South of Idilevo and Veliko Tarnovo in the Balkan mountains lies an awesome piece of Bulgarian history. On the top of Mount Budludzha at over 4700 ft lies a tribute to commemorate the Bulgarian socialist movement. It was basically the birthplace of the Bulgarian Communist Party and where they first secretly convened in 1891. The history goes further though. In 1868, it’s where the final battle took place between Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman Empire. In 1981 it was opened to the public, but when communism fell in Eastern Europe, it fell into disrepair. It was pretty snazzy when first built. Beautiful marble and intricate mosaics filled the inside
We rolled there in a crew of three. Richard the Englishman on an old Armstrong MT500 military bike, Michael the German on one of the most badass homemade motorcycle and sidecar, and myself.
It’s a beautiful ride up twisting turn after turn. Down lower, spring is emerging quickly, but as we gained elevation the landscape clung to winter. Bulgaria is full of roadside cafes, and before the final climb to the top we pulled into one. Sometimes when you order bean soup and they seem to understand, a bowl of calf stomach soup might be coming your way. From a few ridges away you get you’re first glimpse of the concrete behemoth and it’s enormity. Before the top are some monster torches being held, which are pretty cool looking with the UFO and tower as a backdrop.
As you get closer there are all kinds of off-road tracks you can take up towards the top, which are steeper than they look (as Richard found out when he cartwheeled over his handlebars onto his head). A big pile of snow blocked the road a km before the top, but it’s easy to find another way with a bike.
The ride across the grassy meadow was pretty exciting. It looks like a massive ray of light should shoot out the top and send communication out to aliens in far away galaxies. Maybe it used to.
The outside and inside are covered in graffiti, some pretty good.
Massive concrete Cyrillic letters are at the entrance, and some have been popped off the wall. They’re hanging on thick re-bar hooks and Arnold Schwarzenegger must have come down from Austria to lift them off.
There was one off the wall and we wanted to load it into Michael’s side-car as a souvenir, but that sucker was crazy heavy and we gave up. The communists sure knew how to make some solid letters. After word got out of people taking selfies hanging off the top of the tower, whoever owns it now put up signs everywhere to stay out, but it doesn’t do much good. They lock and weld the doors shut, but they’re quickly broken back open. It’s an eerie feeling crawling through the small hole in the bottom of a wooden door. Cold air hits you in the face and another level of silence is all around you. It sort of reminded me of walking around the bombed out buildings in Bosnia. The difference is nature is the one inflicting the damage here. It’s crazy how quickly a man-made structure can be crumbled into pieces by the power of the environment. Being on a mountaintop, Buzludzha is victim to harsh conditions, like snow, wind, and other extremes. Over the years, with no maintenance or upkeep, man is losing the battle at a rapid rate. Walking through the inside and into it’s guts is a bit nerve-wracking with all the rubble and debris strewn about. I wouldn’t want to be in the wrong spot when a piece of the roof gave way. Up a couple of flights of stairs leads you into the main hall.
There were still dirty clumps of snow and ice all over, and the light piercing through the cracks in the roof almost gave it a purplish hue. The entire 360 degrees of walls are covered in murals made with small pieces of glass. Much of it is still intact. It’s a beautiful contrast between these, the graffiti, and the colors of metals and concrete decaying.
You can look over it and imagine when it was brand new and the bleachers full of people. Warm and full of energy, and now cold and full of a completely different type of energy. To really explore Buzludzha, a head-lamp is a must. Once inside, it’s bigger than you could have imagined. Besides the main hall and outer area with amazing views, there are all kinds of hallways and passageways that lead deep into it. Luckily Michael had been before and had an idea of how to get to the tower. It took us a while going down dead ends until we found the right way. At the top of the stairs that led down to the ladders was a very creepy shrine and writing.
Try and imagine what that’s supposed to mean.
Along an empty elevator shaft are metal ladders taking you to the top of the tower (with the red star you can see in pics from outside). It felt like they would go on forever. There must be around twenty sections to climb up. The first rays of light squeeze through and you reach the giant red star. Theres one on each side and the ladders continue to a few platforms at different levels along them.
The final floors are full of electrical boxes and what not. The steel hatch to the top was welded shut the other time Michael had come up, but this time it was wide open. Beautiful views in all directions.
I was planning on continuing south after Budluzha, but a party and bonfire sucked me back to Idilevo for one more night. The next day I cut south over the Troyan pass this time, which took me by dried up ski lifts and views over the lowlands in all directions.
At the highest point, over 5000 ft, is The Arc of Liberty monument. During the Russian -Turkish War, the Russian army and local volunteers took over the pass in January 1878 under harsh weather conditions. Russia’s victory in the war resulted in Bulgarian liberation from Ottoman rule. The monument was dedicated to the Bulgarian-Russian brotherhood of arms, which also included their unity following WWII. Unfortunately the doors were tightly locked so I couldn’t get up to the top.
You could spend weeks exploring Bulgaria’s forgotten monuments.
The little villages through Bulgaria remind me of Georgia, where time seems to have stood still. The old ways are hanging on and people live simple lives. Farmers trot down the highway on horse cart while BMW’s whiz past.
I made it to Lake Batak in the SW Rhodope Mountains and found an epic camping spot. Along the main road on the NW side of the lake are dirt tracks that head up towards the forests.
One of these led to a grassy hilltop looking over the area. The sun set over the lake and into a cluster of snowy mountains in the distance towards Macedonia.