Bulgaria Sept 2009

I had a business trip to Sofia, Bulgaria, & Dilshad had come with me, so planned a few days touring of Bulgaria after completing the work assignment; We started in Sofia, and rented a car for this purpose, and drove into southern Bulgaria to explore some interesting areas. Sofia itself is an old city, which mostly looked like an old Russian era city. A busy place with lots of people, including Roma’s (Gypsy’s), who are easily recognized as darker skinned people who are marginalized unfortunately. We did visit some of the Roma markets and they seemed to be nice people, but for some reason, are discriminated against.

Majestic Alexander Nevski Cathedral in central Sofia

When we could, we ate at the Mehana’s; which are old established eating houses in Bulgaria, where they serve traditional slow cooked meals with lamb, chicken, meat and vegetables. These slow cooked meals, especially with lamb, were extremely delicious and reasonably priced. The environment and decor was very old, traditional and very homely, with Grandma’s recipes used, handed down multiple generations

Typical Mehana

Mehana interior, for dinner

Some Mehana’s even had live music and patrons dancing to traditional Bulgarian music

We then went to Happy Village in Sofia, which is a very lively place for eating/entertainment. Belly dancing is the big thing here; and they liven up the show by getting the patrons to participate actively. A nice way to spend the evening with good entertainment. See images below

Happy Village, Sofia

Happy Village

Happy Village entertainment

Sofia had some interesting places to see and visit like The Rotunda of St George (Sveti Georgi); multiple Russian Orthodox churches which were quite magnificent, a Synagogue, and we even came across a mosque in the city center area that we visited. The locals there attending prayers did not blink an eyelid at us visiting strangers and tried to communicate, but no English :(.

After spending a little time in Sofia, we started driving south from Sofia on Hwy A3, to see some interesting rural places.

The first area of interest was the grape growing region of Bulgaria. Here there were several small towns that literally had grapes growing everywhere, including around people’s houses in the little towns.

Grapes everywhere; in front of all the houses you can see

Grape vines and chilis in small town in grape growing region

Grapes everywhere, outside peoples homes

Small town transport

Along the way, we came across large potato fields and people actively harvesting potatoes and selling them on the roadside. Potatoes are great for energy foods; as well as for making Vodka 🙂 ; great to keep you warm during the cold winters here

Rural farming scene; mostly potatoes

Harvesting Potatoes; note all the potatoes on the ground

Potato’s on an ancient Lada for sale; rural scene

We also stopped at a beautiful & peaceful lake

Scenic lake

Next stop was the Rila Monastery, in the beautiful Rila mountains. We had to get off the highway, and meandered over good roads up the mountainside with beautiful scenery and nice cool weather. The Rila Monastery is a 10the Century Eastern Orthodox church and working monastery; that had to be rebuilt in the 15th century and again in the 18th Century after getting destroyed by fires and earthquakes.  The monastery is well visited, and very well kept in beautiful surroundings of the Rila mountains; see pics below

Rila mountain communities

Rila Monastery entranceway

Ceiling art in side monastery

Rila Monastery

Interesting doorways

Soviet era Fire trucks

About the Monastery

During our overnight stay in the town of Rila, we ate at an outdoor restaurant owned by this nice lady, who cooked us a great meal. No English; only sign language 🙂

Watering hole on the roadside in the middle of nowhere.

Such drinking places were found regularly along the roadsides; fresh water from the mountain springs

Next stop for us was Bansko. Bansko is the most popular ski resort in Bulgaria, located in a beautiful valley in the Pirin mountains

Bansko village

Traditionally dressed women in Bansko

Typical Mexana in Bansko; wonderful and cosy inside, with great food

Warm atmosphere inside the Mexana

Kebabs and Potatoes meal

From Bansko, we then drove south and stopped in Melnik, a historic old town a stone’s throw from the Greek border. Here, there were a lot of old historic buildings that were well preserved, as well as a great winery that we had to visit

Small town Melnik

Winery tour and wine tasting; in a cave/cellar in Melnik

Nearby Melnik; was a town called Rupite, which had open hot springs. So we had to stop here for a quick hot springs bath. Rupite is only 2 miles from the Greek border

Rupite church

Flora

Rupite Hotsprings

Rustic, basic and simple hot springs

From Rupite, we drove over the Pirin mountains to Yagodinska; which is famous for some very large and long marble cave system that runs for over 10kms and houses over 11 species of bats. Some scenes below on the way to Yagodinska and the caves

Yagodinska eatery

Scenic Yagodinska area

Ancient stone bridge, looks like something out of a postcard

In the Yagodinska caves, we hiked not the full 10.8kms, but a shorter 5km trail in the caves.

Yagodinska caves

More Yagodinska caves

Exit from Yagodinska caves

 

After Yagodina, we started making our way back to Sofia via another highway, the A1. Along the way, we came across many small towns, the most notable of which was Batak

Russian orthodox church in small town Batko

Senior Ladies club gathering in Batak

We then drove back to Sofia and then back to Dallas.

Bulgaria appeared to be getting out from under the cloud and protection of the Soviet era and appears to be set to expand, with plans to join the EU, and as a result, is a very attractive and cheap place for Europeans to visit. We did see a few mosques along the way, especially near the Yagodina and Batko areas, as these are closer to Turkey. We did go inside one of the mosques and apart from being a foreigner, we did not attract much attention. We stayed at small hotels along the way, gracefully arranged by our partner in Sofia. We did find that very few people spoke English along the way; the only exception being Bansko, which is a tourist destination.

All in all, a great experience.

This entry was posted in Bulgaria, Bulgaria Sept 2009, Europe

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