Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bulgaria - Day 6: Sevlievo – Horseback Riding in the Mountains

Our 6th day had to be one of the most amazing, awe inspiring days in Bulgaria! We started the day with breakfast downstairs – served by the ever faithful Peter who seems intent on making sure our stay is the most enjoyable one we ever had (as I am sure on orders by his father!).

First order of business- cash some American Express Travelers Checks – should not be a problem right? Not here in Mayberry apparently! The first two banks that we went to – after waits in line that seemed to go on forever – with no air conditioning and the constant ‘stink-eye’ from a couple of the local older ladies – the tellers would look at us and then look at the checks and shake their heads. We seemed to strike gold at one bank – but then the Manager wanted some type of receipt that we were not issued. She showed us a copy of what she was looking for – but the copy was at least several dozen years old and when we tried to explain that American Express no longer issues checks that way – she did not believe us – struck out again.

Luckily for us – Matza suggests that we wait for Alex – our guide for horseback riding and the owner of the stable we are going to. A suggestion that does prove valuable – if not entertaining!

Alex and his wife, Roumi, pull up in their brand new Nissan Titan (Alex just picked up from Germany just the other day) – a beautiful red truck – perfect for the stable/farm they have just a few kilometers outside of town.

We tell Alex of our struggles to cash our checks and he suggests the German bank that he has his business account at; and since he has a few errands to run ion town – Roumi is kind enough to take us to the bank and act as our go between!

To start with – they are happy to cash the checks – if only they can figure out what the hell they are! They go through several different three rings binders – paging through procedures – they flip the checks right, then left, over and over – through the counterfeit detector (at least four different times) – rifle through the binders (several more times) – scratch their heads several times – click through the computer a half dozen times – go back to the counterfeit detector again – and oh wait – a few more flips just to make sure. 45 minutes later – we have cashed our American Express Travelers Checks – Accepted All Over The World™ – except Mayberry Bulgaria!

SO we are piled in to the Nissan and on our way to the stable – owned by the lithe Bulgarian Alex – a former Hollywood stuntman who returned home to start this business.

The grounds of the stable are vast and beautiful – there are 6 stalls up front – we are not sure how many around the corner – Alex currently has 20 horses – many of which he owns – some of which he boards. All of them are beautiful! The plan for the day is to take a leisurely 4 or 5 hour ride. Up the mountain to a lake – have a lunch ‘in the nature’ and then return. No paths here though – strictly in the rough – we blaze our own path!

The day is sunny and bright – just a few clouds in the sky with a mild breeze – the kind the will come along at just the right time to produce a nice cooling breeze. The horses are energetic and seem anxious to get out and ride – I am a little nervous – I ride but once a year (if I am lucky!). We mount with relative ease (thank God!) – and head out towards the mountains. Tagging along are Alex’s two dogs – a German Shepard (female) and a breed I don’t recognize but looks like a herder. They romp along the horses – darting in and out playfully.

Summing this up is difficult – the shear grandeur of it – the beauty of it – is so difficult to explain. I would have to say that if you do not believe in God – then a trip like this would change your mind! As we ride through the pastures at the base of the mountains – the wheat – at least I think it is wheat – brushes against my legs and I can just reach down and let it brush against my fingers. I can feel the horse beneath me breath in very relaxed breaths as we walk easily and with little effort (which amazes me considering my 193 pound frame – se I told you I lost weight) – the wheat tickling the tips of my fingers. The breeze is flowing past my face as the sun beats down upon it – there is no other sound – no one is saying anything as we walk in single file – it is a moment of awe for us all I think.

We reach our first pass of ascent – a rocky area of trees that the horses easily traverse. I am amazed – there is no path to follow or at least no path that I can see – no worn marks – no markings – not even a branch out of place – Alex is making his own way up the mountain.

