After a wonderful time in Plovdiv, my friend saw me off at the train station with a big hug and promises to keep in touch. This is after having laughed at me when I said I was getting the train. A Bulgarian train, are you kidding? I’d already heard many stories of how slow the network was, where people would leave Istanbul to go to Sofia, one traveling by train, one by bus and the bus would win, every time. In fact, any Bulgarian I mentioned that I was getting the train laughed. Hmmm. But I’ve already got my trusty InterRail ticket, so it’s a no brainer.
I get to Sofia, track down my hostel and find that there is a walking tour in a couple hours. I head over so that I can get my bearings here, hoping that I’ll discover lots of things to do. Which may be a little tough, according to people that I’ve spoken to about Sofia. Most reports say it’s just another city. And that 4 nights here are too long. So my mission is to find all the interesting points of Sofia to fill up 4 nights. My InterRail ticket has now run out so this is definitely the winding down of The Adventure.
The walking tour showed interesting points of the city; mosques from the ottoman empire, russian built churches, the cathedral, lots of churches. There were lots of communist buildings, the one which housed the main seat of ruling used to have a great red star on top. Which now is tossed (well, as unceremoniously placed as you can with a giant glass star) in the grounds of an old abandoned building. At the end of the tour I was asked my first impressions of Sofia. Honestly. I said that there seemed to be lots of interesting pockets in the city but it’s hard to see it apart from just being a big grey city, mostly thanks to the communism era… I’d like to know more about it because I’m sure there is lots to it that I don’t know. My impressions of Bulgaria in general is mostly influenced by the people. Everyone I’ve met has been so friendly and welcoming but terribly pessimistic about the conditions in Bulgaria. The tour guide laughed, I asked if that was true, and he agreed. He said that despite people wanting change, the next generation just falls into the old habits of their parents because they’re the only habits they know. But there are people working hard to be optimistic, to open up Sofia and Bulgaria to the traveling community to help others understand it and make changes within the country. So again, here seemed to be a deep core of faith for the future.
Today I went on an organised day trip to Rila Monastery, the biggest in Bulgaria. It’s set on a site where a monk went and lived in a cave for 7 years. We went to the cave, saw that there were bits of paper with prayers and wishes tucked into the cracks of the rocks. In the cave was a little platform which is where he must have stayed and there were religious pictures and burning candles arranged amongst the rocks. We were able to climb through the cave – legend says that if you climb through you are absolved of all your sins….
We then traveled to the actual monastery building which was quite magnificent. Similar to Bachkovo in that there was a courtyard with a church but much much bigger. I know I over use the word awesome, but I thought it was beautiful, and a little Tim Burtonesque with black and white stripes on a lot of the pillars. Awesome. Inside, the walls were totally covered with paintings and gold displays, as is usual for the orthodox churches.
Now I’ve done a day trip out, I think I’ll next be doing the meanderings around the city – bonus design week festival will help – and hopefully I’ll find that 4 nights in Sofia isn’t way too long!