Abandoned Communist Party Headquarters, Mount Buzludzha, Bulgaria

Thursday 21 May

I’ve been looking forward to today for a long time.  As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for abandoned or lonely places.  There is nothing more romantic for me than the seaside in winter.  Forgotten remnants of days gone by.  Standing where something or someone stood.  Crumbling buildings, ghostly apertures and lonely vistas punctuate the environment, while nature takes back what was once vibrant with activity.  It’s thrilling.

And so today I am a child on Christmas morning.  We’re visiting the abandoned communist party building on Mount Buzludzha, Bulgaria.  I’ve known about this place for a number of years and along with Chernobyl and Prypiat, I’ve always wanted to pay it a visit.  It’s a photographers dream come true, as much like Chernobyl and other such sites, the pictures take themselves.  It was an absolute joy to behold.

The structure was completed in 1981, but left to ruin in under a decade, due to the collapse of the USSR and the fall of communism.  Built to house party rallies and greet foreign dignitaries, it was a symbol of power and influence that should have stood the test of time, and intimidated the West for years to come.  The only force that remains now is nature.

Always a fan of Soviet iconography, sculpture and art, add it together with an abandoned building and you’ve got this travelers wet dream.  As much as my smokers lungs could handle, I launched myself up the steep climb as fast as my little legs could muster.  Which wasn’t fast at all and it nearly killed me.  Reaching the top, you’re greeted with this imposing behemoth of a structure, which has been likened by many to that of a UFO.  Indeed it’s nickname in these parts is “the flying saucer,” and it bares more than a passing resemblance to one Starship Enterprise.

At the base of the behemoth

At the base of the behemoth

The tower stands at 107 meters tall, with the red star of communism the same size as that of its counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow.  The structure itself sits at 1441 metres above sea level, and the glass from the windows would have been the first to go, so the whole building is left open to the elements.  You wouldn’t want to hang around in winter.

The red star

The red star

Gaining entry is something of a squeaky bum time.  The site passed into the care of the Socialist Party of Bulgaria, and they have made repeated attempts at keeping people out.  Where there’s a will there’s a way however, and you’ll never keep a tenacious urban explorer or photographer from getting into anywhere they want to get into.  Round the side of the main entrance some enterprising chap has fashioned a small crawl hole.  Just beyond the lip there is a drop to the floor below, so stepping up and through isn’t a pleasant experience.  Actually getting out for me was even worse, as there is a moment when you’re lowering your arse over the blackness below.  I suddenly remembered how timid I can actually be.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

The In and out

The In and out

But of course it is.  Your first glimpse of the stunning upper chamber will live long in the memory.  It is rumoured that over 60 artists collaborated to create what was once astounding mosaics and sculptures.  Now its grand pomp and circumstance has been reduced to a crumbling mess by the elements, thieves, graffiti and salvagers.  The roof is caving in, marble steps have been ripped up to be re-used elsewhere, coloured glass from the art litters the floor.  To view a before and after picture is both incredibly sad and powerful at the same time.  Never one to vandalise such a site, for it should be left for others to enjoy, I make sure I only take a small souvenir that has fallen from the wall.  I slip a small, shiny yellow mosaic glass piece into my pocket.

The stunning main chamber

The stunning main chamber

There’s a strong movement to get the site restored to its former glory, but at a cost of over 10 million US, you can understand why it isn’t financially viable.  Some counter that the tourist dollars would more than make up for it, and they’ve got a point.  In it’s current state, it’s still pulling in a large number of visitors every year.  Above the door the slogan “forget your past” stayed for many years, before someone preceded it with “never”.  But perhaps that is exactly where this place should remain.  A crumbling memorial memory to a dark chapter of Bulgarian history.

I hope you enjoy the photographs as much as I did in taking them.

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Haggis day oot

Wednesday 20 May

I’ve finally managed to drag myself out of Sofia and I’m feeling rather smug about it.  One might say proud of oneself.  My usual M.O is to languish in this den of iniquity for months on end, doing my best to destroy my liver.  You’ll be pleased to know dear readers, that I stayed but one night, and I didn’t touch a drop.

My friend Tan is taking me to the centre of the universe.  Plovdiv, Bulgaria.  From there we intend to visit the Mount Buzludzha abandoned Communist party headquarters, and then I will finally hitch to Istanbul to be there by Friday.  I guess I’m cheating a little by not hitching from Sofia, but time is of the essence, and I want to cram in as much as possible before I finally begin to leave Europe.

