About a month before I left Ohio, I started an intense search of the spots I should visit once I arrived in BG. I combed through travel blogs and creeped on Pinterest boards until I compiled my list of must-sees. Immediately, I was taken by pictures of Dyavolski Most (Devil's Bridge), an ancient bridge spanning the Arda River in the Rhodope Mountains. I don't know what it was about this bridge that appealed to me so much (literally, it is just a bridge), but I knew I had to see it in person. And I did!
A couple weekends ago, I visited a fellow ETA, I.K., in Kardzhali, about an hour's bus ride south of Dimitrovgrad. Another friend, Kardzhali's ETA from last year, M, who is currently teaching elsewhere in Bulgaria, was also visiting. Our host ended up feeling a little ill, so M served as my tour guide for the weekend, showing me around his old town.
I had told M how much I wanted to see the devil's bridge and asked if he knew of any way to get there. Success, he not only had an old colleague in town who loved hiking, but also really wanted to see the bridge! So we went! Me, M, and two awesome Bulgarian teachers. The best part? These teachers are awesome ladies who gather mushrooms and herbs on their various treks, so I got a crash course in mushroom hunting! We drove through the lovely Rhodopes for about an hour before parking just far enough from da bridge for a brisk autumn walk.
It's no surprise that our destination was called the devil's bridge. Truly, the valley in which the bridge sits feels a little mysterious. It lays just a bit beyond a small town called Ardino, and the road to get to the bridge feels abandoned and like a secret. There are several legends about this 15th-century bridge. One is that in certain light, a person standing atop the bridge can see the devil's reflection in the river below. Another claims that the devil's footprint can be found on a stone of the bridge, while still another claims that the bridge, which has not needed repairs in over 500 years, is so sturdy because its creator built his wife's shadow into the structure when she died. Spooky!
I was such a happy lady during this weekend. Aside from checking off a big item on my Bulgaria list, I got to spend time with some good friends and see other lovely Kardzhali sights. First off, if you know me, you know I love anything old, anything mysterious and forgotten. I am deeply moved by traces of a different era and my creative, thinking side is intrigued when I see places and buildings that were once glorious and are now past their prime. It makes me wonder, and my wonderment makes me think and imagine. So of course, it took all I had in me to keep from bouncing like an idiot when M took me on a tour of Kardzhali's old buildings. EEP. Actually, it didn't take too much too keep me grounded...my body was still processing my recently-inhaled espresso. But IF I'd been in a prime state, I would have bounced! So much bouncing would have happened!
Don't they just make you think a little bit? Make you wonder what they looked like when they were brand-new? Ahh, the lovely past.
I also saw this really wacky grouping of stone formations called the 'stone wedding.' These rock formations make up what looks like a wedding procession. My friends and I took a little walk around them. Other neatness included a walk around the town's dam (where I had to sneak pictures because the guards worry that people taking pictures are looking for structural flaws in the dam and intend to flood Kardzhali if they find weaknesses. Haha, Bulgaria!).
Since this last adventure, I've just been laying low in Dimitrovgrad. I took day trips to Plovdiv during the last couple of weekends, where I sat in normal coffee shops (GOD BLESS YOU COSTA COFFEE) and ogled at locally-produced crafts. I love the city, it's like my cultural center, only an hour away by train. Other than these day trips, I've been getting to know my students better. I now meet with 8th graders once a week to walk around town and practice English in a less formal environment than the one created in school, which has been so wonderful. I've also had some really serious talks with my older students about opinions concerning their futures, their country, and the world. These meetings, these talks-- theses are the experiences I love. The travel, the Bulgarian must-sees are noteworthy, but my day-to-day reality is the kids I teach. These daily interactions and the goofy kids I teach are what I'll remember most about my time here, I'm sure. When we have good days together, I feel that I've never been more satisfied. The good days aren't everyday, but when they happen, they're priceless.