Monasteries and Mostels

SOFIA, BULGARIA: July 17-19

Leah: Okay, okay, so we're way behind on this blogging business-sorry. Rest assured we haven't been kidnapped by a Balkan mafia group that covets our knowledge of Southern California fish taco production or how to best launder two kilos of dirty clothes in a hostel sink. Instead, we've just been a little too caught up being fabulous Workaway helpers in a rural Bulgarian village and we've been too knackered during our rare down time to do any sort of writing. So please bear with me while I backtrack a tad and bring you up to speed on our time in Sofia by presenting a condensed list of five things that defined our time in the Bulgarian capital. In no particular order:

1. RILA MONASTERY. As you've probably ascertained by now, we're all about checking out past and present houses of worship from different faith backgrounds. From cathedrals to wats to mosques to pagan temples, we love them all and knew immediately that we wanted to see the Rila Monastery, or Рилски манастир in Bulgarian. Founded in the 10th century by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila (the patron saint of the Bulgarian people), it's regarded as one of the country's key monuments and still functions as an active monastery; Pope John Paul II even visited in 2002. The church complex itself is stunningly situated against the backdrop of the Rila Mountains, where the green pines and hovering clouds perfectly compliment the striped painting job, domes and bell tower. The inside rendered us speechless, as every surface is literally covered in frescoes of indescribable detail from the base of the pillars to the tip of the domes. Gold plating abounds as well and we walked in circles with our heads thrown back trying to take it all in. Cameras were't allowed, so unfortunately we were only able to take snaps outside-hopefully those will give you an idea. We also checked out the cave where St. Ivan lived as a hermit for over a decade and which now houses his tomb, squeezing ourselves through the narrow exit and drinking from the sacred spring.

2. HOSTEL MOSTEL. Steve booked this gem of a hostel nestled right in the thick of Sofia, which turned out to be a ridiculous bargain. For 18 leva a person ($12 USD) we snagged comfy dorm beds in a six person room, as well as an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet and then a glass of beer and bowl of pasta with sauce for dinner. Twelve bucks for a bed and two meals? Done. The staff was lovely, we took advantage of the book exchange and the bathroom and kitchen were not at all grungy. However, there was the unfortunate issue one fateful evening of an inebriated Dutch dorm mate. Two of our female roomies got all gussied up and left around 10 p.m. for a night on the town (being the raging party animal that I am, however, 10 p.m. saw me swathed in my PJs and nestled into bed with a book instead). Let me walk you through the timeline from here.

3:00 a.m: I get up to pee, they still weren't back and I remember thinking that the situation wouldn't end well.
5:00 a.m: Dutchies arrive and drunkenly shine their phones all over the room.
5:30 a.m: I heard the unmistakable sound of retching permeate my ear plugs. And coughing. And moaning, followed by more retching as one of the girls emptied the entire contents of a night's worth of bad decisions from her stomach. In our room.
8:00 a.m: Got dressed and voyage to the bathroom, only to find a bedsheet draped over the shower door, a flooded bathroom and one of the girls sleeping on the common area's couch.
4:00 p.m: Return from a day out to discover that the mattress has been changed, the bathroom cleaned and the girls are gone, replaced by two Japanese guys. Kicked out or too embarrassed to stay we'll never know, but now we're officially aware that we're too old for dorms but too poor for private rooms.

3. SEX SHOP SIGNS. Color me ignorant, but Sofia, Bulgaria isn't the first place that comes to mind when envisioning a bustling, out-in-the-open sex shop industry (Amsterdam, maybe?). However, nearly every other street corner proudly sported an official sign with the name of that block's establishment and a helpful arrow pointing the way, along with how many meters one could expect to walk before reaching the building. I've never seen anything like it and while we had no interest in availing ourselves of said services, it still made me do a double take every time we saw a sign or walked past an open door with a window display of kinky bedroom accouterments tucked right between a pizza joint and a fabric shop.

4. FREE SOFIA TOUR. At our hostel's recommendation and after hearing positive testimonials from other guests, we decided to take advantage of the daily free walking tour through Sofia offered by this local nonprofit. The well traveled local guides-who are young, educated, fluent in English and often work full time jobs-volunteer their time for the two hour tour in exchange for tip, although there was no pressure even for that. We learned heaps about the history of the city, from walking on old Roman roads to the stories about the city during Soviet rule and everything in between. One of our favorite locations was a corner of the city where within a radius of a few blocks you had a Roman Catholic church, a Bulgarian Orthodox church, a Jewish synagogue and an Islamic mosque. How many places in the world can boast the same? Our guide, Radina, said the locals refer to it as the "Square of Tolerance". While not usually one for tour groups, we appreciated learning facts and stories about the city that weren't covered in any books and that many locals wouldn't even know. Besides, since Steve and I usually explore new cities on foot, this was the perfect combo for us and we're not opposed to checking out similar tours in other cities we'll be visiting.

5. THE LONE RANGER. If you remember from previous blog posts, we've been on the hunt for weeks to find this movie showing in anything other than Russian, failing miserably both in Georgia and then Armenia. While I appreciate Johnny Depp and all, my real motivation for this quest was to support my dear friend, Amanda, who worked as the post-production supervisor on this film and dedicated all her professional and free time (not to mention mental sanity) for months on end to see the job done. There was no way I was going to miss watching her baby come to life and seeing her name scroll across the screen at the end. Thus, when we arrived at the theater showing films in English with Bulgarian subtitles and discovered that the next showing was in five minutes, you better believe we made it happen. It's such an inexplicable sensation to watch a Hollywood movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and know that one of your besties was intimately involved in helping create the finished product. I let loose a few fist pumps when her name came up at the end, knowing just how much she's given to make this real. And the added bonus? We got to see the new Hunger Games: Catching Fire preview. Cheers to you, Manda, you're the real star.

So there you go. A few days in Sofia boiled down to some major memories. We've been at our Workaway job site in the country for almost a week now, so rest assured the updates on that are coming soon(ish) as well. In the meantime, check out the pics (there aren't very many), go see The Long Ranger and enjoy the tail end of July- I can't believe it's almost August!

CLICK FOR PICTURES OF SOFIA AND RILA MONASTERY.

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Amanda August 13, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Thank you for doing that my worldly friends, it meant the world to me :)

Leah August 15, 2013 at 1:56 AM

There was no way we couldn't support you, come hell or high water (or movies dubbed in Russian)!

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