A Truly Wonderful Day

Trip Start Apr 25, 2012
Trip End May 12, 2012

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Where I stayed
Scotty's Boutique Hotel Sofia
Read my review - 3/5 stars
What I did
Ivan Rilsky Cave
Stob Pyramids

Flag of Bulgaria  , Sofia-Capital,
Saturday, April 28, 2012

I just got back from dinner with my new group and leader Louise.  This Tucan group actually started in Moscow and traveled through the Baltic States, Poland, and maybe other places too, before hitting Budapest where several of the current group joined and then losing some I guess and gaining quite a few more so that there are now around 18.  There is a mix of English, Australian, Canadian and a few from the US.  I got to the restaurant late because I just got to the hotel when the group was leaving and I changed and caught up with them.  It was a lovely Bulgarian favorites restaurant with musicians as well and they played songs for each of our countries, except I don't think I heard Waltzing Matilda.  The people that I had a chance to talk to all seemed very nice....and of course, well-traveled.

This morning I managed to get up for my 7 am alarm and get ready before breakfast was delivered.  I finished going through photos and finished my breakfast - delivered around 8:20 - a bit early - and waited for my guide, Krassie, for Krasimir, but I don't really know if this is correct.  He spoke great English and was very informative and a really sweet young man.  He reads a lot, doesn't watch television, has never been to McDonald's and is concerned about the environment.  What a guy!

He first drove to the Rila Monastery which is in the Rila Mountains about 2 1/2 hours south of Sofia.  Again I saw the beautiful snow-capped peaks.  He said they were around 2000 meters - or was it 3000?  In any case, they were lovely to look at and so were the rounded hills before we reached the turn-off for Rila Monastery.  Here it became more wooded in the valley following the rushing river swollen with melted snow waters.  Very scenic.  The villages that we drove through were notable for their grape arbors in front of almost every house.  There may have been arbors elsewhere, but the streets were certainly lined with them with the little grape leaf buds. 

We parked on the road below the monastery since the parking lot was filled - Saturday being a very popular day to visit the monastery.  We entered the courtyard surrounded with tiers of arches containing rooms for the 800 monks who once lived here.  Now there are only 3 monks who provide morning and evening services daily.  The courtyard itself is covered in cobblestones - very uneven from their wear - that probably go back to the founding date in the 800's.  Krassie pointed out a tower no longer open because tourists were stealing bits of it.  This tower saved the lives of the monks when they were attacked by Turks and survived on bread and water for 18 months until help arrived.  The rest of the early monastery was burnt but the tower survived.  We walked out the other side and Krassie treated me to the monastery specialty of doughnuts - he joked about them being better than Dunkin Donuts.  They were like fried dough with confectionery sugar and just done and very good.

We went into the church and Krassie bought candles that we lit in front of the iconostasis.  It was richly painted and shiny with gold or some metal and quite beautiful with the lit candles.  There was one alcove that had the colors redone and it was bright and pretty, but Krassie said he likes the old frescoes darkened by candle smoke.  There was a special icon that was painted by a famous icon painter that we stood in line to see.  There was the king who in WWII saved Jews from Hitler and was buried in the church and the founding monk, whose body was disinterred and found to be uncorrupted, was there and his body was brought out on special occasions for people to view and revere.   It would have been nice to be in the church when there was a service but it was great to see it.  The outside is also painted with scenes from the Bible.  It was quite incredible all in all.  The church with its decoration and the whole complex of monastery buildings with the striped pattern of the stonework.  I opted to go to the museum so Krassie explained the objects:  from the books the monks copied, to their vestments and service chalices, incense burners, icon lanterns and the crosses.  There was one special cross that had been so intricately carved, it was amazing.  I bought some postcards to fill in the gaps of the things I couldn't get photos of inside the church and museum.  I did get to take some photos of a monk's cell.  It was much more comfortable than I had thought it would be - a single room with banquettes and rugs or tapestries, an armoire, maybe some other furniture, although it was quite dark.  Before the entrance to the monk's room, there was a smaller room for his servant with cooking equipment for him to make meals for the monk.  I assume the servant was also a monk or a monk in training.

After the monastery, we drove farther up the road to Rila Park where we climbed up a hill to a cave where Ivan Rilsky lived for 40 years.  There was a dark passage from the cave where I had to take off my camera pack to wiggle my way up and over the stones.  Krassie said if I had any bad actions etc, going through that passage would cleanse me of them.  It was a nice walk along a forested path although I was a little slow and it did get warm walking up hill.  At the end, Krassie had me walk a little farther up a road to see a little waterfall.

From there we went to a restaurant patronizied by Bulgarians rather than tourists.  There were a lot of families with kids and there were toys for them:  a riding animal of some sort that played tunes including one in Bulgarian about Mickey Mouse and a little toy wooden cannon.  Krassie recommended the trout actually caught in the river that runs right by some of the tables.  However, the waitress said the barbecued fish would take an hour so we opted for a big shared salad and barbecued meat balls: a Krassie favorite dish.  The meat balls were like little pillows and had a sort of hot dog or sausage texture.  The salad was wonderful with baba ghanoush, tzadziki, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage and roasted red peppers, and feta cheese..  At the table was some sunflower oil and vinegar.  The veggies tasted very fresh - very tasty.

After lunch, we headed off for the Stob Pyramids.  These are made of rock and sand that is formed into pillars of a sort, some with little stone hats - or big stone hats.  They change as parts are eroded and other parts formed.  We walked up quite a ways - I lagged far behind but eventually caught up with Krassie's encouragement.  He chatted with a couple who were descending at the same time as we.  There were stunning views of the valley and the mountains and part of the path was scented with dark purple lilacs.

On the way back, I was sleepy and nodded off for a bit.  I think Krassie was a bit tired too but he managed to drive us back safely on the new Bulgarian autobahn built with EU funds.  I haven't gone into all the things I learned from him about his life in Bulgaria.  Maybe I can add them later.  I hope so - poor man - I don't want to waste all that knowledge he imparted as I grilled him over hours.  From 9 am to roughly 7:30.  It was a bright sunny day - and I got a bit of sun on my face.  Krassie's arm showed the mark of his watch and his shirt sleeves.  I hadn't thought so much about the sun and dressed too warmly because I thought the mountains would be colder.

I was afraid I would be too late and inconvenience the tour leader and the group but everyone seemed very friendly and Louise the tour leader seemed OK with my late arrival.  Apparently there is a young man from the US who also arrived but was unable to connect because the note Louise left got taken up with some other papers and he never got to see it.  We are off for a relatively early start tomorrow so I won't be able to try to get any photos onto the computer.  I don't think I will ever catch up.

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