Balkans / Bulgaria / Europe

Sofia. Balkans Welcome To!

I am not sure, in which country I see myself in 10 years but it’s definitely NOT United States. Did you realize they only have 10 paid days of vacation? 10. Yes. T-E-N. It’s not April’s Fool I’m afraid. They do have a bunch of bank holidays to cheer them up,  but if you compare it with bank holidays in Poland (more than 10) well, the number speaks for itself. Conclusion is – I shouldn’t be moaning because it could be worse, but I can’t get no satisfaction. Living in the UK is not bad at all, but the more you have, the more you want. So true. To my colleagues it seems I’m always travelling. Perhaps I simply mastered the fine art of creating delusion. This is what it is – just a delusion. In fact I’m more like a tailor trying to smartly sew together my free days so it seems I have more of them. And God! I’m so envious of my boyfriend who is a teacher and has 15 WEEKS of paid vacation. Oh, epic things I could do with so much time! Possibilities are endless! Last summer Mario set off for travel along Turkish coast and visit Balkans – I managed to join him for 10 days. Travelling has never been so intense. I won’t lie, I haven’t see a lot, but just a little is enough to say that this bit of Europe is definitely my cup of tea…

First stop Sofia.

The capital of Bulgaria is my kilometer 0. A starting point of a crazy journey through Southern-East Europe. I meet with Mario who looks quite drained after yesterdays pub crawl. As you can see my dear reader, being on a long vacation can be really tiring.

Sweet insouciance of my beloved boyfriend never ceases to amaze me. He left his camera on his bed in a hostel and of course now it’s gone. We are both about to get a heart attack, scouring for it every inch of the room. In vain. We had cried a river, we said goodbye to holiday selfies, we mourned and finally agreed with our karma. And this is when the camera reappears at reception desk. Call us lucky (or maybe I should be more relaxed and less prejudiced about Eastern Europe?) but I think this was a perfect lesson for both of us. Honestly, can you imagine what a DISASTER it would be, for a blogger, not to show you all of those beautiful places? As much as I wish, I don’t think I am able to paint the beauty of Balkans with my poor English. Sad but true.

The weather outside is excellent, we walk around the city, pampered by the Sun – last year in Europe summer was extremely hot – I wish this wave of heat reached the UK – apparently we had 2 hot days but I missed them being abroad. Damn it! Free walking tour in Sofia is something I can honestly recommend as an excellent way for you first date with the city. Our guide Vasco is fearless of my question and believe me or not I am bombing him with the most stupid ideas that come to my head. I can be pesky, oh yes I can, and I like to know things. 🙂 His passion amazes me.

Even though we are in the middle of summer – tourist season – Sofia seems to be a bit abandoned especially on that lovely hot Saturday afternoon. I guarantee you won’t bumped into groups of drunk Brits, they’d rather choose sandy beaches of the Black Sea over mysterious secrets of Serdika – former centre of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Here you can still admire ancient ruins and when I say admire, I mean, you can live the history, feel it under your fingers. Literally. Sofia is incredible – it’s one huge archaeological zone. You walk down the street, you see ruins behind every corner, you enter the tube – ruins, it’s almost certain that when you open a random door, you will find some ruins there too. Underground zones are like portals to a different world, but locals don’t seem to be as excited about it as I am. The government wants to open a huge open air museum in the city but judging by the progress so far it will take them another good couple of years.

Apart from majestic orthodox churches including a masterpiece itself Nevski Cathedral and Orthodox Church of st. Gregory  – the oldest Orthodox temple in Sofia, you can easily spot the “Oriental vibe”. Spiked tower of mosque Banja Basza from XVI century is one of the city’s landmarks. From here, follow the path to Sofia’s Central Mineral Baths, the  building, although very beautiful, is unfortunately closed since many years, which is indeed a shame. Those of you who would like to try the magical water, can still do it – there are 2 little water fountains attached to the building. Not far from us, there is also the biggest Jewish Synagogue. This is how, in a cozy capital of Bulgaria, three big religions meet and blend.

It’s so easy to get lost in your thoughts but be careful – especially on a rainy day, being starry-eyed can end up tragically. Yellow paving stones covering the city centre, although so unique, because you can see them only in Sofia, when wet, they become dangerously slippery. Each year it causes many small incidents. Careless tourist, if they are lucky to walk away, won’t miss a crash course of basic Bulgarian words I won’t even mention here, in respect of my younger audience. 🙂

Yellow trams in the abandoned city centre.
The oldest Orthodox Church in Sofia.
Monument of St Sofia replaced the somber one of Stalin – good choice!
National Theater with beautiful fountains .
You think you gonna just take a tube – nothing more deceiving – you are about to enter the world of Roman Empire!
The mosque from XVI century is still open nowadays.
General Mineral Baths.
Such a shame that Mineral Baths are closed this could be one of the major attractions in Sofia.
Nevski Orthodox Church and a classic old car – a bit of Havana in Eastern Europe.
Nevski Monastery is the biggest Orthodox Church of Balkans – it was built to commemorate tsar Alexander II – his army liberated Bulgaria from Turkish occupancy.
Famous yellow pavement – although it shines beautifully in the Sun, it becomes very dangerous in winter!
Check-Mate, from the Streets in Sofia with love.

After the practical part of our tour it’s time to forget about the rest of the world and treat ourselves to a nice dinner. Bulgarian cuisine is perhaps not the most impressive one, but there are some dishes that are exceptional. So far my top 4 are: – ljutenica (slightly spicy vegetable creamy salsa – you can find it under different names in most of the countries in Balkans) white cheese sirene (tastes like feta cheese), stuffed aubergines (I love aubergines in every shape and size so for me this is just heaven!) and tarator (white soup gazpacho style – very similar to what my mum does in summer). The choice is great, everything fresh and succulent. It’s the first day of my vacation so we decide to dine in a nice restaurant. During our walking tour we met a lovely fellow traveler from the UK and we spent that evening together. If you ever read it – the pleasure was ours 🙂

Celebrating holidays in Bulgarian restaurant with our new friend.
Bulgarian yummy veg dinner.

We stay in Sofia for two days, I think it’s enough to see all the most important highlights and feel a bit of the unique atmosphere of the city. I really regret one thing – we didn’t go to see the Rilsky Monastery because we chickened out we wouldn’t been able to catch a mini bus to our next destination and there was only 1 bus per day… “Goodbye Bulgaria” doesn’t come easily, but then the excitement of new adventures takes over. Next stop Macedonia – is it worth visiting? You will find it out in my next post. Довиждане!