September 26, 2016
Ruth: After leaving Sofia we followed the Iskar River into the stunning Rila Mountains. I should mention that before making it to the city limits my beloved Pocket Earth navigation app took us on a road into a very impoverished neighbourhood. We waited patiently for the pack of dogs chasing the pony cart to pass before retracing our steps to Kansas. 
The forests and mountains of Bulgaria are wild and beautiful. Our route was partially dictated by the location of available accommodation because it was Bulgaria’s Independence Day long weekend. We stayed our first night at Alec’s guest house in Samokov. The owner, also a cyclist, gave us a welcome that made us feel like we were long lost family members. His wife explained that he just really feels a love and bond with cyclists.  He proudly showed us his collection of bikes and told us that his dream is to cycle around the world one day. When breakfast arrived the next morning it was the most splendid spread I have ever encountered. Crepes piled high with bread, cheese, meat, cucumbers, tomatoes! Perfect!
We wanted to visit the Rila Monastery but the cycling logistics were a bit daunting. In particular, it would have involved a climb of 1000 meters. We cycled instead to Blagoevgrad where we were able to take a bus and taxi up to see the most beloved place in Bulgaria. We arrived in the morning and had the place virtually to ourselves. At 1200 meters it was cold and the sun was just creeping down the walls. 

This place is pure magic for Gord. The Rila Monastery is not only set in a stunning, narrow valley surrounded by peaks of up to 2900 meters, but it also has some excellent last judgement murals depicting the horrendous consequences of bad behaviour. For some unexplained reason my husband has always delighted in these. 

I did steal the camera to take some shots of some of the “happier” murals  which cover the exterior of the church.

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