Sofia in a Day

Trip Start Aug 31, 2007
Trip End Apr 19, 2008

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Friday, November 9, 2007

So the girls from northern Alberta are going to northern Greece and have somehow convinced me to go with them. This has required cutting Rila Monastery from my itinerary, but I have 50 years of travel left, God willing, and I can always come back in Bulgaria.

Today, the three of us travelled to Sofia, and I had my own personal tour guides for Bulgaria's capital city. Our first stop is McDonald's for free, clean bathrooms, and to fill up our water bottles. We don't touch the food. Don't tell. We pass large lion statues outside the Justice Hall on our way to Sveta Nedelya Cathedral. The central dome, is impressive, but as with the monastery, years of candle smoke have darkened the paintings so as to make them nearly unrecognizable.

Next, we visit the Church of St. George, dating from the 3rd century. Now that is old. It has been quite well restored and is very relaxing, if comparatively small, inside. Leaving the church, I realize the changing of the guard is occurring in four minutes and we rush towards the President's Building. Just as I'm wondering where the guards will be, Susan says, "Look behind you. No seriously dude, behind you." and there are the guards, three of them, waiting patiently for us to move so they can start the show. Unlike at Buckingham Palace, no one really gathers to watch the guards change in Sofia. The lead guard sticks his tongue out at us as he passes (seriously!) and we stand there taking pictures of their goose-stepping antics like the tourists we are.

A stroll in the Sofia City Gardens follows (some playing on swings is involved) and we pop into a Russian church on our way to Sofia's crowning glory, the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Consistent with the day's theme, the interior is dark and gloomy, but is clear the cathedral's architects had entered a competition for most-domed building the world has ever seen. They're popping up everywhere. I shudder to think of drawing such an edifice on AutoCAD. I take far too many photos of the cathedral exterior as we walk around it, managing to get one of my favorite aspects of Sofia into some of the pictures, too: snow-capped mountains.

Word on the hostel circuit had been that Sofia was a dump, ranking right up there with Bucharest. This was not my impression at all. I very much liked the place. Yes, it is a city, but  a nice one, and being able to see mountains from downtown, well that was one of the best parts.

Leaving the church, we are faced with six hours until our train departs and nothing much else to do. We wander among the street vendors on the square, looking at old coins, violins, cameras, and other assorted Soviet paraphernalia. I am tempted by an old 1 billion Dinar, Leva, or some other currency note, but we barely have any money left, and we are hoping to get dinner out of our last remaining Leva. In our final hours, we manage to see a mosque, a synagogue (checking off all the religious boxes) a shopping center, and to spend our last few coins on chocolate, after a filling dinner. We also spend a little too long freezing in the train station's waiting area, but eventually train M461 shows up and we head for Greece.

Sofia's Prague Factor:
Well, much as I enjoyed Sofia, it's not much like Prague and most tourists seem to avoid it, if possible. Aside from old stone churches in the Byzantine or Orthodox style, the city is mostly modern boulevards and the occassional 19th century building. I'll give it a 32%.
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