As sunny beach isn’t exactly the culture capital of the world I thought I should probably try to see another part of Bulgaria to get a better feel of the country. I hopped on a flight and headed to the capital Sofia. I was staying at a nice cheap hostel called Hostel Mostel (finally somewhere cheap in europe!). It has to be up there with one of the best hostels I have stayed at. There was an AMAZING free breakfast PLUS free dinner and a beer every night for only $17. It was awesome and had a really nice common area that everyone hung out in so was easy to make friends.
I made friends with a Turkish guy that was staying in my room who I was kinda in awe of. He was in his first year out of uni and was one of only 3 emergency doctors in a hospital with a total of only 6 drs, working on the border of Syria, Turkey and Iraq with a population of 140,000 people!! I couldn’t get over it! He said they did 24hr shifts and he would normally be the only Dr. on when he was working. I hope I never get sick in Turkey!!
After our awesome free dinner and meeting a few more people in the hostel we were off for a pub crawl. It was a pretty good night and we ended up at some ok pubs but one was super pretentious and we didn’t really fit in there. We ended the night with possibly one of the greatest kebabs I have ever had!!
It was time to see some of the sights so we went to join a free walking tour. I have to admit I found it hard to keep up with all the dates and rulers (roman, Ottoman, communists) but our guide did a pretty good job of trying to explain it all. There are so many ruins in Bulgaria and every time they try to build something they discover more, so each train station has a little museum of what they have found there. They have recentlyish discovered a massive roman city that they are now trying to restore to turn into an outdoor museum thing that you can walk through. If they manage it will be very cool. My favourite story though of the tour though was how the king during WWII saved their jewish population. Apparently the people in Bulgaria had heard what was happening to the jewish people from other countries and had massive protests so the king just kept delaying sending them by saying he needed them in Bulgaria to build things. He even went as far as sending a train full of them to Germany, but when they got near the border said he needed them back for something. True Bulgarian procrastination.
It was finally time to check out the must see of Sofia (I only found out about this place when I got there) Rila Monastery. It was up in the mountains and about an hours drive from Sofia. The hostel organised our transport there so it was pretty easy to get there. We were in an old beat up taxi that turned into a sauna as our driver didn’t want the windows down, so it wasn’t the most comfortable trip. We started off at a cave that a monk, St John of Rila (or St Ivan… he appears to have 2 names), lived as a hermit for 7 years. His desciples ended up building a church near the cave and eventually built the monastery which is now Rila Monastery. The monastery itself was pretty cool. There was a beautifully painted church in the middle and then the monks quarters and museums all the way around it. You can actually stay the night here as they have a mini hotel in one of the buildings. Not sure how much it is but did seem like a cool thing to do.
I really wish I had more time to explore a bit more of Bulgaria as it had loads of things to see and was so cheap!! Would def recommend it to anyone wanting to check out eastern Europe/ the Balkans (a term I had never heard of until now).