Last December I was asked by Emma from The Mute Collective to join an exciting team of artists, film makers and photographers for a collaborative, creative trip to Bulgaria. Ever since I have been hugely inspired and this blog is sharing some of the amazing journey’s we went on, the people we met and what we got up to.
We started our journey in Sofia, Bulgaria’s Capital City. Here we met Davios, an amazing street juggler. When filming Davios I knew that I was capturing a very special moment. His charismatic charm, vulnerability to perform in the freezing cold weather and generosity of spirit was truly magical to witness. I knew I wanted to feature him in my ‘Snomads Experience’ film which I produced for the sustainable chalet company Snomads.
Sofia had the hustle and bustle of city life whilst also having a rugged charm. We visited an amazing ‘art hostel’, where Mel, Matt and Daryl from 7th Pencil worked for hours to create beautiful wall art.
Whilst the 7th Pencil team were hard at work, Jody, Emma and I traveled to join them at the ‘art hostel’ via a tram – but were escorted off the tram for accidentally failing to buy a ticket! After paying a fine – 20 Lev each – we stood awkwardly with the ticket inspectors until the next tram came along and we could carry on with our journey.
After a few days in Sofia; painting, filming, and photographing, Emma drove us two and a half hours to Bansko, where we stayed in the Old Town.
Arriving in the evening, we went straight out on a hunt for a Bulgarian feast. We were not disappointed when our neighbouring restaurant welcomed us in. After lots of hearty food, I stepped out into the cold night to the sound of drumming drifting to my ears and leading to an authentic little pub.
Three men were serenading around an empty table, so I shouted to the others to follow me. We spent the evening enjoying energetic Balkan music whilst drinking wine. There was soon lots of dancing, chatting, singing and laughing.
In the days to follow we drove a little further out of Bansko to Snomads’ amazing Chalet. We visited the local market so that Maks and Ewen from Snomads could buy produce to cook on the open fire for our dinner. Whilst at the market I found myself in the middle of six big Bulgarian men. As they shouted across me, I stood still wondering if I should make a swift escape. Just before I decided to walk away, one of the men turned to me and asked in a deep, powerful Bulgarian voice”Are you from the Daily Express?!” I laughed and, shaking my head, said, “No!” They decided that I was harmless and proceeded to take me around the market and introduced me to many market sellers. I ended up with a bag of clementines, a pear and many faces peering into my camera lens.
We visited Bezbog via a ski lift up into the beautiful mountains. I had never been on a ski lift, so was a tad scared! On the way down I was accompanied by Stefan, one of the Ski lift operators. He proceeded to tell me how much he loves his job!
Bezbog, which is the name of a hotel at the top of ski lift, has a lake and walk further up into the mountains, when we got to the top we were greeted with stunning views.
We set out to drive the four hours to a Buzludzha Communist headquarters on our last day. I shared the journey with Emma, Jody, Martin and Ruth, little did we know that the experience would be quite so dramatic. Those four hours turned into eight when we drove in the wrong direction for two, our car got a puncture and then we broke down. It was bad luck, but we landed on our feet since we had broken down right outside a mechanic’s workshop! Whilst there, we hung out with 14 cats and a dog called Jack.
We finally drove up Mount Buzludzha to the headquarters as night drew in and the temperature plummeted. The mist was thick as we walked up to the ominous structure.
We climbed into the building with the help from two Danish lads and stood in the darkness, exploring via flash light. All we could make out were beautiful crumbling mosaic walls, tarnished marble floors and the odd mark of a graffiti artist. The building was eerie and otherworldly.
With help from Jody – of Jody Hartley Photography – we managed to get some amazing photos inside this historic building.
Bulgaria was truly an amazing place, and the people I travelled with definitely enhanced my experience. Working alongside artists, film makers and photographers was really inspiring and throughly refreshing.
Authentic is the word that I would use to describe the Bulgarian people I met. They smiled, were welcoming with a warm heart, and acted out of generosity and kindness.
I returned home with my mind full of inspiration, my heart full of warmth and Bulgarian spirit, my bag full of locally produced honey and a hard drive full of colourful memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I dream of the time I will visit again.