As part of my sisters care package from home and at my request, she’s included a Haggis.  I really wanted to cook it for friends at the hostel, and I haven’t had so much as a whiff of this delicious delicacy in years.  However by the time I’ve returned to Sofia, it’s a month out of date.  I still consider baking the hell out of it anyway, but I wouldn’t want anyone’s first taste of that sweet, sweet meat to be tainted.  I opt instead to give him a tour of Plovdiv, which I think he much rather preferred.

Hitching a ride

Hitching a ride

It’s a beautiful little town, and quite rightly the European capital of culture for 2019.  So they’re gearing up for the eyes of the world to be focused here in a few years, and everything is being polished.  It’s charming, laid back, clean and welcoming.  And the food is outstanding.  Visiting a mountain restaurant with new friends and feasting until we dropped was a highlight, as I tucked into buttered veal tongue, hand cooked crisps, shopska salads (Bulgarian national dish with tomato, cucumber, onion and cheese) and homemade everything.  All this a few hours after a kilo of skillet lamb.  Diet my arse.  I had no room anyway for my little meaty friend.  The Haggis.  You filthy perverts.

It’s a pity I couldn’t stay for longer and experience the town at the weekend when it really comes out to play.  I’m already starting to regret spending eons getting wasted in black holes when really I could have been traveling for decades.  Hopefully by getting back on the road I will have learned my lesson.  Maybe Istanbul is the kick up the backside I so desperately need.

I have discovered I can’t write well about happy shit.  I’ve really struggled with this post.  But feareth not dear readers, for I will strive to find something miserable to vent about soon enough.  Stay tuned.

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Travel thievery

Wednesday 08 April

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Several eventful weekends have been and gone, including a flying visit from my friend Mike, which did not disappoint.  Wildman Wallace never fails to cause a stir, which unfortunately culminated in his wallet being stolen by some pock faced drug dealing dwarf.  Unfortunately the thievery didn’t stop there, and just a few short days later some utter bastard has helped themselves to my main ruck sack.  That’s my 70 litre snail shell that I use to contain all my worldly belongings!  Who does that?!

Lucky for me I’m a messy traveler, and all my stuff has been strewn across the dormitory floor like it was my own home.  This can get particularly embarrassing when guests check in to be met with a mountain of stained underwear while I’m nonchalantly sleeping off seven tequilas.  Anyway, some cowardly cunt (for there is no better word to describe anyone who steals something that doesn’t belong to them) has only managed to take a camera tripod that doesn’t work properly, several socks with holes in them, a predominantly out of date first aid kit with the zip broken, and a three season old Liverpool FC shirt with hot-rock burns through it.  He would also have discovered a pair of expensive women’s panties (worn – but I assure you not by me), that I had promised to return to a young lady if I ever managed to make it to Australia.  Boy he was in for a surprise.

Afterwards however, I’d also remembered I’d stashed 5 unopened tins of V05 Matt Clay hair stuff in a side pocket (you can’t get product that good outside the UK so I bought in bulk and received a care package from my sister), and my back-up pair of prescription glasses.  So added to the pair stolen off my face on a beach in Nicaragua and the pair smashed to pieces when I got my nose broken in Montenegro, that makes three pairs of very expensive visual aids down the pan.  Raging isn’t the word.

But truth be told, it is the pack itself I miss the most.  My friend Tan and uber staff member at Hostel Mostel very kindly gave me hers in replacement.  Yet although this is much better and more compact than my behemoth, I still feel like I’ve lost a friend.  It was with me through 51 countries, over 8 years, and it was still going strong.  It was my home.  I was going to hang it on a wall someday somewhere, and never use it again.  It had a Scottish flag stitched to the back (to convince I wasn’t an American in Central Asia and the Middle East) and a token of a lasting bond with friends I’d made at a summer camp in the States.  I feel violated.  Rest in peace buddy, wherever you are.

I now have had so much stuff stolen from me over the past four years of travel, that the thought crossed my mind to start doing it myself; but I could never deal with the guilt.  Below is an updated summary of items people have lifted from my possession.

  • Nikon D3100 DSLR.
  • Sony Cybershot.
  • 2 x Panasonic Lumix compacts.
  • 2 x Hair Straighteners (yes -get over it).
  • 5 T-shirts.
  • 100 GBP worth of currency.  Including that Scottish ten pound note given to me in Moldova on which a young lady had written: “I hope you find your way back home one day”.
  • Two full bottles of Issy Miyake fragrance.
  • Wallet, driving licence, credit/debit cards and the facebook details of traveling friends I will now never see or hear from again.
  • Three pairs of prescription glasses.
  • My Sgian Dubh knife.
  • Bruxism custom made dental night guard.  Really…?!
  • Back pack, containing the items listed in the paragraph above.
  • Currency exchange card robbed by a black prostitute in Chicago.  (I didn’t use her “services” I hasten to add).
  • 2.50 Euro taken at knife point.  It was all I had left
  • Numerous beautiful girls stolen by Australian surfer “dudes”
  • My heart.
  • Pride.
  • Sanity.

