A short (ahem) 11 hour bus journey has you out of Istanbul and in the lovely Sofia, Bulgaria. That is after the unavoidable nuisance that is doing the hokey cokey at the Turkish/Bulgarian border. In out in out shake it all about loses its novelty at midnight when all you want to do is sleep.
The bus ride is an otherwise peaceful yet cramped affair and a cheap way to get out of Turkey. Arriving at around 6.30am (late of course) you have lost no sightseeing time and can drop your bags off, eat breakfast and face the day head on, fueled by the adrenaline that comes with less than satisfactory sleep.
Sofia was a refreshing change to Istanbul. A hint of continental Europe, with a post-communist twist. And the trees, oh the trees! Every which way there is greenery to feast ones eyes on, parks, shrubbery, trees and grass oh my!!
In this city I found everything intriguing, starting with the language and its mysteriously cryptic Cyrillic alphabet. Asking for directions is like a baffling yet fun guessing game.
Next you have the architecture. Pleasant pale pastel buildings on the one side of the street, often with what I can only refer to as the Eastern European edge (pointed dome style roof tops). Contrast that with the cold, harsh, grey, unkempt communist style on the other, Bulgaria’s stern looking past staring you squarely in the face.
Then there were the churches and cathedrals. It was refreshing to admire the many churches of Sofia after coming from the mosque endowed Istanbul. Even more so with the Neo-Byzantine style that is unique to this part of the world. The most famous (and obvious) example being the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Featuring an emphasised gold plated central dome and an interior that boasts various coloured Italian marble and Brazilian onyx trappings. The Bulgarians really didn’t mess about with this one.
The Church of St George in all of its red bricked rotunda glory was built by the Romans in the fourth century and is the oldest building in Sofia.
The Russian Church, an altogether different style, impresses the eyes with its gleaming pearlescent roof tiles, reminiscent of Ariel, the Little Mermaid. The churches’ golden onion domes (this is the actual name for them) serve to signify its Russian Revival architectural roots.
Alongside the Eastern Orthodox style of churches that mark Sofia out as unique from its continental counterparts, there were the old monuments acting as a reminder of Sofia’s not too distant past. The dark and imposing nature of such monuments is what one would imagine from Bulgaria’s communist era (I may be wrong they may have nothing to do with that but it provokes thought all the same). I found it refreshing that these were often covered in graffiti, the significance of this is anyone’s guess.
Bringing me to one of my favourite features of the city, the recurring graffiti sprayed across walls, monuments and even electricity boxes. Some as part of an art movement (I was told which but have since forgotten) some excellent, some just for the sake of it, but always serving to make the scenery a little more colourful.
Thats what I found, but how did I spend my short time in Sofia? Sticking to a meticulously worked out plan aimed at taking in as much sights as humanly possible in a short space of time?
Not really. I got there. I ate a traditional Bulgarian salad (Shopska salad) accompanied with Rakia, Bulgarian wine that is traditionally served with this meal. I walked past the impressive monuments on the way to the bar, eying them up as is customary in the presence of such grandeur. Drank a delicious cocktail. Went back to my friends house, ate some delicious PORK sausages with cheese (such as brie and stilton) and bruchettas (oh how I miss such things). Embarked on the Sofia alternative bar crawl, a must for those who would like to find out the back story of the more offbeat Sofia drinking holes (albeit not recommended if you want to get hammered). Ended up getting hammered anyway. Up and out at a slightly reasonable time on the Sunday. Ate some cheesy chips (hangover cure). Opted to hang out in the park in the sun rather than embark on the free Sofia walking tour.
Thats about it really. I got all my snaps on the way back to the bus station from my friends flat.
I guess I could have done more, but for my purposes it was perfect. A much needed escape from Istanbul, quiet where Istanbul is noisy with space to think and clear the mind clutter f*ck that comes with living in this city. Getting on public transport and managing to get a seat. Crossing the road without fear for my life! The cars actually stop for pedestrians! More park space in the city centre than we probably have in the whole of Istanbul!!
Just being in Sofia and breathing it’s cleaner, greener, calmer air was enough. I would return within a heartbeat.