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GES144 - D0broslavtsi Airbase, Bulgaria

If you decide to visit here, be prepared to allow an extra 4 hours, as you get interrogated by soldiers, military police and the secret service. I guess enough time has elapsed to tell the tale. So sit back, grab a warm drink of choice, and dear reader, begin the adventure story of D0broslavtsi Airbase.

GE099 and I spent most of the day wandering around Sofia, checking out possible access points for the Metro extensions, and looking for new opportunities. The cold weather gently scratching our faces with it's bitter bite, and the sun teasing us with promises of warmth, and not delivering. A culvert had promised more but delivered little during the middle of the day, and later the purchase of fluoride free toothplaste provided a nasty treat for when I finally hit the hay in the small hours. Essentially we had time to kill, and I had suggested a yomp up Mt. Vitosha, which I'd climbed on a previous visit, but would happily ascend again. Some dithering, and it was getting a bit late for suggested yomp. GE099 suggested a nearby airbase which had the possibility of jets! It was a decision making process that was made at light speed.

Coordinates tapped into the GPS, and we were enjoying the slow moving traffic life of Sofia, like a snail race in a prison gambling den. Even outside the city, we seemed to crawl along in a geriatric conga line. The countryside spread out as fields, and Mt. Vitosha and friends looked down on us from the distance. We passed a graveyard of green military vehicles, and turned up a smaller road towards the village that was nearest our destination. With the whole area bounded by fields, and no real trees or buildings, we had to just park off the crossroads a bit. We stuck out like a sorethumb, even more so with our Serbian number plated car.

The site had a pair of old gently rusting low gates, that wouldn't have been a problem to traverse, held together as they were with a chain and padlock. However there was a small house next to the gates, that no matter how we tried to anonymously have a look at it, we couldn't determine whether it was occupied or not. A road stretched off through young trees into the site. We opted to move along the fence and see if there was a weak spot we could exploit. There wasn't, but the main fence was basically 4 rows of rusty barbed wire, so we just slid underneath. Stealth wasn't easy, and twigs were snapped left right and centre as we passed through the hedge. We ended up next to this structure, some sort of formerly covered storage area, most likely for transport vehicles.

We could see a bungalow home sat openly, and dashed behind trees, and darted between bushes to try to avoid being seen. All the while trying to progress around the perimeter of the base.  We came to an area with a few buildings that looked distinctly abandoned. In front of us we could see a plane, parked amongst the trees. GE099 was sure he could hear voices, but I couldn't. All I could hear was barking from a dog somewhere in front of us. We both quickly dug out our cameras and grabbed some shots. The barking dog came through the trees, it looked like a less agressive slightly smaller Alsatian. It approached us and kept a certain distance. It was no longer barking. I held out the flat of my hand to it (a method of letting the dog sniff you and see you're not a threat). Satisfied that we weren't a threat, it rolled over onto it's back and sought some playful rubbing of its belly.

As I was rubbing the belly, I then too heard voices from not far away. We quickly packed up, and went back to the road just behind us. At this point GE099 scarpered off back the way we'd come without a word. I was less inclined to leave. I still hadn't seen anyone, so walked along the road, parallel to the hedge we'd gone through. There were a few buildings here and there that I wanted to investigate. I continued the darting between bushes and trees routine, watching the windows of the buildings for signs of movement. As I rounded the building we'd been near and heard voices, I caught sight of a jet plane, mounted out front. I grabbed a quick shot of it through the trees. The fast disappearing sun lighting up the canopy glass. Underneath the plane in the distance, you can see a more modern Mig jet on the runway.

I needed to be practically in front of the building to get a good shot, so I manoeuvred into an area to the side, with little more than a small sapling as cover, and managed to get the shot below. I didn't fancy my chances of getting any closer to the other jet, so backed off.

I walked along the back of the light coloured building in this photo. Most of the rooms were filled with old radio equipment stacked up in a fairly random fashion. On passing around the side of the light coloured building, I could see an open area in front of it, and on the far side a 2 storey building that looked occupied. I didn't dawdle.

