Monday, October 3, 2011
The Bulgarian roads are always a pleasure to drive – with the exception of some of the sinuous small roads which weave their way through the wooded hills which take up one third of the landmass of the country. I had a pleasant 4 hour drive yesterday afternoon - the first stretch along the superb and scenic open highway from Sofia to Plovdiv. Mountain ranges and valleys; then the lovely sight of the 2 pimple hills which stick out from the plain and mark ancient Phillipopolis; loop round the city and then under the stunning Assenovgrad fortress on another of these impossible rock-carved roads which characterise southern Bulgaria. As always a strong river also blasted its way through gorges and across the stones nearby. My exhaust suddenly developed a hole and I disturbed the sabbath as I spun through the tired but handsome old villages round the fashionable skiing resorts to reach Smolyian at 16.30. I was keen to visit their municipal art gallery again – last visited 2 years ago to my very great pleasure. Amongst other local artists, I was introduced to the work of Anastas Staikov by a Slovak woman who guided us around and introduced us to the Director. What struck me was what they were achieving against the odds – they had insufficient money to maintain their stock properly – let alone advertise it. I had assumed that the gallery would be closed Monday. It was very easy to find – as always it was the Regional history Museum which was signposted and I had a vague recollection that the art gallery was next door. And so it was. But Sunday is, unusually, closing day for it (although the history museum was open). The curator there took me next door where the Gallery Director was working and confirmed that it would be open tomorrow.
I have to confess at this stage that I have been accompanied on the travels since early August by a stray kitten whose cries were heard just as we were about to leave Sofia in the first week of August. Impossible to resist his charms, he travelled with great serenity and aplomb first the 375 kilometres to Bucharest – and, the following day, the 3 hour journey to the mountains. The mountain house was his heaven – 3 mice caught, for example. Since then, he has done another 1,250 kilometres – and could now reasonably considered un nomad veritable. I smuggled him into the Smolyian hotel in my rucksack – and, having slept for most of the 4 hours, he is now once more asleep at the back of the laptop. Hopefully he will not give the game away in the next 3 hotel overnights!
The painting is a Zdrawko Alexandrov from the Smolyian gallery