Last week was spring break in Bulgaria. I was low on funds and the weather wasn't the best, so I didn't see as many new places in country as I would have liked. I did, however, make a cross-country trip to Природен парк „Русенски Лом” (Rusenski Lom Nature Park) and Ивановски скални църкви (the Ivanovo Rock Churches). I'll write briefly about those places in a minute, but I want to start with something else.
In four months and a few days my time in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer will end. Last year at this time I wasn't ready for it to end, and, as a result, I agreed to extend my service. But now, the time is right.
Once upon a time, I met a girl. We had fun together and soon entered into a relationship. The relationship worked, and we stayed together for days which turned into weeks which turned into months which turned into years. It wasn't anything I had ever planned, it just sort of happened. Life was good, and, even though I knew deep down we weren't right for each other, things were too comfortable to sever the relationship and move on. As a result, we probably stayed together longer than we should have.
During the nearly fifteen hours I spent on trains going to and from Иваново (Ivanovo), I realized my relationship with Bulgaria is very much like my relationship was with that girl. Life is good, and I'm comfortable here. But we're just not right for each other, and prolonging the relationship merely because it's comfortable just doesn't make sense. It's time to get out of the comfort zone and search for a better match.
Anyway, I digress ... back to Rusenski Lom Nature Park and the Ivanovo Rock Churches.
After securing lodging for the night, we wandered off, against our hostess's advice and blessing, in a light mist. We got wet and didn't see much other than some views like this one. But after six hours on the train, it was a good way to stretch the legs and to get our bearings.
Day two brought nicer weather, and we took full advantage. Some nice folks drove us to the village of Червен. We started at the medieval fortress overlooking the village and hiked more than 20 kilometers along the river to one of the rock churches. Here are some shots of and from the fortress.
The hike through the gorge was pleasant enough, highlighted by blooming fruit trees, dramatic cliffs, soaring vultures (the northernmost breeding pair of Egyptian Vultures in Europe) and Black Storks, numerous Hoopoes, and singing wrens, robins, tits, and finches, among others.
This is the rock monastery "St. Archangel Michael."
And these are some of the monastery's famous paintings.
While most people visit the park for the rock churches, these are some of the things I found just as interesting.
A small pig farm on the outskirts of one of the villages ...
a small cave used to dry grass ...
an old-fashioned well in one of the villages ...
an old school saw ...
a friendly shepherd with his flock ...
and, quite possibly, the perfect ping pong table and game.
Even though it's time to move on, I sure am going to miss this place.