Wednesday, 18 March 2015

18th Feb

It was my Dads birthday yesterday, I had a quiet word with him at one of the graves here.. and lit a candle in his remembrance.

Well today at the front of the hotel I saw lots of people gathered across the enormous roundabout directly in front of Dnipro Hotel, I was curious so went over to see if I could find out what was occurring. There was a guy speaking on a microphone while others held banners. I noticed some figures which had been made and fixed onto wooden steaks, as well as large jars which had, what looked like a heart in some fluid.. probably a cows or pig, I'm not sure and still attempting to work out what the demonstration was about, I had presumed it was in connection with the anniversary of the deaths in the last years riots.

Suddenly one of the guys holding a banner started rolling it up.. ah.. I wonder if they are going to march?. I quickly moved to the front as people collected the wood posts, flags, banners and jars. They formed an orderly group and following a small van with its back doors open, music played as they all marched behind the two men at the front who were carrying a religious framed picture.  

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

16th Feb

After the epic day we had yesterday, I managed a few hours rest at the lovely very modern Ibis Hotel which is in an excellent location just 5 mins from Sofia airport, this made getting to the airport for 4am not quite so daunting. A free transfer from the hotel, and I had time for a coffee and bite to eat before boarding the plane to Milan. Wizz Air were great, they are cheap and very comfortable, with a no seat reservation policy it made boarding and exiting the plane quicker than other companies I have flown with.

Landed at Milan approximately 7:05am and was through customs, claimed my bag and out by 07:20 amazing.. Milan airport is quite small but seems well organised as far as buses into Milan go.. no harassing taxi drivers trying to rip you off (like the ones I encountered in Sofia) which was a nice surprise, even though I wasn't actually leaving the airport, it was good to know for future trips.

Outside the main entrance/exit doors of the airport stood rows of busses ready to transfer people into the city. I wandered around for a quick nosey and thought about catching a bus for a look round to pass some time while waiting for my flight to Kiev at 14:00.

I went back inside to see about checking my bag in... hmm.. nothing is on the boards yet, think I will grab a coffee and one of the delicious looking pastries that are flowing out of each cafe in there before they are all gone. Damn.. I don't have any euro.. the kiosk to change money is closed with a note saying "back in half an hour"  I waited..

I can not tell you how much that was worth waiting for.. OMG! It was the best thing I've tasted for a long long time.. in fact, if I could afford to fly there just for one I would, it was that good.. brioche they call them, it was covered with dusted icing sugar, filled with creamy custard stuff and looked like a croissant.. wow.

Well I never got the bus ride because they didn't open the check in desk until 12:30, so I spent all day wandering up and down the airport..

On my way to Kiev now.. arriving at 17:30 and have arranged a transfer with the hotel Dnipro where I am staying. Having been to Kiev twice before I know how easy and cheap it is to get from the airport, but I didn't fancy attempting the underground with the huge case I have this time, plus I arrived at the Zhuliany (nearer airport as opposed to Borispil which is about an hour away).

Arriving at the Dnipro Hotel, it looked closed, the lighting was limited and only one door was being used, although once inside your eyes adjusted to the dim light. My room was at the back facing another building, I was disappointed because I was hoping for one at the front with balcony.. but when on a low budget we manage with what we get, and there was an interesting abandoned looking building in view which I will explore at a later date..

17th Feb

I feel so tired after the excitement and walking up mountains I've been doing over the last week, I feel like I need a day just wandering and planning what I am going to do in my time here.
Breakfast then out for a look around, and see if anything is happening around Maidan Nezalezhnosti commonly referred to as Independence Square.

As I approached Independence Square, men were working on erecting a huge stage similar to the one that was here last year, what it was for I had no idea, but took a few shots of them anyway.. I gathered it was something to do with the remembrance of the people who lost their lives this time last year, but exactly what they were preparing for was unknown.

I walked up Ulista Institutskaya the road where most of the people had died during the Euromaidan Revolution, and witnessed small shrines running the full length of the road up to the top where a large wooden cross stands in front of an old wooden built church. Here there were more shrines, each one contained a picture of the fallen hero, with an arrangement of articles such as their helmet, gas masks and protective shield.

There was a shrine for each person with a picture of them, their name, age and where they were from. There was just one that didn't have a picture, I guess either that person had no family or simply didn't have any photos of them.. It was extremely sad to see all of the faces and really upsetting to see the one without a picture at all.

