What an interesting place Sofia is!
Bustling, full of people, some dressed up, most not. The main pedestrian street runs for blocks and is full of cafes, stores, and people – lots of people, reminds you of Paris or what we think Paris is like. You hear today’s music on the street and the kids look more or less like others around the world, but behind it all not buried very far there is the communist past. It comes to the fore when you notice the modern architecture is surrounded by some truly horrendous blocky communist concrete blocks, or the remnants of the old communists “cafeterias”. Small storefronts with a few tables that serve three or four hot dishes and an equal number of salads – cheap cheap lunch and tasty food…so maybe communism wasn’t so bad after all. After our first week we are intrigued and glad we have come to visit.
My biggest issue is the language. It is written in cyrillic so it is difficult to figure out what anything means. For example, in Valencia it was easy to know that “farmacia” was a pharmacy but when you see “аптекa” would you know whether to buy your aspirin or ask to have your hair trimmed? And then even if you don’t have to read bulgarian, pronouncing it is very difficult for anyone who grew up speaking english. Even saying thank you is tough “Blagodarya ti” doesn’t just roll off my tongue.
Luckily, many Bulgarians speak enough english for us to get by with nodding…oh wait, thats right, they nod their heads for “no” and shake their heads for “yes” so that too has caused some confusion!…but we get by with pointing.
After settling in last Monday and finding the closest supermarket – not as impressive as in Valencia and Italy on Tuesday we took the “Free Sophia Tour” which was great. We have done these tours elsewhere, you give a tip at the end. This one like the others was a good introduction to the city and boy did we walk!
After meeting the guides and group at the Courthouse and being broken into two groups, we visited the Square of Tolerance, this area has a mosque, two churches, and a synagogue. The Bulgarians are very proud that unlike their brethren in other Nazi annexed countries they protected their jewish population and none were sent to the camps.
We then walked through the central metro station which took over 10 years to build as with each excavation they found another level of the city’s history which had to be excavated and protected. The pedestrian level of the metro station is built at the Roman level using the ancient pavement. The ruins of that era’s buildings are left exposed. Above it but not yet at the current street level is the oldest church in town which you pass while walking down the stairs to the metro.
One stop on the tour was at one of (there are 14 across the city) the public fountains. Sofia is blessed with mineral springs and many believe the water has healing powers and come to take drinking water home. There were lots of people with lots of big bottles getting water from the 30-40 fountains. The water is warm and tasted mineraly-is that a word?
Our tour also took us by the President’s Office, the old communist party headquarters, now the parliament, the “Russian Church” and the tour ended at symbol of Sofia, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This church was built in the early 1900s but was built to resemble a byzantine structure.
After our tour, we took our guide’s suggestion and went to a nearby restaurant for a typical Bulgarian meal. It was very good. We shared everything as we usually do – below you can see a Shopska Salad – basically a greek salad but the cheese is milder and rather than being a hunk, is shredded, Tarator – a cold yogurt and cucumber soup with walnuts and dill. We both wanted more of both!
For our entrees we had stuffed cabbage made with pickled (not sauerkraut) cabbage and a pork, sausage and cabbage dish baked with a pastry top. Both were ver good, we especially liked the warm spices used – cumin, cinnamon, etc. The dishes looked german but tasted middle eastern…which makes sense given our location.
Other activities this week have been visiting two of the city markets – one is is inside and wasn’t that great – though we did buy some prepared dishes there that were tasty.
The other is an outdoor market – Ladies Market – I swear that is it’s historic name so no shaming me. It was great, beautiful vegetables, clothing, housewares, and even wine that they put in your bottle. But we learned our lesson, it wasn’t very tasty, so rather than $2 a bottle, I will pay the $4 at the store.
We have found that unlike most everywhere else we have ever lived, it is as cheap and perhaps cheaper to eat out here than to buy food and cook it yourself. We are still making our breakfast and so far have eaten one meal in each day, but we are enjoying having lunch out while we are exploring.
So far we have had very good gyro type platters at a place around the corner, pork & potatoes and Spanish omelets at a “communist” cafeteria, salads, soups, potatoes, pizza while walking on the street, and asian food at a place on Vitosha Street which is the great pedestrian main street.
Vitosha is the continuation of the main street a block from us – unfortunately, to get to the happening part of the street, is a 15-20 minute walk but then we do need to keep our steps up. (Don’t want to brag too much but so far this week we have done over 5 miles three times. Hopefully our May average daily miles will exceed that of April which was 2.6….still much better than it was in January!)
The street was busy on the weekday we did the free tour but when we were there yesterday on a beautiful (at least until the rain started) Saturday, it was packed. From the street, you can see the nearby mountains from which the street takes it name…and even though it is in the mid 70s here, up there some snow remains.
In addition to some tourists, it appears that Sofians enjoy their time here and it appears that Sofia is the place that Bachelor and Bachelorettes come for their stag/hen parties – we saw several male groups dressed in similar t-shirts usually with one of them (the groom we presume) wearing a skirt, or wig or some other costume. And we saw the group of ladies below in more traditional costumes. Given the good time they were having at lunch time, I can only imagine what it was like after dark!
Some of you have asked how we are doing versus our budget – I am please to report that in both March and April, we underspent what we set as our budget for each month of 2018. That wasn’t a surprise in March since almost half of of the time was spent on the ship where we didn’t have many expenditures. However, in April, we came out ahead by over $1,600 so we are pleased and hopeful that we won’t be looking for a job at Walmart anytime soon.
Hope everyone has a great week – we are planning on visiting the insides of some of the places we saw on the free tour and taking a day trip to Plovdiv – Bulgaria’s second largest city.