Bistritsa – Samokovishteto – Bistritsa

Starting coordinates: 42.56902, 23.34232

Distance: 3.8 km

Elevation Gain: 130 m

Time: 2 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Transport: by car, or by bus to Bistritsa Village

Bistritsa Village is on the east side of Vitosha and can best be reached from the ring road. The three main districts on the north side of Vitosha, from west to east, are Boyana, Dragalevtsi, and Simeonovo. If you continue on the ring road past Simeonovo in an easterly direction, you come to Sofia Ring Mall and Ikea. Just before these is the turning that takes you to the start of the only lift that is still working on Vitosha, the Simeonovo-Aleko cabin lift. Immediately after Ikea is a roundabout. Turn right here and the road will take you uphill to Bistritsa. The road reaches a summit, where there are turnings left to Pancharevo and right to Simeonovo, and then descends into Bistritsa proper. After crossing Bistritsa River, you are in the centre, an open grassy area. The following buses – 69, 70, 98, 314 – will drop you here, at the stop marked “Selo Bistritsa”.

The mountain is on your right. You have just crossed Bistritsa River, which tumbles down the mountainside and eventually flows into Lake Pancharevo to the east. There are two walks that begin from Bistritsa – one to a small waterfall; the other to the village of Zheleznitsa. They both have the same starting point. To reach this point, you need to take the first turning on the right after the bus stop. This is Stefan Stambolov Street. There is a ProMarket grocery store on the corner. You follow this street for 2.9 kilometres. 700 metres from the centre, it crosses the river. Keep going uphill. After another kilometre, the road veers left – ignore the dead-end street in front of you. Having crossed back over the river, it then leaves the houses behind. There is a small car park on the left. Where it enters Vitosha Nature Park, ignore the turning on the right and keep going uphill. After another 400 metres, you come to a second car park on the left. This is a good place to park. If there are no places, you can park further up on the verge. Continue to where the road ends in another 300 metres.

You are now ready to start your walk. There are two paths, both of which form part of the “low-altitude circular trail”. Going left will take you to Zheleznitsa Village, a lovely walk with wonderful views. The walk to Samokovishteto Waterfall is much shorter, little more than half an hour, but the waterfall is so picturesque it is well the effort.

Take the path on the right. You will soon pass a hut on the right. In ten minutes, the low-altitude trail is dissected by a path heading up and down the mountain. Continue straight (signposted Simeonovo Lakes), and you will come to Yanchovska River, a tributary of Bistritsa River, which it joins in Bistritsa Village. Go right, and the path takes you back down to Bistritsa. You want to go left, in the direction of Aleko Hut and Cherni Vrah. The path climbs steadily through forest. You become aware of Bistritsa River chuntering along on your right. Ignore any side paths or shortcuts and stay on the marked trail. In little more than twenty minutes, you will reach Samokovishteto Waterfall.

The first thing you see is the white line of the river. There is then a beautiful cascade of water where the river slides down a large flat surface, almost as if it was at an aqua park. On your left is a pool under the steady gaze of a boulder. On your right is a bridge over the river which takes you to a picnic area with a couple of tables and an open shelter. Sit in the shelter and look through the glassless window. It’s almost like watching TV.

It is a lovely place to stop and enjoy the nature. The flow of the water is captivating. This walk can easily be extended by continuing in the direction of Aleko Hut or by returning to the low-altitude trail and continuing towards Simeonovo Lakes, though neither of these destinations is very near. Otherwise, having taken your fill, simply retrace your steps to the top of Stefan Stambolov Street and head back into Bistritsa.

NOTE: Instead of taking the low-altitude trail and then turning left to head up the mountain, it is possible to reach Samokovishteto by taking the turning on the right when you enter Vitosha Nature Park, 2.2 kilometres from the centre. You then simply head uphill until you reach the waterfall, crossing the low-altitude trail at some point. This will shorten the walk from the centre of Bistritsa Village if you are on foot.

This map shows the walk in relation to the top of the mountain above (Aleko Hut on the right, the radar station on the left) and to Bistritsa Village below. You can also see the line of the Simeonovo-Aleko cabin lift.
A short film of Samokovishteto Waterfall on Bistritsa River.


