The Rila Thing

Days: 520 (27 November 2015)

Total distance travelled: 132,631.8 kilometres (82,380.1 miles)


One departure for the day…

With only one scheduled departure for the day (at least at this time of year), getting our timing wrong was never allowed to be an option.

With our Cyrillic still as shit as it’s ever been, we were fortunate there was enough English on the board that we were soon enough finding the correct bus for the roughly hundred and twenty kilometre journey south of Sofia to Rila, or more specifically the UNESCO World Heritage listed Rila Monastery.

With the day again pretty dull, it was hardly a memorable journey, the low cloud and fogged windows meant there really wasn’t all that much to see.

The bus slowly emptied, before coming to a halt… only we weren’t at the monastery.

Turns out there’s a half hour stop in Rila, the town with which the monastery shares its name.

We took shelter from the intermittent drizzle as best we could, shared our lunch of bread rolls and cheese with a local canine, before a driver switch saw the journey complete.


The Rila Monastery

Apparently this place attracts over a million visitors annually, however at this time of year and with the weather as it was, I’d be flabbergasted if the figure was even in double figures.

The bus was not set to depart for a few hours, so time was not lacking, and as already alluded, we almost had the place to ourselves.

That is a big almost, as whilst tourists were lacking, there is by all accounts a permanent population of Eastern Orthodox monks numbering around sixty or so.


Today Rila Monastery was lacking in tourists… (left) & Fresh mountain waters form a protective moat (right)

There was a museum we could have entered for a fee, and had we been visiting on a smaller/shorter trip from home, perhaps we may have considered.

Even given our surplus of time, we never gave it serious consideration.

Instead, we took shelter as best we could, wandered columned balconies and admired the colour (if not the content) of the Rila Monastery’s true stars, its frescoes.


A sage-like beard emerges on a cold and wet day (left) & Some of the famous frescoes (right)


As few of its original visitors could read, the frescoes tell biblical tales in pictures…

Looking back through some of the photos, the bright colours had me almost wondering if the weather was better than first remembered, but the rain in fact never stopped pouring from the water spouts, and the mist that hovered above this mountain sanctuary (we were at about a thousand metres elevation) rarely slackened.

When it did thin for a brief moment, the white cloud revealed… more white!

The mountains above, sporting a fresh coat of powdery snow.


A thoroughly damp day (left) & The clouds thin just enough to allow a glimpse of the snow capped peaks above (right)

In truth, I enjoyed the emptiness of the place, be it borne by the weather or the closeness to winter.

This gave the monastery the feeling of remoteness it once enjoyed, before it became one of southern Europes more famous religious tourist attractions.

At least these days, there is electricity so I’m sure the monks weren’t chilled and huddled out of the wind for warmth as we were until that bus finally returned!

When it did, although still a while until departure, we were quick to clamber inside, and revel in the steamy warmth within…

From here, it was back to Sofia.


Rila Monastery, with one of its approximately sixty monks…



* The bus from Sofia to Rila Monastery cost us 11.00 Lev per person each way (with a half hour stop in Rila on the way there).

* Entrance into the Rila Monastery is FREE (although there is a fee if you wish to visit the museum).

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