Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Day Tripping: Rila Rila Monastery, Bulgaria, Friday, 27 June 2014 6:35pm

We took a minivan-based tour out to Rila Monastery today. I was surprised at how quickly we left the dense urbanity. Sofia is a large city (1.3 million people), and we're staying in the center, so it must just be efficient roadways that got us out so quickly.

We spent a couple hours driving through the countryside, which is beautiful: fields and wildflowers, woods and hills. The monastery is partway up the side of a mountain, in a scenic locale next to a river.

The monastery consists of a four-story building with a thick stone outer wall (used as a fortification at times) surrounding a large courtyard in which there are a church and a tower. The inside of the outer wall is the residential part of the monastery and has arcades all along it. They're painted in a striking black and white pattern that the audio guide likened to the mosque at Córdoba. I'd say the effect is very different: vertical repetition in a large open space awash in sunlight instead of seemingly endless repetition into the dim, enclosed distance. Pretty, though.

Both the interior and exterior of the church are covered with elaborate frescoes depicting saints and demons, scenes from the bible, and moral lessons. The interior is full of intricately carved wood, much of it gilded. There's clearly been a lot of conservation and restoration work done here. We saw someone cleaning the gilding in one spot, and it was impressive how much brighter it was (centuries of candle smoke?).

Right outside the monastery, there's a little souvenir market with a stand selling fresh donuts. They'll pull your order straight out of the hot oil and douse it in berry or fig syrup. Yum.

On the way back to Sofia, we asked the driver to make a brief stop just outside of the town of Kocherinovo, where we'd heard there was a "junk museum". Our guide Svetoslav had never heard of it, but we managed to track it down. It turned out to be a small warehouse next to some kind of salvage operation which was full of fascinating old stuff. Antique cars, motorcycles, typewriters, radios, and lots of miscellany.

It was still quite light out and we weren't yet famished, so we wandered around a bit. There are some no parking signs around town that show a car being hoisted out of its spot, rather than towed away, and we happened to pass the parking lot near the National Art Museum just as that was happening. We got to watch a crane lift a small car onto a flatbed truck and drive off. Note to self: don't park illegally in Sofia!

We made a visit to the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It was surrounded by strange vehicles, including what looked like a heavy-duty military generator with the logo of the national television network on it, and we discovered that the square in front of the cathedral was full of seating and had a stage built up. They're performing the opera Boris Godunov for the next few nights. We were still able to get into the cathedral. I heard singing inside, and though that there might be a service in progress, but the building was nearly empty. Looking up, we discovered that the second floor choir area was full of singers who seemed to be rehearsing for the opera!

On our way to dinner, we happened upon a protest march. We found out later that there have been people calling for the dissolution of parliament and holding new elections for the past year.

We went to another traditional restaurant for dinner, where I had mushroom soup in a bread bowl (not quite thick enough: the soup was seeping through it), and meat on a skewer. I had a Kaminitsa Fresh, which is bottled beer mixed with lemonade. Or I should say I started having it. It was too awful to finish, so Mo and Jarek had to take over.