We don’t recommend it! Breaking the Rules and Sneaking a “tiny” dog into Unesco Sites!

This is going to be a little long and will get me into a LOT of trouble. No seriously it will.

I am waiting for the: “Into the dog house with you! Where is your respect?” … kind of hate mail.

So here is the thing:  I am NOT recommending this behaviour. I am NOT suggesting you try this. I am NOT saying you should even consider it. All I am saying is we did (Bad Montecristo Travels Team… BAD!!) and we got away with it… sort of.  It really is a case of “don’t do what we did”. Okay? Is that clear?

Seriously I feel like I should get you to sign a waiver.  At minimum please repeat after me: “I, The Montecristo Travels Reader, understand that the information shared in this post is not an encouragement to do the same. That it is not recommended and is in this blog purely for anecdotal purposes.”




Now … on with our story!

*clears throat*

While traveling in Bulgaria we were itching to see some of their Unesco World Heritage sites. Two out of the 9 of them were way up on our “must see” list.

Treasures Wait Inside!

Unesco Site #1 – Boyana Church

Boyana Church is located on the slopes of the Vitocha Mountains.  It’s a picturesque drive from Sofia that takes less than an hour.  Upon our arrival we were surprised to find that not only was the inside of the Church not dog friendly (that we expected), but neither were the grounds.  Something I had a lot of trouble understanding since a small pack of lazy wild dogs actually called the location home.

We got our tickets and since no one was supervising the “park” we walked in.  After all the sign was barely visible and we figured we could always claim we had not seen it. When we do this, we accept that we could be asked to leave and are willing to pay a fine.

The grounds are lovely, with huge mature trees, and a nice variety of plants gone wild. The path is well marked and a fresh water spring gurgles gaily.  In the centre you find Boyana Church, a small and un-pretentious building with a tiny front door. When we tried to enter we found that it was locked and a sign indicated that only 7 people were allowed inside at one time and for 15 minute visits only.  We had to wait patiently for the previous group to leave before being allowed in.  Twelve minutes later, I was half asleep in Mom’s purse, when the door finally opened and the bipeds, without really thinking about it walked in… with me still in the bag.

The tour guide indicated that bags and cameras had to be left on a chair. So Mom put her purse down and I popped my head out … Oh dear… Now what?  We were in; the tour was starting and the timer ticking!  Mom gave me the signal for quiet, draped her jacket over her purse and I snuggled into the bottom and took a nap.  There was no reason why she and Dad could not take turns… but what was done… was done.

Pushing guilt aside, this is what I heard the guide tell the bipeds.

Boyana Church was built in three stages:

  • in the early 11th,
  • the mid-13th and,
  • the mid-19th centuries.

Magnets from Souvenir Shop

But its architecture and age are not what makes Boyana Church famous; it’s the frescos inside.  You can’t take photos so I will have to send you to Wikipedia to show you and post the photo I took of magnets at the souvenir shop.  It’s the best I could do I am afraid.

The first layers of frescoes date back to the 11th-century and fragments have been preserved.  But Boyana Church owes its world fame to the frescoes from 1259.  Why? Because these demonstrate exceptional achievements in the evolution of mediaeval art. The majority of the 240 figures depicted display stunning individuality, something that would not happen anywhere else in the world of iconography for a very long time to come.

They prove that, contrarily to what might have been believed before, icons have the stiff look and lack of physical details (like the lack of toes on feet)  because of rules imposed by the Church on the artists and not because the artists did not have the skill to produce emotionally charged works of art or accurate depth and scale.

The frescoes are genuine “chef d’oeuvres” with flawless technique, complexity and incredible realism.  The portraits of the patrons of the church (Sebastocrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava), as well as those of the Bulgarian tsar Constantine Tikh and his Tsarista Irina, are the most impressive and lifelike frescoes.  But, the bipeds really loved the 18 scenes depicting the life of Saint Nicholas the most. The painter drew aspects of contemporary life into the frescos that are amusing. Ex: In The Miracle at Sea, the ship and the sailors’ hats recall those from Venetian fleets.  Something the bipeds found wonderful because the artist was using his own era, rather than that of the time of St. Nicholas.  It would be like having an artist today depict the characters of the life of St. Nicholas on a modern ship in jeans, white t-shirt, and baseball caps!

