Safely In Sarajevo

This journey was a new one for me as it would be a shuttle ride. I imagined some sort of bus but it was pretty much just a guy rocking up in his car and road tripping us where we had to go. The two other passengers were locals, one a little girl and the other her grandmother. The guy’s driving was mad and the young girl squealed with delight anytime we hit a bump, while the old woman tutted each time. She was however a sweetheart and in true grandma fashion, she fed me the whole way.

It was a 5 hour journey that went by very quickly and only required one stop. After easily passing through passport control, we were in Bosnia. The scenery was magnificently mountainous, all lush and green, reaching for the sky. During the drive, the young girl wanted to practise her English with me so we exchanged names (her name was Mariya), I was asked how many numbers I was and then she named animals and made their matching noises. However I’m not sure if it was a mistake or if Serbian birds rawr.

We did some colouring together and I don’t mean to brag, but I totally stayed inside the lines in the princess picture. We had the exciting moment of cows crossing in front of us where Mariya had to be practically restrained from going to play with them. Then finally we arrived and despite the rain, Sarajevo was a beautiful place. Already upon entering I had seen cathedrals and galleries and restaurants, all in a row. Despite this once, not so long ago, being such a dangerous place, it now looked like my kind of paradise.

Taking Time To Breathe

With the sun shining like there would be no night, I knew it had to be a summer celebration day. So in the sweltering heat I strolled through the park with an ice cream and lemon water. The band stand had live music swinging through the trees, children ran full steam around the park and old men played chess intently. I took the time to slow down with the exciting plans and just sit on the grass, taking in my surroundings and reading a good book. It was such a beautiful and peaceful afternoon.

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Then when I began to involuntarily bake, it was time to get moving. I went on the hunt for city highlights and first found the Victor monument. He stood tall and proud next to the glistening Danube river and as a welcomer to the Belgrade Fortress. The fortress was built as a defensive structure and so the site featured large weaponry such as missiles and tanks. I walked the streets of the Bohemian Quarter and picked up a few presents, then followed that up with mindless wandering until I had no clue where I was. This led me to a beautiful art gallery where it appeared like the usual still life but really the scene was in the reflections of the objects. It was beautiful and a real secret gem.

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I indulged in an ice coffee at a local cafe and people watched for a while. I’ve noticed a lot more people are chatting and smiling when the sun is out. Plus there were some street performers working all they had in such strong heat. So although an uneventful day not jam packed with adrenaline and adventure like normal, it was refreshing to just relax and enjoy the simple parts of life.

Risking My Life For A View

We started the day road tripping to Plovdiv and spent the day there. Enjoying wandering around such a beautiful town and indulging in some fancy day time cocktails and unique food like frogs legs and liver. We decided to make the extra trip to Buzludzha, a communist monument less than 2 hours from us. We went from small town to smaller town, enjoying the little significant landmarks and cute landscapes shining in the intense sun. Then all of sudden, all hell broke loose in a storm. Aggressive rain poured down and quickly turned to hail. Not a few frozen drops – the kind of giant rocks that forced us to pull over because the smashing against the car sounded like we were being shot at (I would know, I’ve shot a sniper rifle). Eventually it lightened up and we continued our drive, until we reached the important part.

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Driving up the squiggle roads (our adopted technical term) we climbed the mountain, each time so high that every ledge looked like it led to the abyss. We arrived at the “abandoned Communist UFO” and it was on a very grand scale. We were miniscule in comparison to the height this monument stood at. Circling round it, we saw the beautiful various styles of street art covering the base. Then we reached the “entrance”; the rumoured tiny, dangerous and claustrophobic hole in the ground that lead inside.

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I looked into the hole and paused. I did not hesitate for one second for bungee jumping, paragliding or skydiving, but this….this had no guarantee. No guarantee that I’d be okay, in fact it was the opposite because so much was ready to go wrong. When I say wrong I mean claustrophobic fix, serious injury or fatal fall on the remains of construction. I may have been with pros used to this risk but I’d grown up on instructors and harnesses. If I’m honest, my personal pride and adventurous curiosity was at stake. I am a risk taker, thrill seeker, danger lover. I’m the person that goes down that hole because my heart needs to know – what if?