Vratsa is a town north of Sofia, midway between Sofia and the river Danube. It is famous for its caves (in particular, Ledenika), waterfalls and rock formations. To the south-west of Vratsa is the Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park, established in 1989. This is where Vratsa Waterfall is situated, together with another waterfall, Borov Kamuk, which can be accessed from the village of Zgorigrad. It is also where the Bulgarian revolutionary and poet Hristo Botev was killed in 1876, fighting against the Ottomans in an uprising that would be brutally crushed, but would sow the seeds for the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule two years later. Vratsa is also famous for the Rogozen Treasure, the largest haul of Thracian treasure ever found in Bulgaria, dating to the fourth century BC, part of which can be seen in the Regional Historical Museum.

Vratsa is connected to Sofia by railway (for train times, see the Bulgarian State Railways website: To reach Vratsa from Sofia by car, take the A2 motorway, which connects Sofia with Varna on the Black Sea coast, north-east as far as Botevgrad and then head north-west on the E79 road to Vratsa via Mezdra. The journey takes about two hours. On entering Vratsa, keep going straight and in three kilometres, immediately after passing City Hospital on your left, there is a street, also on your left, called Belasitsa. You need to take this turning. This street continues for 800 metres and then abruptly ends next to an old people’s home, Zora. This is where the path to the waterfall begins (there are several places to park your car).

The walk from here to the bottom of the waterfall takes about an hour, but it is steep and slippery. It is not an easy path. Follow the path and, after a few minutes, there is a large gateway on your left with the words ‘Welcome to Vrachanski Karst’ written on it in Bulgarian. This is the name of the reserve, which forms part of the Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park. Do not be tempted to follow the track that climbs the hill directly in front of you, but go left, over the riverbed and under this gate. The riverbed will now be on your right. After five minutes, you will come to a shelter on your right, an ideal place to rest. The path starts to climb, and in another five or ten minutes you come to some benches and a fountain on your left. The path then crosses the riverbed, which was completely dry when we visited. You need now to follow the blue markers (they are sometimes red), ignoring a level path on the right and heading straight uphill. Bear in mind the elevation gain from the start of the walk to the waterfall is about 300 metres. If you stay on this path and observe the blue markers, you will reach the bottom of the waterfall in half an hour.

At 141 metres, Vratsa Waterfall, also known as ‘Vrachanska Skaklya’, is one of the highest in Bulgaria, but the flow of water is very little. There are some boulders at the bottom, and an enormous rock face. But where Vratsa Waterfall really stands out is with the views! I heartily recommend that you continue to the top of the waterfall, an elevation gain of another 200 metres, which takes about 45 minutes. As you face the waterfall, the path with the blue markers continues on your left (that is, it continues eastwards). Follow the path and, before reaching the top, you will pass a cave on your right, which you can investigate. Once you reach the top, the path heads right through some trees and then comes to a clearing. If you continue in the same direction, skirting the cliff face on your right, in five minutes you will come to the stream that feeds the waterfall. The views – of the waterfall and rock face as you climb; of Vratsa and Dabnika Reservoir in the distance – are spectacular and well worth the extra effort. The descent from the top of the waterfall to the start of the path took us about an hour.

All in all, you need to allow at least four hours for the hike itself. The climb to a large rock face, followed by a further climb to the top of the waterfall, is reminiscent of the visit to Bov Waterfall north of Svoge, on the other side of the Vratsa Balkan, only this waterfall is higher.

The turning after the hospital, Belasitsa Street, ends next to an old people’s home. The path begins here. The waterfall is the dark patch on the rocks behind.
After a few minutes, turn left and pass through the gateway, which says ‘Welcome to Vrachanski Karst’.
A rock on the right.
A picnic shelter in ideal surroundings.
The path starts to climb.
After crossing the riverbed, the path becomes steep.
Vratsa Waterfall from below.
As we continue to the top, the views of the waterfall and Vratsa are wonderful!
A view of Vratsa from inside the cave.
At the top, the path heads through some trees.
And you come to a clearing.
In another five minutes, you reach the stream that forms the waterfall.
A view of Vratsa and Dabnika Reservoir from the top of the waterfall.

