We decided last night to stay in Melnik another day to give us time to actually see the town and to hike to the nearby Rozhen Monestary. Though the place is accessible by road, we decided to walk there on the canyon trail, giving us a change of activity and scenery.
We ate a lovely breakfast at the guesthouse, and then set off on foot, bewildering the hostess who wants to know if we need our “velociped” today. I mimed that we intended to go on a walk and then set off on foot through town, and up into the sandy dry riverbed leading up the canyon.
Soon the walls narrowed up around us and we were largely shaded from the hot morning sun. We walked for an hour with the trail completely to ourselves, happy to be out in nature with the birds and the rocks and the dirt, moving in a new way. The soft sand which was crusted with memory of the previous afternoon’s thunderstorms cushioned my steps, a welcome relief for my still aching hip, and we moved slowly with no real reason to hurry.
The trail was sketched into the side of the hill, taking us to the top of the ridge where we could see for miles: Melnik immediately below and far away towns and mountains in the distance. Sandy pillars jutted out from the hilltops, reminiscent of Bryce Canyon. I will never understand how we get so far from home and find so much to be just the same.
A quick walk down the other side of the ridge led us to the monastery where we wandered for nearly an hour. Sixteenth century frescoes lined the walls of the chapel, lit up by a cart full of dancing candles. I don’t know the real significance of the candles, but the flickering lights lit by faithful churchgoers are one of my favorite parts about visiting so many places of worship. We also discovered that the grape vine growing in the courtyard is nearly 300 years old!
We made quick work of the hike back down, chatting about our trip. We’ve been thinking about our last bike tour which often left us feeling stressed, almost as though we were always on the verge of crisis. This round has a much easier transition. We’ve grown and changed a lot in two years since we last went on tour, more able to let it go when things go wrong and more willing to live with a bad mood or physical discomfort knowing that it probably won’t last forever. We both came to our trip with far less expectations than last time as well (no doubt a result of almost no planning) making it easy to let our journey pull us along as we go without worrying too much about getting everything just right. At least for this trip, it’s not all about the bike, not that we were ever hardcore bike tourists (we take trains all the time!). Mostly, we’re just happy to have taken a step back to really enjoy the scenery and the people here.