Behind me from the previous photo above, was this building. I almost missed it, as the camouflage on the doors was so effective, it made the whole building disappear like some sort of David Copperfield trick. Thankfully I was able to discover it from a different angle, and grabbed the shot, the sinking sun projecting trees onto the side of it.

Beyond this building, things got a bit more open, and not knowing the layout of the base, I didn't feel comfortable continuing. I crossed the road I'd been walking up, and made my way via some other buildings back to the spot in the hedge where we had entered. One of the buildings had some rather poor porn tacked to a locker. Bulgarians must be so happy the wall fell.

I then slipped under the barbed wire, and walked briskly to the car. GE099 was sat in it, and we quickly left the area.


TRIP TWO - The Next Morning

After a run of bad luck the night before, we had ended our night early. GE099 wanted to try again at this airbase, and to get some jet shots. We parked up where we had before, and this time walked the other side of the rusting gates. Again we popped under the barbed wire fence, passing bags through as well. I was through first, and we crept forward to try to see where we were. As we did I spotted an oldish guy in a light green coat. I couldn't be sure if he'd spotted me, so stayed ducked down. GE099 had shot out and was on the other side of the fence. I was still thinking this was just some old deserted airfield, with a few random people working/living on it. So wasn't too worried. I went to take a few more steps further and saw the guy looking in my direction. I decided this wasn't too good, and quickly darted amongst the saplings and bush to the fence. And then out to join GE099, as we hottailed it back to the car.  As we did a u-turn back onto the road, we could see someone stood at the gate, and someone else on a bicycle. We drove off to the village nearby.

The hope was to find some sort of dogwalking track or easily open way in. This being the theory of what the guy in the light green coat was up to. As we drove through the village, we passed a scrap yard, which had the fuselage of a Mig jet in it! Ahead of us the road ended in a bank of rubbish and soil. The other side was the airbase. I got out the car and went for a quick walk, and it looked exactly what we were looking for, a dog walkers track. We hatched a plan so ingenious and cunning it would see a fox made professor of cunning at Oxford University for devising it. We would pretend to be tourists and walk through the airbase openly. I decided as an additional caveat, to hide my camera after each photo. To look less suspicious.

We parked the car and walked casually over the mound and into the base. The barbed wire had been cut away here, and we walked across a muddy road littered with cow footprints. And then we ducked under a single strip of barbed wire. The ground was covered with yellowing grass and weeds, hiding the uneven ground and odd small gully waiting to grab an ankle and twist it for sadistic pleasure. We passed a small hill, which had an aircraft hanger opening in one end. At the back of it was some sort of listening post.

We were then on the runway, and able to get a look in the first hanger we came across. Sadly there were no planes inside to provide a highlight to the empty concrete shell, so we were left with just the empty concrete shell, and one door in situ. This was crazily exciting stuff, the kind of stuff Robin Williams gave up cocaine to enjoy.

The runway (it turned out to not be the main runway, but merely a taxing path to the runway which runs parallel on over the trees on the right. It would have been a bumpy take off and landing on those hexagonal panels. The main base sits in the distance.

More  hanger bunkers, showing the half closed and fully closed varieties. This was the last photo I took here, as I put my camera in my bag. You can only take so many photos of hangers that are all pretty much identical. We checked them as we walked along for potential jettage, but were still confronted with the usual empty concrete spaces.

As we progressed along the taxiway, we could see someone up ahead. We both walked casually along, and it initially looked like a hunter, as it appeared he had a gun over his back. As we got closer we saw that it was camouflage. He had seen us by now, and stood waiting for us to walk up to him. As we got even closer, it became apparent he was actually a soldier, with military badges on his epaulettes and sleeves.