Tihiya Kat – Vladaya – Tihiya Kat

Starting coordinates: 42.63811, 23.21968

Distance: 7.6 km

Elevation Gain: 330 m

Time: 3 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Transport: by car, or by bus no. 63 to Tihiya Kat

This is one of the loveliest walks on Vitosha and it has the advantage of being a good walk to do even when the weather is bad because it’s lower down the mountain. You take the car or bus on the road that climbs the mountain from Boyana Village and stop at a motel-restaurant called Tihiya Kat. The motel is on your left. The walk starts at the bus stop on your right.

A path descends straight into forest and takes you to the next village around the mountain, Vladaya. After about five minutes, you reach a bridge over a stream. A few minutes later, there is a hut on your right where people light fires. After another ten minutes, you come to some farm buildings in a field on the right where there are sometimes horses. In fact, this path is part of a “low-altitude circular trail” that goes all the way around the mountain and is shared by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. In another ten minutes, there is a path on the left before a pylon, followed by another path on the left after the pylon. There are some tables here where you can rest. Continue on the shared trail, and soon the village of Vladaya will become visible through the trees on your right. After five minutes, a path joins from the left. The path you are on begins to veer to the right to enter the village, but you want to go straight ahead (signposted for Marchaevo and Kladnitsa), not into the village.

In a couple of minutes, you come to a clearing. A path on the left leads up to Planinets, a mountain hut which is the start of another walk. A path on the right leads down to the village. You want the second path on the left (signposted for Zlatni Mostove, Kumata and Cherni Vrah). This second path is, in fact, a continuation of the low-altitude circular trail. There is a small path in front of you which leads down to Vladaya River. You will come back on this path.

So take the second path on the left. You can now hear Vladaya River on your right and later you will be able to glimpse it through the trees. The path is crossed by several small streams on their way to the river. It then starts to climb. After fifteen minutes, you reach an abandoned house on the right. Immediately on the left is a plaque in memory of someone who died. This is followed by some high rocks on the left with a grassy area where people light fires. The route continues uphill, but note the path behind you, on your right. This is the path you will take on coming back down the mountain.

Continue uphill. You pass the top of the rocks on your left, but carry straight on. You are now following the course of the river. At one point, the path veers away from the river to the left, but it soon curls back again, and in a few more minutes you reach a bridge over the river. The path continues uphill in the direction of Zlatni Mostove (the start of another walk), or you can go over the bridge in the direction of the villages of Marchaevo, Rudartsi and Kladnitsa.

But we will pause at this beautiful spot in order to take a rest and admire the river. The water tumbles under the bridge. There is then a shallow area, with a sluice on the far side. The light on the water makes for a very attractive sight. In fact, this is one of my favourite spots on the mountain.

Having taken your fill, you now retrace your steps back down the mountain, unless you have the whole day in front of you and fancy continuing to Zlatni Mostove or Marchaevo. When after about five minutes you reach the rocks further down, remember to take the path on your left that follows the course of the river. You will divert a little from the route, but you will rejoin it later on. The views of the river are wonderful, especially in winter, when the water level is high. After five minutes, you reach a bridge across the river. Cross to the other side and continue downhill past a small bench and shelter until you reach a second bridge that takes you back to the other side of the river. If you continue downhill on the same side of the river, you will come to the village of Vladaya.

Cross this second bridge and take the path on your left that climbs uphill. After five minutes, another path joins from the right. You then come to the same clearing you were in earlier. Now the route back to Tihiya Kat is the same. You simply keep going straight on the same level (going left will take you down to the village, right further up the mountain) and in about forty minutes you should be back where you started.

This is a wonderful walk, one of my favourite walks on Vitosha. But a word of caution. I have a small dog and I have often come across big dogs in the vicinity of Vladaya or next to the river. There are also horses from time to time. So you might want to keep an eye on your little friend if you have one.

This is a film I took of Vladaya River in December after some heavy rain. It is an exhilarating river to be next to!

