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Maria and Gerry’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 24 Jun 2006

Location: Bulgaria

MapThis morning our Bulgarian guide who had joined the group last night took us on a tour of central Sofia.Being a Saturday traffic was light.Its a city of 2mill souls and traffic can be hectic.We visited one church which was partially below ground for the Turkish occupiers decreed that no church could be taller than a mosque.Also seen were Roman ruins near the Sheraton Hotel,the eternal flame for the unkwown soldier and the bare plinth were once a statue to a communist dictator had stood.
We then drove to Ryla Monostary some 75km away.This is a UN World Heritage Site up in the mountains a little cooler than Sofia and it was raining as well. During the centuries of Turkish occupation the place became a beacon of Bulgarian culture and at one stage had hundreds of monks, now down to about 80.
It was started in 927 and we saw a number of fine-art students repainting the icons in the church. The whole structure is square with thick outside walls, heavy gates and comprises about 4 levels each with a gallery. A lot of timber is used on the inside. After coffe and two lots of yummy chicken wings set off to explore the place for it is rather big.Whereas up to now the umbrella had been used as parasol now it became a paraplui.The renovation was going ahead as wella s the aforeto mentioned repainting.The inside of orthodox churches have every available space painted with icons all in the same style and all following the same placements of people with minor variations which have to be pointed out to the unpractised eye.
In the church was buried the head of Bulgarias last king,his body was disintered by the commies and thrown in the river but for some reason they missed his head which had been separated from his body when he was assasinated.He diplomatically allowed the Germans access through his country on the promise that they did not deport any jews,gypsies etc.Hitler actually kept that promise
There was a small museum exhibiting a variey of weapons used by mercenaries to protect the monks from bandits,old parchnenrs,vestments and other church and ceremonial paraphanalia.It was pointed out that parts of the church were constructed using Roman material so you see recycling is not a new concept.
Our trip back into Sofia took some time as we got stuck behind a big rig carrying an enormous cylinder.Our last visit was to the Boyan Church also on the World Heritage list and built in three stages starting in the 900's,the second part in the 1300's and the last with no archtectural merit in the 1800's.Again Roman material was used.
A really small church as only a dozen of us could enter at the time.
Noted some really big redwood trees in the church grounds and was able to give the non Californian Americans a dendrology lesson.They looked exactly like the ones in NZ.
That evening we experienced a Bulgarian Folklore presentation which was to have finished with fire walking but rain put a stop to that.
The food was delicious and in the Turkish and Greek style which is common in the Balkans not suprising considering how long the Turks were colonial masters there.
Among the musical instruments used was a big drum and a type of bagpipe with air provided by a a bellow held under the arm. Maria volunteered to join in the dances and was outfitted in a regional costume.Very fetching!!! An excellent evening out.