Sofia is an interesting city, Bulgaria in general is not exactly the wealthiest of European countries although they certainly have a wealth of history and tradition that goes back to the darkest of ages. It’s all been going on there since 7000BC! The city itself has the obligatory main touristy shopping street, Vitosha Blvd, with all the usual malarkey but I must say isn’t anything like as offensive as most, it’s been pedestrianized and there’s plenty of ‘continental’ cafes and bars to get yourself nicely refreshed as you wander about the city. I was staying in a kind of corporate housing place so I had my own small apartment that was not bad at all. If I could remember the name of it I would recommend it to you, but I can’t remember so no matter. Suffice to say it was a long walk or short cab ride to the city center and a short walk to one of the enormous parks they have a number of, Park Borisova Gradina, there are parks and gardens all over the place which is unexpected and doesn’t really fit in with our general idea of the Communist ‘Brutality’ architecture thing, but very welcome all the same.
There’s a really nice bar that we went to one night in the middle of the park and all was well until we decided to leave and realized there was no lighting whatsoever, drunk fools stumbling about in the pitch black, laughing nervously and wondering if we’d ever be seen again. Eventually I suppose we must have lucked upon a path or something but I was very glad I was not alone in my foolhardiness.
I discovered a museum a short walk from the apartment that I visited a couple of times when my wife and daughter came to stay, a fantastic place, The Museum of Socialist Art, there’s about 60 communist statues, some of which are massive, outside in the garden and a wonderful collection of propaganda posters in the gallery. There’s also a screening room where they show old propaganda films that were shot in the old Boyana Studios up the road where I was working, fascinating place, well worth a visit, the museum I mean.
The most difficult thing for me to get my head around in Bulgaria is the language. The first night I was there a few of us decided to go into town and have a look around so I asked the doorman for the address so we could get a cab home. I ended up having to take a photo of it on my phone and show it to the cab driver, which I was still doing on my last day there 10 weeks later, it might as well be Chinese or something, and they call themselves European? Anyway, luckily most people seem to know a bit of English and all the restaurants and bars do so I didn’t die of thirst or malnutrition while I was there.
There’s a couple of very good Italian restaurants in Sofia and a huge amount of ‘Mediterranean Cuisine’ which seems to be Grilled Chicken, French Fries and Salad, just about everywhere has a variation of this on the menu but I must admit it’s usually pretty good. There’s a few restaurant reviews here.
Also worth a mention is Rakia, this is the Bulgarian equivalent of the Palinka you’ll find all over Eastern Europe. The Bulgarian version I found particularly jarring, the first sip reminded me of my youth, stealing petrol from the council depot down the road from my parent’s house and getting a mouthful of 4 star that, like tequila, I could taste days later whenever I burped. There was one evening where I was invited to a large dinner with the director and all the producers and various members of the upper echelon. I arrived fashionably late and dinner was over. The last thing I remember is doing shots of Rakia with the director, who shall remain nameless but suffice to say his reputation precedes him.
The hangover that followed was enough to make me think long and hard about joining a group of religious zealots, but, praise be to Allah, even a Rakia hangover couldn’t make that happen.
Beautiful Sofia underground train station