We arrived in Sofia 2 hours late in a station which is a great concrete barn, bereft of English signage and very stark. When we found a taxi things did not improve. Obviously the driver did not speak English, nor could he read Latin script. One of his colleagues worked out which hotel we wanted and told him how to find it. The Sveta Sofia Hotel is not like any other hotel Railbookers have put us into. It has 4 stars but these must have been awarded many years ago. It is a good hotel but rather old fashioned and rather old. The staff were friendly and helpful, and it is on a nice pedestrian only street.
After settling in we ventured out to find a place to eat. There are lots of them about – including many MacDonalds – but many are not visitor friendly – you have to go in to see the menu and once you are in, it can feel awkward backing out. But we did find one we liked and had a decent meal. The draft beer is excellent!
Next morning Chris spotted a market hall and was off! It had been newly restored and had lots of interesting stuff, especially bread and bakery goods, fruit, veg and nuts and seeds. Chris was in her element.
Sofia is a very strange place. It looks like a down at heel version of Athens but without the interesting bits. For the visitor on foot the most pressing concern is the awful state of the pavements. It seems that almost every paving slab is either broken, laid askew or missing. And often all of these. This is not just in the back streets but in the main shopping street and the big public squares. How they got into such a state is a mystery, but no one seems to be fixing the problem. And if the authorities don’t care about the pavements there is little incentive for the people to care about the rest of the environment.
But it is the capital city of a historic country which, in one form or another has been around for millennia. In its present form the important date is 1878 when the Ottomans got kicked out by a coalition of forces, but mainly the Russians. This is in contrast to 1855 when the Russians were again being nasty to the Ottomans, but that time Britain and France were being nice to the Ottomans – the Crimean War ensued. This may explain the unexpected presence of a Gladstone Street leading off the main shopping street.
It was one of the first cities in the Roman Empire to have Christianity as the official religion. St Georges Church dates from this period.
Near St Georges is the Presidents Residence and this is guarded by soldiers in gorgeous white and red uniforms with a long feather in their hats. Every so often, to combat the boredom, they do all the flashy things which soldiers are meant to do, and all with the utmost seriousness.
Much of the architecture is capital city monumental and there are lots of buildings where economy was the watchword but there are some nice churches which are flamboyant and brighten up the cityscape.
The most spectacular of these show-piece churches is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which was built as a thank you to the Russian Tsar for the liberation of Bulgaria – Alexander Nevsky was the Tsar’s favourite saint. The outside of the Cathedral is interesting but the interior is gloomy.
There is quite a lot to see in Sofia but it is not really a tourist city. We left Budapest regretting the things we had not seen. In Sofia we were trying to find things we could go to see. And when we went to the Archaeological Museum it was just closing.
But there were unexpected delights. On the evening we ventured into a restaurant which was at the end of a long lobby, and it was wonderful! Brightly painted, hand carved wooden benches and tables, serving dishes suspended on chains over the tables – and the food was good to.
And street musicians who looked as if they had been doing it all their lives.
And the bizarre – we had seen lots of weddings (it was a Saturday) and Chris thought that this summed marriage up – “First the fluffy white dress then the reality”. I don’t know what she means.