This post was updated on August 24th, 2020
Off the beaten track – Shipka
After yesterday’s visit to battlefields and monuments of modern times, today is going to take us up in a hot-air balloon before I get the chance to visit places of ancient history. A Thracian tomb is on my list. But the day does not end there if I don’t get captured in the grave the summer solstice sunset over Buzovgrad Megalith is said to be unique as well. Let’s go!
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Traveling in a Hot-air balloon
Another early morning, as we are up and gone before 7a.m. with another good reason. We are going to go onto a hot-air balloon. This is only possible for a few hours after sunrise and then again around sunset. Otherwise, the temperature on the ground would be too warm to allow the balloon to rise.
So the first goal of the day is to find the field from where we are going to start our tour. Thanks to the invention of GPS and reverse gears, it is not a huge problem. Upon our arrival, the setup of the balloon has already started.
Preparations for take-off
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Karin and Evo tried to set up a hot-air balloon tour already in Belogradchik, but the weather wasn’t playing along. They did not mention it before now, nor did they say before yesterday that we would have a chance today. When I saw the weather in Belogradchik, I knew it was out of the question to do the ride. I, however, had no clue they would just try to fit it into another day when the weather would be suitable. So toady’s trip comes as a little surprise. I cannot say it often enough: I feel very spoiled by them. Not only are we having a great time every single day, but whenever I feel like “this is the icing on the cake,” they pull out some new tricks.
It takes a little while before the balloon is ready to rise. Time I am, of course using to take photographs.
Traveling in a Hot-air balloon
Finally, we are ready to take off. Now, will my fear of heights kick in when we are lifting off the ground, and all I have between me and the sky is the basket we are riding in?
I am glad it does not. Even looking straight down is no problem.
I am getting slightly hungry. We left the guesthouse without eating breakfast. However, our host made us some sandwiches to take with us. Well…I did, but they are in the car now. Thankfully Evo was smarter with his. And he is happy to share them with me, granted that I will repay him later with some of mine.
Wind direction is directing us
We are a little unlucky with the wind’s directions this morning. It seems to be changing from altitude to altitude from East to West, and back again. Of course not in exact straight lines. But nevertheless, it would get us all the way to Karlovo (Bulgarian: Карлово) eventually if we stayed in the lower level. Or right into the mountainside on the higher level. Both are not options in favor by our pilot. In Karlovo, we would not have many safe alternatives to land. Going up into the mountains, however, would make it incredibly challenging to bring the balloon back home. Well, you cannot have it all, and I still believe that we were up in the air for at least two hours. So my first hot-air balloon tour comes to an end in a cornfield.
Portrait photography in the fields of Kalofer
Our next photoshoot is already waiting for us. We are heading for some portrait photography of herders with their buffaloes. So far I haven’t been very fond of portrait photography. Phil and Karin offer immediately to do something else instead, but hey, I am here, let’s see how it works out.
This is not the typical “tell people where to look and how to look” portrait photography. I suppose the herders would call us nuts if we tried that one. It is a more natural approach – at least for me. As I cannot understand a word of what Evo is telling them anyway.
Finding your subject
Well, the first step is, of course, to find some herders, which turns out to be an adventure in itself. It’s not like we would continue driving on a paved road to find them. It’s not even a gravel road but much more right through some fields of grass. Maybe not exactly what they made this car for? Evo still gets us to the right place. Karin and I spot the first herder, taking a bath in the nearby creek, naked. Maybe we don’t want to stop and ask him if we can take photos of him?
Continuing our search, we finally find a herd of buffaloes and their herders. Time to get out of the car and see what we can do.
Of course, the biggest issue that I usually have with making portrait photographs is that I would have to talk to strangers. Now, I don’t speak enough Bulgarian to talk to the herders. So Evo has to take care of the talking. I just hope to take at least a few decent photos. If I don’t well, then it was worth as try. If I do, who knows over time, I might get the hang of it after all…
Once more, the good old “I didn’t know what to expect, but I most certainly did not expect that” proves true. Shooting these portraits is way more fun than I could have expected. I still doubt I will be shooting Weddings any time soon. But you never know what the future holds for you…
Time to move on
I do know, however, that the near future includes picking up our luggage from last nights guesthouse and going to Kalofer for some lunch and ice-cream.