Dragalevtsi Monastery – Boyana Lake – Dragalevtsi Monastery

Starting coordinates: 42.6197196, 23.2976008

Distance: 7.3 km

Elevation Gain: 165 m

Time: 2½ hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Transport: by car, or by bus no. 66 to the stop for Dragalevtsi Monastery

This is the first of several walks for which you need to access the mountain via the district/village of Dragalevtsi, south of Sofia. The walk follows the path that links Boyana and Dragalevtsi. It is fairly flat and, were it not for the distance (7.3 km), I would classify it as easy.

Dragalevtsi is famous for the fourteenth-century Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which can be reached by a cobbled road from the central square. As you are going up this cobbled road, there is a turning on the left marked “Vodenitsata”, a traditional Bulgarian restaurant next to the start of the Dragalevtsi chair lift (no longer running). If you take this turning, you come to a roundabout, where you turn right, and in a short while you come to the monastery gates. Keep on this side road, and you come to a large car park behind the monastery.

If you continue on the cobbled road and do not take the turning to “Vodenitsata”, the road does a big loop and in three kilometres you reach the same car park from the other direction. Park the car here, or alternatively get off bus no. 66 at the stop “for Dragalevtsi Monastery” (the third to last stop on this route, an optional stop, you must inform the driver you want to get off). The monastery is on the other side of the car park, behind the trees. The bus will continue up the mountain in the direction of Aleko, where there is a ski slope and from where you can set out for the summit, Cherni Vrah.

The path to Boyana Lake is a shared trail (for walkers and cyclists) marked “Boyana” which leaves the road almost next to the bus stop. It climbs a little, passes a large and interesting boulder, and then continues in a north-westerly direction more or less on the same level all the way to Boyana Lake (3.5 km away). You pass through beautiful beech forest and cross several moraine rivers (moraines are large glacial boulders and form a common feature of Vitosha). At the first moraine river, after fifteen minutes, there is a fountain on the right. In another fifteen minutes, you come to the third moraine river, from where there is a wonderful view of Sofia. In another fifteen minutes, there is an open grassy area on the right with a stone plinth and an excellent view further west towards Kopitoto (“the Hoof”, where there is a hotel next to the TV tower, both visible from Sofia). It is an ideal spot for a picnic.

At this point, the path begins to descend gently towards the lake. You pass another grassy area on the right, where there are two shelters used for barbecues, and in twenty minutes you reach the lake on your left. From here, the path continues north towards Boyana Village. Another path heads west from the lake in the direction of Boyana Waterfall. You can walk all around the lake. In May, it is full of croaking frogs! If you have a dog, I advise not letting your dog drink the water, since it is pretty stagnant.

Once you’ve enjoyed admiring the lake from different angles, you simply head back up the path you came on and retrace your steps to the cobbled road with the bus stop and the car park. This should take less than an hour.

This walk will easily fit into an afternoon. If you are feeling keen, you can easily combine it with a walk from the same starting point (Dragalevtsi Monastery car park/bus stop), but going in the opposite direction, eastwards towards Aleko Waterfall and the Simeonovo Lakes. Both walks skirt the mountain at more or less the same elevation (1000 m). This walk is described in a separate text.

The Spanish Riveter

Hats off to the editors of The Spanish Riveter, a magazine freely available online and published by the European Literature Network, West Camel and Katie Whittemore, for producing a very thorough and inclusive, 294-page issue packed full of interesting writing and features. I can’t think of a better way of dipping into contemporary writing from Spain in all its manifestations: Basque, Castilian, Catalan, Galician…

There are sections not only on the four languages I have just mentioned – I was privileged to be asked to write the introduction to Galician literature on pages 200-204 – but also on publishing, grants, poetry, children’s literature, women’s writing (let us not forget that the last Spanish National Book Award for Fiction was won by a Galician woman writer, Marilar Aleixandre, who wasn’t even born in Galicia and adopted the language later on) and the Latam Boom.

All the people I have worked with over the last thirty years seem to have been included, and this is a testament to the editors’ hard work and open approach.

I fancy that some Galician editors would not agree with Katie Whittemore’s statement that “there is the sense that Spain’s other languages, while perhaps still on the back foot, so to speak, are experiencing growth in the book sector, with more institutional support, as well as a greater appetite from readers both within and without the Spanish territory” (page 8). Francisco Castro, director of the most traditional Galician publishing house, Editorial Galaxia, stated only the other day in the Faro de Vigo newspaper that “the Galician market is getting smaller and smaller, every year it is getting more and more difficult to reach income levels.” He goes on to talk about the great tragedy being experienced in Galicia, “which is the loss of its language,” and affirms that “a market that has to see a language in decline is destined for extinction.”

