Sunday, April 23, 2017

[SOFIA] A Tale of Two Churches: The Big One

Just think of these two churches as two sisters who are polar opposites of one another. Boyana is the shy one, timid and quiet yet her beauty shines through thanks to her simplicity. Alexander Nevsky is the one with all the bling bling, glittering in fine jewelry from head to toe. If sheer opulence was to be the sole criterion for inclusion on that UNESCO World Heritage list, then this sister is a shoo-in. But the UNESCO maintains its own standards. But why compare? These two are both charming in their own right.

I visited Boyana first, which was a good thing because I think I would’ve been severely underwhelmed had I gone to Alexander Nevsky in the morning. But Nevsky was not the first stunning vision for the afternoon. After resting for a while at my Airbnb place, I decided to head to the city center instead of sleeping. Good decision! I took the same tram and got off behind the Palace of Justice. Again, that black lion duo is much more impressive under direct sunlight. I had a leisurely stroll and I saw quite a few attractions.

First stop was this church, or was it a synagogue? It’s down the road from the Palace of Justice and its façade is characterized by mini arcs, topped by a dome also adorned by mini arcs. It did not look opulent or breathtaking, but it had this air of simplicity that makes you feel at peace. I wonder which religious denomination goes there to worship. This area around Serdika is also a hotbed of buildings from Sofia’s past, which means it also serves as selfie central. But wait, there’s more.

If you thought Serdika was selfie central, then wait until you get to see the churches. My personal favorite is that Russian Orthodox one with the four (or five?) golden domes. It’s tulip season in Bulgaria and the juxtaposition of those bright yellow bulbs just makes the church jump out of the frame. It is probably one of my few favorite photos of all time, which means something because I’ve taken thousands in the last few years. Instagram eventually agreed based on the number of likes. I knew it was going to be a hit.

Nevsky caught my attention as I rounded one of the corners. I was suddenly staring at it as it jumped out of nowhere. I thought it would be something visible from wherever you are in the city but this is no skyscraper. The combination of white, green, and gold is simply hard to ignore, and the reflection of the sun’s rays bouncing off those golden domes is plain hypnotizing. I had to sit on the curb for a good 10 minutes or so just to look at that marvelous exterior. The photos all look postcard-worthy.

Photography is not allowed inside, but then again how do they really implement these rules? There were security personnel in civilian attire and I did see a woman who was unlucky enough to get caught snapping a photo of the ceiling. I mean, biatch, it pays to be subtle? You don’t strut at the middle of the god-damn church, point your DLSR at the humongous chandelier (no swinging Sia in sight), and then act surprised when someone apprehends you despite the clear warning at the front door. Tough luck.

That guy looked like he was asking her to delete the pictures because he demanded to see her camera and they were discussing something. As for me, I took some simple shots while feigning an exhausted pose on one of the benches. I mean they won’t really know whether I’m just consulting Google maps, reading Alexander Nevsky Cathedral’s Wikipedia page, or simply watching porn. Right? The interior is rather obscure, though, although the opulence was all the more shimmering thanks to the dim lighting.

There is a museum downstairs which features religious art, basically murals and some sculptures. No photography is allowed there either. The woman at the desk seemed all too amused seeing JESUS in my surname. I paid BGN 3 (~PHP 80) for the admission to that crypt museum. I can say that it did pique my interest, although I must admit that I loitered there because I just wanted to kill time. I wonder if getting an online degree in Divinity is worth it, just to make sense of what the fuss is all about.

The excursion ended within the vicinity of the cathedral. There are more architectural gems surrounding it as well as parks and more tulips in full bloom. Yellow? Purple? These flowers just add so much artistic value to your souvenir photos! I used to think that spring was overrated but I’m slowly becoming a spring convert. There is another lion with which you can snap a selfie. This one is way bigger than the two guarding the Palace of Justice. Sofia loves her lions, doesn’t she?

The trip to the airport the next day was eventless and I could have used the time in the morning to visit Rila Monastery, if only I knew that there was only one direct bus leaving at 10:30 AM. That one is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hey, there’s always next time. I still managed to squeeze in some extra-curricular activities before the flight. Nonetheless, I deem this trip a success. I was able to see a lot of good touristy stuff in spite of the time mismanagement. See you next time, Sofia!

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