Why Bulgaria you ask? Because it was a last minute trip, the airfare was cheap, the country could be covered in 72 hours, and it was a direct flight...what more could you ask for? We were up bright and early and on our way out of Sofia, to the explore the beautiful country, after a quick stop for breakfast to-go. I wish I had a picture to share, but trust me when I say that their pastries are butter-laden and delicious. We each shared a spinach&cheese and a apple&cheese pastry. We also tried a local favorite, which is the equivalent of a wheat smoothie. It was kind of sour but I liked it, Adam did not.
First stop was Rila Monastery, about a 2 hour drive from Sofia. It is worth the drive, and absolutely captivating in both its art and architecture. It also has 8 resident monks still inhabiting the walls. There is no entry fee, but there are small fees to explore certain areas, like the museum and bell tower (only 5lev per person), and they are worth it.
|Rila Monastery: Up in the Bell Tower|
|Rila Monastery: View from the Bell Tower|
|Rila Monastery: Crawling back down the tower stairs|
VERY IMPORTANT: Out the back gate there is a place selling the Bulgarian equivalent of funnel cakes, but different. Better. They are lighter and not oily, are delicious, and you can opt for powdered sugar. Mmm...really wanting one right now.
Close to the Monastery is St. Rilsky's Grave. It is about a 10 minute hike from the parking area off of the road, and is fantastic. Most people think that the attraction is the small chapel at the top of the trail, which is closed most of the time, so it can be disappointing if you don't know better. Walk to the right of the building and keep going, and you will quickly come to a cave entrance. This attraction is also completely free.
It is customary to leave a wish at the entrance to the cave, and if you are able to make it through the cave, then it is said that your wish will come true. We each left our wish and were optimistic for success.
|Water fountain at the end of the cave|
What was awesome about Bulgaria was that there were these natural spring fountains EVERYWHERE. The sides of roads, the middle of towns and city, near all attractions and areas where people collect...and people were always around them; filling water jugs, bottles, and cupped hands.
Near to the grave, there was the great little lunch place. Unfortunately, it was only 3 tables, and had no name, so I have no information to share. But you could not have asked for a better meal with a more incredible view!
|Chilled soup: Shredded cucumber and garlic yogurt soup|
While I enjoyed my tasty cold soup, Adam enjoyed a warm tomato soup, and we shared a fresh tomato/cucumber/onion salad topped with while cheese. Everything was fresh and made from scratch. We found this about ALL food that we ate. It seems that this country is naturally into organic and whole food, prepared simply and deliciously. And yes, I was craving a beer on this hot day. Adam thinks I became possessed, but it was exactly what was needed.
|Two cold beers for a hot day|
The remnants of afternoon was spent on a beautiful drive through the mountains to the small town of Melnik. This is NOT a town for tourists other than if you truly want to capture the essence of classic and typical Bulgaria. We LOVED it!
|House common area|
A house of typical Bulgarian style. They are a very social culture, so lots of communal space for large families and to entertain guests.
|Basement wine cellar = PERFECT!|
|Coins pressed into the clay walls of the basement|
|Winery on the property|
|Another small winery in the town, ready and waiting for us|
|Sharing a plate of white and yellow cheese|
|Dust on the aging barrels|
We ended are day at Bistro Melnik for a wonderful dinner of the salad (that I had already become addicted to) and were introduced to traditional hot pot. Hot pot is the local dish of small pots with baked meats and vegetables in them. So juicy and tender.
|Melnik: Strolling up "main" street, by that I mean, the only street|
Perfect end to a wonderful and busy day. Pleasantly exhausted.