We climb higher crisscrossing our way up the mountain – each new vista more beautiful than the last – in several open fields we open into trots and gallops; well they call them gallops, I call them ‘Oh Shit’. Until we reach a small lake in an open field at the base of a hill. There are several people fishing there – they have cars parked there! How they got there I cannot explain – because there is no road that I can see – but they are there nonetheless! The dogs dive into the water – thankful for its cool repast and swim – but just for a bit not wanting to let their master get too far ahead. Already at some picnic tables are Roumi and two of their children setting up a glorious lunch!

After a wonderful lunch of Shopska Salad, potatoes, pork and cheese, yogurt and other assorted goodies – we were back on the trail!

By this time the trail was wearing us down – the afternoon sun had become a little warmer and the breeze had died down just a bit. By the time we had reached the halfway point of the mountain – Alex offered the opportunity for a longer way down or a shortcut – we opted for the shortcut!

We were just about back when we came across a vast plain of grass – the horse started to get a little jumpy – perhaps realizing that we were just about home – Alex asked if we want to gallop and of course we said yes – to which my horse kicked in to OH SHIT!! gear! I lost track or everyone else – I knew Lisa was behind me – but just how far I could not tell. Alex and Lisa’s Dad were a bit behind as he lost his hat and my horse decided that I had absolutely no power over him at all – so what the hell – why not kick in the after burners. My cheeks started to flap back as the wind passed by them and I think my hair began to flame a little from the friction of the re-entry. I was pulling up on the reigns with everything that I had – not swearing at the horse – but begging him to stop. I figured if I swore he would just go faster to spite me. A road appeared – below a line of rocks that I knew I was going to fly right over – visions of traction in a Bulgarian hospital began to flood my mind – that was enough to add Underdog like strength to my arms and I pulled up again on the reigns. The hoofs screeched to a halts – clouds of dust and grass billowing from his back legs. If I hadn’t gone to the bathroom at our lunch break – I surely would have then!

Luckily – just beyond the road that stopped my horse (I hold no aspersions that I had anything to do with it) was the stable! Boy was I ready to be back but then again I was not. Despite the Oh Shit gears – and the soreness of riding – it has to be one of the most awe inspiring moments I have ever had on vacation! If you check on my links – I have a link to Alex’s web site. If you get to Bulgaria – take a tour from Alex – trust me – it is worth every single penny!

Back to town – a quick shower (we smell like horses and sweat) – and then it is off to meet Villy and her Entourage again at Chicuroo for our finally dinner and then to another disco! A new one in town – more ‘Western’ (meaning American) in design and nature. This time we are sure that we are to meet Villy and the gang at 8:00 – so we arrive at 8:15 to an empty table! So much for trying to be Bulgarian! The Entourage arrives around 8:30 – but this time we are determined to take it a little easier on the alcohol. I can’t even move my fingers they are so swollen from lack of H2O – so we begin the evening by pounding a couple of liters of water. Pondo, once again ever the host, orders up a variety of snacks (including the ever present Shopska Salad!). One snack in particular, something I have not had since I was a kid, takes me by surprise, Liver and Onions! It was simply delicious and hit the spot. Just a couple of Fanta and Gins later and we were headed off to the Disco!

Now this was an industrial strength Disco! Strobe lights that would make an epileptic fall into immediate shock as well as fog to confuse things on the dance floor even more (and to add more smoke to the cigarette smoke – does everyone in Bulgaria smoke?). In fact – I think I did fall into a momentary seizure upon entering the building – although that might have been just the thump – thump – thump of the techno base as it ripped through our bodies. The crowd was mostly kids – and I do mean kids! I think the drinking age is 18 and I don’t think they card – but it was a very cool place.

After dancing a few dances – trying to stay away from what looked like a former SS Trooper dancing around in bike shorts, no shirt and looking crazed on PCP, Lisa and I left after a couple of hours wanting to get out of the cigarette haze and back into the comfort of our room. A shower – fresh air – and an internet connection to home was a perfect to end the night.

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