The idea for this post came to me after reading a comment about the neighborhood view from my hotel room at Ramada Sofia looking depressing. Bulgaria is a poor country, one of the poorest in Europe. There are some great shopping deals, some interesting and old architecture, and a culture to experience interacting with people in Sofia, Bulgaria. That being said, I found the city a little too gritty in terms of the condition of streets and sidewalks and the general state of many residential buildings for the kind of tourism my wife enjoys when visiting a European city.
In general, I felt safe in Sofia, but there were a couple of times when I was cautious, once when walking through a working class residential neighborhood after dark. Just my fear taking hold and no issue or encounters at all with any of the groups of guys hanging out on the street.
The other time was during mid-day when I came to a road intersection with two large dogs roaming unfettered in front of a dilapidated residential building. The dogs were riled up after seeing a dog on a leash and they were hanging out barking on the far side of the street I wanted to cross. I changed direction 90 degrees and walked the other side of the street, separated from the dogs by car traffic.
I probably spent two or three hours walking around working class residential neighborhoods over two days in Sofia. One of my interests in travel is seeing where local people live outside the main tourist zone of a major city.
Liulin and Nadezhda are Communist-era tower block neighborhoods on the northwest side of Sofia from what I have read. I did not venture in that direction.
I walked around the Banishora neighborhood near Central Railway Station and Ramada Sofia hotel where I stayed 3 nights. Oborishte is another neighborhood where I walked around taking photos as I journeyed across the southern perimeter outside Sofia city center from Banishora through Oborishte to Geo Milev, then through large city park forests into Lozenets, one of the more upscale residential areas for Sofia.
FlipFlopPeople.com has an interactive Sofia neighborhood map showing the relative locations of these different neighborhoods around Sofia, relative to the city center.
Maychin Dom Garden playground
As a credentialed elementary school teacher in California, playgrounds in different countries are an interesting sight for me. I adored the concrete animals, especially the elephant trunk slide.
One of the common features I see in my trips to eastern European countries like Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Czechia and Bulgaria are public facilities in the parks for adult and child recreational play and exercise.
Concrete ping-pong tables in Sofia park.
Businesses and residential buildings on the main traffic streets looked to be in better condition than most of the buildings found on side streets in Banishora area.
Sofia population is about 1.2 million in a country of 7.3 million. The shape and smaller size of Bulgaria (43,000 sq. miles) overlays neatly across a map of larger Iowa (56,000 sq. miles) for a sense of the relative size.
Banishora alley view of residential home.
As I mentioned in other articles on my time in Sofia, I kept a close watch on the ground and sidewalks. This is a tough city to walk and there are lots of pitfalls to avoid in the sidewalks.
Sidewalk missing pavement outside an open restaurant in Sofia.
Oborishte and Poduyane neighborhoods Sofia
Church of St. Paraskeva is the third largest Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Sofia.
This photo is an example of the sidewalk issue in many residential areas I walked. Large parts of the sidewalk are missing, while blocks in place are not necessarily level.
University Hospital “Tsaritsa Yoanna – ISUL
University hospital Tsaritsa Yoanna is a government run hospital built in 1936. I saw more taxis at the hospital than any other location in the city.
Park Zaimov, Sofia
I walked across Park Zaimov, home of Sofia Theatre, a playhouse.
Sfumato Performance Art Theatre is where I entered the park from the backside of the building as I followed an old limping man along the sidewalk.
Sofia Theatre in Park Zaimov is building on left side of photo.
I spied Kanaal, a craft beer bar across from Park Zaimov.
After walking through residential streets in the local neighborhood, I found myself at Serdika Center, a real shopping mall center in Sofia.
On a beautifully clear day I had no desire to be inside yet. I stayed on the streets…
until the noise level of street traffic driving all out at maximum speed became severe noise pollution to my ears. I veered inside a residential apartment block neighborhood with an inner playground and green space. A group of homeless or perhaps just raggedly dressed guys were drinking beer at a table beside an empty playground.