The whole scene just moved me, thinking that just one year ago, these now referred to as the Heavenly One Hundred, although records have said that 110 people have been identified from the Kiev Euromaidan Revolution of 2014, and 8 police were also killed during the battle.

I walked around every memorial set out, almost on my own, the streets were empty as people would be at work today being a tuesday. It gave me time to take it all in and pay my respects to them even though I knew none of them personally, I felt as if I did.. The sun was shining and snow lay on the ground in parts it was freezing, but I wasn't feeling the cold as I stood in front of the 100 people who would never feel the sun on their faces again.

After spending literally hours in the area, I slowly walked back to the hotel with a constant reminder along the way of the 100 heavenly hero's everywhere I looked there was some kind of memorial. One of them was in the middle of the main road right outside the hotel near the Dynamo stadium entrance.

Kiev is unrecognisable to me, this time last year the road was closed off with barricades either side of the stadium entrance keeping the police out of the city, and Independence Square was a mass of army style tents, which had chimneys, and people cooking meals on a oil drum fires during the day.. The rioters had seized the City and were living on the streets, ready if the police opened fire on them. They seemed to be a close knit community, not soldiers just regular citizens who had the same politics and wanted the then president Viktor Yanukovych be removed from power because of his corruption.
During the fighting, it was reported that snipers shot at anti-goverment protesters from the roof of the Ukraine Hotel and a total of 21 people lost their lives that day the 20th Feb 2014, this is now the date for the memorial.
( pictures from when I was in Kiev 2014)

Protestors were there guarding their posts 24-7, fighting for their rights and future in the country they love, they joined together and were in control of the centre, with barricades on all roads in and out of Kiev. Before christmas 5 protestors had been killed during riots around the stadium area, I was informed by a local who spoke with me and explained the situation.

Hotel Dnipro is in the background.

Here are 2 images showing the same building one year apart..

last year this library building had been turned into a medical centre for injured protestors, and below how it looks today.

Kiev has had a massive clean up in the time since all the trouble one year ago, and there is very little evidence of having ever been any, other than one building which is under restoration and will be completed soon, and a bill board sign is all I saw, with any noticeable damage. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Buzludzha 14 & 15th Feb

14th Feb

Well, I am way behind.. but I aim to get this blog up to date..

Now it's valentines day.. after a lovely lie in  and great breakfast made by the lovely Tosha at the hotel, we set off back up to the mighty Buzludzha.. Being a saturday there were absolutely loads of people on route and up the mountain, looks like its a family day out, something of the past in the Uk..

As we approach the couple of hotels on the roadside up the mountain, we are witnessing cars left on either side of the road, people walking up with their children on sledges.. (cute) and everyone is off to have some fun in the snow.. A car is stuck right in front of us.. and people walk in front of us as Les tries his hardest not to let the car slide in the snow, and run them over.. its all a bit hair raising.. This is the first time we have seen anyone else up here in the last few days.

We manage to park the car is a similar spot to last time (not the same one or we would be stuck once again) oops.

There is a ski slope just meters away from where we parked and lots of the people are headed that way with their skis in hand, others are just bringing the children out to play.. they have picnics with them and the whole family by the looks of it, what a great way to spend your week end..

We set off up to Buzludzha, today this was more enjoyable, the weather had changed it was a lovely sunny day, and the wind had dropped making the climb seem like a breeze in comparison to the other day when it was like being in the North Pole.. As we walked up we talked, this had not been possible on other occasions, due to the wind or me just being so unfit that it took all of me to just catch my breath let alone talk..

I asked Les if the locals ever came up to visit Buzludzha? he preceded to tell me about their anniversary which happens in August, and every man and his dog make the climb up to Buz some people camp in the surrounding areas and take full advantage of the experience, I would too.

As we approach the monument, there are lots of people, (well a few) a whole family with grandma down to kids, are wandering around taking pics and just enjoying the walk.. we stood there and watched, noticing that the old lady was wearing a skirt and everyday shoes.. omg.. here we are dressed as if its mount Everest we are climbing and nearing the summit.. with our ski pants, arctic boots, gloves scarf etc. etc.. we chuckle about this and swear not to tell anyone that the locals just wander up the snowy mountain in their usual attire with no adverse effects on their breathing or feet.. haha

There were a couple of lads in front of us on the way up and by the time we arrived at the monument  they were up the tower, I spotted them looking over. This was going to be our challenge today (little did I know). Les had told me about the tower and I had seen photos other explorers had taken from on the ledge.. I wanted to capture that shot for myself but not good with heights so we will see..You can see the guys at the top of the tower in this photo.

