood for the evening campfire as well in one go. After every part of our wardrobe starts to smell of smoke, we lie down in the tents and are lulled to sleep by a familiar sound: The rain crackling on the tent. The next morning the whole forest and the monument, which is hardly recognizable in the distance, are covered in a mysterious fog by the low hanging clouds, and of course all our things are wet. We do not give up our hopes and want to try our luck again with getting a sauna, and indeed: In Shipka there is a hotel with steam and infrared sauna, where we stay until the next day. As usual, the room is converted into a drying room for tents and laundry.
Since the farewell of Anton and his KTM is imminent, we don’t drive very far. The luggage is unloaded in an apartment and the area around the village is taken a closer look at. We discover lonely lakes, ride the Enduros in endless circles through an abandoned quarry and frighten cows with low-flying drones. However, the KTM doesn’t seem to like the closing in farewell, she lets off her anger by boiling the water coolant again and again. After a short repair session we head off for the last dinner together. As there is neither an English nor a Russian menu at the chosen restaurant, we are asked by the waitress to order food without knowing what is actually offered. We point unerringly to the beer and the shashlik shown on Google pictures and are not disappointed.