When I was in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, I spent half of my time in the city trying to figure out my directions. That does not speak for my orientation skills, because Sofia is known as a well-structured city where it is pretty impossible to get lost. But that’s just how I am: Somebody tell me to do the impossible and I just go for it.
But jokes aside now. I went to Sofia to meet my sister. The first time I got lost was before she was there, on my way from the Central Bus Station to the hostel. Sofias centre is organized around a few main roads, most of them leading towards the Sveta Nedelia Square (which I passed twice on my way), connected by several smaller streets. I just decided to follow the wrong road which was not too bad afterall, because I ended up at a really nice bazaar where not only foods, honey and kitchen tools were on display, but also crafted goods like dishes, carpets and knitted clothes were sold. I think I might have come across the “Lady’s Market”, but I would not go to the stake for that. I wanted to ask for directions, but the only young people crossing my way were two French men who had no clue whatsoever. I continued walking. It was windy, but sunny and I did not have much luggage on me which are best conditions for a stroll through an unknown city.
The facades in Sofia could surely need some care here and there, but overall I was astonished with the beautiful architecture. Sofia is definitely a charming city and it did not loose its charm when it suddenly started pouring rain and I had to find shelter in a church. After the quick shower I went on until I made it to a shopping and café street which is lined by trees and flowers. The cafés were packed, the atmosphere light and cheerful.
I eventually made it to the Hostel Mostel which I can only recommend. It is stepping into the heritage of the building which used to be a guesthouse for travellers centuries ago. It’s the first hostel in Europe I have been to which offers 4-bed-dorms, excellent wifi and service, 24 hours unlimited coffee and tea supply, a pubcrawl and on top of that breakfast and dinner for only 9€ a night.
I spent the afternoon chilling in a park with two Americans who had no incentive to return to Trump’s USA anytime soon and were utterly upset about the new visa-regulations. The park which consists of more paved than green area was built around the National Palace of Culture which is, as the name suggests, a remnant from communist times. We sat down in the shadow of the edgy Communist Times Monument until the rain sent us back to the hostel.
Unlike everyone’s suggestion my sister and I did not go on the Sofia Walking Tour the next day after she had arrived. We thus missed out on answers to questions like “Why did the Emperor Constantine the Great liked to say: Sofia is my Rome” or “How could Bulgaria save its Jews from the Nazi camps of death?”
Instead, we took a map and let my sister be the guide (especially after I had gotten lost again in the morning trying to use public transportation to get to the bus station in order to buy tickets to Skopje, but took the train to the wrong direction and ended up on the other side of the city which meant that a 30-minutes trip got extended to 1.5 hours). We discovered Sofia by foot.
Sofia really is an ideal city for a short trip and also for a Balkan city trip, especially if you are yet not too familiar with the region.
The sites are very-well kept, despite some ragged parts it all looks very pretty and the city is green and fairly clean. It is easy to find hide-outs in small cafés and, as usual, people are very friendly and helpful. It is a cheap place to stay, eat and drink, you won’t have any troubles finding nice souveniers and there is just enough to see for a weekend in town. If you stay longer there are a marvellous mountain and an exciting monastery nearby. You can discover pretty much everything by foot and getting lost is actually a great way to get off-track to find small flea markets, book fairs or honey markets.
So, if you are not sure where to spend the next weekend, make sure to put Sofia high up your list. Thanks to wizzair the EU-member state Bulgaria is easy to reach also from the West and the trip will not weight too heavy on your pockets. Just give it a try.
A little bit more
Curious about the story with the Bulgarian Jews, I did some research and stumbled upon this article: “The Rescue of Bulagaria’s Jews in the 2nd World War”