I would say that literary translators are “destined for extinction” and not much has been achieved since the heady days of the 1990s, when there was much talk of literary translation being a profession. Literary translators are still required to take significant personal risks, they do not receive a salary, sick leave or a pension, very little attention is paid to their work, and the juggernaut that is the English-language book market is hurtling along at such a pace it simply crushes the tossed-aside can of books in translation, offering little space in mainstream media to add to the difficulty of rising printing and distribution costs. We were never much inclined to listen to the other’s voice, which is a shame, really, since this would not only enrich our lives, but also lead to better international relations. Institutions, and the general public, are inclined to toss a coin in the cap of literary translation (without really understanding what it is), not much more.

As a publisher, I would strongly disagree with Alice Banks’ appraisal of grants on pages 62-63. She mentions one source, Acción Cultural Española, whose grants “cover the cost of translation.” This is typical of how it looks on the outside and how it really works in practice. In 2020 I applied for a grant for the Oxford professor John Rutherford to translate a Galician classic, Memoirs of a Village Boy by Xosé Neira Vilas. I asked for 2960 euros and was offered 1332 euros (that is, nine euros per page). That is a long way off the UK Translators’ Association’s recommended *minimum* rate of £100/1000 words (approximately 22 euros/page). Ainhoa Sánchez, the person responsible for literature, confirmed by email that “our grants are a support and are not meant to cover the overall cost, since we do not have the necessary budget.” This is an excuse I have heard many times, but it is not true – you simply support fewer projects with the same budget. I declined the grant, and we published the book on our own. There is a review by Paul Burke on pages 208-209 of the magazine.

But let us celebrate the diversity that this excellently produced magazine has brought to the fore and thank that ever hopeful cohort of translators, editors and publishers who continue to work and strive for translation. There is much to admire here.

Zlatni Mostove – Planinarska Pesen – Bor – Septemvri – Zlatni Mostove

Starting coordinates: 42.6097479, 23.2361762

Distance: 7.8 km

Elevation Gain: 360 m

Time: 3¼ hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Transport: by car, or by bus no. 63 to Zlatni Mostove

This is a classic Vitosha walk which has as its starting and end point an important location on the mountain: Zlatni Mostove (“Golden Bridges” in Bulgarian). Zlatni Mostove is memorable because of the river of moraines, large boulders, that tumbles down the mountainside and also because of the beautiful open meadow a little to the north, Beli Bryag. It is also where bus no. 63 turns around and goes back down the mountain, so there is no need to worry about where to get off!

You again go through the district/village of Boyana and continue up the mountain, going past the Dendrarium on your right and the turning to Kopitoto on your left, until you get to an open area on the road with a large bus stop. This is Zlatni Mostove. It is fourteen kilometres from the ring road that goes around Sofia. Park the car somewhere nearby. The main road continues up the mountain and soon becomes cobbled, but for Zlatni Mostove itself you want to take a side road on your left. Continue up this road for three minutes and, as the road veers to the left, with the river of moraines on your left, you will see two paths departing from the road. One heads to Artistite and Selimitsa, it sort of doubles back. The path you want is the left of the two, signposted for Planinarska Pesen and Kumata. You climb some steps with the moraine river on your left. After fifteen minutes, you come to a stream (actually, two streams with small bridges over both of them). A short distance after the streams, the path divides. Continue left.

The path now heads straight up the mountain for about twenty-five minutes. Towards the top, you come to an intersection. If you continue up the mountain, you will cross the main road and the path will take you to Kumata. If you go right, you will come to Ofeliite. But you want to go left. Follow this path for about ten minutes. It doubles back and climbs to the main road. At the main road, go left (the smaller road opposite leads to Kumata). You will come to three mountain huts located close together: Boeritsa on your left; ahead of you, then on your right, Borova Gora; and finally Planinarska Pesen, which means “Mountain Song” and fittingly has a few metal notes affixed to the wall. Just before this last hut, there is a path descending on your left, signposted for Zlatni Mostove and Bor. Take this path.

