Monday, November 4, 2013

Rila Monastery

Autumn in Bulgaria
We woke up to take the 7 AM bus from Blageovgrad to Rila Village where we had to catch a 7:40AM bus to the monastery. We got our tickets and then had to figure out which bus. In my travels, I have found the least amount of English here in Bulgaria. I have learned to travel with using few words and sign language. I showed my ticket to a man and made the where sign. He pointed to the next bus. We went to get in line, mom handed her ticket, they guy looked at it, tore it and she got on the bus. I handed him my ticket and asked "Rila? " He responded "Oh no, tsk tsk tsk." He pointed to the next bus. I waved for mom to get off the bus. Whew! I almost sent her to another town. We walked to the next bus and I asked "Rila?" The driver waved me aboard and tore my ticket. Mom was happy he accepted her ticket even though it was already torn. We were in the bus and headed towards the village. When we arrived at Rila, the bus to the monastery was ready to leave. Everyone from our bus piled onto the monastery bus. Mom and I were the last ones on and there were no seats left. We stood in the aisle as the bus rambled down the road and up the mountain towards the monastery. The bus stopped, a few people got off, we got seats and more people squished into the aisles. At least there were people to break our fall if the bus crashed.

We arrived at the monastery and were the only tourists. Rila Monastery was beautifully nestled into a valley in the early morning light.
The mountains surrounding were vibrant with fall colors. As we wandered through the church and museum, we learned that the next bus was at 3:00 PM (6.5 hours later)! Huh?!? The only thing here is a monastery, 2 hotels and 3 restaurants.
The monastery was founded in the first century and is considered the most holy sight in Bulgaria. In fact, it was nicknamed Bulgaria's Jerusalem. As we entered the church, we were greeted by monks exiting the church. I watched and realized they were tourist monks. A couple were taking photos.

We decided to have brunch after touring the monastery and then went for a walk along the river. It was a cold but beautiful fall morning. 
Since we had time, I decided to go for a walk up into the mountains. I told mom that I was going for a short hike and would be back in two hours. I started walking along the path, enjoying the fall colors and the crunch of leaves under my feet.

As I climbed up along the trail, I passed two men chopping down trees. I waited so I was certain they saw me and waved hello to them. They had a horse that pulled large logs down the hillside to a clearing where they chopped the log into firewood.
I smiled, waved goodbye and continued on my hike into the mountain. It was quiet. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. I loved the peaceful beauty of the woods. So many people live with music (headphones) and never stop to just listen to the beauty of nature. I have learned to enjoy the solitude and peacefulness of these moments. As the trail became wetter and sloppier, I started thinking about turning back. After an hour, the water was deeper and the trail was slippery so I decided to turn back. My journey into the forest was beautiful. I loved the light hitting the beautiful fall leaves, like gold shimmering overhead. 

I returned to the monastery and found mom waiting for me. We decided to go have a glass of wine before the 3:00 PM bus. Then we caught the bus back to Rila Village and the next bus back to Blageovgrad. We had planned to catch the 1:00 PM train but we missed it and had to take the 7:00 PM train onward to the capital, Sofia. We waited at a cafĂ© and enjoyed a nice drink and dinner before we left the city. 
Guess who had hot chocolate and who had the beer.
Yes, Cindy had a hot chocolate while I enjoyed a delicious lager. The food here in Bulgaria was fresh and delicious! I loved the shopska salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives and a soft white cheese). So yummy and fresh! But huge portions! And I ate the whole platter of salad! We are in shock at the size of the salads and realized it is time to start sharing a salad. Not because it is expensive (less than $2) but just too much to eat most of the time.
After dinner, we loaded up our backpacks and walked to the train station. Next stop, Sofia- the capital of Bulgaria.

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