Where are we?

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Friday, September 21, 2007

İ don't have too much to say about Sofia as there was not too much about the place that was special.  We arrived early in the morning desperate for hygiene and warmth after our cold and grimy overnight train and found ourselves in a great little hostel with news of the world (yes, we had English language TV again)!  It was icy cold outside and we were both exhausted from a fairly sleepless night.  After a quick walk around town we decided fairly quickly that there was not too much keeping us here in Sofia.  You can see where this is headed.  Cold outside.  Warm inside.  TV inside.  English movies inside. We stayed inside. 
Yes. I know this makes it difficult to judge the city when we spent lots of time inside - but trust me, we walked around and there was not much to see.  It seemed like a nice enough city with everyone getting on with their business but all against a slightly worn backdrop.  The people seemed weary, the buildings bleak and run down and the trams and buses were straining to endure.
Iain became obsessed with a meal that I would deem the single unhealthiest dish I have ever had the misfortune of eating: a greasy chip and meat kebab with no vegetables which left almost a cup full of oil in the bottom of the bag I ate it from.  Yes, I had one.  Only one.  Iain declared it the national dish of Bulgaria and decided to eat at least one for every meal.  It was gut-wrenching.  İt wasn't enough that they included none of the food groups that earthlings know off, but they also dipped the flatbread in a pool of oil and set fire to it before they began to start adding the lardy ingredients.  Gross.
There was a distinct phenomenon in Sofia of elderly ladies selling small bunches of flowers which they had decorated with bits of silver thread and coloured paper.  I found it extremely sad as İ'm sure this is not something they would be doing if they had a choice.  It reminded me a lot of the Russian babuskas in Moscow who would catch the train into town just to sell their home grown bunches of herbs in the stations.  I find it quite upsetting to see elderly people begging.
Sofia was always going to be only a brief stop to break up our long train journey.  Very excited about our next stop: Turkey is a place I can't wait to return to.

* * *

We find ourselves in Sofia as a means of breaking the long journey between Belgrade and Istanbul. It was an overnight journey to get this far, and we still face 12 more hours to take us all the way through to Turkey.
Sofia, in the most concise of summaries, is bloody cold.
Our room is cold. The streets are cold. İ can't recall the last time I wasn't frozen through. There is no respite at night either.
In moments when İ have been able to succcessfully defrost İ have actually found Sofia quite an enjoyable city. By their own acknowledgement, there is not a great deal to see and do here - the main attractions of Bulgaria lie on her Black Sea coast - but the little that there is to do in the capital is accessible and is done well.
Before coming here, all I knew of Bulgaria was its reputation for weightlifters. So in terms of preconceptions, never have we visited somewhere where we knew less.
The city seems to struggle somehow. İ can't put my finger on it, but there is a sense of this being a slightly broken world, yet to enjoy the full benefits of the fall of the USSR with foreign dollars rolling in, but having a good enough time without it anyway. Too many people selling things from around the house, and men being sent out to sell doilies crocheted by dutiful wives.
I will remember Sofia lovingly for its fine kebab shops: the one thing that Claude spent her time avoiding as a central priority. We each keep a diary of this trip, and in completing hers she asked me if i mentioned our first doner meal in my pages - of course İ had. Where she noted nothing but dietary concerns, I had scratched in oily little love hearts. Lemon juice, yoghurt and - oddly - cold fried chips go into this questionable delicacy. 48 hours in this city: kebab tally - 4.
An unexpected highlight of our two days here is the brooding Aleksander Nevski Church. If you are looking for a nice place for a satanic ritual with a bit of virgin sacrifice - and these days who isn't? - then this is your church. It looks about a thousand years old, so its a considerable surprise to find that its yet to reach its century. Perhaps because of the biting cold, it has been built with few windows, and those that did earn inclusion are small and yellowed and thus cast a ghoulish musty light over the heavy iron chandeliers that dominate the space in the dome. İ just sat in the middle of it for about 15 minutes and managed to get nicely spooked even though it was the middle of a clear blue (frosty) day.
On departure, we were actually astoundingly lucky to catch our evening train for İstanbul. As the minutes til our departure ticked by - and still no platform decision got shared with us lowly passengers  - we made an executive decision to just go platform to platform and ask each carriage attendant who we found. With some good fortune we found the Balkan Express about 10 minutes before departure. Many, many didn't... and we had much of the carriage to ourselves. At least they'll have a very stylish Soviet era station in which to hibernate, small consolation as that is.
Sofia lacked any major spark of difference to the other European cities we have now traversed, but maybe its simply time for us to get out of Europe and embrace change. İ´ll happily come back another time to see it with fresh eyes. Kebab in hand within minutes of arrival of course.


This is out of order as Travelpod has misplaced our Belgrade entry.  It is coming....
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