Earlier in May I made a trip to the Balkans, visiting Belgrade, Serbia and then taking the night train to visit Sofia, Bulgaria.
In Sofia we stayed in a really great hostel, Hostel Mostel, that provided the trip. It was great: as they run the trip every day for guests of the hostel it wasn’t like one of those tours you get where there are so many people that you can’t even see what you’re looking at, or where you have to follow along in a massive gaggle with barely a chance to look at the things you want to see.
Instead, there were just 5 of us on the trip: me and my husband, a girl from New Zealand who was really nice and who we ended up spending the whole day with, a man from Japan who was also nice, and a lady who I think was also from Japan, but who kept herself to herself and didn’t really talk to any of the rest of us.
We drove out of Sofia and towards the mountains, through various quaint villages along the way, until we came to Rila. First of all we passed through in order to go for a walk in the woods nearby, to a cave where the hermit John of Rila used to live.
|A small church outside the cave|
|Inside the cave|
|A shrine above the cave, with a spring of Holy water. Prayers are tucked into the gaps between the stones that make the wall.|
Then we returned to Rila to visit the monastery itself. We had time to just wander around the place, visit what we liked in our own time, which I thought was just great. I don't normally go on too many organised excursions if I can help it as I love to be able to linger at something if it is really interesting to me rather than being hurried along. I also do hate to be part of a large mass of tourists. But on this occasion my husband, me and the New Zealand girl we met on the trip were able to walk around in peace and quiet, and really take our time over the bits that interested us most.
Rila Monastery was founded in the 10th Century by St John (St Ivan) of Rila, and today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site was always incredibly important in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Monastery was also an important centre for Bulgarian literature and culture during years under foreign rule, and was also an important school for icon painting.
The main church of the Monastery was erected in the middle of the 19th century, and has five domes, three altars and two side chapels, while one of the most precious items inside is the gold-plated iconostasis, the creation of which took four craftsmen five years. The frescoes were finished in 1846 and are the work of many masters – and I was totally captivated by this artwork. I can’t do justice to it by simply describing it, so please enjoy these photographs I took:
|Here you can see the Devil has captured a group of Turks|
|I'm not sure what this creature represents, but I thought he was pretty cool|
At the end of the visit, before heading back to the car for the journey back to the city, we all went for a meal of soup and bread, followed by a type of doughnut that is apparently a traditional local snack. We picked the doughnut shop that the police were using, as we figured that was a sign of a good doughnut!