Trip Start Feb 20, 2006
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Thursday, August 17, 2006

after a monsterous 14 hour train journey from athens, i'm now here in bulgaria. its pretty cool. i can't understand the cyrillic alphabet at all, so i get lost every 20 metres because the street signs are in bulgarian, but i'm getting better at paying attention to my whereabouts now, so thats alright. the funniest bit is not being able to speak, or even pronounce, a word of the language. and in bulgaria, you shake your head to mean yes, and nod it to mean no. which basically means that all lines of communication are cut for me, because you can't even communicate yes or no without serious confusion. so i can only eat or buy things that i can point to. which is working out alright. i am living of street vendors - lots of sausages with pickles in bread, bulgarian donuts and sheep milk yoghurt - those are the favourite snacks, and thus the easiest thing to point to :)

today i went out to a place called the rila monastery, which is this gorgeous monastery out in the mountains in the south of bulgaria. we headed out there with some people from the hostel, and with one of the guys who works there as a guide. the monastery looks like a fortress on the outside, because as the guy we were with explained, the turks allowed the christians to have their churches and monasteries, they just also came out and periodically attacked them and burnt them down. but once you are inside it is so beautiful. the cloisters are all striped and beautifully decorated, and there is a church in the middle which is entirely covered, both inside and out, with these little comic book type illustrations of the bible. the bones of some guy are inside, so the whole place was crawling with elderly bulgarian pilgrims.

after the monastery we headed up into the mountains to have a wander around. i point blank refuse to wear anything but my thongs at the moment, so i had insisted that i would be absolutely fine hiking the mountains in my thongs. it worked in greece. so we headed off, and it was all fine for a while - we wandered up to another church in the mountains, which had a cave behind it - the story was that if you could fit through the hole at the top of the cave, you were not a sinner. happily, the hole was quite big, so we all passed that test, as did my thongs. the whole place was also full of old bulgarian pilgrims - it was crazy, these 70 and 80 year olds were hiking up this rocky hill and crawling through a cave, then going back down, with no broken bones in sight.

then we headed further up the mountain. the path we were following turned into a track, and the track turned into a goat track, and then that just kinda turned into a line of trampled dirt, that maybe one goat had walked along. anyway, one of the guys insisted that there was good stuff at the top, so we kept climbing and climbing and climbing. it got so steep that i had to take off my thongs and climb the mountain barefoot, which shocked and appalled the europeans around me, and i suspect has done nothing to dispell the crocodile dundee/ steve irwin fantasies they are all harbouring. but i don't know how they made it up in shoes, i would have slipped - bare feet is much easier.

anyway, we made it to a point at which we all decided there was absolutely nothing more to see, and then had to negotiate our way back down. they laughed at me when i started descending on my bum, but eventually everyone came around - we had a line of us all going down the side of the mountain on our arses - must have looked pretty ridiculous, but it was SO steep.

when we got down we were completely covered in dirt, my feet were just black, and my face wasn't much better. so we washed it all off in this spring, where the story goes your skin will turn red if you are a sinner. me and one of the english girls went bright red and itchy - i have no idea what was in the water, but it was such a weird reaction. it went away after about 10 minutes, but it was weird.

so now i am in sofia for another day, and then will head off on the 8 hour bus ride to belgrade :s
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