I’d planned to head to Bulgaria to catch a handful of festivals that had caught my interest. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my trip coincided with some of the heaviest snowfall and extreme temperatures seen for decades. At some points, the snow was over 4ft deep and the temperatures touching -30C. Very Cold.
This kind of extreme weather makes traveling in these areas difficult. Yet, the minimalist landscapes and simplistic beauty that the snow had brought made me optimistic.
I’m going to cover the festivities in a series of future posts. For now, I want to focus on one of the most surprising experiences I had in Bulgaria – the mountain train.
…the opportunity to explore this little-known transport system through such a beautiful region of the country whilst covered in deep snow was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
My friend and travel companion Pavel suggested we took a ride on the mountain train. At first, I was a little skeptical.
I’ve taken many trains in the past, and to be truthful, I’m not the biggest fan of train rides. But, the opportunity to explore with the landscape covered in deep snow was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
The Septemvri–Dobrinishte line runs through the valley that separates the Rila and Rhodope Mountains. Originally built for military purposes, the train now serves as a link for the Pomak (Bulgarian Muslims) villages spread down the valley.
We headed by car to meet the train at the top of the valley in an area called Arvamovo. At 1267 meters, is reportedly the highest train station in the Balkan peninsula.
Unfortunately, due to the conditions, the 4 times per day train was due to arrive 1 hour delayed. Instead of waiting around in temperatures dropping below -15C, we hiked up to the nearby village that sits on the hillside above the station. With the extreme temperatures and deep snow, the number of locals outside was low. However, the snow did transform a simple village into something a little special.
As with the majority of people that I encountered in this area, he welcomed us with warmth and seemed amused that I would want to photograph him in such weather. After saying our farewells to Georgi, we continued on at pace. Our train was finally due very soon and with the next train in 4 hours, we couldn’t afford to miss it.
All Aboard the Mountain Train
As we waited for the train, much of the station remained under heavy snow. Trains back home are canceled at the earliest sighting of snow, so to hear it approaching in the distance came as somewhat of a surprise.
Many of the locals stay inside their homes or move down into the towns in the lower part of the valley in winter.
One thing that caught me by surprise in many of the villages was how the locals would ask whether we wanted to know their Slavic or Muslim names.
This is a habit that has evolved in the older population. During the communist period most had to abandon their Islamic faith and adopt Slavic names.
Bulgaria is a country that I’ve fallen in love with. I look forward to sharing more images over the coming weeks. I have many more images of the exotic side of Bulgaria, the Kukeri festivals, icy rivers and fire festivals. Yet, recently I’m finding interest in the simpler moments.
Spread the Word
If you enjoyed this photographic story and images, I would love it if you could share it with your friends and family. If you’re also interested in joining me in Bulgaria during January 2018, I’m opening up a small photography tour for only 6 people early next week. If you wish to register interest in this and get early access to bookings, you can click here.