Exploring Sofia

Sofia Travel Blog

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Biiiig artwork at the train station

The Serbian NR train to Bulgaria was more what Zvonka remembered of Yu trains of her youth... ancient and graffiti-covered, it rolled out of Belgrade late that night. If there are 10 nice trains, we always seem to get the oldest, crappiest one in the fleet.   We settled into chocolate colored seats that had been soaking up the sweat of travelers in this sweltering compartment since maybe the late seventies. Our own perspiration quickly infiltrated the seats and released the funk of the ages which penetrated our clothing and skin and followed us for days. The compartment did stay empty most of the trip, with the exception of a girl who told us that she'd ridden the train three hours into Belgrade to go to the beach and escape the heat (the "beach" is a little stretch of sand on the Sava River.

Big pack for a 25 minute walk to the city
..) Of course we were on our way 500 miles east to swim in the Black Sea ourselves, so we couldn't really make fun of her.

Sofia must have been the hub for all rail traffic through the area with massive rail yards decorated with trains and equipment spanning the last 60 years. The central rail station was a preview of the general architecture of the city which consists of massive concrete Socialist architecture and monuments overlain with a more recent veneer of advertising and signage. Navigation is difficult with a combination of Cyrillic script and Bulgarian language... We found ourselves more decoding than reading signs... A train schedule is just a mass of characters until the city names are sounded out letter by letter and matched phonetically with the sound of the city name.
Hours of fun trying to figure translate the city names from Bulgarian to find out when your train leaves...
 Either learn Cyrillic phonetics before you go or leave time for translation since you can't read things at a glance.

Sofia also has a radial layout rather than being a grid like a western city, so following a street out takes you on a slow vector away from your target if you're not careful. It took a day to really get our bearings and have much luck finding things we were looking for, which actually allowed for more exploring since it was more an exercise in wandering than a tour of the city.

We had booked a hostel which turned out to be pretty nice. It was probably the most hostel-like hostel we stayed in, with a big common area and dormitory style rooms
both packed with travelers from around the world. After dropping off our giant backpacks, we set out on what would become a routine, looking for a park to nap in after the overnight train ride.
Social realist artwork at the train station
Central Sofia is relatively parkless, so we explored for a good while before finding a place to rest in the outskirts of the city center.

Heading farther out we found Saint Nedia church. A big funeral was in progress, obviously of someone pretty well know since all the local TV stations were there to cover it. It was an interesting crowd, plenty of people bringing flowers and viewing the body, but very few seemingly in mourning. People seemed to be coming more as a tribute.

We finally found our park in shadow of probably one of the most dismal monuments we'd ever seen.  The hulking, 7-story tall edifice was slowly crumbling, with much of the original black marble fallen away, exposing a skeleton of internal support beams.
Things are on a grand scale in Sofia
  Rust and weeds were taking their toll on the thing and it was crumbling behind a graffiti covered wooden wall built to protect the citizens from their own monument.  It was built around 1981 as part of a sprawling "Palace of Culture" which included other monuments and a simply enormous bunker-like central building which was obviously build over a huge underground faciltity.  Again, the stark concrete walls, built in a style to project power and permanence of the state were now draped with 5-story high advertising banners and the building was converted into a shopping mall.  The old regime seems to have now been completely rejected, the residue left as a monument in it's own right amongst the modern city growing up around it.
Spelled phonetically in Cyrillic

Back at the hostel we ate the free pasta and beer dinner, made some emergency checks of the internet to reroute our next leg of the trip, and I think that's where we decided to go south for the rest of the trip instead of north into Romania. "Located in a tiny fishing village on the shore of the Black Sea, easily reached, but centuries from the rest of the world" the advertisement for Kraymorie read.   We're there!


The next day we discovered even more unexplored areas of the city. The lady's market is like a swap meet, selling every kind of clothing and tube socks, and fruit, and toys, and radio tubes, and.... pretty much everything, out of tiny stalls that extend forever down a winding street near the heart of the city. The Muslim section has mosques and minarets.

