Despite a rather gruelling day yesterday hiking to the seven Rila lakes, Phil and I and about a zillion mosquitoes, still manage to get up for sunrise. It turns out to be rather underwhelming, but that happens sometimes. There is something rather wonderful about witnessing the world as it is gently awoken by the soft rays of the sun and the welcoming chirps of choruses of birds… and many frogs this morning too, which I can just about hear over the whine of the mosquitoes in my ears. I wish I would do this more often… but there is also something rather wonderful about being tucked into a cozy, warm bed while the world and mosquitoes wake up without you.
We take the chairlift, that brought us up to the hut, back down the mountain… a bit of a challenge for Barb who doesn’t like heights, but she is conquering all kinds of hurdles on this photography tour. In fact, we are all rather in awe of Barb. She has turned up for this tour so full of enthusiasm and desire for learning that we often have to pry her camera from her tightly clutched fingers to get her to stop shooting so we can all get going. So all-encompassing is her passion for photography that she has climbed higher, walked further, tottered precariously across bigger boulders and scrambled up steeper terrain than she had any idea she could. She faced her fear of heights for the first time yesterday on the chairlift, but we have much more in store for her over the next few days.
In addition, she has grappled with all the complexities of her digital camera and is quickly becoming proficient at editing in Photoshop. She is a quick learner, but perhaps more importantly, has a quick wit and can give back as good as she gets from Phil and Steve who relentlessly joke and tease.
Today’s photography theme is about finding photos in the mundane, a sharp contrast to yesterday’s experience where beautifully composed images literally jumped out from the mountain wherever we turned. We stop first at a junkyard.
Phil and I first stumbled upon this junkyard last summer as we were exploring the Rila area by car. We nearly drove by, had it not been for the lure of a stand of old glass bottles on the roadside that caught my attention. Naively and full of innocence we walked into the yard to be met by perhaps the most eccentric individual I have ever had the pleasure to meet…and also friendly and welcoming and… well I guess I’d have to say boisterous. I described this meeting in a post last summer, which you can read here if you are interested. Anyway, we thought it was an experience to be shared with others.
Zdravko did not disappoint and was up to the task of entertaining. Steve in particular, who has a keen journalistic sense for a story, thoroughly enjoyed the meeting. Zdravko was in full-form and posed enthusiastically for a portrait shot and happily described his many schemes and design plans for his hoard of junk.
Fortunately we had Evo with us to translate, so we could not be mistaken that it was indeed bedpans that Zdravko was demonstrating for us, soon to become lampshades. There was no end to his ingenuity as he happily displayed a rickety jalopy that he had handsomely refurbished by bolting dozens of old railway lights all along its body…words fail me, you have to see it, experience it, to believe it. It is a rather incredulous experience and also exhausting and very difficult to disengage yourself from.
Barb however, pulled by the thirst of her camera, left us and, together with Phil (who knew full well what he was avoiding), went off in search of light and old treasures. Evo’s favourite mantra is that the perfect photo is a successful interplay between “light, composition and moment”. With her eyes half squinted, a trick of Phil’s to make it easier to spot light and shadows, Barb spent a happy couple of hours composing lovely still lifes from light, shadows and piles of old junk.
After departing the junkyard, the light gradually left us and we were treated to a rainstorm complete with thunder and lightening as we headed to Rila Monastery. Dating from the 10th century, the monastery is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is named after the hermit Ivan of Rila (876-946 AD), who himself lived in a cave nearby, but the monastery came to be built by his many followers who came for his teachings. Today the monastery still houses around 60 monks.
There are various structures comprising the complex, but undoubtedly the most famous is its extraordinary church, which is famous for its interior ornate woodcarvings and gold-plated iconostasis. But what I find most intriguing is that it also houses a memorial to (and the heart of) the last Bulgarian king, Tsar Boris III. I am fascinated to learn that this king died rather abruptly and under suspicious circumstances during WWII, after brazenly and repeatedly refusing to comply with Hitler’s demand to deport Bulgarian Jews to Nazi death camps. As a result, approximately 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were spared almost certain death, a courageous act of defiance of which the country should feel very proud.
Being so famous, Rila Monastery is a difficult place to photograph in any original sort of way. However, it is a stunning structure filled with arches, sloping lines and angles. As we wander through the holy grounds dark clouds swirl above us, the church bells toll each hour, the cobbled courtyard shimmers in the aftermath of the rain and long-bearded, black-robed monks flit between archways and tiptoe around wet patches. There were many photography moments available for the taking if one is just patient.
Our plan was for a stunning sunset shoot from the trails above the monastery; however the rains squelched that plan, as the trails were steep and slippery with mud. Undeterred, we traveled past the monastery to a campground at the end of the paved road. Evo had hoped we might get some setting sunlight across the cliffs above the campground, but the clouds refused to part. So it was yet another exercise in finding the photograph.
Steve and Phil led Barb into the trees for her first macro shoot of the photography tour. With the leaves still wet with rain and the clouds keeping everything in shadow the greens and reds of the forest were vibrant against the darkness.
Large puddles in the muddy road created charming reflecting pools, mirroring the tall trees and the surrounding mountains…again we must pry the camera from Barb’s eager fingers to get her to climb aboard the van before darkness fully descends. Not exactly the excitement of yesterday, but still a great photographic experience.