Painted Monastery and Spikey Hoodoos

Rila Monastery is a unesco world heritage site and definitely on our agenda for Bulgaria. As we drove towards it we saw a sign advertising Stob’s Pyramids, so we turned off to check them out. The village of Stob was really sweet, everyone seemed to have a grapevine that spread over the pathway creating a shady canopy. The pyramids were what we would call Hoodoos. They’re formed from wind and rain eroding a certain type of rock or probably clay. They begin with almost ridge-lines spreading out like fingers, then parts collapse and others remain, leaving freestanding pillars and spikes.

We’ve seen hoodoos before at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and it still remains one of my favourite places. There were thousands of them, all of varying shades of red, orange and cream.

Stob’s were on a very small scale in comparison but still a beautiful burnt orange colour which created a great contrast with the surrounding forested hills, the patchwork pastures below and the snow capped mountains in the distance.

A few of the hoodoos had rocks balancing atop them, some were football size, while others defied gravity and were bigger than a yoga ball. Eventually they’ll collapse and new hoodoos will form. There’s a local legend about the pyramids; apparently there was a wedding procession, but the best man tried to kiss the bride. The in-laws were so outraged by the sinful act that they literally turned to stone where they stood, including their stone hats!

We continued driving through the valley to Rila Monastery. It was built in 927, over 1000 years ago, and heavily restored in 1469. The outside looked more like a prison, with stone walls rising 4 stories. As you stepped through the archway though, it was a beautiful sight and straight away I said ‘definitely worth the drive!’. It was quite spectacular, the outside wall we’d just seen were the foundations for the living quarters which made a wonky square shape with a large courtyard in its centre. Black and white painted pillars and archways curved around every level, creating hallway style balconies around the building. In the middle lay the reason everyone visits here; the church itself. It also had the zebra print pillars and arches, but the main building was painted in thin red and white stripes. It had large domed roofs with yellow edges and slim windows.

Inside the archways were incredible paintings. Similar to Lainici Monastery in Romania, but these ones seemed to tell more of a story and were brighter colours, if that was possible. The whole nativity scene was painted in the 1830’s and were in mint condition. There were mini domed sections where circular paintings looked down on you. The scenes seemed to be of saints saving people from the devil. Hell had a grotesque creatures mouth, wide open with flames shooting out. Devils with wings and horns were pulling people on chains into the mouth and down to hell.

One wall was a comic strip style with 20 square paintings, in rows of 5 depicting heaven and hell meeting. Heaven had a pretty angel and hell had a dark, feral devil. They seemed to be passing a piece of paper to each other. Maybe the angel was passing a noise complaint to the devil.

The inside of the monastery was rather dark, it was full of gold and brass decorations and anything left was painted with more Saints. There was a huge, HUGE gold chandelier in the centre, it was a little tacky…there I said it.

The monastery was in a stunning location. Surrounded by steep forested slopes and a couple of peaks were visible. You could tell it was a major attraction, as for the first time in over a month, or more actually, were Chinese tourists! The Chinese always know the best places to go and always do a great job of getting in your photo.

The next day we drove back down the same road and pulled off when we spotted a load of vintage cars. We couldn’t work out if it was a museum, a private collector, or a major hoarder. There were some lovely old cars, including a BMW that was smaller than a mini, with curved edges and the door was at the front! It was so odd, a little bubble car.

Inside were old tv’s, radios, motorbikes, record players and type writers. And outside among the cars were petrol pumps, rusty tools, irons, moose and deer antlers, tuk tuks, signs posts and a gorgeous dog that spent most of her time on her hind legs jumping up and playing with us.

Now that’s a road I like to drive, three attractions in one!






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