Saturday 15 August: direct 10:20am bus from Sofia's southern Ovcha Kupel bus station to UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rila Monastery. Guiltily smuggled a bottle of Melnik red wine into my basic 52 'cell' bedroom and was punished for my sin by vivid nightmares of hook-nosed demons with chains and spears tormenting sinners in various stages of nakedness. See my photos of Rila Monastery. Glad to board the bus from Rila to Blagoevgrad (in Cyrillic script) and on to Sandanski's Grozdan Hotel (comfortable en-suite room with TV and fridge) in the Pirin Mountains.
Saturday 17: day trip further into the mountains where I celebrated my birthday tasting wine and cheese in the cave-cellars below the eroded sandstone 'pyramids' of Melnik from where Churchill once imported wine by the barrel-load. Dined lavishly in Tropicana at the top of town, Sandanski, to finish off a good day.
Next morning on to ski resort of Bansco, chock-full of mehanas or traditional-style taverns, for a bit of gentle hiking on the heavily-forested lower slopes of the Pirins, but difficult without a guide as 1:50,000 maps show ski-runs but not footpaths - a lot of bloody use in the Summer. Then eastward once again and over the Rila Mountains by slow but delightful narrow-gauge scenic railway (18th mode of transport) from Bansco, via the Balkan's highest railway station of Avramovo, before corkscrewing down through numerous tunnels and racing slow-moving cars and a swift river to Septemvri for mainline to Plovdin.