Fact:  The Church has one particular patron to thank for still being around; Queen Eleanor, second wife to King Ferdinand.

The Queen’s Resting Place

The story goes that the people of the Boyana region wanted to tear the old Church down to build a bigger and “better” one in its place. But the Queen had a “feeling” that it might be worth saving and called in a famous restorer for his opinion.  He was stunned at the priceless frescos and what they showed of Bulgarian art and right away told the Queen they must be saved.

In order to keep the people of Boyana happy, the Queen gifted them with land to build their new Church.  Then with her own personal funds, she paid for the restoration of Boyana Church. She also bought the surrounding land and had trees and plants from across the country brought in to create a Bulgarian garden.  It has gone wild, but those massive trees protected Boyana Church from the WWII air raids.  Although the entire surrounding area was completely destroyed, the Church remained untouched.

When she died in 1917, Queen Eleanor was fittingly buried in the courtyard of “her” Church, so she may always look over it and protect it.

Carefully maintained, Boyana is now under Unesco’s protection and the frescos safeguarded for future generations.  An air-conditioning/humidity-regulating system keeps the temperature at 17-18 degrees Celsius (62-64 Fahrenheit).  Special lighting systems that do not emit heat have been installed. And as we mentioned, visitors are only allowed in for 15 minutes at a time.  It is open 7 days a week from 9:30 am to 17:30 pm, with an admission of 10 leva per person.

When the tour was finished (our guide spoke many many languages including French, English, Bulgarian and Russian) we quietly left without drawing attention to ourselves.  And that Dear Reader is how I “somewhat accidentally”, ended up sneaking into Boyana Church.

Trying to stay invisible!

Unesco Site #2 – Rila Monastery

Regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments; the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in the country.  Named after its founder, the hermit Ivan of Rila (876 – 946 AD) it is perched high up in the mountains by the same name and is about a two hour drive from Sofia.

Now before we start regaling you with what we noted, you have to know that our visit was a little shorter than we would have liked because … I got caught being snuck in.

The rules to enter this functioning monastery are pretty darn strict and archaic. No strapless or spaghetti strap tops, no muscle shirts, no shorts and no short skirts. No cameras, no smoking, no drinking, no guns, no cellphones, no … no pets.

And… well… I was placed in my sling bag and brought in anyway.    No pets inside the Church and museum made sense to us; but the huge outdoor courtyard?  Anyway, all that to say that there are people enforcing the rules and this is what we recommend you DO if you go:

  1. Wear a loose long sleeved top or layers so you can cover up
  2. Wear a long skirt or long pants
  3. Come at minimum as a pair if you are with a dog and take turns
  4. It’s a long visit – x2 if doing the dog handoff so be prepared to wait for the other person for at least an hour and plan an activity (reading, hiking, fresh trout for lunch?)

Frescos to blow your mind!

I say this because we missed out on some things as a result of getting booted out.  And because they are mean, if you get kicked out they don’t let you back in on the same day. You basically get black listed.

Now, on with our story about Rila Monastery and what we did manage to see.

As I mentioned, it is traditionally thought that the monastery was founded by Ivan the hermit. But the hermit actually lived in a cave without any material possessions not far from the monastery’s location.  The complex was in fact built by his students who came to the mountains to learn but liked things a little comfier than their mentor.

It’s huge with an 8,800 m² (86.12 sq. ft.) footprint.  It is rectangular in form, with an inner (3,200 m²/ 32.3 sq. ft.) courtyard, where the tower and the main church are situated. The main church of the monastery was erected in the 19th century and has five domes, three altars and two side chapels.  The frescoes, finished in 1846, are the work of many masters and absolutely splendid! They are unbelievably colorful and bright. The church is also home to many valuable icons, dating from the 14th to the 19th century.

