I finally put my feet in a new country this year – Bulgaria was a first and a country I has been contemplating for a while. Flights from London are relatively cheap, and I thought for the first May bank holiday this could be a good option. So there I go waking up at 2:30am to catch a bus at 3:20am to be at London Stansted airport at 4:30am, for my flight at 6:30am. These early flights aren’t easy… but are cheaper and I can sleep any other time. Plus, bearing in mind Bulgaria is 2 hours ahead, I would be landing in Sofia at around 12pm local time. Getting off the airport, taking the subway to the city…I was at the hotel at about 1pm. All of this to explain that if I had taken a later flight I would have slept less, but would have missed a whole day! Giving up sleep allowed me to have a whole afternoon to explore.
And in a single afternoon, I was hot, it was cold, I got drenched with a sudden heavy rain, and also had to put on sunscreen. Spring, am I right? I don’t understand why we like this season so much… oh yes, the blossoming flowers. And there is plenty of that in Sofia… in fact that was one of the things that most impressed me about the city – so many parks (modest, mind me, but I live in London so…), so prettily arranged with flower beds – and for someone who was just 2 weeks before in the Netherlands and falling in love with tulips, let me tell you Sofia is not behind!
Having checked in my hotel – I stayed at Hotel Niky, which I highly recommend – I went to have lunch at a Traditional Bulgarian restaurant (more on that to come in a next post) and then went back to the hotel for quick lay down. I had plenty of time and had decided to take a free walking tour at 6pm.
The tour was fantastic – so again, if you do happen to be in Sofia, please take the Free Sofia Tour. These tours take place every single day, three times a day. Our guide was able to pack 7,000 years of history in roughly two hours and half, telling us the most interesting stories and sharing secrets not even locals know about. And guess what – he had studied in Portugal and very coincidently in my hometown – which isn’t any of the major big cities of Portugal. A very happy coincidence indeed!
There is something very unique about the capital of Bulgaria. It doesn’t have a huge river crossing it, it’s not also close to a sea or a big ocean. Instead, of protecting it, you see the intimidating peak of Vitosha Mountain. Majestic indeed, a beautiful view from downtown.
Then, like an onion, Sofia is made of layers. Being 7,000 years old, this place has lived through so much, and you can actually see it. The Romans, the Ottomans, the Turkish… and then the Western European influences from the 17th and 18th century… and later communism. So much history in a single place.
And so much tolerance. Sofia doesn’t lack places of prayer for those who belong to a multitude of religions – while most churches are Orthodox, within a very small space you’ll find a Catholic Church, an Orthodox Church, a Mosque and a Synagogue. If the world lived like that, such a wonderful world it would be. It becomes even more interesting when just below this area you find extensive Roman Ruins – a civilization known for its religious tolerance, but polytheistic in nature.
Isn’t this fascinating?
Entering the different churches is for itself a great experience in Sofia. You can’t pictures inside (you can, but you have to pay a fee), and I was not going to pay for that. But what distinguishes Orthodox Churches from the Catholic I’m used to is really how bare they are inside – not massive sculptures or huge great altars. Instead, the walls are covered with frescoes – iconography really what distinguishes it.
However, I do find these churches beautiful from the outside as well.
That’s all for today – have you been to Bulgaria? Is it on your list?