April Fool’s Day found me starting a two-month trip to Bulgaria and Romania. I flew into Sofia on April 1st and have found it ‘back in time.’ While it’s fairly run down and unkempt, it’s also fairly quiet and laid-back. It has a good measure of museums, old churches, a mosque and a synagogue which have been pleasant to visit. I’m surprised that many people speak English—they’re all surprised that I’m American; apparently not many Americans visit here. The weather has been sunny and warm (60 degrees) and so sidewalk cafes proliferate.
The Archeological Museum was great—lots of gold, bronze, silver and pottery artifacts from the 6th to 1st centuries BC from all over this region. Earlier statues of ‘cave bears’ evoke the Jean Auel books (“Clan of the Cavebears”)—she really did her research.
The churches follow the Russian style with an iconostasis that separates the congregation from the priest and the holy icons. One of the local churches had been converted in the middle ages from a 3rd century BC Roman rotunda—the church of Saint George. Yes, the Romans were here, too.
Bulgarians employ the Cyrillic alphabet so signs are difficult to read. Unfortunately my Lonely Planet guidebook does not give many of the Cyrillic versions of street names or places so if I really want to know I have to translate letter by letter from the back of the book. For example, restaurant is PECTOPAHT (RESTORANT).
Peter, a young man from Sofia emailed me saying he had seen my post about my journey on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree and would be glad to answer any questions that I might have. We met in a coffee shop and he helped me plan my next day’s outing to take a minibus to a suburb of Sofia. I visited the Boyana church that has medieval murals that are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
My small Sofia hotel was quite interesting. It was recommended by my Lonely Planet Guidebook but apparently in the off season (or shoulder season) they augment their ‘regular’ trade with—-??? All I know is that there were comings and goings at all hours with people taking showers in the communal bathroom all night! So it goes.
Tuesday I discovered that my adapter for my battery charger for my digital camera didn’t fit into the electrical outlets here. The hotel desk clerk took me across the street to a shop that sold adapters that did fit! What a stroke of luck. I forgave the hotel any misdeeds!
Wednesday morning I set out early to get a bus to Rila Monastery about 80 miles from Sofia. I discovered that I had to cross a busy street to get to the bus station. There was an underground passage that was completely dark but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and the stairs leading up, but not the tunnel itself. Since it was kind of spooky, I hurried across in the dark toward the stairs. Well, midway, there apparently were three steps down that I couldn’t see. I walked off into air and my backpack, my daypack and I came crashing down like a ton of bricks! I decided nothing was broken, but I could barely walk. I got to the bus station and realized that I had twisted my left ankle, not too badly, but I had sprained my right ankle very badly.
I thought maybe things would improve so I went ahead with my trip to the Monastery(!) taking two buses. Luckily a Good Samaritan named Luci got on the bus with me and she could speak English. She is a Physical Education teacher, and helped me with my pack.
The setting was splendid with the snowcapped Rila Mountain as a backdrop to the colorfully decorated and muraled Monastery. The church was brilliant with not a square inch that didn’t have some decoration.
I mainly spent the time in bed, trying to pull myself together. But overnight I decided that it was no fun if I couldn’t walk without terrible pain. So the next morning I took two buses back to Sofia. I am holed up in the fancy Sheraton Hotel pampering myself for five days until I could get my flight home. So I will be home on Tuesday, April 11th and hope that my ankle doesn’t take too many weeks to heal. You know, I had a small flashlight with me which obviously I should have pulled out and used to light the tunnel, but since it was dark and spooky, I didn’t take the time. Let that be a lesson to me and all of you!