After my long day (and even longer night) in Belgrade, I felt ready to escape to a new country to give both my body and my pride much needed recovery time. But first, travel time. Getting to Sofia, Bulgaria was one of the most painful experiences of my life and was more than enough punishment for my stupid decisions the night before. After slowly and excruciatingly pulling myself out of bed, falling into a taxi and crawling onto my first bus of the day I spent the five hour ride forcing myself to sleep because it is more difficult to get sick (aka puke) if you are not conscious.
Getting onto my second bus was even more work than the first and involved some super attractive dry heaving while a whole bus full of people stared out the window, horrified that they were the unfortunate souls who would have to be on a bus with me for four hours. Good times. I finally arrived in Sofia and made yet another terrible decision to walk to my hostel. What looked like a nice stroll on the map turned into a 45-minute trek in 95-degree heat, all while living through the worst hangover of all time. I checked in and went straight to bed, thus ending the day from you know where (aka Hell, if you are not catching my drift). Okay, complaining time over. Just wanted to give the full picture of my punishing day since it gave me perspective of what truly bad travel day looks and feels like.
The main reason I wanted to visit Sofia was so that I could take a trip up to colorful Rila Monastery. The hostel arranged for a local guy to take a group of us out of the city to the mountains, where the monastery is located. The two and a half hour drive itself was beautiful and I got to know some of my tour companions, all of whom were solo female travelers, which I though was very cool. Before we arrived at the monastery we took a short hike up to a cave with some kind of religious shrine in it. Our driver was less than talkative, and despite my charming personality and adorable/annoying habit of constantly talking/ asking questions so that other people will be forced to have a conversation with me I found out nothing else about our first stop.
Rila Monastery was beautiful and peaceful, despite all the tourists. The paintings that adorn archways outside the church itself are ornate and depict various scenes from the Bible. I took dozens of pictures from every angle imaginable, while simultaneously trying to figure out what was going on in each fresco. There are demons and angels and fight scenes and love scenes. The sheer number of individual scenes is astonishing and overwhelming. You cannot take pictures inside the church itself, but I assure you that the inside is stunning as well, with shimmering gold chandeliers and more detailed and vibrant Biblical art.
A rainstorm hit right in time for a late lunch, which I ate slowly in dereference to my fragile stomach. I ate with a few girls from my group at one of the restaurants set up to cater to tourists, but my tiny bowl of chicken soup was actually really good and their food looked delicious as well. It is actually possible to sleep at the monastery (Monk-style), but since my time was very limited I opted out of this option and headed back to my hostel in Sofia.
Back at the hostel I forced myself to write, which I had gotten even farther behind on from my lost time in Belgrade, and hung out with my fellow monastery tour-ee’s before turning in early (again).
I wasn’t even really planning on spending any more time in Sofia, but one of the girls I met the day before convinced me to take the free walking tour with her and then go to lunch. She was very concerned about my health (she had noticed that I had eaten only a bowl of soup and about ten bites of dinner the day before) and she took it upon herself to fix me up and feed me. I am glad I took the tour, but like Belgrade I was a tad underwhelmed by what I saw and learned. What I found most interesting is how the city is OLD (Roman times old) and how there Roman buildings next to a brand new café inside of a metro station. It’s layers upon layers of history, which is fitting since the history of Bulgaria includes layers and layers of different foreign influences. Some of the architecture was really beautiful and the juxtaposition of mosques, bathhouses, and churches next to modern government buildings was interesting.
After a full lunch (that’s right a FULL lunch) I finally felt like myself again and was ready to take on another new city. My next destination was the small(ish) town of Veliko Tarnovo in the hills of Bulgaria and I was very excited to be getting away from the city and getting back into nature.