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I love to travel and take photo's of the places and countries I visit. What's the meaning behind the name you ask? I'M ALWAYS wanderING off to new locations so friends and family would always asK...where's Jack? and J.A.K? they're my initials. Come join me on my journey as I capture the world through the lens of my camera, translating my interpretation of the places I visit through video and photography. Follow my visual story as I travel far and wide. 

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I first heard about the Buzludzha Monument whilst browsing an article online. I couldn't believe that this place even existed in such a remote location sited in the middle of Bulgaria. It looked like a flying saucer straight out of a science fiction movie that had landed in the Balkans undetected. The image of this unique structure had stuck in my head, it seemed to have taken a hold of me, it filled me with intrigue and I knew one day I would have to see it for myself.

A Short History of Buzludzha

The location of the monument witnessed a series of famous battles between Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman Empire that led to Bulgaria's independence. 1891, a group of men met on Budzulzha peak to create the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers' Party, which later became the Bulgarian Communist Party.

The historical significance of the site led the government to approve a large memorial to celebrate Bulgaria's communist progression. In 1981, after nearly eight years of construction, 15,000 cubic metres of rock removed from the peak and 70,000 tonnes of concrete used, the Buzludzha Monument was unveiled standing prominently 4,698 ft above sea level. Designed by Architect Gueorguy Stoilov, his idea was to create a monument that could become timeless, by incorporating both ancient and futuristic motifs into his design. He lists both the Roman Pantheon and the sci-fi films of the 1950s amongst his inspirations.

“This intergalactic saucer echoed popular themes of the era” - Georgi Stoilov

The monument had nearly a decade of use, as the Bulgarian people had paid for the construction of the monument entry was free for everyone. The site served the functions of a memorial, a museum and a ceremonial venue, many visits were arranged by schools or employers, and more than two million people visited during its eight years of use.

A Relic to the Balkan's Communist Past

The 1990's was the beginning of a new era of democracy in Bulgaria but as the country opened it's borders to western culture and capitalism, there wasn't a place left for monuments to socialism. The Buzludzha monument was closed, sitting abandoned for half a decade on its mountain peak. Towards the end of 1990's saw the conservative and anti-communist government under Prime Minister Ivan Kostov begin the dismantling of various notable communist-era monuments. Kostov's government dismissed the guards who had been protecting the Buzludzha Monument, and left the building open to the public and unfortunately looters.

Now a skeleton of its former self. The glass is gone from its windows, the red star has been smashed, and the intricate murals that decorate the interior are falling gradually to the elements. Buzludzha has began to attract new kind of visitor. The breathtaking location, the melancholic atmosphere of decay, and all of that combined with the rich political significance of the monument, has attracted the attention of the world’s media and the intrepid explorer.

In Search of Buzludzha

With no public transport connecting this part of Bulgaria, the only option was to hire a car and make my own way there. Setting off from the city of Plovdiv, I drove through the beautiful Bulgarian countryside, through small villages, past farms and flat open fields which gradually revealed the mighty Balkans and my ascent into the mountains began. Meandering my way up mountain roads my first destination would be Shipka Pass, a location that witnessed the Russo-Turkish War from 1877-78 four battles took place here until a small army consisting of 5,000 Bulgarian volunteers and 2,500 Russian troops resisted an attack against a nearly 40,000 strong Ottoman army, the army finally overthrew the Ottomans and a monument was built to commemorate the battle in 1877.

Arriving at Shipka Pass I parked the car and ascended a series of what seemed like never ending stone steps that made their way up a steep incline through woodland towards the monument, a tame stray dog joined me half way up maybe hoping for some food scraps or giving me some much needed encouragement to complete the climb, we both eventually made it to summit and we parted ways.

Being at the top revealed a towering stone monument adorned with Russian murals surrounded by old cannons, with panoramic views of the mountains beyond. It was breathtaking scenery, stunning mountains peaks rolled into the distance and the only sound came from the rustling of an enormous Bulgarian flag that waved gracefully in the cool breeze. From my vantage point I could see the distinctive silhouette of the Buzludzha Monument in the distance, perched on it's peak my target was in sight so I eagerly headed back down and jumped in the car.

