When my boyfriend heard of an abandoned Soviet monument, he knew he had to go. His love for abandoned buildings had already seen us chased by the police out of a building in Bulgaria, so I was a little hesitant in doing another. Yet here I stood, in front of one of the weirdest and most impressive monuments of all time, Buzludzha.
In the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Bulgaria had never maintained the monument Buzludzha to distance itself from its soviet routes, and today the building stands abandoned and a playground for adventure campers.
The strange concrete flying saucer can be seen from all neighbouring towns, and stands alone atop the highest peak in the incredibly beautiful Balkan Mountain Range. There are no buses or tours out to it, so instead you have to find a way there yourself. We hitchhiked a ride from neighbouring town Kazanlak, to the base of the mountain, where another beautiful old monument stands in memory of the war with the Turks.
What I was previously told by Tyral was around 4-6 kilometer trek up to the monument, turned out to be 12. All winding between mountains and mostly up hill. I was impressed by his optimism that he believed I would make it that far with my backpack on. Luckily, we only had to walk a few kilometres before two grey nomads in the coolest campervan I’ve ever seen, pulled over and offered to take us the rest of the way. As the beautiful countryside rolled past us, I was thankful to not be lugging my bag that whole way. This extremely cool Dutch couple took us the whole way to the base of the monument, where we said our goodbyes, Tyral got offered a job, and watched them roll on to the next town.
Our strange and foreign accents clearly stood out to another fellow Aussie who was riding past, as he did a full circle to come talk to us. It was nice talking to another Australian, who is riding his whole way from Greece to London (oh the places you meet people). Saying goodbye, we focused our attention towards this strange monument jutting out in front of us, Tyral bursting with excitement.
The steep walk up the rocky mountain face was difficult with our bags; Tyral’s enthusiasm saw him sprint ahead towards the monument as I dragged my feet slowly after him. Eventually, I made it to the top, to an incredible sight looking down over the rest of the mountain range, full of green trees thriving in the spring.
Tyral jumping up and down on the spot not trying to contain his excitement, we decided to make our way towards the monument; headlights ready to climb our way into the abandoned building. The dark small hole wasn’t too inviting, with cold chilly air and rubbish scattered all around, but I followed Tyral through the hole and into the gloomy room. The air sent shivers down my spine, spooky and eerie. Underground in pitch black, our headlights as the only source of light as we explored the once underground bar, toilets, and rooms.
Above ground level, when walking into the old arena I was completely blown away by its beauty. I never expected an abandoned building to hold so much elegance, but surrounding the walls was the most incredible works of art I have seen. You have to give it to the Soviets, they knew how to do a mural. Images of old soviet images, war, and high up soviet officials were glittering in the small cracks of light shining through the broken roof. It transports you back into the USSR times; you can imagine the dolled up Soviets sitting around watching performances, now a symbolic memory to the fallen Soviet Union.
High above the round theatre is a tower overlooking far into the horizon spanning across the beautiful jutting, snow capped mountains. Climbing up is one of the scariest parts of the building, a small entrance sitting straight across from the main entrance and under the adjacent staircase; you follow a small wet tunnel through to an old rusty and creaking staircase. Up and up and up we climbed, my hands growing shakier the higher we reached, until we poked our heads over out the top and crawled onto the platform above.
I hate heights, especially ones atop of buildings for some reason, so stood frightened and shaken in the middle of the roof, refusing to move any closer to the sides because of my irrational fear I might suddenly fall off. Tyral is much braver and didn’t seem fazed as he climbed the old rusted scaffolding and onto the large beams poking out at all four corners. I couldn’t even watch as he slowly walked out to the end, and stood a hundred meters into the air, overlooking the valleys descending below. My fear soon turned into an anxiety attack as he grew braver from the help of a beer and practically ran across the half meter platform.
We spent what felt like hours up the top of the tower, some of my most frightening moments of my life as I watched Tyral dance about the small beam, seemingly unfazed. Eventually, either with the help of Tyral’s encouragement to overcome my fears, or his peer pressure into putting myself in danger I’m still not sure, I managed to climb very slowly and shakily to the top of the platform. Once on top, I couldn’t do anything but stare straight in front of my at the safe, stable rooftop below my feet, and not at the 100-meter drop behind me. I was more than happy to touch dry, green ground again once climbed our way back down the ladder and crawled our way back through the tiny hole.
That night we set up camp under the safety of the building to protect ourselves from the harsh winds of the mountaintop. We momentarily discussed camping inside the monument, Tyral a lot more eager than myself, who decided against it because of the safety of falling objects from the broken roof. This turned out to be an extremely good idea.
Our small camp site, complete with campfire and marshmallows was an amazing end to our adventures and exciting day, and we managed to have a decent sleep for most of the night, right up until morning.
We both woke with a fight as the sudden burst of wind took to our tent and rattled the poles and cloth all around us. The wind from the night before had become so strong, it was whipping around the side of the monument and catching our tent, sending it angrily flapping all around us. When we stepped out of the tent and just a meter away from our camp sight, we were violently pushed and shoved by its power. Unsure what to do, Tyral went to find some calmer ground and suggested taking refuge again inside the building. This would have meant packing up a tent in about 80-kilometre winds, surely it would have been sent flying like a kite. Instead, after been spooked by two strangers walking Men In Black style through the misty fog and towards the monument, as hid back in our secluded tent to wait it out. Hidden from view, with the help of the meter vision caused by the cloud surrounding us, we slept a few more hours in the fierce winds.
Eventually, the wind had calmed a bit and the foggy cloud had vanished, and we decided it was okay to pack up the tent. Hurriedly, we collapsed it and ran around the front of the building, and out of the wind.
We couldn’t believe our eyes, the entrance to the monument that we had climbed through less that 12 hours ago, was bolted shut. About ten different bars had been welded over the opening, along with a large traffic stop sign. The Men In Black characters must have been council workers and came to close the entrance. All that was running through my head was IMAGINE IF WE CAMPED INSIDE!&%#! Being bolted shut in an old moldy abandoned soviet building was defiantly something I didn’t want. Ever. I felt panicked just at the thought.
To our luck, two tourists showed up just as we packed up the tent. Sadly for them, the building was inaccessible, but lucky for us it meant we were in the car and heading out of the cloud and to the nearest town.
As Buzludzha slowly disappeared in the foreground, I could tell Tyral was sad to see it go as he looked out of the window like a puppy leaving the beach. It was an incredibly cool experience, and amazing thing to see, but I was secretly happy to see it turn into a tiny speck on the top of the hill, and not be locked inside.