Rila Mountains & Bulgaria’s largest Monastery

Rila Mountains & Bulgaria’s largest Monastery

Off the beaten track – Sofia

Yesterday we started our hiking tour in the Rila Mountains. Today, we will continue that before we visit Bulgaria’s largest Monastery in the Rila Mountains since the weather is just not playing along. This is also the last day of this adventure.

Sofia, Monday, June, 25, 2018

Do I have to go now?

My last day of this fantastic tour has come – but there is no time to be sad right now, there are still some more hours left! For the moment I am snuggling back into my bed, trying to keep warm. It has been so freaking cold in this hut tonight, even four wool blankets could not keep me warm.

A knock on my door, the others are already downstairs waiting for breakfast. I better face the cold and get up now. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one freezing. We all did. Sleeping bags could have helped, well next time.

Hiking the Rila Mountains again

After a satisfying breakfast, we are ready to leave. If only it hadn’t started to rain when we came out of the hut. Yea, it must be heaven being sad about me leaving this beautiful country so soon. Thankfully it is nothing but a short shower of rain before we can finally start our hiking tour along the lakes.

Twin Lake - Rila Mountains
Twin Lake

Seven Rila Lakes

All seven Rila Lakes are connected with each other, the last (or first one) feeding into the Dzherman River (Bulgarian: Джерман река). The Rila Mountains are the highest mountain range of the Balkan peninsula, with its maximum elevation of 2925 meters reached by Musala’s peak (Bulgarian: Мусала). They, as well as the Rhodopes, and the Pirin Mountains (Bulgarian: Пирин) belong to the Macedonian-Thrakian Massiv. 

The name Rila actually derives from an old Bulgarian verb рып meaning to grub.

The lakes here are all of a glacial origin and have therefore stunning clear water.

Reflections in Rila Lakes
Reflections in Rila Lakes

Change of Plans

We aren’t quite as lucky with the weather as we would have liked, but not as unlucky as we could have been either. 

Every lake and every waterfall offers new chances for photos, which we gladly take. Yet at the shore of Twin Lake (Bulgarian: Близнака езеро) Karin and Evo seem to discuss other options than hiking around all seven lakes. I hear Evo mentioning the Rila Monastery – back at home, I did not dare to read about it, as it was clearly part of the Southern Loop. When I express my interest in going there, Karin tells me I would have to hike seven days over the mountains to get to the monastery. OK, I’ll take Evo with me then, no problem. Somehow she does not seem to like that; I don’t know why.

Still, we change our plans, shortening our hiking tour and turning toward the lift at Kidney Lake (Bulgarian: Бъбрека езеро) so we can include the Rila Monastery too.

If only the weather played along
If only the weather played along

Bulgaria’s largest Monastery in the Rila Mountains

Another ride in the chairlift and some car driving later and we arrive at the largest of the Bulgarian Monasteries. An impressive complex, visited by far more tourists than the other monasteries that I have had a chance to visit during this tour.

Rila Monastery - Bulgaria's largest Monastery in the Rila Mountains
Rila Monastery

A little bit of history of the Rila Monastery

The Monastery dates back to the 10s century and is closely related to St. Ivan of Rilski, the first Bulgarian hermit, who devoted his life to fasting and prayers.

The original buildings were destroyed by a fire at the beginning of the 19s century and rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. The tower, called Hrelyo’s Tower (Bulgarian: Кулата Хрелю), dates back to 1335 and is now the oldest building of the cloister.

Photography Challenges

Phil challenges me to take different approaches to the subjects during our walk around the complex, which makes it slightly easier to not get entirely overwhelmed by the cloister. It also helps me to not just take the “standard tourist photos” so many people before I have made.

A different approach to photography
A different approach to photography
South Side of the Birth of the Virgin Mary Temple
South Side of the Birth of the Virgin Mary Temple

Inside the Birth of the Virgin Mary Temple

Once more, I am dumbfounded by the beautiful architecture and frescoes.

Yet, when Karin and I finally visit the inside of the Birth of Virgin Mary Temple (Bulgarian: Рождество Богородично), all the golden decorations are a bit too much for my taste. I prefer the frescoes and icons of the Troyan and the Bachkovo monastery, which also had more of a community feeling than the Rila Monastery.

Unfortunately, photography inside the temple is not permitted.

Final Frame - Rila Mountains and Bulgaria's largest Monastery
Final Frame

Time to go home

My two-week introduction to Bulgaria comes to an end, with our last shared dinner. We are having dinner in the very same restaurant in Sofia than when we first started our journey. Evo and I are desperately trying to find a loophole to allow me to stay longer. I just wished we’d find one… But it seems we are stuck with my next visit not being before 2020. More than 800 days from now. That seems so long to wait for. I’ll have to find a way to come back earlier than that!

By the time this article is published on my blog, I have already been back for a second – even shorter – visit and should be busy planning for the third one. Unless, of course, we find a better way before that. 

Nevertheless, I miss the company of these people every single day. The smiles, the quotes, the laughter, but also the challenges, and yes, even the bruises and bites. I would not want to have missed out on any of this! Thank you once more, Karin, for finding me!

A journey comes to an end – but nobody said I could not return 🙂 I cannot wait for more shared meals, teamwork, and Bulgarian food! And until then, I’ll learn some Bulgarian!



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