One of the oldest churches in Europe is in a little alley behind the Sheraton hotel. It dates from the 4th century... not the 14th, but the 4th! The main Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral (Alexander Nevsky Church) is really impressive, I think it's the largest in Europe. There are endless gold domes emerging from gold domes, atop copper domes, forming a structure so complex, it's difficult to take it in and understand the shape. It's enormous too.

Once again, late at night, we headed to the train station for our 9 hour journey to the Black Sea. When morning comes, we'd be about as far east as Europe goes, in village built at the site of a now abandoned Soviet resort on the Black Sea.

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Biiiig artwork at the train station
Biiiig artwork at the train station
Big pack for a 25 minute walk to t…
Big pack for a 25 minute walk to …
Hours of fun trying to figure tran…
Hours of fun trying to figure tra…
Social realist artwork at the trai…
Social realist artwork at the tra…
Things are on a grand scale in Sof…
Things are on a grand scale in So…
Spelled phonetically in Cyrillic
Spelled phonetically in Cyrillic
Orthodox priest unloads supplies f…
Orthodox priest unloads supplies …
Mourners gather outside St. Nedelia
Mourners gather outside St. Nedelia
The press gathers around the mourn…
The press gathers around the mour…
St. Nedelia  Orthodox Church
St. Nedelia Orthodox Church
Filling our bottles at one of many…
Filling our bottles at one of man…
This 7-story disintegrating monume…
This 7-story disintegrating monum…
This huge monolith was built in 19…
This huge monolith was built in 1…
Detail of the dying monument, the …
Detail of the dying monument, the…
A big, cast, abstract piece in a p…
A big, cast, abstract piece in a …
Buying a beer from one of many bas…
Buying a beer from one of many ba…
...a hand presents the beer...
...a hand presents the beer...
Off you go...
Off you go...
Waiting in line for free pasta at …
Waiting in line for free pasta at…
This guy managed to check people i…
This guy managed to check people …
Hostel Mostel is this nice little …
Hostel Mostel is this nice little…
Zvonka bought catfood for the 15-2…
Zvonka bought catfood for the 15-…
Making sure the shy ones get their…
Making sure the shy ones get thei…
Happy cats
Happy cats
Vegetables at the Ladies Market,…
Vegetables at the "Ladies Market"…
Domes and minarets
Domes and minarets
The central mosque in downtown
The central mosque in downtown
Public mineral springs
Public mineral springs
Bulgarians in the park
Bulgarians in the park
Bread, red-pepper paste, soft chee…
Bread, red-pepper paste, soft che…
Feeding the pigeons
Feeding the pigeons
The Sofia Synagogue
The Sofia Synagogue
The Mufti dispenses Islamic law
The Mufti dispenses Islamic law
George Washington Street, near dow…
George Washington Street, near do…
Youll be towed if your front whee…
You'll be towed if your front whe…
Sofia, patron saint of the city
Sofia, patron saint of the city
St. Sofia directs traffic
St. Sofia directs traffic
Sofia and her owl - Sofia means wi…
Sofia and her owl - Sofia means w…
Really scary wheelchair ramp?
Really scary wheelchair ramp?
St Georgy Church amongst hotels an…
St Georgy Church amongst hotels a…
Former communist party headquarters
Former communist party headquarters
Academy of Music
Academy of Music
Chimneys at the Academy of Music
Chimneys at the Academy of Music
More whimsicle chimneys next door
More whimsicle chimneys next door
...and more
...and more
Sun sets over communist headquarte…
Sun sets over communist headquart…
The Russian Church
The Russian Church
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the …
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the…
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Copper covered domes
Copper covered domes
The Lev, or lion, in front of the …
The Lev, or lion, in front of the…
Lax drinking regulations on the tr…
Lax drinking regulations on the t…
Our usual sawed in half Fanta bott…
Our usual sawed in half Fanta bot…
Sofia Hostels review
The Mostel Hostel
This is a good hostel. It's a very hostel-y hostel with a huge common room filled with young travelers from around the world playing games, watching … read entire review
Sofia
photo by: Luci26