Bulgaria & Turkey, November 2001 Travelogue
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Sunday, Nov. 18th, 2001

On Sunday morning I packed up my stuff, paid Sachko for the room and laundry, and went to catch a bus.

It was about 9am, and the ground was covered with ice. The first frost of the winter had come. Even though I was freezing my ass off, I was still excited.

Rila Monastery is in all the travel books, so I ran into some other travelers when we arrived. Most were catching a bus back to town in an hour, but Zesta, Marjan and Anya were spending the night. I glommed onto them and followed them to the head monk's office. The Rila Monastery is a square three-story building with a church in the center courtyard. It has survived hundreds of years of invaders and secular rule. It was pretty neat to spend the night, although there was no shower and no hot water, and the price was a bit higher than Sachko's place.

Marjan had been in Macedonia for a while, so she could almost speak Bulgarian. I, of course, was more interested in speaking English.

They waited for me to find my room & we met sans backpack outside near the church. Photos weren't allowed inside the church, and for once, I decided to follow the rules. Luckily the outside was covered with frescos as well, and somehow they managed to keep the colors vibrant.

We met Pete, a Bulgarian guy who has permanent residence in the US, Tennessee in fact. He was visiting his family and was happy to swap funny stories with us. He laughed as he cited Bulgaria as the only country in the world where shaking your head back and forth meant "yes" and nodding up and down meant "no". I hadn't noticed this action before, but from that moment on, I would. Can you imagine? What a bizarre cultural quirk.

Pete invited us to coffee at the little cafe outside & then slyly picked up the bill! It was a class move and we let him.

Fueled up, Marjan, Zesta, Anya and I went for a little walk in the beautiful valley. We were in our warmest clothing. I even bought a hat on the trail.

It was the best part of the trip so far. I had great company in the fantastic countryside of the Rila Mountains, stomping through frosty leaves on the ground and swapping tree names with Anya in German.
We headed back when the sun got low, and stopped in a restaurant for dinner. I ordered cucumber salad and grilled chicken and a beer. The cucumber was great & it was all cheap and good. Marjan and Zesta got a little surprise when the bill came however, as the fish was priced on the menu per 100 grams.

The night was quite young when we left the restaurant, about 7pm, but everything near the monastery was closed. I seized the opportunity to show my photos from Sofia and Thessaloniki. Don't worry, they only had to hear about my website for about an hour.

Inside a Bulgarian Tram

Inside the Rila Monastery courtyard

Checking in with the head monk

Hooray! The outdoors!

Posing by a frozen waterfall

Anya and Zesta and Forest

Posing with the super fire-extinguishers

Marjan filling her water bottle

Monday, Nov. 19th, 2001

The next morning we had breakfast and the results from the Bulgarian presidential elections were on the front page. Giorgi Paranov won. A discussion of American foreign policies, particularly regarding NAFTA ensued.

Next we asked for directions and hiked out to the cave of Ivan Rilsky. This would be a good place to tell you a little bit about Ivan.

Boy, Bulgaria is nice when you get out of the city. A nice quilt of evergreen and deciduous trees, with rocks and moss and uh, fungus... Anyway, maybe the photos can do this justice.

It was an enjoyable morning of hiking. Really fun. We found the cave and climbed through the narrow hole at the top for good luck.

There was also a place near a little shrine where you write wishes on paper and cram them into cracks in the bricks. There were hundreds of little papers and we added to them. I wished for Cyrillic/Latin decoder ring.

We headed back and ran into some horses in the road. A white one came up to me and Zesta shot a bunch of photos as he got closer and closer. He had a bunch of burrs in his mane, but I left them alone.

We got back in time for a few more photos and lunch before the bus left for Sofia. I actually wanted to go to Plovdiv, a city to the east, but didn't know where I should transfer, so I just stayed on all the way to Sofia.

The bus to Sofia was pretty horrible. It was cold, and if the driver turned on the heater, the bus was filled with gasoline fumes. The bus ride's benefit was that I sat across from Zesta and she told me about Toronto.

When we got to Sofia's southern bus station, it was time to bid farewell to the 3 Canadians and grab a train to Plovdiv. They were on their way back to Skopia in Macedonia. I was really lucky to have run into them, they made the last two days the best of the trip so far.

My timing for Plovdiv wasn't the best. The next train didn't leave until 7pm & didn't arrive until almost 10. This was a lousy time to arrive in a new city, and I walked around in the wind for about 30 minutes before I got to anything less than the top-of-the-line hotels. I found a tall one, and got a $20 room. It had a tv and a mini-bar. I drank the Kamenitzas, watched soccer and went to bed.

A victorious angel fresco

Posing on stump stools

Near Rila's tomb

Near the Cave of Ivan Rilski

Entering the most famous cave in Eastern Europe

This white horse was my friend

Shepherd on the Bulgarian plain

Automatic shoeshine in Plovdiv

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Read my other travelogues: Minneapolis 2001 | Burning Man 2001 | Europe 1999 | Costa Rica 2000

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