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September 9th 2015
Published: June 8th 2017
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St. Ivan RilskiSt. Ivan RilskiSt. Ivan Rilski

He founded the monastery.
Geo: 42.7252, 25.4815

It was so quiet during the night, and I actually slept really well. The mattress wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The shower was … just a tiny corner of the tiny bathroom; there was either scalding water or lukewarm water. I chose lukewarm and only did a super-quick rinse. Will be happy to wash my hair tomorrow.

Walked out a little early to see the monastery empty. I was the only person out there for five minutes or so, and then people in the group started to join in. The monks were singing in the church, and the sun was trying to peek through the clouds. It was very peaceful.

We all went to breakfast at the same restaurant as last night. Going outside afterward, I looked down over a railing and spied a little black cat. I "pss-pss-pssed" at him; he looked up and meowed and started running up the path to come greet me. Sweet little thing, thin but not skinny. There are tons of stray cats around here. I'm a little afraid to touch any of them, but they sure are cute.

Stefan gave us a tour of the monastery, starting with the museum. The
Mountain waterMountain waterMountain water

Stefan says he always fills his water bottle up here.
most treasured item in the museum is a wooden cross that was intricately and painstakingly carved by a monk over a period of 12 years. He lost his sight after he finished the project. In the 1960s when Bulgaria defaulted, the Soviets came in and took every valuable thing they could find from the monastery as part of payback. They completely ignored the cross, of course, because there's no gold on it.

We got to see a 19th-century monk's cell, which was a heckuva lot more palatial than I would've expected. It had an entry hall, a room for cooking and storing food, and a second larger room for living and sleeping. There were beautiful cupboards and carpets, and sofas all around the walls. I was surprised to find that they would have lived in such comfort. We also saw 19th-century guest rooms that were reserved for important pilgrims. Larger than most modern living rooms, they were furnished like the monk's room, but with decorated walls and ceilings. There was also a recently opened room full of jewelry that had been left by grateful women (and men) over the centuries. My favorites were the large and heavy bracelets that women used as decoration, of course, but also like brass knuckles for protection.

We also climbed Hrelio's Tower. It sits next to the church and was built by a nobleman to be his own private chapel. We couldn't see much of the chapel itself, which is on the top floor, but the views from the windows were nice. It hurt more going down the extremely sleep stairs than it did going up. It feels like someone put a rubber ball inside my knee, and it feels like it might burst if I have to bend it more than 90 degrees.

Had lunch at the same restaurant again with Carl, Diana, Dale and Colleen. We had to rush, though, as we had to dash back to our rooms, get our luggage, cross the courtyard — a very rocky surface — and get loaded onto the bus. The drive back down the mountain was twisty, of course, but we were also surprised at how poor the highway was once we got back down to the foothills. We bumped and bumped and swayed along, and I feel lucky I didn't get sick.

After four hours, we stopped at the Bessa Valley Winery. This winery was founded by a French count sometime in the last decade or so. The workers are mostly Bulgarian, but there is a French consultant who manages the place. We had a little tour and learned about the French oak barrels in which the wine ages. They cost between 5000-8000 euros and are only used three times before being sold.

We tasted the winery's rosé, a young red, and an aged red. The rosé was very good, the young red tasted of berries and butter, and the mature red just tasted like alcohol to me. There was also bread, prosciutto and cheese, which was really, really tasty. Things got quite convivial. Our driver isn't allowed to drink a drop when he's on duty, so the winery gave him the tasting bottles that were still partly full.

We arrived in Plovdiv around 7:15. We are the Trimontium, which is currently owned by Ramada. It's a huge hotel with grand landings, though it looks a bit like an old lady who has gone to seed. Not that it's seedy, mind, it's just clear that it used to be a glamorous hotel and now isn't. My room is very big and has a delightful view of the parking
Monk's cell Monk's cell Monk's cell

19th century
lot, where there were some military police milling about when we first arrived.

At 7:40 we walked to dinner at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. I sat with Mark, Marcella, Lora and our driver, Kyril. Poor Kyril speaks only a few words of English, so he must have been bored to death. Though he did know the word "chicken" when we mimed flapping and clucked at him. (This was not random. We were trying to figure out if something on our plates was, indeed, chicken.) We were served the apparently mandatory shopska salad, chips, dolmas, stuffed cabbage leaves, a pork patty, and chicken shish kabob. An odd assortment but it worked. Dessert was an ice cream pie.

It's 10:30 now and I'm very tired. I'm not even sure if the wi-fi works, and I may be too sleepy to find out.

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10th September 2015

I'm sure enjoying your blog, and sharing it with my 95-year old friend in California, who also raves about your writing skills and enjoys reading it each day.
15th September 2015

HA! That monk's cell is nicer than a lot of places I've lived! (Yes, I'm still back on Ploviv.) I'm helping you recall the first part of your excursion...

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