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So I did it, I agreed to go in. With the help of  new friends/heroes, I clambered down large distances into the collapsed in hole, steadying myself on metal spikes and broken concrete. The guys were incredible in holding me tight the whole time and making me *know* I was safe. I dropped down the several levels and had achieved the underground stage of the discovery. My heart was pumping and adrenaline punching my chest, but I had made it. We ventured through the debris, through the dank tunnels, up the destroyed stairs and through the amphitheatre remains. Then came the view, the view that made it all worth it. I climbed up and dangled my feet over the edge of the monument, looking down at my ant sized friends. I was shaking from the high of the situation, grinning and nervous laughing, saying I was “on top of the world”. We soaked in what we had achieved together, somehow the best experience of my life.

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As I sat over the edge I was peaceful, quiet and swinging my feet….that was until my shoe fell off, falling who knows how far, disappearing into the fields. This began the ‘oh no, I’m screwed’ portion of the trip. Luckily my heroes came to the rescue again and we bundled up my bare foot in 4 socks and my wrapped up hoodie. We began the even more dangerous route back. With the sun setting, our light was fading fast. I limped through broken glass, puddles, over giant rocks and fallen in ceiling. We made it to the exit and for the large climb up the wall on unsteady structures I was supported and then proudly for the final climb, I made it myself, probably on pure adrenaline. We made it out in one piece and had officially conquered the abandoned Buzludzha.

I hobbled back to the car, resumed my navigator’s seat and we drove home for 4 hours in the pitch black and pouring rain. The lightning lighting up the darkness like a camera flash. Arriving at the hostel at 2am I went to bed, left with cuts, bruises and memories; I’ll take that combo any day.

Road Trips, Caves and Waterfalls

I met some girls who were hiring a car and going on a nature road trip and invited me along. So 8 of us crushed into a car definitely not designed for so many and began our adventure. It was a 2.5 hour drive so we were in for a while, the time was spent chatting, laughing and generally spotting all pretty things around us. The views were incredible dense greenery and the Balkan Mountains, all getting us in the mood to see what nature had to offer. We stopped off for the classic on-the-road snackage in the small town of Lovech and returned to our journey. Eventually we reached the site for Krushuna Waterfalls, after hiking up a hill and stairs we had reached our destination.

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The waterfall was truly stunning, somehow powerful and peaceful all at once. Crashing down, filling the forest with noise and cancelling out all other sounds. We had hoped for a swim but despite the 30 degree heat, the water was freezing, so we just dipped our toes in. First we went exploring, climbing to the top and experimenting with different directions to see where we came out. Then it was time to just soak in the scene, sat on the edge of the old rickety wooden bridge at the base of the main area. Swinging my feet, head rested on the railings and staring into the waterfall, I was entirely serene and loving life.

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Once finished at the waterfall, we moved onto the next part of our journey; the Devetashka Cave. It was only a 30 minute drive away and upon arriving there we walked the distance across the bridge to find it. All I can say was that it was magnificent and somewhat incomprehensible. At 2442 metres long and 58 metres high it’s the largest cave chamber in Bulgaria and to even understand the scale you needed the people inside looking like ants. The large 7 holes above us known as Okna let light come piercing through the darkness of the cave and appeared to make areas glow. We explored further into the pitch black (past the barriers I must admit) and found just such natural wonders. The high pitch screech of bats echoed throughout the walls and had my excitement spiking. I love bats with a passion and was lucky enough to see many.

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Finally it was time for the return section of our road trip and I was upfront as navigator. I surfed my fingertips through the racing air out the open window and played music to keep us all going. We were blessed with a stunning warm sunset that lit up our scenery in all different ways from before. The perfect ending to a day of nature.

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