The four-story (not counting the basement) residential part of the complex consists of 300 chambers, four chapels, an abbot’s room, a kitchen, and a library housing 250 manuscripts and 9,000 old prints. The exterior of the complex, with its high walls of stone and little windows, resembles a fortress more than a monastery. You feel very intimidated walking up to Rila Monastery, and around it. Luckily the main entrance is bright and cheerful and so is the entrance at the back with its river and little bridge.  The porticos inside that face the courtyard have a Mamluk influence with painted white stripes and domes, which were popular in the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of Egypt.

Boyana is truly a remarkable sight to see. The use of cameras and video recorders is forbidden inside the main church and museum, but luckily we were free to take photos outside.

Rules, rules and more rules …

The museum is famous for housing Rafail’s Cross, a wooden cross made from a single piece of wood. It was whittled down by a monk named Rafail using fine burins and magnifying lenses to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. Work on this piece of art lasted 12 years before it was completed in 1802, when the monk lost his sight… and…we never saw it.  We got booted out. *sigh*

Ever since its creation; Rila Monastery has been respected. Be it Tsars, feudal lords, Sultans, and wealthy Bulgarians.  It’s an unofficial depository of Bulgarian language and culture and is regarded as one of the foremost masterpieces of Bulgarian National Revival architecture.  It was declared a national historical monument in 1976 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

It is beautiful and worth the visit if you happen to be anywhere nearby. It has a sense of “survival” about it. And other than the uptight monks that run the place, you will just simply fall in love. You’ll also curse not being allowed to take photos on numerous occasions; bring your mental memory card.

So much beauty, so much history! How could I not want to see these places?  But the bipeds missed out on a key “must see” and … I hope they aren’t too upset about that

Have you ever snuck (been snuck) in someplace? Share your story in the comments below. I promise I won’t tell!
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24 Comments on “We don’t recommend it! Breaking the Rules and Sneaking a “tiny” dog into Unesco Sites!

  1. Awesome post!! Well, rules are hard to live by sometimes (and meant to be broken too) So glad mom and dad got to see these 2 beautiful structures! Breathtaking pics. Thanks!!!

  2. If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun … Katharine Hepburn
    I commend you Monte! Harper has been to some of the best restaurants in Ottawa … since he was a puppy! It’s just so much fun!
    I love your posts, you make people feel like we are right there with you!

    • We certainly try to bring the world to you! And we hope we encourage others to be intrepid adventurers too! wether fine dining, discovering trails in the mountains or doing the urban pup thing … adventure awaits!

      And THAT is an awesome quote!

  3. Well, Monte… there are rules and there are rules… some should be broken, some must never be broken… you know the difference, obviously, so what harm has been done, I ask???? And now, let’s all enjoy those fabulous photos of these incredible sights, inside out… and the post that comes with it…. Amazing !!! And, thank you, Monte…

    • People told us Bulgaria didn’t inspire them – we just want to show people that you can never judge a country. You have to go and see … and … break a few rules. 🙂

      I DO know the difference. I would never go where I know my presence would cause actual harm; be it to people, art or anything.

  4. Thanks to our DEAREST friends Monte, Sonja and Stefan we visited wonderful places and we are not sorry that we broke many rules! We are ready to break more so we can feed our souls with history and art……. !!!!
    P.S. Special thanks for the wonderful article and amazing photos!!!

    • THANK YOU! Your kind invitation and hospitality made it possible for us to go. Without you we would never have thought to visit Bulgaria. We are glad we followed our gut and decided to accept your invitation. It has made us discover some truly breathtaking places. And our friendship is the true gift.

  5. Hilarious. I hope you had the best time in the world. I bet it was exciting to know you were doing something illegal and somehow you were getting through with it. And can you imagine you would miss those beautiful places. Rules are rules but fun is fun!

