Cowboys & Indians | Marvelous Bridges, Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria

indianMy last “outing” for the year was a visit to the so-called Marvelous, or Wonderful, Bridges – a short drive from the Chepelare ski resort in the Rhodope Mountains, where we spent New Year’s Eve.

These so-called Bridges are a couple of pretty impressive natural arches, at 1,450 meters (4,760 ft) above sea level, formed over hundreds of years by the erosive activity of the once larger Erkyupryia River. There are all kinds of legends about the place – one involves shepherds fighting off a dragon who devoured their flocks, but none mention the presence of any Indians. And yet today, when one climbs to the top of one of the bridges and looks down at the rocks, there’s a Native American’s face carved into them.

In the Footsteps of the Romans and Van Gogh | Arles, France

arles_manhole_coverThe small town of Arles, located on the banks of the Rhône River in the South of France, has two major claims to fame.

The first is the town’s Antique history, testified by the Roman architectural remains, including: the humongous Arena, where – in addition to plays and concerts, corridas are still being held; a smaller open-air theater, which is currently undergoing restoration; the Alyscamps (Roman necropolis); and the Obelisk, located on the Place de la République.

arles_antiqueThe second is the relatively short period that Vincent Van Gogh spent living and working in and around the town between 1888 and 1890, during which he produced over 300 paintings. All over Arles, there are plaques embedded into the pavements, which take visitors on a walking tour of the spots, where Van Gogh set up his easel to paint some of his best known canvases, such as Starry Night Over the Rhône, The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night, and The Yellow House. arles_van_goghInitially I thought the image on the plaques, somewhat inexplicably, represented a hiker with a backpack (oops!), though it turns out that apparently it is based on one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits The Painter on His Way to Work, which showed the artist walking on the road to Montmajour. (The painting used to be part of the collection of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Magdeburg, but is unfortunately believed to have been destroyed by a fire in World War II.)

arles_tilesArles was very much a delight to walk around in, not just on, but also off the tourist paths, over grey cobblestones and faded mosaics. We went to the enormous Saturday market; visited the Salon international des santonniers (the makers of the simultaneously very weird and strangely fascinating traditional “little saints” nativity scene figurines), which was housed in Arles’ former Hospital (where Van Gogh was admitted, following the infamous ear-severing incident and whose internal courtyard he captured in one of his paintings); wandered around La Roquette neighborhood, where our gracious hosts live and which – with its narrow, winding and deserted streets and colorful doors and windows, looked like a film set; and spent almost an hour in the shop&studio of Léon – the jeweler and international man of mystery, who was probably one of the most eccentric people I’ve ever met (though that’s a whole different story!).

Snow in August | Aiguille du Midi, the Alps, France

mont_blanc_rangeGoing up to Aiguille du Midi was a both pretty intense and quite insane.

cable_carTogether with a hoard of probably around 60 other people, we packed ourselves into the cable car, the Téléphérique, which climbed the almost vertical ascent from Chamonix to the summit in about 20 minutes – this is pretty mind blowing, considering that the altitude gain it made in that time was over 2,800 meters (Chamonix is at 1,035 m and the peak of the summit is 3,842 m). In that time, as I tried not to think about the fact that we were suspended on a rope in mid-air, we basically went from a pretty lush mountain and green mountainscape, through bare and wind-swept slopes, then onto glaciers and finally to the level of the snowy peaks. It felt as though we were taking off in an airplane.

Once we reached the top, slightly weak in the knees, we stepped out of the cable car and onto the packed snow.snow

We went out to various terraces and viewing platforms and watches mountaineers come back from their expeditions and climb over the railings, while some of the tourists shivered in their sandals and I felt smug at having had the foresight to wear closed shoes and a few layers of clothes, despite the fact that it was August.

dizzyIt was cold, windy, almost blindingly bright, dizzying and a little hard to breathe.

stairsBut very much worth it to see Mont Blanc from close-up, at what seemed to be about eye-level (though technically it was another, almost 1,000 meters higher) – it felt somehow like cheating, like it shouldn’t be so easy to see it without having climbed it.

mont_blanc_heightIncidentally, the date we went up there was just a couple of days after the date of the first ascent of Mont Blanc, in 1786!

first_ascent

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument | New Mexico, USA

tent_rocks_cactusI lost my phone and, together with it, all my pictures from my visit to Santa Fe, sadly.

All I can post here from that trip are these two snaps, taken with a friend’s camera (thank you, Julia!), during our hike around the Tent Rocks National Monument, but it’s just as well – I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to visit Santa Fe again, but I’m pretty sure that I won’t be going hiking again anytime soon.

tent_rocksEven if that turns out to be the last hike I ever go on, however, that wouldn’t be too shabby of an experience. As far as hikes go, this one was truly breath-taking. Not so much because of the hot sun shining mercilessly on our heads, the dry wind filling our mouths with dust, the lack of water and the slopes that made me pant without end, all of which were serious factors I had to contend with. But rather because the views and the scenery around the area really did take my breath away. Like much of the rest of New Mexico, the Tent Rocks National Monument also had a otherworldly feel to it, like you had just landed on another planet, which these pictures don’t quite do a justice too, but only begin to hint at.

 

Along the old railroad tracks & among the new plants of the High Line | New York, USA

Note: the pictures above can be viewed in a slideshow. Just click on an image to look through them separately.

Each and every day of the week I got to spend in New York was an absolute joy – whether it was while attending my dear friend’s wedding, getting to witness another two friends’ wedding dress and tux fittings, waiting for 2+ hours in the rain to see an exhibition consisting of rain at the MOMA, getting drinks, eating lunches and dinners and hanging out with old friends, visiting my erstwhile haunts (including our former apartment on East 11th Street), roaming around and discovering new places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, even simply riding the subway – I loved every minute of it.

But one of my favorite days (and the only day it didn’t rain) was spent walking along the High Line with my friend Maria. The High Line is New York City’s newest park, which stretches along the former railroad tracks that used to carry the freight trains supplying Manhattan’s largest industrial district until 1980. The structure, elevated 30 feet (about 9 meters) above street level, was redesigned and turned into a public park, whose first stretch opened to the public in 2009. It is an exceptional place – not just because of the extraordinary way in which the structure was transformed while many of its original features were kept (such as the actual railroad tracks, as well as many of the species that originally grew on the rail bed) and incorporated into the park’s landscape, but also because walking along it makes for a kind of green “escape” from the city while never having to take your eyes off of it. And that is my favorite kind of escape from New York.

P.S. I wrote a little story [in Bulgarian] about the High Line, complete with more pictures – you can see it here.

Springtime visitors | Montpellier, France

petra&ninaIt was great to get a visit from one of my favorite twins, Nina, and my new friend, Petra, who during their trip to Barcelona popped over to Montpellier for a few days. Their visit coincided with the first truly warm days of spring and – although much of our time was devoted to food – eating it in restaurants, shopping for it in stores, preparing it at home and thinking about it constantly, we managed to enjoy the weather and sneak in a few nice walks around the city (naturally, with plenty of breaks for tea/coffee/cake).

petra&nina2