The Fascinating Rila Monastery Near Sofia, Bulgaria

We took a day trip from Sofia to visit the Rila Monastery, which is located about two hours away in the Rila Mountains southwest of the capital of Bulgaria. The monastery was first founded in the 10th century and gets its name, as does the mountainous region, from the hermit Ivan of Rila who founded it. Although the monastery bears some resemblance to the fortified churches that we saw in Romania a few years back, it did not serve the same purpose as the mountains were fortification enough. The Rila Monastery is considered to be one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural sites and therefore does attract a fair number of visitors every year.

Entrance to the Monastery
Tower in the Courtyard
Domes of the Main Church
Entrance to the Church

The main church of the monastery was built in the middle of the 19th century and is still in use today. The paintings on the exterior walls are quite dramatic and tell a variety of biblical stories. Next to the main church is the clock tower, which is more of a fortress tower than an actual clock tower, but it is quite dramatic to see as it looks over the entire monastery complex. Surrounding the church in the walls are the quarters where the monks of the monastery would live and work when not at the church for prayers. There are only two gated entrances to the Rila Monastery, one near the parking area where visitors arrive and the other that leads to a small village with a restaurant that is on the opposite side of the main entrance.

View of the Quarters and Working Areas of the Rila Monastery
Artwork at the Ceiling of the Church Entrance
Village and Restaurants Outside of the Gate
Details Outside of the Monastery Quarters

When visiting Sofia, taking a day trip to the Rila Monastery is certainly worthwhile and can be combined with a wine tasting in the same region. For those who enjoy hiking, there are also several hiking trails in the area and many local people visit the mountains simply to enjoy the natural surroundings and beautiful scenery. Just like visiting any other religious site, dressing appropriately is always recommended and women should have their knees and shoulders covered. We definitely enjoyed our time at the monastery as well as lunch at a local restaurant on the river in a village along the road to and from the monastery.

Artwork on the Walls of the Church
Outside Walls of the Monastery
Courtyard and Church
Images of Hell
Ladder to an Observation Deck
Stream Running Next to the Monastery
Another Painting on the Church
Fountain as You Exit the Church
The Main Church
Colorful Rila Mountains
Fascinating Architecture

Historic Trinity Church on the Corner of Broadway and Wall Street in New York City

We decided to spend time in Lower Manhattan during our recent visit to New York City. One of the places that enjoyed seeing was Trinity Church, which is located at Broadway and Wall Street and is surrounded by towering skyscrapers. The fact that the church is located in the heart of the city does not diminish the beauty of the church, but it is different that a lot of cathedrals and churches in Europe where the church dominates the skyline. The church is an active church that received its first charter from King William III in 1697 when the America’s were in their infancy.

One of the Memorials
Looking Up at the Steeple
View of the Cemetery

The first thing that strikes out to you as you visit Trinity Church is the historic cemetery with its oldest headstone dating back to 1861. The headstone is for Richard Churcher, the 5-year-old son of William Churcher. The cemetery is also the gravesite of Alexander Hamilton and there are also many different monuments in the graveyard. It is a peaceful spot in an otherwise very busy part of the city.

Some of the Oldest Headstones
Church Grounds
Steeple with Skyscrapers in the Background

The facade of the building is quite stunning with its huge steeple reaching toward the sky. Within the steeple are 12 change-ringing bells that rotate 360 degrees making a rich and complex sound. It is the only set of these types of bells in the United States. We did not enter the church during our visit, but just walking around the grounds was quite interesting. With such an amazing history and architecture, Trinity Church is quite fascinating, especially considering the juxtaposition between the church and the surrounding modern buildings.

Above Ground Tomb
Another Monument
Statues on the Side of the Church

Making the Most of a Half-Day in Lucca, Italy

One the things that we did during our trip to Florence, Italy was to take a day trip that included going to Lucca and then going to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. The trip itself was certainly worth it, but as fascinating as the Leaning Tower of Pisa might be, we found Lucca to be the highlight. We enjoyed walking the narrow streets and seeing the wonderful architecture of the Tuscan city. Lucca is only a short drive from Florence making it a perfect place to explore during a visit to the area.

Walking the Narrow Streets of Lucca
Statue of Giacomo Puccini
Architecture of the City from the Guinigi Tower
Lucca Cathedral
Colorful Ceiling Within the Cathedral
Changing Colors of the Bell Tower

Of the different places that we spent time visiting while we were in Lucca, several of them certainly stood out. First is the Lucca Cathedral with its unique bell tower, which has different colors due to the different materials that were used in its construction. The base of the tower is made of quartz stone, while the top floors are made of white limestone, making for an interesting contrast. Another interesting feature of the cathedral are the three arches that are part of the entrance. One of the arches is smaller than the other two due to the fact that the bell tower existed at the time of the construction and the architects reduced the size of the third arch to accommodate the tower.

Marble Statues Inside of the Cathedral
Cathedral Entrance
Beautiful Artwork in the Dome in Lucca
Rooftop Garden and Shade Trees
Nearing the Top of the Tower
Looking Out Through the Trees

Another must see location is the Guinigi Tower, which is visible from throughout Lucca. What makes it unique is the garden on the roof with its oak trees providing shade. Built in the late 1300’s by the Guinigi family, who were wealthy merchants in the area, the tower certainly stands out amongst the other buildings in Lucca. The climb up the 235 stairs to the top of the 125 foot tower is certainly worth it as you are rewarded with amazing views of the historic city. One can imagine the wealthy Guinigi family sitting on the rooftop to escape the heat of city below with its warm breezes and wonderful shade trees.

Looking Down at the Stairs of the Tower in Lucca
Rooftops of Lucca
Fresh Zucchini Ravioli in Lucca
Buca di Sant’Antonio Restaurant in Lucca, Italy
Rabbit Salad

We also stopped for a traditional Tuscan lunch at the Buca di Sant’Antonio, which dates back to 1782. Since the restaurant is known for their handmade pasta, which is made fresh every day, we had to get an order of their ravioli in addition to a rabbit salad. The copper pots hanging from the ceiling add to the ambiance of the restaurant. It was certainly a wonderful way to end our half day in Lucca before heading to Pisa and returning once again to Florence.