Tuesday, November 16, 2010

АСЕНОВГРАД – Asenovgrad

АСЕНОВГРАД – Asenovgrad 
 Asenovgrad is a small city located 25 minutes (by train) south of Plovdiv.  It has about 55,000 people, and the elevation in the city is 900 Ft. above sea level.   It is a town Lynn and I visit often.   The round trip train ride costs each of us only 1.40Leva, and it is a great escape from our more crowded city. In 1230 Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II strengthened the local fortress Stanimaha (now called Asen’s Fortress) and because of this reason the city was named after him in 1934 (literally city of Asen). Among its more unique claims is that it is the wedding dress capital of Bulgaria with more gown shops than any other place.  It also has more chapels and churches per capita than any other Bulgarian city (15 total including one at Asen’s fortress).   
Most importantly, it is nestled right into the base of the Rhodopes  mountains.   Within two hours of getting on the train in Plovdiv, we can be high up in the hills around Assenovgrad.  From the Assenovgrad train station, it is a quick walk along the short pedestrian walkway next to the river before you take a left and start taking narrow streets leading steeply uphill.  There are trails in the mountains all around this small city, and Lynn and I have only started finding all of the connections, and ways to get from one trail to the other.  We wish there was a local map with all the trails, but we have only been able to find a map with the major trails throughout all of the Rhodopes mountains.   Of course without a good map, it just means you have more adventures, and also have to talk to more people to try to figure out where this (or that) trail may lead. 
The Cliff from half way up - at the West end of the ridge
This past Sunday afternoon, I decided to head to Asenovgrad, and try to connect some of the trails we have taken in the past couple of months.  In order to do that, it meant I had to climb up a very steep (almost cliff-like) section of one of the ridges, and see what was at the top.  I had already taken a small trail more than half way up the ridge, and we had seen other people coming down this trail.  We just did not know where those people had been coming from.  We had never seen anyone along the top of the ridge.  But I just had this “feeling” there had to be a trail up there.  So… off I went.  I had lots of water, some food, and my map (without all the trails) with me. 
That small trail I had been part way up on an earlier trip, got steeper, and pushed around behind the cliff exterior.  I was thankful for that, and hopeful that I would find out that this trail came out on the top.  As long as I kept going up, I figured I was going in the right direction.  It turned out that this trail did take me to the top, and it was Spectacular!!! You could sit on the top of the cliff, and see into the rest of the mountains off to the south.  Lynn and I like this ridge because you face the south and get the full effect of the late Fall and early Spring sun).   We can go here, find some rocks, and just sit in the Fall sun soaking up the warmth like a snake.  From the cliff on the top, the view was awesome.  And… the trail kept going. 
Looking East along the ridge.  
So… Like any explorer, I followed the trail to see where it would take me.  I found a walk that I will try to repeat often.  The trail continues along the top of the ridge.  But what I did not know until I walked the ridge was that the top of this ridge is almost a “knife edge”.   The top was normally not more than 100 feet wide.  In many places it was only 30-40 Feet wide, and most of it was a barren rocky top.  That meant, I had unbelievable views whichever way I looked.  To my left, the ridge dropped dramatically off 2000 feet to the valley floor where there was a patchwork of grape, wheat, hay, and other fields.  The view toward the valley was unobstructed for as far as the haze would allow.  To my right, the cliffs dropped to the small stream in a valley a thousand feet below, with a view into the higher (almost 4,500 Ft) mountains south of this “front-range” ridge that I was walking. 
The trail took me along the ridge for about 50 minutes until I reached the ridge end, where I was amazed to find a small chapel.  Even more surprising were the 15-plus people there who were restoring the chapel. It is rare to find Bulgarians working to bring back old structures.  More amazing was that they were doing it here in the middle of the mountains.  I was not able to figure out how they got the mortar bags, bricks and sand to the chapel.  There must be some old logging road off the edge of the ridge near the chapel.  But I guess finding that trail is just one reason to make another trip to Asenovgrad. 
Asens Fortress with my ridge walk in the background
Although I could have headed off the eastern edge of the ridge at the chapel down into the forest, I decided to return back along the ridge to another trail I found near where I climbed up on the ridge.  It was a glorious sunny November Sunday, and I wanted to make the “ridge walk” again.   So.. I headed back, stopping often.  When I got to the end, I parked myself on the cliff, had some apple slices, soaked in the sun’s warmth, and enjoyed the view.   While I was there, some other people arrived including a couple of young “mid-twenties” girls and their small “dust-mop” dog.   We all decided to leave the cliff at the same time.  I asked them (in Bulgarian) which the fastest way was down.  On the trail I came up, or the new trail I found going down the other side.  They told me the new trail, and they were going down that way.  Since I was not sure where exactly this new trail would come out, I was happy to let them lead the way.  It was much quicker. But what was more fun was the conversation on the way down. 
Irena and Dianna both lived all their life in Asenovgrad.  They had gone to college in South West Bulgaria about a three hour drive from here.  They have graduated, but are looking for work which they cannot find.  They showed me where they live, and I assume they are living with their parents – like so many other Bulgarians.   They asked me all of the usual questions.  How long have I been here, where do I live, where do I live in the US, do I like Bulgarian food, do I like Bulgaria, and on and on.  I also asked about them, where they went to school, what they did, etc. (By the way, this was all in Bulgarian.)
The trail we were on ended up on a large high rocky cliff-like peninsula which projects into the edge of the Asenovgrad.  Lynn and I see this cliff wall every time we visit.  There is also another chapel at the end of this cliff peninsula.  Our trail down the mountain took us past the cliff to the front of the chapel where the girls talked to some other folks.  Then we headed backwards along the trail we had just come on behind the chapel to the cliff.  I was confused!  There is no way down, and I kept asking where we were going?   Irena told me to watch and learn!  And we headed over the  cliff edge on a small foot path that zig zagged down the cliff.  At one point, they told me they were mountain goats – and I agreed.  But we got safely down, and I learned the trail.  At the bottom, they asked if I knew how to get to the train station.  I did.  We parted, and I headed to the train station and home to Plovdiv. They went back to their homes.
It was a wonderful day!!!
Thanks for reading

1 comment:

Madeline said...

Awesome photos Mike! Now that I have more free time I'll have to keep updated on your adventures!