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Posts Tagged ‘rila’

As with the proverbial curate’s egg, on a tour I expect some good and some bad. This tour had started well: my roommate was very quiet – I practically had to drag her out for coffee – but that was much better than the opposite; the tour guide was interesting and engaged; the initial walking tour had gone well, and the Q and A session with a local economist the second evening had been open and lively – although he had skipped my smuggling question. But I had doubts about day three.

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We were going up to Rila monastery, an iconic complex I very much wanted to see, but we were spending the night in the monastery, rather than in the nearby hotel, and there were rumors there would be no hot water. I had not initially thought that too much of a problem, but now I learned that we wouldn’t check into our next hotel until 6:30 in the evening… Then there was the visit to the Roma Community in Dupnitsa.

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I’m really not fond of these “visit the local village” events. I vividly remember my first, on a misbegotten OAT tour, where we were expected to hand out candy to the kids in a Lao village. I hate feeling like I’m in a human zoo. This one was certainly better than my experience with OAT: Lyuba seemed to have a good relationship with the local contact, and we had another Q and A session with her. The chicken soup and salads served for lunch were good, but I wasn’t particulary impressed with the children’s dance, and was saddened by the dated machines in the computer center. (USAID money stopped when Bulgaria joined the EU, and the Peace Corps volunteer who had been working with the community left.) This was a long-settled Roma community, we didn’t meet any others, and there seemed little reason for the discrimination against them.

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My outlook wasn’t improved by a lunch-time discovery that some of the group thought that only property-owners should be able to vote – did they want to go back to the 17th century, or was that the 18th? Several centuries of progress seemed to be in jeopardy. I felt better when we reached Rila monastery, however, it was just as beautiful as I had hoped. And there was actual hot water! (Well, warm.) But the beds were a disaster – I should have followed my first thought and put the mattress pad on the floor. Whatever passed for springs sagged so much I woke up every time I tried to turn over.

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But being at Rila after the other tour groups and assorted day trippers had gone was a real privilege. We got to wander round the buildings and admire the many frescoes without fighting crowds, to attend the services – heavy with incense and chanting – if we wanted to, and to appreciate the peace and quiet and soaring hills that made it a great site for a monastery.

The next morning Lyuba took us on a very good tour of the museum, church and tower. We were on our own for lunch, and fortunately I had taken Lyuba’s advice to make a sandwich at breakfast, as there didn’t seem to be much else going.

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