The path descends abruptly and then levels out with some wonderful views in a westerly direction. It winds through the forest, past large rocks, across minor streams. After about twenty minutes, the path begins to descend. It is signposted for Septemvri. But a new path begins on the right, signposted for Bor and Momina Skala. You want to go right in order to maintain your elevation, not to go down the mountain yet.

You continue along this new path, again with wonderful views in a westerly direction, for about thirty minutes. There are some wooden walkways where the ground is wet. After thirty minutes, you come to a clearing. This is the same clearing that features in the walk from Planinets. Directly ahead of you is Boyana River and Bor mountain hut, but when you reach the far side of the clearing, there is a path that doubles back on your left. It is signposted for Septemvri and Zlatni Mostove. Take this path and follow it all the way down the mountain. Again, there are some wooden walkways where the ground is wet. After twenty minutes on this path, there is a turning right to Septemvri. You can ignore this. In a few more minutes, you reach an intersection with the hotel Elitsa on your right. The path coming down the mountain on your left is the path you joined at Planinarska Pesen, but then left in order to join a new path on the right. None of this matters. You continue straight and in less than ten minutes you come to the road that connects Zlatni Mostove and Momina Skala.

At the road, turn left and take the path that goes past an open meadow called Beli Bryag. The view here always reminds me of Switzerland, I don’t know why. It is a lovely open area with benches where people like to picnic and have barbecues in summer. The path skirts the meadow and rejoins the road further down. At the road, continue left and follow the road for ten minutes. It will lead you directly back to the main road with the no. 63 bus stop.

This route up, across and down the mountain, which affords some wonderful views and has the added attraction of the moraines or large boulders, is shaped like an upside-down triangle. You go up one side, across the top and back down the other side until you return to the same point. The route can be shortened by following the path to Septemvri and turning left at the bottom (with Elitsa hotel in front of you). This new path will take you to the road, with the meadow, Beli Bryag, on your left.

No visitor can consider themselves acquainted with the mountain until they have come to Zlatni Mostove. On the final stretch, between the meadow and the bus stop, there are several stalls selling corn and jam and a couple of restaurants where you can get bean soup or meatballs (kyufteta).

I and Me

The line divides. The line is a wall or a tower. It defines. We use it to mark the borders between countries. To cross the line, you need permission, although nature will cross the line at will. This is a human invention. We use it to indicate private property and enact laws that will punish anyone who trespasses the line without permission. We use it in a sense to make ourselves out to be authors, as if the land, the products of the land, somehow belonged to us. We have misunderstood our role as translators. Our role is to take what is there and to transform it, hopefully for the better, to make it useful (to ourselves and others). But we cannot do anything without the earth and its gifts, as we cannot cook without ingredients. We are recipients.

But we do not like this idea, because it takes away our sense of control. We like to pretend that things begin with us, when they don’t, they pass through us. We cling to the line, because without the line there is a hole, we feel empty.

The ego in English is a line: I. And so is the number 1. We count up from 1 when we do business. We teach our children to do the same. We forget to count from 0. Once you start counting from 1, there is no end, there is no knowing where you will get to, so it produces a sense of uncertainty, not control. We feel the need to produce things (despite the obvious harm to the environment), to make a profit. We put ourselves in control, in the driver’s seat. We make ourselves the subject: I think, I do, I decide. But this is an illusion, or at least it doesn’t last.

A verb has a subject and an object. The subject carries out the action of the verb, the subject is in the driver’s seat (where we want to be). The object is acted on, the object is the recipient of the action. As we grow in the spiritual life (as we grow older), we begin to realize that perhaps our role is more to receive than to do. We receive help, we receive healing, we learn (we receive knowledge). We embrace that hole we avoided earlier, the circle (0), and find it actually makes us whole. Where is the difference between “hole” and “whole”? It is in the letter “w” at the beginning of the second word.