    • Fun is fun!!! yes Jamie! And thanks for stoping in. 🙂 We broke the rules and one of these days I am sure it will bite us in the ass – but was fun at the time!! 🙂

  6. You, little rebel! <3 LOVE it! It's great that you broke the rule for us! Or, we won't get this pawesome blog post! Thanks for letting us travel the world with you! 😉

    • Anytime! I will try not to make it a habit to break the rules. But sometimes… sometimes … you just have to. 🙂 Thanks for stopping in and leaving a much appreciated comment!

  7. Often the most moving and breathtaking sites are off the beaten path, far from the tourist traps and created culture that pass for authentic. Bravo for ignoring the signs and bringing Monte into these magnificent places! It’s too bad that you missed the carvings at Rila Monestary – they are there for you to see another time. Because of this posting, I’ll add Bulgaria to my always-growing list of places to visit.

    • Europe’s best kept secret … That is what Bulgaria is. 🙂
      I am glad you saw some of the beauty we did. The photos really do not do the places justice. More blog posts on Bulgaria to come so stay tuned!

  8. -Snuck Corona into restaurant when she was a baby inside Sisters sweatshirt- waiter noticed sister putting little bits of chicken down the front of the sweatshirt but said nothing.
    – have snuck into the market in a zipped up juicy dog bag – only been booted out one time. One time a little boy pulled at his Mom’s coat and loudly said ” that lady has a dog in her purse “

  9. At Vorontsov Palace of tsar Nicolay the II in Yalta they also not allow dogs, but very small dogs are allowed not inside, but outside on the territory, only if you carry them, no walkings. Happy you still managed to see all this beauty and share with us, oh, i want to see all this by my own now, 🙂

    • I can do that! in the sling bag for small dogs is perfectly logical. Glad to see that they have a little common sense at the Vorontsov Palace.
      Do they recognize service animals in the Ukraine Val? I am curious.

  10. I love the reference to the waiver in the opening sentences…lol…you must have been so torn on whether or not to share your adventure with us? always a good read 🙂

    • Very torn – because I really did not want to seem like we encourage breaking the rules. There are risks. I didn’t want someone to go and do what we did, and possibly getting caught and then blaming us or …. worse. But it was such a beautiful part of our trip… I had to share. I did provide a “solution” to seeing these sites with a dog. The famous “hand off” system. It’s a shame really that “in carrier” is not allowed in more places.

  11. Well good job Monte and team ,for taking photos as to me NO DOG,NO DEAL heritage or not it can live without me.
    The way I see it is high time all countries and all places open up to responsible owners and their doglies,I living in Ireland hate the way we cant go anywhere indoors with a dog,so I don’t. I rather not.
    That is one of my pet hates, I seen people and their offspring do and say a hell lot more horrible things than any of my dogs ever would.
    So well done to Monte for proving a little dog will not disrupt in anyway anything or demolish anything or litter anywhere.
    simple as that . love xxx

    • It’s true. I often find that children or even adults that are either drunk or lack respect for cultural things can be far more damaging then a well-trained canine. Maybe I can – in a small small small way – help change the tide. You never know right?!!

  12. Whether built during the Byzantine, Bulgarian or Ottoman rule of the city, the churches of Nesebar represent the rich architectural heritage of the Eastern Orthodox world and illustrate the gradual development from Early Christian basilicas to medieval cross-domed churches.

  13. The Rila Monastery was reerected at its present place by Hrelyu , a feudal lord under Serbian suzerainty, during the first half of the 14th century. The oldest buildings in the complex date from this period -— the Tower of Hrelja (1334–1335) and a small church just next to it (1343). The bishop’s throne and the rich-engraved gates of the monastery also belong to the time. However, the arrival of the Ottomans in the end of the 14th century was followed by numerous raids and a destruction of the monastery in the middle of the 15th century.

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