Our trip, halfway across the globe, to experience Buzludzha in Bulgaria, was out of this world!
How does one start an article about this ideological, brutalist, communist, dystopian future, soviet era structure? Well you refer to yourself as “one” and then write a couple of sentences that you hope are funny but probably aren’t.
While on holidays in Europe I went to a few mind blowing abandoned buildings. This one however, was extra special. Buzludzha was something that my two friends and I had our eyes on, and talked about for a number of years. We had to see Buzludzha at least once in our lifetime. It became a mission.
I was in Berlin while David and Tucker were on a road trip around Eastern Europe. We arranged to meet in Sofia, Bulgaria. Boarding the plane to Sofia, my excitement was almost at breaking point. ‘This is finally happening!’ kept repeating in my head. When I land in Sofia my mates are waiting for me, so we find a hotel, and a bar for drinks to catch up on our holiday stories. Drinking will be a common theme to this story.
First thing in the morning we set off for Buzludzha. David is designated driver. We had tents and just wild camped wherever we could find a spot that allowed us privacy from the locals (not to mention the police, as wild camping is apparently not allowed, but we never had any problems and always cleaned up after ourselves and left the camping areas every morning as close as we could to how we found it).
It was always an adventure in the evening as dusk was falling, to try and find the best spot to set up camp, somewhere close to a river, lake or stream, or somewhere with an amazing view, or an opening in a forest. We’d usually make a camp fire, cook some food, then eat and drink until we could eat and drink no more, while talking about everything and nothing. Each night we would lay there under the stars counting satellites, pondering stuff as drunk friends on holiday do.
Finally the day arrived, the day we would make it to Buzludzha. As David drives the car closer, our excitement builds and we can hardly believe what we are embarking on. Tucker and I are looking out the window and using our phones to see just how far away we are, as the drive to get there seems to be taking forever. Suddenly off on the distance horizon we spot it. Hearts are pounding. We stop off at a popular tourist spot (the Freedom Monument) on the next hill to the west of Buzludzha.
We can see Buzludzha on the top of the hill just 6 kilometers away. At the Freedom Monument, we take a break, catch our breath and take in the scenery, and the amazing view of the ‘flying saucer’ from afar.
Before long we decide to make tracks and head down one of the worst roads I have ever been on. It was more potholes than road. David did well not wrecking the car or getting us bogged. We got to the bottom of the Buzludzha monument and stopped off to take a few happy snaps.
We had made it to the structure at roughly 4pm. We walk around the building, trying to find a way in, but it was very well closed up and sealed off. We needed to get into this place no matter what, there was no way we were leaving without gaining entry.
After what seemed like hours of searching, and failing to find an entry point, our spirits were low. We had come all this way and couldn’t get in. Then Tucker comes over to David and me and says he had found a way in by accident but there was a catch and we weren’t prepared. He’d found a well hidden trapdoor, but we needed ropes that could support us abseiling down into the basement. So off to the closest town and hardware store we go. By the time we get back it’s late and the sun is setting. David and I set up camp as close to Buzludzha as we dare while Tucker walks off to admire the structure one more time before night sets in. The fire is going, the tents are up and the vodka is disappearing rapidly at the gentle noise from the nearby wind turbines.
In the morning, groggy from too much cheap vodka the night before, we pack up and make our way back to the monument, eager to get inside. We tie the rope and go in two at a time while one remained outside as an outlook, or in case anything went wrong and we somehow ended up trapped inside. Tucker and I were first in while David drew the short straw and so had to wait. Poor David did all the driving and wasn’t first in. Looking back, it was rude not to let him go first, but hey sod it, Tucker and I were just so desperate to go in.
Once in, Tucker and I don’t say a word. We are just in awe of this place. My hands tremble from the excitement. I turn to Tucker and tell him I can’t take photos as my hands are trembling too much. He replies that he has the exact same problem.
Eventually it was time to change over, and let David experience some of the magic, so I climb up and out and David goes in. I am pretty sure I heard David’s excitement from outside.
After many many hours of exploring the inside of this amazing, crumbling structure, we are finally all done and dusted, and content to walk away (kind of).
When we’d stopped off at the Freedom Monument on the Adjacent hill the day before, there were many visitors there, so we were expecting to find even more people at Buzludzha, but we were surprised to find no one else around when we arrived, and for much of our time there, we were the only ones. At one stage a few more people did turn up to have a look, including a man with his wife and young children. We soon got talking to him and he informed us that he was Bulgarian, and had been curious to come back to Buzludzha for many years as he had been one of the many young boy scouts who had attended Soviet ceremonies there back in the day, before the fall of the Iron Curtain. He explained the structure did not get many Bulgarian visitors, or was something they had much regard for, as it was not a monument they felt particularly proud of, and most didn’t want to be reminded of the history behind it. It was a very revealing conversation, and answered a lot of our former questions.
We make it back to the car, drive off and set up camp again with a fresh bottle of vodka to share, while lying under the stars with huge, contented grins on our faces.
It was something I had to see in my lifetime and what better way to see it than with good mates.
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