We had a four day weekend in February so in September we decided we would go to Bulgaria. We booked our airline tickets on Expedia.ca for $612 each for airfare from Toronto to Sofia. We knew that we would be short on time so in order to see all the sights we wanted to see, I created a very detailed itinerary by the hour so that we would be sure to get everything in. Below is the itinerary.
As soon as we got the rental car, we drove out to the town of Rila which was about two hours from the Sofia airport. We had difficulty finding our hotel and drove around for quite a while trying to find it; the language barrier was no help. When we finally arrived, the restaurant was about to close so we ate what was available on the menu and headed off to bed. The accommodations were decent. My son had a pull-out couch in an anti-room so there was plenty of space for us all.
We got up early the next morning and drove out to Rila Monastery in order to walk through the gates as soon as it opened. Rila is considered the most famous monastery in Bulgaria and has well earned the honor. The murals are stunning as well as the setting and architecture. There is a resident dog that roams the property. If you’re afraid of dogs like I am, just be mindful of this detail.
From Rila, we set off on a three hour drive to the town of Plovdiv; truly a beautiful city with remnants of both the Roman and Turkish rule.
At the end of the city is the Roman theater that reminded me of so many of the ones I’ve seen around the world. These always make me marvel at the sheer size of the Roman Empire. Just up the street from the amphitheater, artists stalls are in place to sell lovely works of art. If you collect art on your travels, I would definitely recommend taking a look here.
After a relaxing lunch in one of the hip restaurants of Plovdiv, we drove out to the Buzludzha Monument. Freddy wrote about this in a separate post which can be found here if you’re interested in more details.
After we drove as far as we could, Freddy parked the car and hiked up to the monument. Neither my son nor I was dressed for hiking in the snow so we stayed back in the car.
The weather wasn’t cooperating with my itinerary at this point so we had to cancel our proposed visit to Veliko, Tarnovo and drive on Ruse before the roads got too bad. As it was we arrived to Ruse just in time to grab dinner before the restaurants closed. We dined in a traditional restaurant and had chicken kabobs. I found the food in Bulgaria to be rather bland and unremarkable. As we ate, a trio performed music and sang while people danced. When we returned to the hotel, the proprietor who was thrilled we were visiting from the US, opened up the hotel bar for us and chatted us up for hours about his trip to New York City.
When we set out of Ruse the following day, we pulled over to see Romanian on the other side of the Danube River.
Just a short drive from Ruse are the rock hewn churches. We were only able to drive out to two of them. When we got to the second one, we opted not to do the hike due to weather and time restraints. The church we did visit was Basarbovo. It was a joy to explore; watch your footing on the steps since they tend to be narrow and not consistent in height.
We drove out to Belogradchuk in a blizzard. The visibility was so poor that when we arrived at the sight, we could barely see it. We drove back to Sofia in horrible conditions. Our GPS put us on a detour that took hours through white knuckle driving through icy, winding roads that went through the mountains. I’m glad Freddy was driving had I been driving, I doubt we’d still be alive.
As we drove throughout the country, I snapped the following pictures to get a sense of what the country looks like overall.
On our final morning, we woke up early and set out to see the iconic site of Bulgaria the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky. The interior was beautiful, but since a service was in progress, I didn’t take any pictures of the interior.
Our final stop before heading back to the airport was the UNESCO site of Boyana Church. The church was built in the 10th century and enlarged in the 13th century. As a result, there are mural layers from each era. The church is an outstanding example of medieval art. Take your time looking at the details of the murals.
Thus we completed a whirlwind tour of Bulgaria again proving that one can travel frequently, briefly, and inexpensively.