Surprisingly for a Bulgarian soldier posted in his own country, he didn't speak any English. GE099 did most of the erm, talking. Basically saying we were French and English. The soldier pointed at GE099's camera sitting prominently around his neck, and reached for it waggling his finger as it to say bad. He took it and precariously swung it from his hand, and motioned for us to follow him. We walked along the taxiiway and around a building. We ended up about 10metres away from where I'd taken a photo of the mounted jet the night before. The jet now stood just the other side of us, so tantalizingly close. We were left with a guard, who seemed pretty laidback, but aware of the circumstances. GE099 knew some very basic Serbian, and began to try to strike up some form of discombobulated conversation with him. A few more soldiers came out of the building and stood around curious. Some started loading and unloading their AK 47s just behind us.

A soldier with some high ranking patches on his epaulettes emerged, I got the impression he was in charge of the base. He also spoke pretty good English. GE099 & I both engaged him in conversation, smiling all the time, trying to not look like too much of a threat. He explained that this was still a live base, as a ball of tumbleweed rolled by, and that we would be interrogated by the Secret Service. He disappeared inside again, and left us with the cheery chap who'd been told to be careful with GE099's camera he'd been swinging around like the previous soldier.  The solider seemed to take a personal joy in making handcuff gestures, implying we'd be taken off in cuffs somewhere.

Probably an hour or two had elapsed by now, and an unmarked car turned up, followed five minutes later by another one. The first car produced a youngish chap, possibly early thirties in a brown leather jacket and a man bag over his shoulder. He looked like he fancied himself as a sort of young Steve McQueen. The other chap was in his forties, grey hair, and more stern looking. They went into the building and another quarter of an hour or so passed. Eventually a military police car pulled up, and a male and female officer climbed out. Again walking into the building.

We now had a picture of who was around us, still somewhat bewildered by the concern over a base that didn't look as though it had been used in at least 10 years. Eventually the chap in the brown leather jacket came out of the building and up to us, he spoke good English. He never told us who he was or what he did. However we assumed these were secret service agents the base commander had told us about. He first asked for our passports, and then what we were doing. We gave him the pre-planned spiel about just being tourists and how we thought the base was abandoned. How we'd just walked in. He walked off with our passports and GE099's camera.

Mr. Brown Jacket (Mr. BJ) returned, and gave our passports to the military police, who jotted down all the necessary details. He asked us a few more questions, and seemed to be trying to catch us out. On discussion afterwards, GE099 concluded he couldn't have been long in the job. His colleague must have been keeping an eye on him. He asked GE099 what format the photos were in, as they couldn't see them on their computer. I guess they think everyone shoots in jpeg, not understanding the complexities Nikon and Canon go to, with their RAW formats. So GE099 showed him the pictures on his camera. GE099 was then told to delete the photos as Mr. BJ watched. We now had to empty our bags onto the concrete floor. I felt very apprehensive as I took my camera out. I was pretty sure I had some pictures of the metro exploring on the card, which would have caused us some serious problems.

With all my stuff laying around my bag, i was convinced that Mr. BJ would take my camera off for a look. However he merely said 'OK' and said we could pack away all our gear. I eagerly put my camera back in, and quickly swung it behind my back. Next up we had to walk the assembled masses to the point we had entered. Obviously not believing we'd walked in easily. So things took something of a surreal turn here, as we walked up the taxiway. GE099 and I were leading, and then behind us were 3 soliders, the 2 secret service agents, 2 military police, the base commander, and some other old military chap in a full high rankers hat. It was too surreal for words, and I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. Things got even more surreal as the whole procession walked through the yellow grass and uneven ground to the muddy road with cattle prints through it. Here we clearly showed how we got in. I stood near the mound we'd crossed to enter. GE099 stood with the throng of assembled people. Mr. BJ checked the barbed wire, and GE099 asked him if he was checking to see if it had been freshly cut. He confirmed with a smile he was. Eventually satisfied, everyone started walking back. Mr. BJ came up and said we could go, but wanted to see our car. He had a few quick glances through the glass, and then took our mobile numbers. In case he needed to ask more questions. Finally he wished us a good holiday, and walked off. We were now ridiculously behind schedule, and had to race across the country to the Buzludja monument.

Published 2011-11-19 19:27:17