After the recent US elections and the shitshow that happened, all of us needed a little break.
So we went to Bulgaria.
(FYI, if you’re flying on the Alitalia/Bulgaria Air codeshare combo from the USA to Sofía, be prepared to endure the check-in process twice: Once before your flight to Rome, and another time — quite maddeningly — when you arrive Rome’s FCO airport at the gate right before you board for your flight to Sofía (everyone in the airport knows about this so they’ll let you through security even without a flight ticket printed). And if you’re taking the morning flight, nobody shows up at the Transfer Desk to help you until they feel like it, so don’t bother.
Alitalia and Bulgaria Air also do not have formal communications, so it takes a good 20 minutes to get your flight ticket to Bulgaria when at the gate. This caused us an odd delay there were no passengers on the plane at the time of departure because everyone was still waiting for to get their flight tickets.
Anyways, we all survived and the company of 8 strangers got together this morning at Sofia airport to begin our whirlwind 48 hours in a country we barely knew.
Once we landed we got picked up by Hostel Mostel cabs that took us into the city, first passing by Orlov Most, a bridge built over Perlovska river with its namesake originating from the bronze statues of eagles on bridges symbolizing Bulgaria’s patrons and defenders.
A few minutes west, we caught a glimpse of one of the largest cathedrals in the Balkans (2nd to the one in Belgrade, Serbia), St. Alexander Nevski.
Next up was Temple Sveti Nikolay.
Once we dropped off our bags at the hostel we hailed cabs costing 10 lev to take us to Boyana Church, a UNESCO Heritage site famous for being one of the oldest churches in Bulgaria and its well-preserved frescos inside. It’s about 20 minutes out of Sofia.
It costs 10 lev for a 20 minute guided tour inside to see the frescos.
Photos of the frescos are not allowed here, but you can sneak one in when they’re not looking.
Afterwards, we tried to hail cabs back to the city, but everyone refused to call them for us including fellow cab drivers waiting to pick up other passengers. We didn’t “have a reservation” supposedly. It also could be because of the difficulty convincing a cab driver to come all the way from the city center to come so far out in the middle of Sofia’s suburbs? But whatever, rude.
So we decided instead to wing it and find a local means to get back into the city. Catching Bus 107 for maybe about a hot minute with the driver telling us we were on the wrong bus, we quickly switched to Bus 64 and met a pair of UK folks and their Bulgarian friend who told us to switch to a tram 20 minutes later. Thanks to this fortunate happenstance on our journey, we found ourselves back at the southwestern end of Sofía, in front of their National Palace of Culture 30 minutes later.
Heading up north, we then walked by the Church of Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Hram.
Then we looped around west to the Mausoleum of Alexander of Battenberg, the final resting place of Bulgaria’s first modern day ruler.
As the sun began to finally fade, we headed up towards the Tourism Office facing the Monument to the Tsar Liberator, the Russian hero who liberated Bulgaria from their Ottoman occupiers.
A few paces away was St. Alexander Nevski, gleaming in the night.
It’s free to enter, and if you get here by 6pm on Saturday you can catch a mass before the place closes at 7pm. Photos are also not allowed here, but…whatever.
After that it began to pour, but we didn’t let the rain stop us as we headed northwest past the Tomb Of the Unknown Soldier.
A bit more northwest is the Amphitheater of Serdica, one of the largest Roman-era coliseums (2nd to obviously the one in Rome) that they happened to find as they were building a modern day hotel over it. They ended up building the hotel anyway but with the ruins intact in the basement.
As we waited for the rain to pass, we grabbed a round of Bulgarian beer in the hotel lobby.
Once the weather cleared, we swung by Church St. George Rotunda, built over ancient Roman baths and was spared from all the bombing of World War 2 “as if God was protecting its house.”
There’s literally no security here, so feel free to walk amongst the ruins with nobody batting an eye.
The ruins are located along The Largo, an architectural collection of 2 Socialist Classicism buildings in central Sofia, designed and built in the 1950s as the city’s representative center.
Around the western portion of The Largo is Sveta Petka Church, situated on a series of more preserved Roman ruins protected by a modern day subway station.
Heading up north, we walked by Banya Bashi Mosque.
Beside is the Central Mineral Baths, now a museum that still draws 90ºF water from the natural springs that Sofía was founded upon.
Then we walked through the sleepy covered marketplace across the street.
On the other end of the market place is the city Synagogue and Jewish Museum.
Then another pretty church nearby.
Afterwards we looped back south to the modern looking Cathedral of Saint Joseph.
Heading back into the more bustling area of Sofía is Cathedral Church Sveta Nedely, the site of an assassination attempt and bombing that killed over 200 people, but not its actual target — a Bulgarian leader — who happened to be running late.
Walking south more, we sauntered by the Supreme Court/Palace of Justice flanked by the symbolic lions of Bulgaria.
And then we were on Vitosha Street, a pedestrian-only mall that is the center of Sofía’s nightlife and dining.
Although our original plans to eat at Made at Home was thwarted by “not having reservations”, we sampled traditional Bulgarian food instead at Divaka.
After about 2 hours there, we headed back out to check out the architecture of the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”.
…and then tried our luck at the rooftop bar at Sense Hotel, but again, we needed reservations. So we turned right around headed for drinks instead at Shisha Speshial Center.
They too, asked for reservations, but nevertheless were kind enough this time to make a last-minute table for 13, which included Marissa — a fellow colleague from Columbia and a friend that one of our monsooners, Mrinal, had no idea was in the city — and 4 students from Northeastern we had just met at our hostel.
Then one final rally as the group headed onwards to karaoke at Versus for the rest of the night (the place closes at 6am!).
This day is never going to end, is it?
– At time of posting in Sofia, Bulgaria, it was 51.8 °F – Humidity: 69% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: thunderstorms