Because it was so nice outside yesterday and everyone else is on vacation I decided to go to Mt. Vitosha and
take a hike in the forest. In case you don’t have any windows in your house or you’re a first time visitor to the city, Sofia sits at the base of a 2290 meter mountain massif, which is a wonderful escape from the city when it gets hot. There are several buses that connect Sofia with the mountain, all of which leave from the Hladilnika Bus Terminal at the corner of Cherni Vruh Blvd. and Blvd. Henrik Ibsen, just south of Lozenets. You can get from the city center to here using bus #9TM (see post) which for the time being has replaced Tram #9. Once the subway is done this fall, they may put Tram #9 back in service. From Hladilnika, there are several options to reach Mt. Vitosha: Bus #64 (see post) runs through all of the suburban zones and connects with the main square in Dragalevtsi (to which there are taxis waiting to take visitors to the top), the NuBoyana film studios, and the Boyana Church. This is probably the most frequent bus. Bus #122 takes you to the Simeonovo Cabin Lift, which is a crap shoot whether it’s working or not. However there are trail heads here leading up the mountain. Bus #98 goes to Zheleznitsa Village, which has additional trail heads. Bus #93 goes to the Dragalevtsi Lift, and then there is the mysterious #66 phantom bus which no one seems to know anything about, but goes the entire way up the mountain to Hizha Aleko, which is a above the tree line and about an hour’s hike to Cherni Vruh Peak and the weather station. On my many trips
to Aleko I haveseen #66, but nothing is written about it on the Sofia Transport website. This is one of those cases when trying to get information out of Bulgarians is like an interrogation. Having written a book about the entire country, you’d be surprised how little people want to tell me about the interesting things in their communities, or they just don’t understand what I’m asking. Anyway: back on the bus…
My friend Mr. P and I decided to take bus #93 to Dragalevtsi Monastery and do a little bird watching. We packed some snacks and a couple of empty beer bottles to fill with mineral water from the monastery and caught bus No. 1539 at 13:33 from Hladilnika. The #93 departs every hour on the half hour from 7:30 to 18:30 with additional buses departing on the :10 and the :50 on weekends and holidays. The buses that run on this line are boxy, yellow and white, made by Mercedes Benz with manual transmissions, which is practical since the roads are steep and the bus takes you half way up the mountain. Upon leaving Hladilnika, the bus rides up Cherni Vruh Blvd., crossing the Okolovrusten Put Highway and through Dragalevtsi to its main square. There are several bira-skaras here in case you’re hungry, as well as a bar called “Uncles (Чичовци)” which although I haven’t eaten there, I would really like to because of the name. After the main square, the bus winds up the mountain into Vitosha Nature Park and stops at the bottom of the ski lft, which also seems to have an intermittent working schedule. When I exited the bus (at 13:52, a travel time of 19 minutes), I asked the driver about bus #66, and this is what he told me: it works
only on weekends and holidays, and it runs once an hour leaving from Hladilnika and going to Aleko. I thanked him and told him I was doing some investigative journalism. Right after I got off the bus and he pulled away, I realized I should have asked more investigative questions, like a time schedule.
From here, it is a 20 minute walk up a paved road to the Monastery. There aren’t any signs, but there is only
one road and there will probably be other people around to ask if you’re unsure. The monastery itself, officially called “Holy Mother of God,” is usually referred to as Dragalevtsi Monastery. It was built in the 14th century by Tsar Ivan Alexander during the Second Bulgarian Empire. Among it’s notable visitors was Vasil Levski who based his network of revolutionary committees against the Ottoman Empire within monasteries throughout Bulgaria, which was practical since they were usually isolated and not near any towns or villages. Vasil Levski himself had also studied as a priest. The Dragalevtsi Monastery however houses nuns, not monks, which is a rarity.
After visiting the monastery, Mr. P and I hiked down the mountain, stopping to wade in one of the mountain streams (with very cold water), and also stopping at the Vitosha Nature Park Info Center, which has a small observation tower with a really nice view of Sofia. After that, we continued on to the main square in Dragalevtsi, which altogether from the monastery was about a 45 minute walk. When we reached Dragalevtsi, none other than phantom
bus #66 was waiting to take us down the mountain. The driver was hesitant to let us board, but did finally open the doors. Once on, I asked him about that particular bus line and he repeated what the other driver had told me. We got off at Okolovrusten Put to switch buses to go to Ikea and eat Swedish Meatballs, and while we were waiting for #111 (see post), we met a couple who had taken #66 up the mountain. They told me the bus fare was 4 leva, one way (which was why the driver was probably reluctant to open the bus door for us on the way down, but I do have a transit card that says all lines…), and the bus was meant for tourists. Once the snow melts, I think this will be an adventure worth taking…