Language, like nature, wishes to tell us something. It is full of spiritual knowledge waiting to be seen, deciphered, harvested. A tree when it begins life is like the ego: a straight line (I). But it does not remain a straight line, otherwise it will be fruitless. So it branches out. It blossoms. And bears fruit. The tree is a lesson in what we have to do with the line, the ego, in our lives. It is an ego turning to God. The line (1) acquires branches and becomes 3 (think of a child’s drawing). This is why “tree” is in “three” (the only difference is breath, the letter “h”), because if it doesn’t branch out, it is not a tree, it is just a stick.

Nature and language wish to tell us something, but we are completely blind to this aspect. We think of nature and language as a tool to be used to our advantage (in short, to make money). But we are not here to make money, we are here to grow spiritually, so that we can prepare ourselves for the life to come. We are here to gain experience. Experience teaches us, it makes us more humble, it make us realize that not everything depends on us.

“I” is a subject. But God does not want us to remain as a straight line (we will not be able to bear fruit if we do). What is the object of “I”? If “I” is the nominative, then what is the accusative, the one who is acted upon, the one who receives? It is “me”.

I-ME. This is the same process undergone earlier by the tree. If we turn these words into numbers, we will see that “I” closely resembles 1, a straight line, but “ME” (written with capital letters) closely resembles two 3s (all I have to do is rotate the letters). When we cede control, when we accept that control was never really with us, when we allow ourselves to be acted upon, when we embrace the hole, the uncertainty, that is at the centre of human existence, then the process of spiritual growth can begin. Then we open ourselves to healing.

We become like the tree. We branch out.

This can be seen in other ways, too. What word sounds like “I”? “Eye”. An eye when it is closed is a straight line. What happens when we open our eyes? The eye becomes a circle. We count down. I-O. This process of opening the line is what God requires of us. We open our eyes and begin to see (“see” is in “eyes”). We open our ears and begin to hear (“ear” is in “hear”).

And it can be seen in language. Take the word “live”. In reverse, this word gives “evil”. That is what happens when we distort the purpose of human life and act selfishly. But if we count down and replace the “I” with “O”, we get “love”. It is the same with “sin” and “son”. Again, the line has been breached, we have accepted that not everything is under our control and have made ourselves receptive to healing (note that this takes an act of will on our part, it is not the response of an automaton, we have free will).

Now, in language, the consonants, the flesh of language, are divided into phonetic pairs according to where and how they are produced in the mouth. One such pair is “d-t”. These two consonants are produced in the same way, with the tongue against the front of the roof of the mouth. The only difference is that “d” is produced with voice, while “t” is voiceless. So they are a phonetic pair.

And what happens when we add this phonetic pair to “see” and “hear”, the result of opening our eyes and ears? We get “seed” and “heart”. So a seed is planted in the earth of our heart, in the soil of our soul.

On this Good Friday in the Orthodox calendar, when Christ himself counted down (I-O) by going to the Cross, I would like to suggest that while we think of language and nature as being at our service (which they are, but not to be exploited), their real purpose is to teach us. They are not tools to make money, they are tools for learning. We become like the tree and branch out (1-3). Away from the line that divides us. Or we count down (I-O). Proof of this can be seen in the landscape that surrounds us, in the language we use every day and in the Christian understanding of the Trinity (3 in One).

Jonathan Dunne,

Planinets – Zlatni Mostove – Bor – Momina Skala – Planinets

Starting coordinates: 42.6246831, 23.2397177

Distance: 6.1 km

Elevation Gain: 320 m

Time: 3 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Transport: by car, or by bus no. 63 to the Dendrarium

This is a wonderful, circular walk that starts and ends at the mountain hut and restaurant Planinets. To get there, you need a car. The alternative is to take bus no. 63 to the Dendrarium and to walk from there, but this will add at least an hour.

You take the road to Vitosha that goes through the village of Boyana, follow the road up the mountain. Immediately after you pass the Dendrarium on your right, there is a turning on the left to Kopitoto (where there is a hotel and a television tower). Take this turning. Before you get to Kopitoto, there is a turning on the right to Planinets. Take this smaller road, but be careful, it is full of potholes. The mountain hut/restaurant is at the end.