A Sight to Behold

I took the road that was sign posted 'Buzludzha', it was an old road that ventured into the forest and required some advanced driving skills as it was dotted with bottomless pot holes. I slowly negotiated my way along the mountain road avoiding the huge craters and the sheer drop on my passenger side, it felt like had been driving for some time until I reached a hair pin bend that led me out of the forest, back out into the open and suddenly there it was, Buzludzha.

I had anxious excitement laying eyes on the monument for the first time, I had waited so long to see it and finally I was seeing Buzludzha for real. It certainly lived up to the description in article I read, it was incredible! It really looked like space ship from outer space. A striking concrete structure it just dominated the landscape. I parked up the car grabbed my camera and made my approach, I was instantly confronted with a pair of colossal soviet inspired iron fists clenching a flaming torch, you immediately felt the power and scale of the place.

The UFO like structured seemed to hover above me as I ascended the paved pathway that wound its way up the mountain side towards the monument. I was in awe of its presence and the brutalist architecture with it's aerodynamic form and space age design it seemed like it was poised ready for take off. The iconic red star mounted in a slender tower glistened in the afternoon sun from last remains of it's ruby red glass, its concrete body showing signs of decay and water dripped from the cracks in the crumbling shell, it was clearly now a dying relic of the Balkan's communist past.

On top of the peak it was eerily silent no signs of life as far as the eye could see, just spectacular panoramic views across the Balkans, wispy clouds gathered in the blue sky with the setting sun. I sat down to take in the moment, over looking the landscape it felt strangely enchanting and magical like a closing scene of an epic sci fi movie.

Situated just outside a small industrial town called Šiauliai in rural Lithuania is a place of Pilgrimage for many people, mainly because of the historical importance and deep rooted religious connections to Lithuanias troubled past. The Hill of Crosses is one of the most spectacular sights in the Baltic countries it is a unique and mysterious place, thousands of crosses have been erected here for centuries.

During the 19th Century it is believed the crosses were placed to honour the dead because the Tsar suppressed national identity by limiting religious expression, so families were forbidden burials in cemeteries. Many also believe there is religious significance for the location of the crosses after an apparition of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus asked the believers to cover the holy place with these icons. In the Soviet era, the hill was seen as a harmful symbol, religion remained banned and the Hill of Crosses off limits. In 1961, the entire site was destroyed and burned down and even though the Hill of Crosses was destroyed four more times and patrolled by KBG agents, each time locals risked their lives by defiantly rebuilding the site.

The art of making crosses and religious icons has remained a tradition and has been handed down through generations and is recognised by UNESCO as the cultural heritage of Lithuania, a “symbol of national and religious identity,”

The statue of Jesus is said to symbolise him worshipping in secret and reflects the time when religion was banned in Lithuania.

I arrived at the Hill of Crosses late afternoon, the low summer sun highlighted a unique spectacle in the distance, the distinctive outline of crosses perched on top a small mound glowed against the blue sky, I followed a path way that meandered its way towards the hill. It was so quiet, I was surrounded by lush green fields and no one was around just birds tweeting in the nearby trees. As I approached the site I instantly felt overwhelmed by the scale of the place, nearly 200,000 crosses have been erected at this spot in the middle of the Lithuanian countryside and all the crosses represented a personal or public misfortunes and catastrophes.

Finely carved folk-art masterpieces stood 3-4 metres above me amongst a myriad of religious symbols, including rosary beads, small crucifixes and statues embellished with names of lost loved ones. I found myself in a sea of wooden and metal crosses as I made my way through the maze of memories, a chilly breeze rustled rosary beads that dangled from religious icons and the large crosses became silhouettes as the sun slowly began to set. I felt a sense of sadness that overcame me as I ascended the wooden steps that led to a lonesome statue of the Virgin Mary, there is a unique energy that flows here, It's a powerful place you can sense why it has become a location of pilgrimage and a symbol of resistance for so many.

Discovering the best of the Dalmatian Coast that runs along the western edge of Croatia and boasts a myriad of islands, ancient cities, rugged coastlines, emerald green pine trees and white pebble coves. Starting iour journey in the cultural capital of the Dalmatia region we visit Split, venture inland and discover a hidden world in Krka National Park, heading back to the coast to enjoy the islands of Hvar and Korcûla and finishing our journey in the beautiful walled city of Dubrovnik.

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