Not counting a significant number of times I’ve felt hookers’ hands about my person as I’m trying to walk home from a night out.

I don’t understand how people can live with themselves.  Just once, somewhere, someday, I want to catch someone at it.  It doesn’t even need to be my gear.  I just want to walk in and find some low-life smeg-head with their hands in somebody else’s kit.  I don’t care how big he is, I will tear him a new arsehole.  I won’t stop.  I’d grab the closest thing to hand and wrap it round his head.  Someone would have to pull me off him.  Four years worth of travel theft would come raining down on his face.  Just once.  Please, for the love of god make it so.

Anyway dear readers, I hate to turn into one of those wishy-washy bullshit travel blogs with “helpful” advice like “16 and a half ways to stay safe on your holiday”, or “how to not get robbed abroad – 34 captain obvious statements”; but the moral of the story is lock up your stuff.  Even though I did/do.  Oh and don’t get drunk.  Somehow I think that might be attributed to ninety per cent of it.

 

 

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Women eh? Rolls eyes*

Monday 06 April

Ok so here we go with backdating stuff that’s happened in the past month, this entry taking place on the 8th of March.

I’ve been having a jolly old time in Sofia as per norm, rattling around on the bar crawl, sleeping until four, and generally making a nuisance of myself.  A small hostel family had grown – the first of the season – and time was passed pleasantly by all supping the delights of vodka, playing kings cup drinking games, and trying to shag anything that moved.

So the story goes I was attempting to be Mr Charm, while several other male guests were going rouge.  Lone wolf.  Relentless in their pursuit of the vagina.  Flitting from one knock back to the next until their appetites are satisfied.  Then dragging women back to their caves by the hair.

So in keeping with the mantra of Looking for Stu’s brutal honesty; of course I’m playing the game, I’m just doing it with a little more subtlety.  I hesitate to divulge my M.O, but after a night of clandestine field-play, I was left empty-handed.  I made a move for a particular girl and I’ve got fresh air.  Hey-ho, thems the breaks, shit happens.

Coming to, bleary-eyed and still somewhat significantly concupiscent the following morning doesn’t do a guy any favours.  He can go rabid.  DEFCON 5.  Casanova on speed.  A black-belt Lothario.  And the devil does indeed make work for idle thumbs, so naturally I fired off a couple of texts to two girls containing something about the delightfully irresistible offer of a spoon.  Not the cutlery kind.  But alas, fortune took a turn for the worse, as these two girls happened to be sitting next to each other at the time.

“Oh!  I’ve got a text from Stuart!”  Said one.

“You’ve got one?  So have I…”  Replied the other.

I could possibly imagine the conversation beginning, shortly followed by a brutal lambasting of the actions of myself and all mankind.  One young lady in particular took it upon herself to confront my atrocious, outlandish behavior, and excoriated me in my bed.  Unfortunately this was about as far from sexual as Howard the Duck was a good film.

Now don’t get me wrong dear readers; I’m no angel.  I’m a 35 year old, single guy, traveling the world.  I don’t really want a relationship right now, and I certainly never want to get married.  But I copped an earful for being so duplicitous about it.

“At least we know all the other guys are openly sleazy bastards, you’re just really sneaky about it.”

It could have been worse.  She admitted to considering having the two of them turn up at my room at the same time.  How I would have got out of that one I don’t know.

I’d been found out.  Caught. Reprehensible.  It’s a fair cop guv, and you’ve got to hold your hands up.  But was it really that bad?  We’re all at it!  I’m no different to most guys (even though a tactic is I claim to be), it’s just we all go about the chase in our different ways.  Am I in the wrong?  It’s a serious question.  Most women would be appalled at the language and filth that pours freely from the mouths of men when the fairer sex isn’t around.  This I actually detest, considering it extremely low-brow, cringing at such talk that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  And yet it was me who took the full force of retribution, all for hedging my bets!  For having eggs in other baskets!  How many guys are you all speaking to at once ladies?!  I’d be very naive to think it was just one!  I happened to be on a date a short time ago with the closest thing to Aphrodite I’d seen in many a moon, and she spent a large portion of the evening tapping away on her fucking iphone.  Talking to her dad was she?!

