Leaving Sofia behind, we are on the road again. We have a new driver, who doesn’t speak a word of English – except perhaps ‘Rock On’ cause he’s wearing an ACDC shirt and apparently loves Led Zeppelin. He and Marco are best friends, Marco tells us, even though neither can speak the other’s language.
Rila Monastery was the most important orthodox monasteries in Bulgaria. World Heritage listed, it’s the largest, holiest and most impressive of Bulgaria’s monasteries, housed in a narrow and forested valley. It was founded in 927 by Ivan Rilski – known as Ivan the Hermit. The monastery was responsible for keeping Bulgarian spiritual and social life alive during its centuries of Turkish rule. It’s most treasured historic and artistic monuments include the 14th century Hrelyo Tower, the fire-domed Blessed Virgin Church and the original monastery kitchen from the 19th century.
The monastery is very interesting and definitely worth a visit.
There was also a really cool museum showcasing implements from the Monastery Farm in the 19th century.
Walking across the monastery grounds, for some reason I look down and realise I have just walked across a grave.
Leaving Rila, the landscape becomes decidedly more Mediterranean in appearance. It’s still a fair drive through the hills – another couple of hours – before we reach Gorno Draglishte.
Gorno Draglishte is a small mountain village, home to a delightful community of warm and welcoming people, a rich cultural heritage and delicious home-cooked food. We are staying at a local guesthouse – Guesthouse Deshka and you are made to feel welcome from the minute you walk in the door. ‘Please – eat the fruit off the trees’ the host gestures. Like Romania, fruit grows alongside the road and it’s a simple thrill being able to pick it fresh and eat it.
Marco takes us on a walk through the town, which due to its size, doesn’t take very long. It’s washing day and household rugs are hung to dry after being beaten clean in the large outdoor tub.
But the size of the town certainly has no bearing on how many local pubs there are in town. With several to choose from, we pick the quietest and fill up the seats, relaxing in the late afternoon sun.
On the way back from the pub, a small old lady comes up beside me, loops her arm through mine and starts talking to me. Again I am reminded how easy it is to communicate even though you don’t speak the same language and we work out between us our names – hers is Baba Lina – and that she lives here and I am staying at the guesthouse – all the things you find out about a person from a first conversation. We bid each other goodbye outside the guesthouse, me smiling away at the unexpected little encounter.
Arriving in the main room of the guesthouse for dinner a little while later, we are re-introduced to our host and take our seats at a long, u-shaped table. In the door come two old ladies – one of which is my new friend Baba Lina.
They are here to perform for us tonight, but first they serve up our delicious meal. Neither can speak a word of English but that doesn’t mean there is no life in the room. There is chatter and laughter filling the room.
Then the babas sit down to sing a few songs for us. Their voices, though not what most would call beautiful singing voices, were nonetheless clear and loud. Then it was time for dress-ups. Amanda, Susan and I were first to be bundled into beautiful traditional costumes and led back into the main room to dance in a circle for the others.
No matter the clothing though – we were still bogans through and through….
Another unexpectedly glorious day filled with the unexpected. Who knows what tomorrow will bring but I’ve never looked forward to the next day more.