Rila Monastery and Ruse
Rila was my first destination after arriving in Sofia. I had a few hours sleep after arriving around 4am in my guesthouse and I took a bus from Sofia to Rila. The bus itself was comfortable and was filled with tourists but not rowdy but of the agreeable and friendly type, quite a number of them were going to stay at the Monastery. I hope t come back and if I will I may do the same as well as take in a visit to the seven lakes which unfortunately I didn’t do and the weather did not permit either. My first day in Bulgaria and therefore my visit to Rila had perfect weather though.
The monastery is beautiful. Founded by St Ivan Rilski in 927AD it survived Ottoman as well as Communist oppression. The church of the Nativity is beautiful with an intricate iconostasis as well as murals outside detailing biblical stories and impure confession. There is a museum with a wonderfully carved cross. I decided to take a guided tour not knowing the tour covered not just the museum but the church itself. The guided tour was excellent. My guide explained so much about Bulgarian culture, the monastery, and Orthodoxy in general interesting things I learnt is that the Cyrillic script was invented in by Bulgaria during the 10th century AD.
I returned to Sofia although not directly late afternoon. My journey would have been non notable until I encountered a Bulgarian guy who was a fundamentalist Protestant of the kind only prepared to ‘preach’ and not actually listen.
I was actually trying to plan my trip when he first spoke to me. Not intentionally being rude at first I didn’t engage in conversation as I had enough planning to do. However later in the journey when I wanted to make sure which bus station in Sofia my bus was going to arrive (yes it is a bit late to ask!), he then spoke about how he lived in the US and it was so difficult and then he returned before he turned the conversation religious with the usual “personal relationship with Jesus” lines. I listed for perhaps 15 minutes without reply or asking questions when I decided to say “That is a very Protestant view but.. I am not Protestant”, to which he then assumed I was Roman Catholic, and then I said actually I am Orthodox. He went on a long winded rant about having a personal relationship and yet failed repeatable to answer my sole question “How do you know what you have got is the Bible?”. A question I had learnt from my priest. Deciding the question was too difficult he continued to speak on and on in a mostly one way talk and yet gave no answer when I pressed with my question. I was glad when my bus arrived and glad I had not given him my contact details as he tried to continue with the conversation even then.
That aside my visit to Rila was interesting, the monastery is of great national importance.
The town of Rila is worth several days visit and a hike to the lakes among the mountains is something I do wish to do in future. Hopefully in the relatively near future.
Ruse is a small town that is near the border of Romania and the usual point of transport in road between Bulgaria and Bucharest and thus it was also my point of transfer. I originally planned to spend up to 2 days in this small town at least overnight. I also planned to take the train there which would have been a mistake. Romi strongly suggested that I ditch the train in favour of the bus, at the last moment I followed her suggestion. The bus journey is MUCH quicker than going by train. There are not many reasons for choosing a train over bus internally in Bulgaria. Slow journeys, possible safety issues, unhygienic are all reasons suggested to me. I don’t have any experience because I made every journey by bus.
I stayed in Ruse just for most of a day or until the evening. Arriving from Veliko I arrived in the small town and bought my ticket for Bucharest and then walked to the centre. The initial views were disappointing. Expecting to see classical architecture I was greeted by a long road of.. well normal architecture. However once you reach central Ruse then you will experience the ambiance, and architecture of a small classical European town. It seemed like that (besides the churches, even though there was at least one Protestant and one Roman Catholic church I saw). The parks were nice and the weather was nice. There were a few nice cafes too but smoking. I went to one, visited a beautiful Orthodox church where steps lead down (The Ottomans during their rule specified that no church be higher than the mosque – perhaps it was the case for that church, although I saw no mosque in the city).
I walked the parks and took the chance to try street foods. Ruse was an OK town. An ideal place for a day trip, a stopover or a short stay. It might not be the highlight of Bulgaria but it is a nice place.