One minute in Tel Aviv and a two and a half hour flight later we arrived in Sofia for the first part of a trip around Bulgaria.
First stop had to be the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral – dramatically situated in the Centre of the city and a hive of activity on this particular Saturday evening as it was the weekend where most of the kids graduated high school – this seems to entail wearing long ball gowns and driving around town hooting their horns and counting to 12 (to reflect the 12 long years they have suffered in school!) Just wait until they start work!!
Actually Sofia has a multitude of spectacular churches mostly Bulgarian or Russian orthodox with exteriors and interiors (which often include brightly coloured frescos of the saints and religious events from the New Testament). Examples below.
And the church below tucked in amongst government buildings was built on Roman ruins.
We snuck into the Russian Orthodox Church below as a service was ending – beautiful singing and great pomp – but we then got told off for taking pictures!
But it is not all churches
There is also the 2nd largest synagogue in Europe (it is Sephardic) and a mosque that remains a mosque (many of the others remain from the Ottoman Empire but are are now churches which is why the exteriors often look mosque-like as that is exactly what they used to be before they were repurposed rather than pulled down.). Great recycling. Although not quite as close together as shown below they are only about 3 minutes from each other.
There are monuments – that’s Saint Sofia and the guards outside the President’s place of work; there is MacDonalds of course (but I have never seen it written in Cyrillic before) and also klecks- meaning “kneel” shops as below bottom right. After the communism era ended people wanted to become more entrepreneurial and because they couldn’t afford expensive real estate they converted their basements into shops which you have to kneel at to see what’s inside. Loved them, although some comfort cushions would be an idea for those of us with creakier bones!
There is shopping for local ceramics at the Ladies Market.
A popular day trip from Sofia is a visit to Rila Monastery (about two hours away) and the glorious Boyana Church (about 20 minutes from Sofia).
I loved the Boyana Church. It is tiny, in a peaceful forest and only 10 people can go in at a time. It dates back many hundreds of years and while simple outside it is the stunning frescos inside that give it the “wow” factor – even more special because they are in good condition and are painted in a real life style where people’s expressions are clear in their faces rather than the previously stylised approach to painting saints. Unfortunately they do not allow photos inside so I have swiped a couple of pics of the interior from the internet so you can see what I mean.
Then on to Rila Monastery – via some very pretty countryside – and a real rag and bone man!
Rila was a spectacular place although rather crowded on a Sunday so I had to include some people in my photos – Grrr. Only 7 monks live here now but visitors or pilgrims can stay over. It once housed 300 monks – times have changed and not many people want to be monks anymore hence the reduction in numbers. It is nevertheless right that it is being preserved so well and both Rila and Boyana are UNESCO heritage sights.
I loved the colourful frescos and below there are some that show what happens if you go to hell compared to the prettiness of Paradise.
The floors with the carpets hanging from them are where people can stay over. I think the rooms are very basic!
A great start to my visit to Bulgaria.