The tower doesn't look very tall in this shot, because it was shot from the front, but it actually stands at 107 meters..
The tower is embedded with a huge glass star on either side, resembling the red star that communism is so widely recognised for, along with the hammer and sickle.

The stars were made specially and are 12 meters high.. bigger than those in the Kremlin. The ruby glass came from Kiev and was delivered with specialist team of construction workers to install them, weighing 3.5 tons each this would be no mean fete..the star symbolised the socialist party and when illuminated from lamps inside, could be seen from afar in both the north and south of Bulgaria.
The glass has since been broken and very little remains, apparently it is said that after the fall of Communism in the late 80's, Bulgarian people shot at the stars hoping to be able to collect the ruby glass thinking this would make them rich.

6000 people participated in the construction of the monument, and everyone had to contribute in raising the money which paid for the building, following it demise the public wanted to reclaim the money they had put into this project and so took from it what they could, aluminium or copper from the roof leaving a naked frame of metal exposed but which clings on to its centre piece, the mosaic hammer and sickle which was put in place by hand, as a man lay horizontally on scaffolding, placing each piece in one at a time. What a work of art it is, just standing there looking at its splendour is breathtaking I could never get bored of this..

Today was perfect for capturing some outside shots, since it was virtually impossible in that wind.. the obstacle today is people, we didn't envisage there would be as many people around, although we had expected to meet up with Nicola and others who were over for the annual Buzludzha meet up, and staying in the nearby hostel. We had bumped into Nicola on our way off the mountain briefly yesterday and arranged to meet with everyone today.. maybe they had a late night and slept in..

The lettering on the walls at either side of the main entrance, are made in differing depths from yet again concrete, and hooked onto the wall. We can see where some of the letters have been removed, and one had been left on the ground. I tried to pick it up.. wow! that is so heavy, I don't know how they were ever put up, or why anyone would take them down.

Huge concrete solid capital letters, bold and typical of the brutal architectural style used during the Soviet reign in both buildings and sculptures.

It was safe to walk all the way round the area with that wind now gone, so I go and explore. Theres some graffiti which spoils it, I love graffiti in the right places, and this is not one of them.. 
There are small porthole windows in a line, which complement the sphere/space like structure, and very little space to walk when you get round the tower side is literally on the edge of this mountain.

Could have done with a few nice clouds this day.. but we get what comes and deal with it, 
Just saying.

Off to the tower we go.. Les you can go first and I will follow. In the depths of the underworld it is dark, good job I had Les with me, who not only has a head torch (very wise) but also a hand torch which I am going to use because its pitch black in there.

We suss out the situation, Les having been previously, knows the limitations of taking all our gear up, the steps are upright ladders attached to the wall, and there is a small landing platform at each level. The first part is most tricky due to a cage around the steps which limits you further if carrying gear, once past that though its easy sailing.
So, with all this in mind, I tell Les that I will stay with all the gear and let him go up alone.. the fact that we had seen others in here earlier, made me not want to just dump our bags and expect them to still be there when we descended.

Right, lets do it, Les has a plan, and attempts to climb on the outer side of the caged steps, until he's at the top of it and can then somehow climb over, that way he can take everything with him..
I hold my breath watching as he scales the metal ladder with his rucksack and tripod in hand.. at the top its not as easy as imagined, and I have visions of him falling on top of me..
He did it.. phew I was so relieved and happy for him because he really wanted to take all of his gear up there.
My turn, I have my rucksack over one shoulder, heavy tripod on the other and a torch in my hand, this is quite scary when attempting to climb ladders, in the dark, and I end up putting the torch in my mouth to free my hand. I manage to get through the first part, so, up we go..
Taking short breaks at levels, purely because the gear was heavy and in the way.

 That piece of metal really wasn't safe it wobbled as he stood on it.

When we reached level 6 I was considering dumping my tripod, I'm not going to use it up there and it was just causing me too much stress in the narrow passage going up these steps.. so I left it on the landing, to collect on our way down.. That made things a little easier, I just wish I had lightened my bag before leaving the hotel too.

We were now at the star level.. here there was lots of room to move around, although the flooring was very slippery with snow and ice. The views were amazing and to think that we were now stood behind these huge stars was impressive in itself, the wind was howling up there through the broken glass.

