Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rila Monastery and a Really Bad Train Ride

Today we had a tour to another mountain monastery. Apparently the mountains are a good place to hide monasteries. I was a little concerned that this trip would cover the same ground as the little one in Cyprus but they weren't even in the same class.

Ivan of Rila, founder of the monastery

Rila Monastery

I liked god's triangular halo.

I think this is a list of naughty things you shouldn't do.

The monastery is surrounded by the monk's little hobbit holes.

We got to go in one. There was a big room where the master monk lived and a small room where his apprentice lived.

gift shop

We passed through a little town and our guide drew our attention to the fact that every house was growing grapes in their yard to make wine or rakia with.

We had a nice little lunch overlooking the river. Our guide recommended the trout so I had the grilled one and Lydia got the fried. They had some soups on the list in our book so we had to try those. One was tarator, which is a cold yogurt based soup with herbs and stuff in it. I got tripe soup which was actually pretty good, but I mostly avoided the actual tripe. I was really searching for the book's mention of stomach soup, which I guess is served out of an actual stomach, but understandably that proved hard to locate.

Yet again the restaurant man said that the credit card machine was "broken" so I punished them by not ordering any drinks.

Somewhere along the way I found a little 50 stotinki coin. I like picking up money off the ground. I'm weird. Anyway in the US the game ends there. I keep the coins in a jar and eventually deposit them in the bank and the rich get richer.

Here though the coins have little use and I don't want to be lugging a bag full of dirty metal across the world. So I have to find a suitable investment for my treasure. Beggars are contrary to my sense of capitalism but on the walk home I kept an eye out for street musicians. They weren't at their usual corner haunts so that was a bust. I looked at the occasional cafe's street menu but the only thing I kept seeing for 50 stinkies was кафе which I assume is coffee and that's not really my jam. (Finally learning all of those stupid Greek letters in college is coming in handy). Oh well.

As we neared our train's platform we were accosted by a train employee in dirty blue overalls whose first statement to us was "no sleeping". My first reaction was one of insult, like if you think I would close both of my eyes at the same time in this rathole then you don't know me very well. He snatched our tickets and led us to our train, only two cars long, and repeated the "no sleeping" and I realized he meant there was no sleeping car. We had been offered sleeping car tickets for purchase at the station but decided against it. I'm glad we did because those seats seemed to not exist.

He lead us to our little compartment and motioned to our seats which were occupied by two rough looking old ladies. He motioned and hit them with some Bulgarian to which I'm going to say their reply was, "No, I'm old and mean and I'll sit wherever I want. Bulgarian, Bulgarian." We just sat in the seats opposite them because if there's one thing I hate more than arguing it's Balkan Peninsular arguing.

I went to retrieve our tickets from Overalls and he mumbled something about wanting a coffee. Again I was confused by his Yoda riddles and was thinking "yeah bro, give me my damn tickets back and then you can go take a coffee bath for all I care!" but then figured out that he wanted a tip. The sort of tip that you don't have much choice but to cough up. So I dug around in my pocket and pulled out... that dirty little coin I'd been trying to get rid of all day! On one hand it was a "suck on the lowest value monetary instrument I've encountered in your country!" but on the other hand I know for a fact it will buy a coffee. Everybody's a winner.

A Brazilian girl with decent English sat next to us and we shared a laugh at how sketchy this train was. She said she'd paid for first class so the lesson I've learned is to not pay any extra money for tickets because you're just going to be squashed in with everyone else anyway.

I helped one of the crabby ladies with her bag and offered everyone some of our cookies to improve international relations. I think they appreciated the effort. The train lurched forward and our journey had begun. The view was pretty nice and the setting sun shined through the graffiti tinted train windows. A guy in our section began rolling a cigarette but mercifully he walked to one end of the train unseen before lighting it.

One little nag in the back of my mind was that the little country stations we were stopped at were pretty poorly labeled and no announcements were ever made so I wasn't sure we'd know which was our stop. We were boarded by Bulgarian border police as this is one of those countries that wants to stamp you on your way out as well as in. They collected everyone's passports in a big pile and then looked at them someplace else. When the officer took mine he took forever looking at my picture. Had me turn my head, and then asked for another picture ID. Later when they were handing them back they did more picture looking and conferred with each other and laughed a bit before handing it back. Very strange.

We were stopped again this time by the Serbian authorities who went through the whole process all over again. Finally we started moving only to stop again not much farther. The old ladies got up and were gathering their bags, then sort of motioned for us to follow them. What the heck.

We all got on a bus that probably had half as many seats as people. Apparently there was something wrong with the train or the track because now this bus was driving to each train station and people were getting on and off. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. The old people were especially mean. Lydia kept having little tussles with some old woman with a bag so large that it hung over into the aisle, which was cramped enough as it was. It was pretty bad.

Our Airbnb guy was nice enough to be waiting for us in Niš, Serbia when we finally got to the station. All of the apartments we've rented so far have been pretty nice really.

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