A Travellerspoint blog

Rila Monastery and Sofia

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Hi everyone! Still here in Sofia, waiting to take our night train.

On our second day in Sofia we decided to escape the city and go on the hostel tour to the Rila monastery. We almost went there on our own but decided to take the hostel excursion because we would have more time that way. Two other people we had met in the hostel also went with us so that was cool.

The ride over there was about 2.5 hours long. It wasn't bad and the scenery was interesting at points. Once we got there the driver passed the monastery and we had no idea why. It was really cool that he did, though, because he took us to a cave where St. John lived a hermit-like existence. We got to the cave after about a 10 minute hike, which wasn't bad at all compared to the other hike we did a few days ago.

The cave was super duper dark and the little flashlight the driver had wasn't very helpful. At the end of the cave, we had to climb up and go through this tiny hole that even I had a hard time getting through. After that, we got some water from the springs and the driver took us to the monastery.

I decided to wear a sleeveless shirt because it was so hot, but it didn't cross my mind that I would have to cover up for the monastery. As soon as we walked to the gate, I saw the signs saying that I couldn't go in the way I was dressed and the guard shook his head at me. Thankfully, these two ladies from Hong Kong, who also went on the trip with us, had an extra jacket they were able to lend me, otherwise I would have missed it!!

The monastery was beautiful. The outside is completely covered in murals depicting different scenes from the Bible. Inside was very nice as well. It was so peaceful and tranquil. Definitely a nice escape from the city. After we checked out the monastery we went to have an authentic Bulgarian lunch with our hostel friends.

We both had trout and I had some stuffed peppers, which were awesome. I slept part of the way back to Sofia and then we just relaxed the rest of the day.

Today we decided to check out the Woman's Market, which pretty much reminded me of the flea market in Miami. But we were able to find nice things at very cheap prices.

My thoughts on Sofia:
- was pretty weirded out when we first got here because everything is written in the Cyrillic alphabet and we kept running into sex shops everywhere
- people are extremely nice and willing to help you even if they can't understand you
- the more I've walked around the city, the more I like it. It's very chill and you can find anything you want here
- cheap, cheap, cheap!!!!
- awesome ice cream

That is all! We're heading to Bucharest tonight and then on to Transylvania!

Posted by wetabixkid 06:40 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (1)

First day in sofia and free pasta and beer

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We finally made it to sofia after that long train ride. We were extremely disoriented upon getting here and although we saw the tram we had to take to get to our hostel we decided to treat ourselves and cab it.

When the driver dropped us off at our destination it wasn't very obvious where exactly this place was. The directions said we had to go trough a small metal door and ring a bell but the door we saw was open and there was no bell to ring. We went in and encountered stairs upon stairs that led to what appeared to be business offices. It was hard to tell since they don't use a latin alphabet here but a cyrillic one and it's completely bewildering. If you want to see what writing looks like here go here

http://5ko.free.fr/bg/cyr.html

Anyways we figured this wasn't the place and went down the stairs and headed out, a couple of doors down we finally found the small metal door and we made it!! Upon first look the hostel looked extremely weird since it was the back of an old run down building and a patch of dirt filled with kittens!! lol It seems cats are following around.

The hostel turns out to be awesome though. It's housed in a restored super old building that has been used as a guesthouse for centuries and the staff are extremely helpful. It is very well organized and everything is catered to making your stay easier. The girl at the front gave us a map and explained how to get to the different hightlights.

We took a shower and headed out to check out Sofia. The city itself is not what I would call beautiful but it has its charm. There are many run down ugly communist era buildings but also nice parks and the downtown area has nice monuments and beautiful ancient orthodox churches. We visited a couple fo the churches and even saw a little boy being baptized. We also went to a museum that had impressive greek and roman era ruins and art that are very well preserved. You can see writings and deeds from the first centuries of roman settlers of this area.

We also went to McDonalds and had a burger. It was super funny dealing with the cashier because believe it or not in bulgaria you shake your head yes and nod your head no. Even though I knew this I still did it wrong and she had to make sure whether I wanted ketchup or not haha!

After a long day of walking around we headed back to the hostel. Everynight the hostel provides all its guests with a free bowl of pasta and a glass of beer. The pasta isn't that great but hey it's free. The hostel is pretty full at the moment with people from every corner of the world. We all gathered in front of a tv and watched the final of the world cup. The game wasn't all that but the company was great and it was funny to experience it in this environment.

Tomorrow we are taking a day trip to Rila Monastery which is suppossed to be awesome so that will be next!!

Posted by stanncie 13:26 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Princes Islands and Good-bye Istanbul

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On our last day in Turkey, we decided to visit Buyukada, the largest of the Princes Islands. Getting there wasn't difficult. We just hopped on a ferry and enjoyed the ride. There were a lot of vendors on the ferry selling bread, some type of wafers, and, of course, Turkish coffee and tea. After about 2 hours we finally arrived at our destination.

