My Trip to Zemen - The Day I fell in Love with Bulgaria
My first summer in Bulgaria. I had looked forward to it ever since I moved to the country in September. The season quickly turned and I was waiting for everything to turn green again – so I could enjoy the sun and go out explore the country. My first trip in such fine weather was to Zemen, in western Bulgaria. A beautiful area – at an hour and a half from Sofia. The landscape is hilly and excellent for long walks. There’s several small villages where nothing much happens. It’s peaceful – as is the whole countryside of Bulgaria. I found Zemen because it’s on a railway line, in a pretty landscape and there’s an interesting monastery to see. I took the train – it went through the Vladaya pass right near Sofia. You see the town Vladaya rise up against the side of Vitosha mountain. After that, there’s the city of Pernik.
And so, the train goes south, right through the fields with tall grass and grain. The next stop was Radomir. Then, several small stops and eventually Zemen. I dreamt away at the window, the movements of the train always make me fall asleep in a matter of minutes. I fell asleep and woke up again in a different landscape. When we got to Zemen, it was the conductor waking me up. She had remembered where I should get off and she was so kind to think of that when she saw me sleep. She wished me a good stay and I wished her a safe trip. There was another friendly lady at the station, she waved at the train with a sign so the driver knew he could continue the trip. The station lady also wished me a good morning. I always look around the station building every time I arrive somewhere – to see where other trains go – it’s what travel addicts do. I looked around and saw the station lady have some coffee in the sun outside. There were many plants all around her little office and it seemed she took good care of them.
I asked her how she liked her job and she said it’s quite nice. I could imagine that – there must be something to waving a train goodbye and seeing the faces of travelers pull out of the station, imagining where their journeys and lives are heading to. Then, going back inside the office or having some coffee in the sun. Reading the paper. Checking the train schedules. Doing the post. Making a talk with the train drivers and passengers. Yes, there must be something to it – as long as you can entertain yourself by reading, writing or just reflecting. Otherwise, it would not be too interesting in the long run. The lady told me where I could find a place to sleep and so I left the station. I walked through the center a bit and noticed how slowly the people walked – they talked to each other when they met on the street corner. They didn’t seem to be going anywhere. In the town square, again people making talks and having some coffee or beer. Just peace and quiet all around. Zemen has several pretty buildings, most of which are in a state of decay. Yet, you can sense the history of this town that once must have been of significance. I figured it would have been because of industry nearby, I saw several plants working on the mountain side probably to produce some kind of natural stone.
I walked half an hour and got outside the town, several horses were staring at me from the fields. They were chewing on grass and also seemed quite content with life – as far as they can be bothered with life’s questions. They watched me continue and then went on finding some fresh grass, which would become rare since the sun dries it out. I got to a complex with several small vacation homes. The park was quite new. I walked in and it seemed I was to be the only guest. The houses each had three rooms, some equipped with a kitchen and all with a bathroom and two beds. Spacious and comfortable rooms. The owner was surprised to see me arrive and asked where I’d come from. “From Sofia” I said. “Ah, a city boy.. You can enjoy the landscape here, take one of these bikes and enjoy. You have all day. In the evening, I will have some barbecue prepared, with some rakia as a welcome drink. Actually, would you like some now?” “No thanks, I will go freshen up and take one of these bikes. Thanks for your hospitality and I will see you tonight.” And so off I went, the friendly man with a blue hat and worker’s clothes continued working on the pool. It probably would have to be finished before the holiday season. I took the bike and went on the country roads, from village to village. There were several places I could take mineral water from, at the end of almost each village. It was so good to drink it on this hot summer day. I then heard a small river. It must have been the Struma, I figured. I left my bike by the side of the road, went through some bushes and got to the river. Not as small as I thought, quite wide. It was beautiful. Not deep at all but wide. I could walk halfway and not even get to my middle.
I took off my shoes and as I was wearing shorts, I could go quite far. The water was at a good temperature. I heard some bells on the other side and eventually, some small goats poked their heads through the buses to see whom was walking in the river they were about to come drink from. The young goats were then pushed ahead by the thirsty, older goats. One small goat almost slipped into the river and got scared, then found it could stand tall and drink. It seemed relieved. At least eight goats were drinking from the river and staring at me suspiciously. Then I heard loud coughing in the bushes as well. A shepherd that evidently likes his cigs. He poked his head through the bushes as well, then a tall stick and eventually his body. An old, half-open shirt and brown pants with the zipper having given up years ago. The guy waved at me happily. He had a very friendly, unshaven face with a good tan and a wide smile. He evidently saw I wasn’t from there and seemed happy I had found his secluded spot. He looked so happy – as if he had wanted to share the spot with someone but had nobody to come along with him. It was indeed such a good spot. It had an energy, the branches and thousands of leaves giving shade and waving in the cool breeze. I could stand in this water all day. I sat down on a rock and still had my feet in the water. I opened and drank a cold beer I had bought in a village store right before. It was a moment of bliss. A moment you think back to in stressful moments to remember that eventually, things will be fine and there’s things worth waiting for. The shepherd left again and his goats followed. I stayed at the spot for at least half an hour more, enjoying the cold beer and then biking back for the barbecue, with some homemade rakia and good company of the host’s family. It was at this day that I fell in love with Bulgaria. The simple things are full of bliss. I found to appreciate life deeply this day – these are moments that made me forget about all sorrow. And I would go on and have these moments during each trip. When there’s nothing that matters but being there in pure bliss – Such moments make man devoid of clutter of the mind.
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