On Thursday we bid farewell to historic Plovdiv and began our three-hour journey to Sofia, Bulgaria.We chose to take the train, since it seemed the most cost-effective at only $4 per ticket. 🙂 In my mind, I had envisioned this whimsical train ride, where I could hang out the door, scooping up wild flowers and enjoying the scenic countryside. 😀The reality was a congested and filthy hot box that reeked of urine and cigarettes. 😦No bathrooms or WiFi, plus non-functioning windows left us rationing our water, and painting eachother nails in hopes that the chemical lacquer could briefly mask the nasty odor. Hah. 😛 P.U.After three long hours, we arrived in Sofia, feeling parched, famished, and on the brink of throwing away all our clothes. Hah. Fortunately these problems weren’t anything our amazing hostel couldn’t solve. 😀
We checked in at Hostel Mostel for an incredibly affordable 12 euro per night. Hostel amenities included free all-you-can-eat breakfast, free dinner with beer, WiFi, organized tours, and most importantly, long hot showers and laundry service. 😀
Rustic cabin beds with warm comforters and an en-suite bathroom.Common area with cozy lounge chairs and a free pool table.Breakfast of eggs, waffles, meats, cheese and fresh produce.Dinner choices: Rice and beans, pasta with tomato sauce, or eggs and potatoes with coleslaw and complimentary Bulgarian beer. I’m a happy girl. 😀Since our hostel had done such a fantastic job putting us back in a good mood, we decided to head out in Sofia for the free city tour, hoping to explore this cosmopolitan Bulgarian capital.
Sightseeing in Sofia
The tour group met at 6 PM at City Hall.
Our guide was a bubbly college student who told us many unique facts about both Sofia and the country Bulgaria as a whole. 😀For starters, Sofia was originally inhabited by Thracians between 6-8,000 years ago, making the city older than Rome.
Thracian ruins are spotted throughout the city, like the ones seen here in this partially excavated Sardica settlement.
The Bulgarian coat of arms has three crowned golden lions and a dark red shield. The country’s motto is “Unity makes strength.”
The motto appears fitting since Bulgaria is one of the few countries with peaceful religious coexistence in a multicultural society. Additionally, Bulgaria is one of the few countries during the Holocaust that was able to save their whole Jewish population.
This peaceful coexistence is most notable in Sofia’s Square of Tolerance, where four different places of worship reside. 😀Now, the most famous religious structure in Sofia is undoubtedly the Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky. The second largest cathedral on the Balkan Peninsula. The interior is decorated with Italian marble and Brazilian onyx. Quite luxurious! 😀In general, Sofia reminded me a lot of Chicago, with very modern buildings towering over wide open boulevards.
In fact, the buildings appear modern since many of them were built during the 19th century, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Overall, the tour was the perfect introduction to Sofia, and a great way to pass the time on a drizzling and dreary afternoon. 🙂
After a fantastic night’s rest, I thought I would end my Bulgarian backpacking trip with a bang, by embarking on a day tour to the Rila Monastery.
The Rila Monastery
It was thought that the monastery was named after St. Ivan of Rila, a hermit monk who actually lived in a cave not too far from the religious complex.
When we first arrived, we hiked into the woods to check out his barren abode and the nearby church.
St. Ivan had few material possessions, aside from a small religious shrine. Entering the cave was quite challenging as well.
Near the cave there is a natural spring surrounded by rock piles littered with small slips of paper, prayers for good fortune. 😀
After writing down a few wishes, we made our way to the Rila Monastery.
Looks almost like a fortress! 🙂
The Rila Monastery is situated deep in a valley of the Rila Mountains, the highest mountain in Bulgaria. Its location makes for striking panoramic views of these breathtaking bluffs. 😀 The Rila Monastery has been the most important spiritual center in Bulgaria since the Middle Ages, and has functioned continuously for 11 centuries. During this time it has acquired one of the most impressive medieval literary collections in the world.
The monastery has over 300 monastic apartments, a library, dining hall, hospital and over 30 drawing-rooms. For a small fee, visitors can stay overnight in a monk’s cell. So cool! 😀Dazzling frescoes depict important Biblical events. In 1983, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for preserving both Slavic language and customs, even during the destructive Ottoman reign.
Looks almost impossible to bust down these doors! Hah. 😛
Absolutely spectacular! 😀After walking the gorgeous grounds, we all went to grab lunch at the convenient Rila Monastery Restaurant.
New friends from Valencia, Spain and Singapore. 🙂
Beware: Bulgarians shake their heads for “yes” and nod for “no”, which caused a lot of confusion when ordering our meals. Oh well! May not have been exactly what we ordered, but at least the food still tasted great! Hah. 😀
I even found a few souvenirs nearby for Mom and Dad. 😀
Reppin’ the Bulgarian coat of arms. 😛
Rose perfume, since Bulgaria is the world’s largest producer of rose essential oils. 🙂
On our last night at the hostel, we chose to join the hostel pub crawl for a taste of Bulgarian nightlife. 🙂
Our favorite spot in Sofia was definitely The Apartment, a beatnik bar with a true bohemian vibe. Loved the patterned wallpaper and ambient lighting. Just perfect! 😀Overall, Bulgaria completely blew us away as a seriously underrated tourist destination. 😀
Cuisine, culture and striking natural beauty at an affordable price. For food and drinks, accomodation, tours, and transportation for the past week, I spent around $250. Not too shabby. 🙂
Although we didn’t have time, Sofia also offers a free hiking tour to the Boyana waterfalls, free biking tour of the city, and a free food tour.
Definitely something you might want to check out if you plan to visit. 😀
Before we left, my roomie made sure to get our last bite of pork sausage before crossing the border back into Turkey. 😛
After an 8-hour overnight bus, we arrived back in Istanbul for one final breakfast together before parting ways and heading back to our homes. 😦
This is chorba or lentil soup. Turks usually eat borek for breakfast, but this was the perfect comfort food on this chilly Sunday morning.
Now we are back to work and back to reality. This week has been a whirlwind of experiences seeing as it was the first week of school. Hope to update you on school happenings in the next post. Until then! Have a great weekend. 😀