The grated out edge of the flooring made me nervous, Les walked on it and my legs turned to jelly just watching him, there is a narrow single run of metal acting as a barrier, which Les leant over to touch the glass and my heart was having palpitations at the thought of how high we were and the massive drop we could now see through the gaps in the flooring.. The next few levels were similar as we passed by the stars.. the snow steadily worsening the higher we got.

Final, at the top, wow.. this is something else..Ive heard of people camping up here, theres enough space but my god it would be very windy, even in good weather. There is a barrier at either side which we would climb over in order to get the shot of the wooden remaining roof on Buzludzha, I am taking a step back and letting Les get this shot first, since if it wasn't for him I would not be here.

He is very nervous about getting onto the platform, and hesitates for a while before making his move, I can feel his terror, which I must say I was surprised after seeing him walk on the lower levels near the stars..

As I watched him hastily climb the barrier, I was itching to climb over. I knew it was safe and it was big enough for me to lay down flat, that would make me feel secure. If I'd had to stand up for the shot I wouldn't be able to do it.
Les carefully attaches his camera to the tripod, and keeps close to the rail side of the ledge, not daring to near the edge, he holds his tripod at arms length having set his camera on to intervalometer, which takes shots at intervals set my the user. How clever, I would never have thought to do that, and I was wondering while watching him attach the camera how he was going to press the shutter.. hmm.

Les, climbed back over the rail, wearily and still shaking after such a traumatic experience.. My turn.
I just get over, lie face down and reach out with my camera.. I was surprised at how calm and easily this had come to me.. I was determined to get this shot..I was using my sony A6000 which is small and light, but then decided I was going to shoot this with my canon 5D I want the best shot I can, and this could be the one and only opportunity I have, I'm here so I might as well do it now..

Les passed me my canon which had my Tse 17mm lens attached, this lens is manual focus only.. how can I make sure that its going to be in focus, since you can't look through the viewfinder to check, its pure guesswork. I focussed on something in the distance at infinity and just hoped for the best..

Photograph by Les Johnstone

After watching how easy I made this daunting challenge Les was determined to go again and lay down for the shot, holding his camera. Well, he did it and I was very excited for him to have overcome this fear and go for it.. Well done Les you can cross that one off your list.. 

We took in the views and decided to venture back down to the land.. taking care on the icy rungs of the ladder at this level. I was concerned about the decent, but it was actually easier and much quicker than the elevation was.. I guess because we knew what lay ahead of us.

When we reached level 6, we met a group of people who were part of the Buzludzha annual meet up, There was 5 of them and the landing was a little overcrowded to say the least. Les knew some of the peoples names and we chatted to them for a while, and made arrangements to meet up with everyone later that evening for a meal in a nearby restaurant. 

I grabbed my tripod, and down we went.

Back inside Buz we again bumped into other explorers, one who Les knew by name only, they had chatted online and Les followed this guys blog..

He was excited to have met him face to face.. I think it made his day even more than conquering his fear.  He is apparently well known in urbexing circles although I didn't know his name, I had read his blog before but didn't realise this until later.. He was accompanied by some friends, and was there (we thought) for the reunion an was meeting up with everyone later for food.. 

We went our separate ways, I continued to shoot around the outer walls, which had been affected by the weather and mosaics had fallen from the walls exposing the line drawing beneath, which was the guideline for making the mosaic.. 

While I was doing this we could hear music coming from the arena, a flute and drums.. I popped my head through to see one of Darmon Richter's (the Bohemian blogger) friends in the centre of the arena playing.. so I just took a quick shot..

I wish I'd got a proper shot of him now.. the sound was beautiful and warming, it made you imagine the monument in its prime, filled with people and music.. listening to this calming and soulful rhythm echoing through the walls.. was enchanting and brought it to another dimension.

We then waited for sunset, it was not going to be as good today, there were no clouds but Les was all set up to make a time lapse of the sun going down from Buzludzha.. I set my camera up to shoot every 20 seconds, not to make a time lapse, but to make sure I capture that crucial moment without getting in Les's way or missing it..

After leaving the site, we head back to our hotel, get changed and set off to meet everyone for food.
It was really good to meet some faces I've only seen on Facebook, and to talk to people who have the same interests. People can feed off each other and just talking to someone can inspire you for your next project.

