crawl though cave
Views of stob pyramides
beer in the park
The 13th: We spent all day trying to find tourist information in Blagoevgrad. This turns out to be impossible. We dont even know if there is even one in town. Asking at the town hall got us nowhere, asking at the municipality building got us nowhere, asking strangers got us nowhere. Still, we got to see town. Then we gave up and went for a drink. However in the morning we had met a man called Kosta at the hotel. While asking the girls working here if they knew where tourist info was, they grabbed him to translate. We struck up a conversation and found out that he had worked in Italy, and most recently been working in London, but was home to relax and spend his hard saved money.
He wanted to take us out to the Rila Monastery tomorrow, and we happily agreed.
The 14th: Meeting up with Kosta again this morning, we piled into his small Fiat and set off. A great little car, and although he is not too worried about how it looks on the outside, the inside is perfect. It gets him around, and us as well for that matter. Bulgarian drivers are a bit scary, and Kosta is no exception, but for all the interaction between drivers and cursing other people, there was no problems.
The drive out to Rila is not that far from Blagoevgrad, up in the Rila mountains. As you get there, you are struck by massive walls rearing up at you as you go around a corner. From this side it is an impressive fortification. Bypassing it for now, we went through to the other side to try and find some free parking. This ended up being on the side of the road a few millimetres from the cliff below us.
Walking back, we got to see all the new buildings under construction here, and it is a shame to think that in a year or two, it will be similar to any other resort town in Bulgaria. Most of the buildings at the moment though are trying to fit in with the style of the place. Entering the main gate we were immediately impressed with the paintings on the walls and roof. Then you come out the other side into the Monastery itself. I am speechless. My fingers have tied themselves into knots and I cannot even begin to describe it. I won’t even try. Here are the photos, and even they don’t do it justice.
The massive fortified walls on the outside are now buildings surrounding the central courtyard. About four stories high, with balconies and all in white. The archways decorated in Moorish style with the red bricks and whitewash. Small niches with paintings of people or animals and a large stone yard. In the centre are two buildings. A bell tower and the church.
The outside of the church is stunning. The vibrant colours of the paintings, and the depth of detail. Romanians go on about how good their churches and monasteries are. They are nothing compared too this. Bulgarians go “It’s just another Monastery” It’s stunning!! Admittedly the paintings are being renewed all the time. Repaired and repainted, where the Romanian ones are all still original. There is something to be said about both, but this is a place that needs to be seen to experience it.
The inside of the church is just as decorative as the outside, but it is all the devils scattered through the designs that make it special to us.
Kosta has been here a few times, so after watching our initial reaction, he headed out for a while. We walked around then went to join him.
After seeing the monastery, we expected to head back, but Kosta then took us on a walk. This went down to the river with its clear streams emptying into it, and up the other side. Over a few bridges, and people camping out in the clearings. Some seemed to be just on a day trip, and others settling in for a long stay. Then there was a small busy path that took us up the hill to a small church. Half built into the rock, and very plain on the outside, as are most of these little churches. On the inside it was a bit dark and gloomy, with the smoke of years blackening the walls. With a bit of effort you can see the frescos painted in there. Behind this is a small shrine, created a long time ago by the same rock collapse that the church is made in/under. A small section of light pierces the gloom, and making your way to it,you can see a passage with stairs leading up through the rocks. There is an old legend that if you are thin enough to make it through the gap,all your sins will be forgiven. It was a bit of fun climbing up through it, but the only sin that wouldn’t be forgiven is gluttony!
Following the path further up, we came to an offering wall, with money strewn around and pieces of paper stuck in the fractures of rock beside a small well. The path pretty much ends here, although We tried to continue up the hill. It got steeper and steeper. The track disappeared and we were now scaling the hillside. Eventually we had to give up, as it was a bit too steep and dangerous. A few places gave great views out over the valley though, and was worth the climb.
Having explored the place, it was time to head back to town. We took a quick look at the Stob Pyramids nearby, but did not go in. Apparently they charge an entrance fee, and are basically the same as the Melnik rocks, just a smaller isolated patch. The rest of the trip was spent listening to gangsta rap, some of it was not bad, and Kosta was a fan of this music.
Back in town we picked up one of the 2L bottles of beer that are common in the country (not just common, but everywhere) and went out to the park for a drink. It is a nice peaceful place, with a small artificial lake with water diverted from the river. Around the sides there are all different things as usual. The small “zoo” was a bit different. Dear, birds, pigs and the like attached to a very well laid out traditional restaurant. So it was a good end to a good day.