Other trips


Other trips can be accessed by clicking the following links:

2013
Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

2014
Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Copenhagen

2015
Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

2016
Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Ethiopia, Kenya, S. Africa, Zimbabwe, UAE and Denmark

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beautiful Boyana & Death by Chocolate

Sophia is a perfect jumping off spot for anyone one interested in seeing the huge number of monasteries nestled in the mountains surrounding the city but only if you have a car at your disposal. We didn’t so made our way via tram and bus to the southern suburb of Boyana, once a  favorite retreat for communist leaders and now home to Sofia’s wealthy elite, to see two of the city’s major attractions, the 13th C. Boyana Church and the  nearby National Historical Museum before heading to another monastery.
Steven pointing out that the Cyrillic writing indicated  the #64 bus would take us to Boyana Church!
The Boyana Church of St. Nikola and St. Pantaleimon, listed on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list as a ‘must see’, traces its construction back to the 11th C. and is famous for its 90 murals of 1259 that are said to be several decades ahead of the Italian Renaissance. Our wonderful guide described with great animation how the faces and eyes in the royal court tempera paintings, not frescoes, were painted with great attention to detail in the garments and gestures typical of those times in this part of Europe. In the exquisite three dimensional representations of the saints, we could feel them follow us with their eyes wherever we walked in the tiny interior. There were 2 layers of paintings: the first from the 11th and 12th centuries and the next from 1251. The life of Jesus was divided and depicted into both the dramatic and brighter sides of His life. The inscriptions are in Old and Middle colloquial Bulgarian, our guide explained. 



 A maximum of 8 visitors at a time can see the tiny church for a 10 minute guided tour. The church receives 50,000 visitors a year so we were lucky we didn’t arrive later in the day and had to wait for a long time to see it. It is truly miraculous that the church survived earthquakes and wars with the Turks unlike so many other area churches and monuments. It’s believed that even foreign invaders considered it to be a sacred place and therefore not to be attacked.
This was what caught my eye as we entered this part of the church before I was told once again no photos. The stupefying paintings were through a door behind the archway above.
I bought a painting from the artist above. Just need to figure out where to find space to hang it.
We then walked 2kms to the Museum of National History which is housed in the former communist presidential palace and contains Thracian gold treasures, Roman statuary, folk costumes, weaponry and icons. It was interesting to trace the development of social, cultural and political life of Bulgaria through some of its 22,000 exhibits.

Lining both sides of the walkway to the museum's entrance were artifacts to whet our appetites of what was in store for us inside. This one was a fragment of a sarcophagus from the 2nd-3rd C. AD.
There was even this Russian MiG fighter just outside the front entrance, Zachary! No idea what it was doing there though.
What a beautiful entrance and view beyond it of the mountains.


What positively stunning views of the mountains encircling Sophia from the museum. To see it on a sunny day made it even more fantastic after having had 2 days of rain and/or chilly weather.


Funeral offerings from the 7th-6th centuries BC.
As you might imagine, it was quite strange coming across information about Antarctica in a corner of Bulgaria's National History Museum. Turns out that the country has a large contingent of scientists working there. As a result, they have even built an Orthodox Chapel to St. John of Rila there. Amy: I wonder if your husband has seen it while working there now?


no longer used customs barrier once Bulgaria was admitted to the EU on 1/1/07.



This 'Tree of Life' was a gift to the Bulgarian President from the Jewish community in DC as a mark of gratitude for the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews during WWII. From what we've read, Bulgaria's Jews were saved from the fate suffered by Europe's Jews elsewhere because of the heroic efforts of 2 Orthodox priests. To me, it begs the question why other clerics of all faiths did not stand up more against  Hitler and his fellow Nazi thugs.

With a combination of Steven’s great map reading skills and my asking locals for assistance, we got on the right city bus toward
Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Holy Virgin of Vitosha. We didn’t know when we were dropped off that we had about a mile long up a very potholed, twisty, narrow road in the mountains before arriving at the monastery. The hike was definitely worth it however. The monastery was 1st mentioned in the Vitosha Charter of 1371 and today operates as a convent.
Some people took the easy way up - not us though.
A lousy shot of 2 guys taking their mountain bikes on the chairlift - we saw them race down the mountain not long after this while we were still walking up!

Not sure what the building was on the left here right by the entrance.
The monastery's small chapel above and the interior below.



Just outside the entrance above and below. I had seen the nun earlier in the church gift shop. When I say 'gift shop,' I don't mean a big touristy, gaudy place but rather one run by the church selling mostly candles for people to light, plus lots of icons of all shapes, sizes and, of course, prices. I can't remember being in a church this trip that hasn't had a shop like this. Some of the huge churches have more 'stuff' to purchase to support the church and all have donation boxes.
We spent some time sitting in the sun while taking in the beauty surrounding us before making our way back to the hostel via buses, walking and the city’s lovely metro system. We had just missed the train so that's why the station 'so empty!

Photos of Hostel Mostel below: We didn’t stay in the hostel proper but in an apartment a 5 minute walk away. It was huge even with their being fellow guests in the other rooms but only one shower to share. The signs said No Smoking but all the guests smoked, making it impossible to use the common area at nighttime.  The room rate included a vegetarian dinner and a lovely breakfast of cold meats, cheeses, scrambled eggs and fruit galore – but who would want all that healthy food if you can just feast on hot waffles dripping with this to-die-for chocolate you just spoon out of a jar on each table? I felt like I was a child again and loved every moment of it. You can see how I was once 50 pounds heavier!


Our very large room but it had only one dim overhead light and a negligible light on one side of the bed only. We needed flashlights in the room. Also had to scrounge around for a space heater as the government, who owns the building, hadn't yet turned on the heat and it was SO cold in the apartment. VERY limited lighting too in the common area as befitting a building from the Communist era.
The hostel itself
Todd, one of the very friendly and helpful receptionists; he spoke perfect idiomatic English even though he had never stepped foot in an English speaking country.
Death by chocolate!

My fellow chocoholic.

Goodbye from Sophia!















































There was even this Russian MiG fighter just outside the front entrance!

With a combination of Steven’s great map reading skills and my asking locals for assistance, we got on the right city bus toward Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Holy Virgin of Vitosha. We didn’t know when we were dropped off that we had about a mile long up a very potholed, twisty, narrow road in the mountains before arriving at the monastery. The hike was definitely worth it however. The monastery was 1st mentioned in the Vitosha Charter of 1371 and today operates as a convent.


We spent some time sitting in the sun while taking in the beauty surrounding us before making our way back to the hostel via buses, walking and the city’s lovely metro system.