The island is beautiful, full of Victorian style houses. There are few cars there. I only saw police cars and a few small trucks. Everyone seems to get around on foot, bike, or horse carriages. The main reason we decided to go to Buyukada was to visit St. George's Monastery. According to our guide book, the monastery was about an hour hike away. Most people who were heading in that direction hired the carriages, but we're crazy and just decided to walk the whole way.

The walk was nice and peaceful and there was beautiful scenery. It was nice seeing all the huge houses and watching the horses gallop past us. After about 40 minutes we reached Luna Park where we had our picnic. The hardest part of the walk was next. The monastery was about 20 minutes away, but we had to walk up an extremely steep hill. To make matters worse, it was very hot that day and there was no shade.

When we finally reached the top, we went inside a little church that was extremely ornately decorated. Outside, there were papers with prayers written on them attached to the tree branches. Overall, it was a very relaxing atmosphere up there. Of course, the way down was a breeze and after we made it back to the dock area, we had a nice lunch.

The rest of the day was spent riding the ferry back to Istanbul and getting our stuff ready to catch the night train to Sofia.

The train ride to Sofia was a whole adventure in itself. First of all, we couldn't find any information about what track the train was running on. When we asked the man in the ticket booth, he just told us to wait in a nearby area. Eventually, some man approached us telling us to get on a bus. We were telling him that we were taking the train when another man who spoke better English came up and told us that we had to take a bus for the first 100 km and then we would transfer to the train. Thank goodness he came up to us or we would have missed the train!

The train itself was tiny and we were in a 3 person sleeper. Our travel companion was a Turkish woman in her early 60s who was backpacking by herself. The beds were comfortable enough, but we had to get up and go out of the train at 3 AM to go through border control on the Turkish side. On the Bulgarian side, the border police went to your room so at least we didn't have to get up.

Dealing with border police was annoying, but we finally made it to Sofia!!!

Posted by wetabixkid 10:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Palace, Bazaars and Creepy Men

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Hey everyone!

We are in Bulgaria now but still catching up to the past few days.

On our second full day in Istanbul we went to Topkapki Palace which is where the Sultan and his family lived during the Ottoman Empire. It has beautiful objects, mostly jewels which are breathtaking. We also visited the Harem where up to 200 concubines lived at one time. It was extremely interesting and well worth the ticket.

We headed to the Bazaar next but before that we got lost in this neighborhood that seemed to be all about underwear! There were these narrow streets all lined with stores selling all sorts of undergarments from pajamas to panties and bras. It went on forever and we thought we would never be able to get out of underwear city.
Thankfully we found our way out somehow and visited the Grand Bazaar which is very nice and where you can get all sorts of goods. We also visited the Spice Bazaar where they sell teas, spices and sweets. It was awesome!

Next we made our way to the dock area where we saw the cruise ships docked and we visited another Mosque. It was similar to the Blue Mosque but I don't know much about Mosque architecture or decorations so who knows. We walked around the water's edge and had a nice time. They sell this pretzel like bread here everywhere along with corn and nuts.

One last thing before I go. This city is awesome but the men in it are super creepy. It's like they don't know how to treat women unless they are all covered and stare and look and are inapprpriatate. We have since found out that all men are like this in the middle east and such from other travelers

Well until next time.

Posted by stanncie 07:45 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Walkıng around Istanbul

semi-overcast 77 °F

As you can see we are tryıng to catch up to the last few days.
On our fırst full day ın the cıty Brenda and I decıded to hıt the most ımportant sıghts.

We had a yummy breakfast at the hostel and headed out by foot. The hostel ıs rıght at the center of everythıng and ıt's very easy to get around. BTW there are tons of cats here and most of them very frıendly. They defınetely need a spay and neuter program here.

We started wıth Hagıa Sophıa or Aya Sofıa as ıt's called here and ıt's awesome. As Brenda saıd we are takıng tons of pıcs so you wıll have to see those later. We then headed to the Arasta Bazaar whıch had a lot of ınterestıng knıcknacks. Thıs ıs not the maın bazaar though, that wıll be later.

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The Blue Mosque was next. We put our head coverıng on, took our shoes off and headed ın. They gıve you these plastıc bags to put your shoes ın before you enter. There are also lots of fountaıns outsıde the Mosques where people wash theır feet before goıng ın. The mosque ıs very nıcely decorated and the men and women have dıfferent sectıons for prayıng.

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We then vısıted the Hıppodrome where ın byzantıne tımes horse races were conducted and many publıc events took place. It now just looks lıke a park and there's a huge egyptıan obelısk ın the mıddle datıng back from egyptıan tımes. We also toured a small sectıon of a museum here but only the free part. It was all about fountaıns and waterworks ın ancıent Istanbul. There's tons of hıstory here everywhere as ıt ıs a very ancıent cıty.

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Posted by stanncie 23:21 Archived in Turkey Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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