Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Fortress in the Fog

This is what the fortress is SUPPOSED to look like. When the town isn't doing its impression of a steam room.

Unaccountably, lilac buds were blooming outside Madura cave. In late October.

We arrived in Belogradchik in northwestern Bulgaria to find a mist quilt spread across the town. Our explorations revealed various wonders, emerging through the fog to delight us when we were almost directly upon them. We climbed to the top of the city and viewed the many parts of the famous fortress and limestone crags from a few feet away, but could only knit together the pieces in our minds by looking at the brochures and signs we found along the route.

Back in town ghostly kittens, turkeys, roosters, and goats appeared through the clouds, but few people. Gardens were raked clean for winter, yellowing grape vines roofed every backyard, and the smell of smoke hovered all over the village. In search of dinner, we visited a blacked out hotel, apparently closed for the season, and then wandered deserted streets until we found a restaurant and became its only patrons. I can only describe the experience as surreal, as if we had stepped out of Sofia space and time and emerged on some far off white world still living in the 19th century.

After a good night's sleep in our thirty five dollar Bed and Breakfast (well, actually, there was no breakfast, so I guess it was just a Bed), we walked back up the hill hoping for a clear view of red roofed homes and ancient fortress walls, but the mist still prevailed. So much for the weather forecast I had read back at home, calling for a partly sunny weekend in Belogradchik. We enjoyed some more fog hiking, marveling as rock formations leapt out of nowhere and noticing the strange combinations of quartz pieces set in the bulky red limestone crags. Then we headed down to our trusty vehicle and set of for the Madura Cave.

Madura is linked inextricably with Belogradchik. Visit the fortress, visit the cave. Brett drove us through farm country on a road lined with tall yellow trees. Flocks of sheep grazed in wintry brown fields and the occasional horse and cart passed on the opposite side of the road. We weren't too sorry when we were pulled over by the police, as it gave us a chance to ask directions. We took the right path at the crossroads, as the lollicops suggested, and soon we arrived at Madura.

Sadly, it was 8:45 and we discovered the cave operator didn't open its gate and flip on the lights until 10. We hung out in town for a bit, eating yoghurt and pretzels (the breakfast of champions) and waiting. We returned just before opening time and had the cave to ourselves for about an hour. A smooth wet path linked cavern after cavern, and we wandered through, clutching the rough railings and admiring the otherworldly rock formations and sparkling minerals, ducking away from the occasional whoosh of bats. When we finally came out on the other side, we stepped onto a small cliff to see a huge and untouched lake, with nary a house, cabin, or boat to mar its solitude, tiny ripples coating its surface from end to end.

As we headed back towards Sofia through fall colored mountain ranges, we felt we were slowly coming back into the real world, after a weekend somewhere much farther away than the border of Serbia...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think I like the surreal world better than the real one! Are there more Madura cave photos, I hope, I hope, I hope? Love, mom