Sofia, Bulgaria

We were in the capital city of Sofia from Sunday 23 July through Tuesday 25 July. Coming here made sense given that it’s the capital city and has an international airport. This was the last stop on our tour of Bulgaria.

Transportation: We still had our rental car and drove 2 hours north to the Sofia airport  from Bansko. We dropped the rental car and took the metro into the city.

Accommodation: We stayed at the 5 Vintage Guest House. This place was awesome. The guest house is a step up from a hostel because we had our own private room on a floor with only 3 other guest rooms. We all shared a bathroom (2 showers and 2 toilets), a kitchen and a common area. It was very clean, had cute decorations and had several amenities included, such as AC in our room (important given the weather was in the 90s), coffee, a clothes washer and dryer and even candies and sweet croissants available for the taking. We only spoke with one other guest during our time, a Danish solo traveler, but everyone was quiet. It was really fantastic!

Left: Our bedroom, with two twin beds, a dresser and an AC unit. Not too big but well sized for European standards. Top right: the hall between each of the four guest rooms on our floor; Bottom right: the common area, including a little kitchen, plenty of seating and a balcony.

Eats: On Sunday night we went out to the restaurant Ascua in our guest house’s neighborhood, which offers fresh fish from the Greek Mediterranean waters. We got an 800 gram red sea bream fish to share, which was grilled to perfection and de-boned table side. For an appetizer we got the Kyopolou eggplant dip again, this time a diced version. It was a wonderful meal and a refreshing cuisine after days of all the heavier traditional Bulgarian fare.


On Monday we kept food simple as we needed a break from the restaurant travel diet. Believe it or not, it gets old eating out constantly! We went to an early dinner/late lunch at Wok to Walk, an international quick-service Asian style eatery that serves made to order stir-fries and had a seating area out on the pedestrian street. It was another welcome break from the cuisine we had over the past few weeks traveling in Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.

Activities: We were only in Sofia for two nights and one full day as we had an earlyyy morning flight out on Tuesday morning. On Monday morning we did a free walking tour with Free Sofia Tour. This took us around the main sites of the city while giving us a brief history and insight into the guide’s view of his country.

The Cathedral Saint Alexander Nevski, an orthodox cathedral completed in 1902. He proudly explained that it is the second biggest orthodox cathedral in the Balkans.
Church St. George Rotunda, an early Christian church built by the Romans in the 4th century. Today it sits encircled by the presidents offices and a nice hotel.
The entrance to the Bulgarian President’s city offices, with the guards. The guide said that the President is not often here but rather at his home on the outskirts of the city.
The old baths of the city
The Banya Bashi Mosque, completed in 1500s during the Ottoman rule. There are not many Muslims left in Sofia but it is still an operational mosque.

After the walking tour we walked around the city and one of the big parks. We stopped by a shopping mall and then just went back to our hotel to take care of some things. On Tuesday morning we were up at 5 to catch our flight out of Sofia back to Switzerland. Now we have two nights in Lausanne to retrieve our belongings from storage, make a visit to the bank to release our apartment security deposit and see our Swiss home town for the last time for the near future before we fly back to SF on Thursday 27 July.

Overall Impression of Bulgaria: 

We spent 11 days in Bulgaria. During that time we had the opportunity to travel the North, South, East and West. After having all this time and getting to see so much, I thoroughly enjoyed the country. The people we met were so kind (our hotel friend George, our hiking friend George, the walking tour guides, people we met in restaurants, hotels, etc). The Bulgarian restaurants offered a wide variety of cuisine and it was delicious. Thanks to the strength of the Swiss Franc in comparison to the Bulgarian Lev and overall lower prices, the trip was very affordable.

It was fascinating to be in a different part of Europe with a different culture where we experienced little things such as the opposite head nod/shake and the shower by the toilet to learning about the recent history after the fall of communism and the country’s path towards democracy and a market economy. The young tour guides of Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo made it clear that their generation, the children who grew up after fall of the wall, are happy with the changes, but that there is a division and difference of opinion regarding which system is better for the country. A smart point was that their opinion is heavily influenced by whether each person’s family benefited from the communist regime. As an American who has not had such experiences, I am so thankful to have had these conversations with the Bulgarian people to gain more of an understanding of their history, current situation, and vision of the future.

While there are still remnants of the communist regime, such as their monuments and run-down buildings, the European Union investment in the country has clearly made a difference, with a high-speed freeway (with signage to not let people forget the EU helped with funding) and a decent metro system in Sofia from the airport into and around the city.

A first inclination would be to compare Bulgaria to Romania, but we decided we cannot do that. We only saw Bucharest and not any of the Romanian countryside, so we don’t have as much to compare. We can say however that Bulgaria felt far more developed and appeared to have better infrastructure for tourists and for general living purposes.

Would we recommend a trip? A long answer. Yes, but only to someone who has travelled more extensively in Europe (like already seen enough of the top destinations such as Paris, Rome, London, etc) and is looking for a different experience. Bulgaria is not packed with tons of historical monuments or sites like the Eiffel Tower of Paris or the Coliseum of Rome. It doesn’t have the biggest mountains, like Switzerland. A trip here is much more relaxed, slow and a cultural experience rather than packed with activities. This was fine with us as we’re a bit tired of touristy trips but important to point out. Otherwise, the people, the food, the landscape – everything added up to a lovely country to visit.

 


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