My fantastic hostel in Sofia recommended that I go on a day-trip out to a monastery at nearby Rila. Actually, the guy suggesting it said that there’s a sacred cave out there, and by passing through it you’ll be cleansed of your sins. He said that I seemed like I needed a bit of cleansing. There may have been winking.
In the end, there were five of us heading out, necessitating two taxis. It was myself, three French guys and one miniature German girl. Ramona and I went in one taxi, with the three guys in the other. Luckily, our driver spoke Russian as well as Bulgarian, which Ramona and I could each speak to some extent. So I had a couple of hours of Russian practice each way, huzzah.
We got out to the monastery, and as it turns out, one of the French guys was some kind of ex-religious scholar, and told us all about the things we were seeing. Which were a bit messed up, to be fair: the monastery was Orthodox (I think? It was very different to Russian and Greek Orthodox churches), but covered with paintings which would terrify even the most devout Catholic. Think scenes of torture and degradation. Charming!
Once we’d had a good look around, we went for a bit of a walk up a nearby road to see if we could get a good view, while the guys threw snowballs at one another. And then, spontaneously and with no prior discussion, we all climbed a steep hill and went for a hike in the snow. It was well past my knee, and on Ramona it was waist-high! Plus we were all wearing jeans and slip-on shoes. Seriously though—great life choice, it was so much fun! Though sadly, my jeans didn’t survive the adventure: I fell through some snow into a tree, got my foot hooked under a branch, the rest of me slid down a hill, and I ended up not only trapped but with my jeans ripped the whole way up. When Xavier came down to assist me, he spent at least two minutes laughing at me and my arse in the snow before he could bring himself to help.
On the walk, we encountered a wild dog and her adorable cubs, an abandoned shack, and apparently a new kind of monkey: the French guys climbed up some very unsafe-looking trees to take a photo of the monastery. Haha I think the shot from ground level was just fine!
Being as we were not on anything remotely resembling a track, we had some difficulties getting back to ground level. The others all got to jump off a high wall into a snowdrift, but because of my back I couldn’t 🙁 So instead I found somewhere to climb.
That night back in Sofia, it all got a little crazy. We were drinking in the hostel, then I ended up with the French guys (and five more of their friends) at a nearby bar. Wait, when I said it got a little ‘crazy’, I probably should have said ‘hazy’: memories are understandably indistinct! I recall that at the bar, asking for rakia (the local spirit), the bartender asked me whether I wanted a ‘little’ or ‘big’ one. Challenge accepted! So there was lots of that. I remember the French guy I was talking to (whose name I, again in typically good form, never bothered to ask) learned I was travelling by myself and was shocked. He asked me whether I was scared to be in a bar with eight guys whom I didn’t know, and I asked him whether I had something to be scared of? People were forever asking me that question on my Bloc Trip—’aren’t you scared?’—I mean, how does one respond to that?
Next it was off to some bar the guys had heard of in the student district. I presume we caught a taxi. We must have. Wait, by squinting a bit I can just about remember—I think I had to give directions to the driver in Russian, because he only spoke Russian/Bulgarian, and the guys only spoke French/English/some German. Whoa, it’s all coming back to me now.
Anyway, we got to the club and it was all a bit crazy. The music was Western music from circa 2000 (Linkin Park, whaaaat), and it was the same price for one bottle of vodka as three. So we had three bottles of Absolut on the table, and only two litres of juice (which I’d insisted on). Every time I turned away to talk to someone, the French guy I’d been talking to earlier in the night would pour extra vodka into my drink (I have deadly peripheral vision), and when I turned back around I’d pour more juice in. Didn’t think through ratios too well though did I, and sometime after completely forgetting English (I have this theory that after dealing with only French and Russian all day, then copious quantities of alcohol, my brain threw its hands up in the air and went ‘fuck this shit’), became crying drunk (probably not the French guy’s plan?!) and sent myself home. God, the poor taxi driver: I was completely incoherent. He gave me tissues though. Man I’d hate to be a taxi driver.
So that was Rila-day. Epic.