Today we were travelling north from Gorno Draglishte to Sofia (via Rila Monastery).
We woke reasonably late following the feast and free flowing wine the night before. After gathering ourselves and our packs, we headed down to our homestay family’s small dining room for breakfast, where we enjoyed scrambled eggs, toast, mekitsi (fried dough), local jam and peppermint tea. We were making our way to the Rila Mountains, where we were visiting the Rila Monastery.
We wandered the site with busloads of other tourists, yet strangely the place did not seem crowded. I’m not sure if it was the sheer size of the place, or whether the masses congregated in one area and didn’t venture far from the main church, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by tourists in the monastery.
We headed over Lions Bridge and made our way to the Sofia Synagogue, then sheltered in the Central Market Hall until the recurrent (but short-lived) mid-afternoon rain passed. Feeling refreshed after an espresso, we walked a short distance to the small but welcoming Banya Bashi Mosque, then descended into the ancient Serdica complex.
We visited the impressive Sveta Nedelya Cathedral, then walked to the calm and diminutive Sveti Georgi Rotunda, which is surrounded on all sides by solid, square and pragmatic communist-built structures. I marvelled at the decision to leave this tiny church in the midst of these gargantuan buildings, but I loved the fact that it remains intact.
We were exhausted after a long day of travel, so we headed back to the hotel and crashed. I had low expectations about Sofia as a city, but after the walking tour I absolutely loved the place. This was an easy city to navigate, and it was a beautiful city – despite its ugly, staunch and stolid communist-built surrounds. Sofia has a very average facade as you enter the city, but once you lose yourself in the old town area, everything changes.