After a full Sunday in Sofia, Bulgaria walking around for ten hours and snapping loads of photos, I developed initial impressions of the city. I like to get down my initial impressions of a place before time and exposure changes my perceptions. So, in no particular order of importance, here are some of my thoughts about Sofia, after 36 hours experiencing the city.
English spoken here
I thought this might be one of the more difficult places I have visited in Europe as a tourist for finding people who speak English. People on the streets I asked for directions generally spoke English better than I expected. Most shop clerks spoke sufficient phrases of English to help me out. Several were fluent English speakers.
I had a much easier time communicating with the maid at the hotel in Sofia compared to the maid in Amsterdam. Most public signs and restaurant menus are in Bulgarian and English, although some restaurants outside the main city center were only Bulgarian menu.
Lion’s Bridge in Bulgarian.
Sofia Metro convenient airport to city transportation
I arrived in the city center by Metro from the airport and exited at Serdika, the city center station where Sofia’s two tram lines intersect. The Metro is new and modern and stations looked very clean to me.
Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya
Serdika is a large underground crossroads with pedestrian tunnels filled with Roman and 6th century ruins excavated when the Metro was built in the past decade.
There are so many ruins here they just leave them sitting by the walls of the Metro pedestrian tunnels. There are also lots of shops in the Metro tunnels.
One line of Sofia Metro terminates at Sofia Airport. The price is 1.60 LEV (90 cents USD) for a ride anywhere on the system. City bus and trams are same price. You use the ticket to enter the Metro gate and no need to check out with your ticket when you exit the Metro.
Watch Your Step
I arrived in Sofia city center in the rain at dusk. Outside on the streets I was surrounded by immense buildings at Serdika. On a Sofia Free Walking Tour last night, our guide said the Serdika area was bombed in World War II and the Russians rebuilt the area with grand Stalinist architecture.
Serdika center of Sofia, Bulgaria.
One of the first things I became aware of walking around Sofia is watch your step. There are many uneven and broken sidewalks and some pitfalls to avoid on the streets.
Sidewalk repair or caution signs does not appear to be a budgetary priority.
Food and Drink are relatively inexpensive
The most expensive purchase I have made so far was a $3 toothbrush after losing mine somewhere between Amsterdam and Sofia. $1.00 USD = 1.85 BGN. I withdrew 200 BGN ($108 USD) from the airport ATM for 3 days in Bulgaria. I have to do some shopping today to spend all that cash.
A couple of Metro rides, a toothbrush, a tip to the Sofia Free Tour guide, 7 pints of beer and 2 restaurant meals and I have only spent 40 BGN ($22) in 36 hours. Beer has averaged 2.30 BGN ($1.25 USD) for 0.5L at a pub. Less than half that price in the store.
Sofia pub kitsch decorated the walls of one place I visited.
Sundays are a wonderful day for walking a European City
I like Sundays in Europe. Sofia seemed like a working city in some places and a relaxation city in other places on Sunday.
Sunday farmers market.
Vitosha is a long pedestrian shopping boulevard and a center of city activity.
At one end of Vitosha is Serdika and the other end leads to the Park National Palace of Culture.
Park National Palace of Culture, Sofia.
There were skateboarders and freestyle cyclists practicing their moves on the park steps on a Sunday afternoon.
There is an interesting monument in the park that I was able to research quickly on the web. The story is this monument was designed to represent 1,300 years of Bulgaria and unveiled in 1981. The structure soon began to fall apart and has remained enclosed by fencing for the past couple decades.
The extensive fountains of the park must be a beautiful sight in warmer months.
Past the National Palace of Culture I spied the Hilton Sofia.
I walked a little ways past the Hilton into what seems to be a more upscale expat community of Sofia.
Looked pretty closed up on a Sunday, so I headed back through the open park space to the city center.
This city seems very dog friendly and the park was loaded with dog walkers.
The clearing skies exposed the surrounding mountains to view. So far, today is a super fog/smog day and I don’t know if I will get another view of the surrounding mountains before I leave Sofia.
I was walking back along Vitosha to Serdika and my hotel when I happened across the 6pm meeting point for the Free Sofia Walking Tour. After a day of walking aimlessly around the city, I spent the evening on a 2 hour guided tour of the main city sights.
More on the main sights of Sofia to come. I have 150 BGN to go out and spend today before I leave for Gdansk, Poland tomorrow.