As life in Krushevo grew quieter in the wake of all the recent events, our hosts left on their long-awaited trip to Istanbul, leaving us to house-sit for the next ten days. Our responsibilities were few in comparison to much of our trip, and we were grateful to finally have some time to digest our travels and begin work on some projects of our own. The amount of spare time also allowed to explore the area better, including a look into an abandoned Soviet bunker. At one time it was used as a look-out, to watch for potential NATO troops spilling over the mountains from Greece, but now it served only as hay storage for a local farmer and an ideal nesting site for the swallows.
In the evenings, we often went to the village shop to spend some time with the locals, and practice our Bulgarian. Catherine would usually bring her sketchbook, and soon our visits turned into impromptu portrait sessions. As the villagers rarely owned cameras, they were elated to see themselves on paper, and mothers would thrust their children over in droves to be drawn by Catherine. In return, they'd offer beers or chocolates.
On other days, we would hike along the sheep trails criss-crossing the land, exploring abandoned quarries, tobacco fields, and always enjoying the incredible views. One afternoon, while Catherine was in town for coffee with the girls, Roy stumbled upon an entire horse skeleton and returned with the skull as a gift for her.
On dreary or lazy days, we'd stay inside next to the wood-stove and work on projects. Roy usually stayed within the confines of his sketchbook, while Catherine explored felting techniques with some beautiful local wool. Eventually, this consumed most of our days, and was interrupted only to bake apple crumble.
In our art-frenzied state, the days went by alarmingly fast and it wasn't long before Lily and Yan's return from Istanbul. We were excited to hear their perspectives about the famous city and to see the numerous souvenirs and gadgets they brought back with them, including a pound of Istanbul's finest coffee! Soon after, we greeted two new work traders in Helen and Bruce, a lovely and capable couple from Australia, that had seemingly been led to explore Europe by the workings of fate. Together, we spent hours picking apples in the orchards and spent many days pressing over 850 liters of apple juice destined to become cider. One evening, Lily and Yan took us all to a recently discovered archaeological site nearby the neighboring village of Dolno Dryanovo. It was a breathtaking ridgeline, with incredible rock precipices and some extremely unusual formations (one of which was unmistakably a Hitchcock silhouette). There was evidence of people past in the form of pottery shards, hewn stones, and mortars - some of it dating to before the Iron Age. Supposedly it is the largest religious site in Eastern Europe, and despite its proximity to civilization had remained undiscovered until 2008.
After nearly five weeks in Krushevo, it came time to move on to our next workstay, but as we said our goodbyes to the village it only became more apparent that we had unfinished business to attend to (namely painting the village with murals in exchange for terlitsi and pumpkin walnut pastries). So instead of goodbye, we decided to say see you later, even to the Australians, as we discovered they would also be arriving at the next workstay only a week after us. Roy gave each turkey a hug goodbye and we boarded a bus bound for Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria's former capital in the north.