To start the walk, go past the mountain hut on your left and take the path that descends directly in front of you. After a short descent, this path begins to climb gradually through beautiful forest. It divides after about ten minutes. Take the left fork. A trunk has fallen across the path, so you have to bow your head. Continue for another ten minutes until you reach some large stone steps. At the top of these steps, turn right and after five minutes you will come to the cobbled road that goes from Momina Skala on your left to Zlatni Mostove on your right. Cross the road, climb the steps directly opposite and join the path that connects Momina Skala and Zlatni Mostove. Go right, the path descends steeply for a few minutes. At the bottom, take the path that climbs directly on your left (the road is on your right, and Zlatni Mostove is in front of you). You will now stay on this path for forty minutes or thereabouts.

The path climbs steeply for ten minutes (this is the hardest part of the walk, but nothing too strenuous). Ignore the crossroads, with a hotel (Elitsa) on your left. Keep going straight. After a few minutes, ignore the turning to Septemvri on your left. Keep straight. The path levels out, you cross little streams and pass large boulders called moraines. Eventually you will come to a clearing with plants. Here you join another path coming from Planinarska Pesen. Go left, and in a few metres you will reach a bridge over Boyana River. This attractive river tumbles down the mountainside and further down becomes Boyana Waterfall. This is an ideal spot to have a rest. It is also about halfway through the walk. From now on, the walk is downhill.

When you are rested and have enjoyed one of my favourite spots on the mountain, cross the bridge over the river. There is a mountain hut on your right, Bor. You want to go left (not straight). You can walk on the road, or better take the path that is on the left of the road. On the path, you will keep crossing the road as it winds down the mountain (the path is more direct). After a few minutes, cross the road, and then you will reach the mountain hut Tintyava. Immediately after the hut, turn left, with the building on your left. Cross the road again, and you will descend some steps to the mountain hut Rodina. Go straight past the building on your left. Cross the road again, and now you are on the path to Momina Skala. After fifteen minutes, a path joins the path you are on from the right. At the bottom, turn left and cross the bridge over the same river, Boyana River, you were sitting by earlier, except that now you are further downstream. Pass the mountain hut Momina Skala on your left and climb the short path to a large open area where there is a meadow and places to sit. This is Momina Skala, a popular destination in summer.

Cross the meadow (do not take the path that veers off on your right, this goes to Kopitoto). On the far side of the meadow is a restaurant. Pass the restaurant on your right and a hundred metres away, on the other side of a parking area, is a path marked “Planinets” heading west. This path goes straight down the hill and has wonderful views west of the mountain. Keep going straight down the hill. After ten minutes, you will cross a path connecting Zlatni Mostove and Kopitoto, but do not take it. Keep going downhill. Towards the end of the day, the light here is very attractive as the sun begins to set. Twenty minutes after leaving the restaurant in Momina Skala you will reach the road to Planinets. The mountain hut is just on your left.

This is one of my very favourite walks on Vitosha, but it can be shortened. When you get to the cobbled road, instead of going right, you can go left. The path will take you straight to the meadow in Momina Skala, and from there you can head downhill to the road leading to Planinets. This will shorten the walk by several kilometres, but I recommend the longer route.


The road winds through the forest.

We are unsure about it at first.

Will it be passable? Potholed?

Where does it begin?

It begins, as all things do,

at a crossroads,

which is to say

it has no beginning.

It comes out of nowhere,

leads somewhere,

but it doesn’t then end

– it is we who leave it.

The road continues through the trees.

Their shadows lie across the road

like corrugated iron,

a cattle grid,


They resemble the bars of a prison,

but they are just that

– shadows of trees

that from time to time

morph into potholes.

I steer carefully

to avoid sudden disappointment,

ranging from third to fourth

to neutral.

At one stage a golden leaf

has an unexpected burst of enthusiasm

and jangles (like your bracelets)

across the road,

reminding me of destiny.

Are we just Hardy’s playthings?

I have a different view.

Nothing begins or ends with us

(like the road).

Things pass through us,

or we pass through them

(like the forest).

What counts is how we respond

(with love or hatred).

It is our response

that makes us human.

We stop for lunch.

The sun lights up a patch of ground.

To the south,

Rila stands majestic.

In the north,

the Old Mountain belies his years

and blushes.

Tenderness abounds.

Jonathan Dunne, 17 February 2023