Nicola and her husband Johnathon, now live in Bulgaria, and they arranged the meet up.. when we had all eaten we went up to the Hostel where they were all staying, to take part in a production that Johnathon was working on for radio..

He wanted us all to participate, by cheering at the given time, shout things like"Je sues Charlie" amongst other things.. He randomly picked up his guitar and went to the other side of the room (which was shared with other travellers mainly Bulgarian who went to the mountain for the week end) and proceeded to sing. They joined in, applauded and thanked him by offering him a glass of their wine, which he accepted. The Bulgarians then went on to sing a folk song followed by Johnathon. 
We drank, chatted and was warmed by the welcome log fire which burned before me, after being cold at every given moment in the hotel, it was pleasing to just sit by the fire and watch its flames.. 
We said our goodbyes and headed back, after making some new friends, what a great way to spend my last evening in Bulgaria.. 


My last day, so Les has suggested that we go and explore a couple of locations he had been discussing with a friend. I was up for that, and although it was nice to think I wasn't headed back up the mountain again, I did kind of miss the fact that I wouldn't be going today..
We set off, taking with me my belongings after checking out of the hotel. Later in the day I was to catch a bus from Veliko Tarnovo which would take me into Sofia, from there I will get a taxi to my hotel to catch some much needed sleep before my early morning flight to Milan at 6.10am..

Our first point of call is the glass bottle factory in Elena, the drive was stunning, we weaved up and down mountain roads, passing gypsies on horse drawn carts, and so many empty buildings. There is more empty properties than used..It is very sad to see this country isn such a bad way.. its countryside and mountainous ranges are beautiful, the villages are quaint, the people are welcoming.. and food is really good.. (I will in fact eat anything). 

I snap away on my sony while Les concentrates on driving.. I'm taking in all this stunning scenery, as we climb a mountain.. Les has had a sneaky peak and just pulled over.. The first shot here was taken in the moving car.. and below, when we stopped the car.

As we pulled up to the factory, we saw dogs and more to the point, they saw us.. and insisted an barking their heads off.. they didn't follow as we passed them fortunately.. but continued to bark.

The site looks completely empty, we wondered if we might bump into security.. since there were a few vehicles on site.. but nope.. all clear.

We have a quick look inside what appears to be a small cafe on site.. there are fridges and counter still in there and a back room full of empty crates..

The office at the barrier has some objects in there and the remaining turnstile actually works.. We tread carefully just in case there is someone around.. 

There are various buildings and choosing which one to go in first was like giving a child a handful of sweets and telling them to choose which one.. 
We slowly pondered our way past the chimneys, and around the main building.. checking doors along the way. 

Unfortunately I have no information on this factory other than it produced green glass bottles for the locally made alcohol. I will attempt to gather more info and include it within the blog at a later date, but for now I am just posting a few pics..

There were a few open doors, so we set off inside, we had only been in there for about 15 mins when I heard voices, after a car had pulled up outside.. I recognised Les's voice, as he spoke to a man, I waited in case he was telling Les to leave, and then the voices grew fainter... I went to see where they had gone. The car was still there but I couldn't see them. 

I went looking upstairs and there they were.. the guy had shown Les where all the machinery was.. He didn't speak a word of English, but guessed from the camera why we were there.. He refused the offer of money to allow us to stay there, and instead just waited.. he kept trying to talk to me.. but we couldn't understand a word.. 

This place is amazing, and deserves a full day to get in all the surrounding buildings, which we didn't have time to explore. As we had another location on the list which was about 40 mins from here.. then I had to get over to Sofia. 

On route to Veliko Tarnovo we pass through pretty little villages, empty streets, its so nice to be on the road and not getting caught up in constant traffic.. its so peaceful, and even in the small towns there is little traffic.

We are now in Veliko Tarnovo, I notice the decorative concrete wall and didn't notice at the time there are soldiers heads all the way along, this made me wonder if what lay behind the wall was a cemetery or grave yard of fallen soldiers? We couldn't stop as it was on a main road, one with more than one lane which is all we have seen for the past few hours.. 

Aproaching the town, its clearly a very picturesque and popular spot amongst the Bulgarians and other travellers.. It reminded me of the Amalfi coast in Italy, the way the houses were built high up into the mountain, with views to die for..

We parked the car and set off on a mission to find a mural which depicts life in Bulgaria.. It shows workers, children and the progression of life of workers from poverty through to death.