From Plovdiv we headed to Rila Monastery, 300kms away. Although Sofia was much closer (150km away), we decided to spend more time on the road and visit Rila. During our scenic drive, we experienced a dramatic shift in seasons until it started snowing as we commenced our climb up the Rila Monastery Nature Park alongside the Rilska River.
The Orthodox monastery built in the 10th century was destroyed and re erected a couple of times before it became listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in the 80s. A masterpiece more exquisite when covered in snow, and lots of it!
We entered the empty monastery through the iron gate and were blown away by the intricately designed facades. The complexity of the wood carvings and wall paintings revealed a special richness that pronounced its position as the largest monastery in Bulgaria. The Hrelyo Tower, which peeked from behind the church and survived the many disasters, is the oldest building on site (14th century). Colorful frescos dominated the ceilings. We walked around the courtyard and finally checked out the residential part, which also had rooms for visitors/pilgrims who wanted to stay the night/s.
At one point, during the National Revival Period, the monastery was a center of culture and education where a large of collection of rare and valuable books and manuscripts were exposed and subsequently contributed to the creation of the public library at the complex.
On our way back to Sofia, we stopped by Drushlyavitsa, a restaurant tucked in the national park surrounded by pine trees covered in snow complemented by the sound of waterfalls nearby. The serenity of the moment crumbled down the moment we walked in the restaurant and were greeted like we were a bunch of zombies. They didn’t think we were zombies. They were suffering from a power outage. Disregarding health and safety problems, we made ourselves comfortable at a table close to the window admiring the flow of the river and placed our order. Salad and local fish. Totally DEEP FRIED, overpowering the taste of fish. Like a bunch of epicureans, we paired our meal with Ayran, a yoghurt drink. Go figure!