I exited the apartment block to find myself at the National Museum of Military History. I snapped a couple of photos before seeing photography prohibited signs.
National Museum of Military History, Sofia, Bulgaria
Geo Milev District
The area around Geo Milev (Bulgarian poet’s name) is supposedly one of the nicer residential areas of Sofia. There were several tower blocks I walked through to see the residential living space common to the area.
I exited the tower complex to find myself across the street from a park and a Chinese restaurant. I had been walking a few hours and popped inside for lunch. Meals were priced from 8 to 10 BGN ($4.40-$5.50 USD) and 500ml beer from 2.20 to 2.80 BGN ($1.22-$1.55 USD). I had spicy chicken and vegetables and a couple of large bottles of Stella Artois.
After lunch, my story picks up again with a long walk in the park woods to Lozenets neighborhood. That part of the story I wrote three weeks ago and posted photos of the park space, Lozenets and Central Sofia rock concert in the park on my last day in Bulgaria before flying to Poland – Rocking out in Sofia (Feb 28, 2017).
Cracked me up seeing a poster for Deep Purple ‘The Long Goodbye Tour’ concert in Sofia. I saw the band in Mannheim, Germany in 1975, when I was 15 years old. At the time they were listed in Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest rock band in the world for their 1972 concert in London. The guys I saw then are in their 70s now. Long live rock ‘n rollers.
Feb-March Trip Report:
San Francisco, London, Amsterdam, Sofia, Athens, Warsaw, Gdansk, Stockholm, Oakland
Airlines: United Airlines SFO-LHR, British Airways LHR-AMS, Ryanair EIN-SOF, Aegean Airlines SOF-ATH-WAW, Ryanair WAW-GDN, Ryanair GDN-NYO, Norwegian ARN-OAK (about $600 in tickets).
Hotels: Holiday Inn Kensington London (IHG Rewards Club), Park Plaza Vondelpark Amsterdam (Club Carlson), Ramada Sofia, Bulgaria (Wyndham Rewards), Best Western Bonum Gdansk, Poland (Best Western Rewards), Clarion Hotel Sign Stockholm (Choice Privileges).
This trip included my wife Kelley for a 2 night stay in London and 4 nights in Amsterdam, then I traveled solo to Sofia, Bulgaria.
My primary reason for visiting Sofia was to fly a 2-segment Aegean Airlines flight SOF-ATH-WAW Sofia to Athens to Warsaw, Poland. Sofia was a cheap destination to fly to from Amsterdam/Eindhoven EIN on a nonstop Ryanair flight for $50. Hotels were inexpensive too. I stayed 3 nights.
I flew Ryanair from Warsaw to Gdansk, Poland (WAW-GDN $1.99 USD ticket), stayed two nights in the Baltic seaport town. Flew Ryanair Gdansk to Stockholm (GDN-NYO $8.26 USD ticket) and stayed overnight before flying Norwegian Airlines home to Oakland, California (ARN-OAK $149). Then a 2.5 hour drive on Interstate 880 along East Bay in Bay Area rush hour, to U.S. 101 south in San Jose to Highway 1 in Monterey County and home to Monterey.
Those 2 Aegean flight segments allow me to earn Aegean Miles+Bonus Silver elite for 2017/18 with 12,000 Tier Miles on Star Alliance carriers, instead of 24,000 Tier Miles requirement flying Star Alliance airlines without 2 Aegean/Olympic Air flight segments. My next Star Alliance flight will earn Aegean Silver. My objective by year end 2017 is fly 4 more additional Aegean flights and sufficient flights on Star Alliance airlines to reach 24,000 Tier Miles. The date my flight qualifies me for Aegean Silver elite is the date my Tier Points restart at 0 Tier Miles with one year to reach 24,000 Tier Miles for Aegean and Star Alliance Gold elite.
24,000 Aegean Tier Miles can be achieved with two round trip deep discount economy tickets between Stockholm and San Francisco on SAS Scandinavian Airlines. Prices in recent months have generally been available for $400 -$525 from Stockholm to SFO round trip and $475-$740 from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Stockholm.