Friday, September 23, 2016

Sofia

Gordon:  It took us two days to cycle from Vratsa to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.  We came via a beautiful secondary road up the Ishkar gorge.  At times it was reminiscent of cycling in B.C.: excellent road surfacing, light traffic, and a mountainous, treed landscape.  There was the odd 14th century monastery, however, to remind us that we were not in North America.





Sofia is an ancient city, but it suffered so much damage in the Second World War (news to me) that most of the buildings are relatively new.  Much of the built landscape could use a little work, but it is a pleasant and easy city to visit.  Of particular note for hungry cyclists is the availability of cheap and excellent food.  Restaurants tend to have lengthy menus, with an emphasis on various chunks of meat, but there is almost always a selection of pastas and pizzas.  While it may not be traditional Bulgarian food, their interpretations of Italian classics are generally excellent.  And who can argue with a half litre of beer that costs less than one euro?

We have visited a number of excellent monuments and museums during our time in Sofia.  This morning we went to the St. George Rotunda church, which was constructed in the 4th century.  It is a little hard to find, because it is almost completely surrounded by the Sheraton Hotel.  We should be grateful that the hotel did not demolish the church for a parking garage, because St. George is a jewel.  In the interior there are five laters of frescoes, and you can see them peeled back like layers on an onion.  Particularly notable are the 4th century frescoes, just because they are so old, and the 12th century ones, because they are surprisingly graceful and beautiful.


This afternoon we cycled 10 kms up the flank of Mount Vitosha (the 2200 metre peak just south of town) to visit the Boyana Church.  This is a tiny, 11th century church with UNESCO world heritage status.  The interior is completely covered with frescoes, one room painted in the 11th century, and the other in the 13th.  The UNESCO status was granted for the frescoes painted in 1259, which are thought to anticipate the Renaissance.




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