This before we head on to our next accommodation. Today we are going to stay in Shipka, starting the remainder of the day with a short resting period. I so need a warm shower and then to catch up on some sleep in an attempt to get rid of an annoying headache. Just getting ready for the shower when I hear a knock on my door. What’s up now?
Well, it’s Evo. As it turns out, something is wrong with the water pump, and they are about to fix it. But would I like having a bottle of ice-cold water? Can this guy read my mind? First the sandwiches this morning, now the cold water, which would have been on my list for after the shower.
Time to rest, unfortunately, the idea of sleeping, having a shower and post-processing 16 of my photos, which Phil asked me to do fails due to lack of time.
I only finish my rest fifteen minutes before Evo picks me up to go and visit a Thracian tomb. Though they all warn me that the grave is not a very photogenic place to start with. It is still an interesting one. I have got to admit, in school, we skipped the ancient Egypts and the Greeks. We raced through the Romans. And I never heard of the Thracians before I started reading on the “Eagles of the Empire” series by Simon Scarrow a few weeks ago. Time to get some more information into my head.
Visiting a Thracian Tomb
The Golyama Kosmatka Tomb (Bulgarian: Могила Голяма Косматка) was initially built as a sacred hill in the first half of the 5s century BC and later extended into a temple. The temple – today’s monument – consists of three connected rooms. The first one is rectangular, with a gable cover of 1.53×3.37 meters, created out of precisely cut granite blocks. The second is round with a diameter of 3.35 meters and has a dome-shaped roof. I read somewhere that the ceilings of toms actually inspired the roofs of orthodox cathedrals. Maybe there is some truth to that?
The third room of the tomb is the most impressive one. It is a monolithic chamber constructed out of a single granite block for the floor and walls. A second block forms the flat roof. On the north side of it – opposite to the entrance – a death bed and a table are caved into the granite. This last chamber contained valuable burial gifts like golden and silver vessels, knee pads, armor and the like, but no corpse. The skeleton of the king’s horse was found in the first chamber. Instead of the corpse of the king, a bronze bust was discovered. When one compares it to the coins of the same period, it could be the bust of Seuthes III (Bulgarian: Севт III).
It is an excellent site. And on the way out Evo points out another feature. If you stand in the middle of the round chamber and speak, you will feel the echo. Not only that, you will hear yourself as if you had inhaled some helium. It is hard to describe – and I guess if I hadn’t tried myself, I would not have believed it either.
It’s time to go back and pick up Karin and Phil to go for dinner. Dinner does not mark the end of our photo adventures for today, though. Our journey continues to Buzovgrad Megalith (Bulgarian: Бузовград мегалит). Only at the summer solstice, the setting sun will shine through a hole in the megalith.
Of course, many people had the same idea for today’s summer solstice. They aren’t even deterred by the fact that driving up to the parking lot is an adventure in itself. The path is more a reminder of a roller coaster than a drivable road. But of course, Evo gets us all the way up – not that there would have been much of a chance to turn around once we were on it anyway.
Ancient History of the Megalith
The megalith is a human-bull structure from about 2000 years BC, built by the people inhabiting Bulgaria before the Thracians. Yet the site was used for ritual purposes by the Thracians as well. It serves supposedly as a gateway between the world of the dead and the living. But it could have been used for much more. After all the capital of the Odrysian Kingdom, Seuthopolis, could have been seen from here.
Seuthopolis was only discovered during the building of the water reservoir Koprinka between 1944 and 1956. The lake now covers the ancient city. There is, a suggested project to make Seuthopolis accessible again. This by building a wall around it, to protect it from the reservoir’s water masses. Tourists could then visit the ancient city by boat. Sounds like an exciting idea, to say the least.
So far, this megalith-site has preserved its secrets rather well. Helped by the fact that the Thracians did not have a written language, of course. Who knows what future generations of archeologists might discover here?
Going back to Shipka
We leave slightly early, as to not end up in a long queue with everybody else. However, the big question is, will we make it down this adventurous road in one piece again? This time, it is not only the condition of the road that is bothering us. But also deer that wants to share it with us without obeying any traffic rules.
Another beautiful day comes to an end. Tomorrow we will have another early start. However, before that, and indeed before I go to bed, I have to post-process those 16 photos which Phil challenged me to do… Otherwise, I don’t see how I could get a chance to do it during our tour.