Ahem.  Apologies.  I got carried away.  Where was I?  Ahhh yes, the eternal battle of the sexes.  The fact that this little episode coincided with International Women’s Day and the irony wasn’t lost on me.  I was dealt some swift, merciless justice.

Incidentally why we need a specific day for women is beyond me.  Every day should be women’s day.  Maybe that’s just me trying to score some brownie points in the wake of my spectacular failure in invoking Don Juan.  Oh well.  Tonight; we go again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Return to Sofia

Monday 16 February

The snow had melted to form miniature mountain ranges clinging to the roadside by the time I left Zagreb.  I imagined tiny skiers slaloming down between the dirty rocks of melting slush. With hands shaken, I jumped in a cab to transport me to the bus station, where a 14 hour overnight journey awaited.  I’d slept all but a little of the day, with my body clock its usual erratic self, so I knew I had an almost interminable reading session ahead.  This was to be punctuated by lengthy stops at borders, the sounds of dying animals snoring, and coffees at lonely, icy gas stations in the dead of night. The crescent moon hung like a toe nail clipping in the sky, a cut in the fabric of the universe, as gears ground passengers away from city lights into the darkness.

I rested my head for as long as I could stand on the cold, shuddering window, but the vibrations shook me off in seconds.  Irregular street lamps shot by like a night-time rocket assault in a city under siege.   Leaning back in an uncomfortable seat, the gangway lights snuffed out, and thoughts took over.  There is something uniquely powerful about being the only one awake during an overnight journey, especially as a stranger in a strange land.  I revel in the thrill of my attempted cogent confidence, like I’ve done this a hundred times before.  I know what I’m doing, so follow me.  It’s gratifying, but ultimately; extremely lonely.  Nobody is awake to exalt my pointless pretense.

I was returning to Sofia.  The scene of so many a debaucherous crime in the summer before.  The heat of that heady hour long gone, as were the dear friends I was lucky enough to share with and revel in that indubitable magic of a late September.  But those memories will endure many a seasons test.

And it’s on such a stage as this, when the world seems to slow to a quiet; the space between a hummingbirds wings; that you naturally begin to reflect on days gone by, recent events, or why you pushed your sister down the stairs when you were six.  There is nothing that stirs your memory so as traveling through the mid AM for great distances, Jack Frost’s frustration in biting only at glass, with dawns’ suggestion on the horizon.  If you’re lucky enough to be awake in that moment of almost perfect stillness; you can travel through time.

 

 

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Wake me up when September ends

Tuesday 23 September

Well that’s it then.  Summer is officially over.  The weirdos have been arriving in the hostels.  Scotland has suffered a referendum defeat, robbed of hope and a bright future by the BBC and the over 55’s.  The hangover set to last for a number of years.  I’m still in Sofia, hiding away from the rest of the hostel due to yet another epic cold sore, and I’m shaking like I’ve got Parkinson’s.  A palpable feeling of a serious anti climax abounds. I’d murder for a beautiful woman to make me chicken soup and play an X-box, if only to drag me kicking and screaming out of this melancholy.

I’ve been leading the pub crawls here on occasion in exchange for a free stay, so the past few days have been, for want of better words, really messy.  They’ve also been awesome, as a direct result of yours truly going through something of a purple patch and finding plenty of those little hostel ‘families’ I do so enjoy, as well as building something of a rapport with the local trangender prostitutes.  They’ve revelled in donning me with lipstick and make up for photographs.  And then I’m surprised when I develop a mini volcano on my lip.  Alas pride comes before a fall, and so here I suffer, laid up until I can get back in the game.  I’m actually often thankful when something like this strikes me down, as it forces me to stop smashing back the sauce.  I’m at my healthiest when I’m ill.

So the alarm bells have been ringing for some time, and I must away to pastures new.  Or old.  Something is a foot, and plans are in place to break free from my vices, in a special locale.  I will say no more at this present time, but I’m hoping for a peaceful, calm winter, hidden away from the rest of the world and people who piss me off.  There to lick my wounds and better myself, treating years of self-abuse and misanthropy.  Come out clean on the other side, back on track, and leading the life I’ve misplaced somewhere around here, lost in a deluge of sex, booze and drugs.  Oh I know dear readers I’ve been something of a broken record.  But I’m sickening myself, and my hedonistic days are numbered.  A winter of content; at least until that glorious, glorious summer in Eastern Europe.  Then I can ruin everything all over again.

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