18.06.2012 36 °C
Thank goodness I didn't leave Melnik early, or I would have missed out on one of my best days yet.
After breakfast at my hotel, I set out for the monastery over the hill, reportedly a two hour trek. My interpreter last night told me to go early to avoid the heat, take plenty of water, and watch out for snakes. When I said I'd heard the snakes in Bulgaria are not dangerous, she agreed but said there were two that if bitten by them, I would need to get to hospital within an hour. Right. My guide to the 7 Lakes told me the views on the walk to this monastery are best on the way back to Melnik, but by my reasoning, when you're walking along watching out for venomous snakes, the view is the same either way.
Initially, the path is along a road built by the Romans. I found this fascinating, but kept walking into Roman walls that I couldn't get over, and then having to back track until I found the actual path again.
For the first hour, the path was through trees, so it was reasonably shaded and quite pleasant. After that, the climb started and I was met by fabulous views of the sand pyramids that surround Melnik.
It was so peaceful and beautiful, walking along the sandy path, through the trees. I was quite surprised to come across a couple resting on a seat, as even in the shade the temperature had reached 33 degrees before lunch.
When we reached the highest point, there was a seat at the end of a side-trail, under a solitary tree, with an amazing view of the pyramids and the mountains that separate Bulgaria from Greece just to the south, and Macedonia to the west. It was absolutely stunning, and as I sat there looking out towards the other countries, I wondered how I might just keep going. I'm so sad that my journey will be over in a couple of weeks, and I just don't want it to end, ever.
The remainder of the path was slightly more perilous, and parts of it were literally breaking away with the erosion of the sand.
Once over the hill, the Rozhen Monastery was very close. Now that I've seen a few monasteries, I can say with some certainty, that this one is very nice. It's fully enclosed, and having been rebuilt several times due to raids and fires, the colour in the paintings in still quite vivid. Since I had shorts and a t-shirt on, I had to cover up to enter. I had a long sleeved top, but had to put on a long skirt that they have there for visitors. The first one I tried wouldn't fit much past my knees, thanks to all this Bulgarian food I've been eating. Fortunately they had a bigger one with elastic and I was soon suitably covered enough to go in.
Afterwards, I walked down into the village and found somewhere for lunch. I tried the local soup made with watery yoghurt, chopped cucumber, and twigs. It was wonderful.
Then I decided to take the path over the mountains back, since I'd enjoyed it so much on the way over. By now it was ridiculously hot, and then I fell over. Well, the path gave way under my left foot, and my right knee hit the ground with a crunch. I had plenty of water, so I cleaned all the sand and dirt out and soldiered on.
On a happy note, it now means my first aid kit has not been a complete waste of space. When I arrived back in Melnik, I ran into the woman who speaks good English. I showed her my wound and she said "oh, that's not so bad" in typical Bulgarian fashion. "No, you're not looking close enough, it's quite serious" I thought. "Yeah, it's just a little scratch" I said.
After freshening up and getting more water (by now it was about 36 degrees), I went on a mini trek up the hill behind Melnik to see the ruined fortress and churches. I didn't make it to all of them due to the heat, but I was amazed when suddenly on the path in front of me, I saw a tortoise.
Next on my agenda was the House Museum, apparently the largest of it's kind in the Balkans, with a huge wine cellar below that is perfect for exploring. The wine was pretty good too!
Finally, I made my way up a little stone path to a winery that was built into the hill more than 250 years ago and has now been in the hands of the same family for 5 generations. A group of Americans joined me for some wine tasting, and it was nice and cool inside the cellar. The local wine is free of all chemicals and preservatives and is quite delicious. The man that runs it yelled at me for talking too fast when I said "a glass of wine please", but I chose to rise above it, and by the time I'd finished my second glass chatting to him, he was a lot less grumpy. When I gave him a generous tip, he was positively pleasant.
So, I found plenty to do in Melnik. There are so few tourists here, I felt like I was the only one most of the time. Melnik is most famous for it's wine, but I have been a bit shy drinking it, due to the high temperatures and the fact that I have a big day of travel ahead of me tomorrow. I'm looking forward to dinner and bed.