After two days of heavy driving we slowed down today. Rila Monastery was one of our must see destinations when we planned our trip. On the way into Bulgaria we skipped it to get to Sofia, and planned to make it our last stop in Bulgaria. So we carried out that plan today.
On our way out of town we stopped across the street to give François a bath. For some reason Greece does not have the automatic car washes that you see in most countries, so we took advantage of it to give François a good bath.
Driving down the A3 we were as usual one of the slowest vehicles on the autoway, but as we were leaving a tunnel a police officer gave us the signal to pull over to the side. Officer Petrov introduced himself and told me we were speeding in the tunnel because the speed limits in tunnels are 90. He then told me we were going 107, which didn’t seem right as I had the cruise control set at 97 (which I recognize is more than 90, but three cars had passed us in the tunnel). After checking our documentation he told me he was going to let us go with a warning. I had read that the Bulgarian police like to pull foreign vehicles over to check the documentation and this seems more likely as the reason we were flagged. Once he found our documents in order he sent us on our way. By the way, Officer Petrov was extremely professional throughout the encounter.
The rest of the drive was uneventful. After we parked we decided we needed to hustle as it looked like rain.
The monastery is in a beautiful mountain setting. It was founded in the late 900’s by a monk who is the patron saint of Bulgaria. When Bulgaria was in the Ottoman Empire Rila Monastery was the center of the Christian faith in Bulgaria. It is one of the most visited places in Bulgaria, and is very important cultural heritage site to modern Bulgarians.
Today the majority of the visitors were elementary school students. Like most kids of that age, the beautiful buildings were secondary to the cool snacks available on site. The cool snack today was a sweet bread called Monks Bread. For 1 Lei it was a good bargain and I bought one and it was delicious. I shared a bite with Ton and to my surprise she really liked it and asked me to get another for her. But when I got back a couple of classes of students had beat me there so we could not get another.
The exterior walls are massive and were originally developed for fortification. These days they have been converted into rooms for the monks. Some of the rooms have now been converted into a hotel which would be an interesting place to spend a night.
The monastery is one of the most beautiful buildings we have visited in the Balkans. I think we were lucky because it was not too busy so we got to take our time going thru and really enjoying the art.
The rain was coming so we headed down to our campground which was located a couple of kilometers away. As we were negotiating the last couple of hundred meters to the campground we came across a log truck loading. We got to see them use the lift on the back of the truck to load the last couple of logs before the log truck driver and I did some fancy driving so we could squeeze by each other.
When we arrived we were the only customers on site. Right after we settled the skies opened up and we ended up spending most of the rest of the day hunkered down in François listening to the rain.
We had another encounter with a snake today. We were standing next to François looking at the river when Ton looked down and jumped. At her feet there was a small snake. After all of our years camping we had never encountered snakes, but we have had two snake encounters in Bulgaria!