In May, my school had a week off so I decided to take advantage of the last, long vacation by absolutely cramming it full of adventures. For a while now I have been eyeing visiting Bulgaria. RyanAir flies to Sofia from Hamburg for very cheap prices, and after Estonia and Latvia, Eastern Europe was calling to me (as well as the great exchange rate).
Saturday evening I flew from Hamburg to Sofia. I left around 7:30 Hamburg time, and with the time change I didn’t arrive in Sofia until after 11 pm. Coincidentally, after 11 is when public transportation sort of stops in the capital. Before I arrived, I had researched how to safely get from the airport to my hostel. Sofia is well-known for taxi scams. Fortunately, I made it from point A to point B with only some stress, and a small possibility I paid too much anyway. However, I later heard that some people had paid around 50 euros (ride should be like 10-15 euros) for their taxi, so I was happy that I wasn’t scammed that hard.
Sunday I woke up to a chance of rain, but a desire to still go out and explore despite the weather. A light drizzle became pouring down rain right before my free walking tour of the city, and our group was small and made up of very brave tourists. One girl I met, named Kari, was from Liverpool and had just arrived, just like me. Into the rainy city we went, and I discovered that I didn’t know nearly enough about Bulgarian history!
Around the fourth century, the Romans occupied the area where Sofia is now. As time passed, instead of destroying the Roman ruins, the Bulgarians simply built on top of the city, up and up, until now, when they try to build a new metro line and discover a forgotten Roman road lined with homes. We saw a Roman church from the fourth century that was tucked away in the courtyard of the President’s palace. We walked through metro tunnels and through the old Roman gate that guarded the city. It was truly fascinating to simply stumble upon ruins throughout the city.
Bulgaria also was occupied by the Soviet Union and was a satellite state in the 20th century. Many buildings with communist architecture still remain.
The tour ended with the skies finally clearing at the famous Alexander Nevsky cathedral. The domes are topped with gold and the sun glinted from them. After the tour, Kari and I took the guide’s advice and visited a very cute tea house for lunch, where we ate delicious and cheap vegetarian pizza.
After lunch, I decided to go on the free food walking tour. I thought that if I had lunch around noon, and the free food tour started at two, I would have some time to digest and prepare for all the free samples. I was wildly mistaken. We were lead to many wonderful places, sampling soup and pastries and sandwiches, and I was utterly stuffed by the end. I met two really nice German girls on the tour. They have been friends for a long time, and live in different German cities. They try to travel together at least once a year to a new place that neither have been to before. We took a small break after the free lunch tour where I dried out a bit and they went shopping, and then we met up for some cheap and delicious sushi and visited a bar they had gone to during a pub crawl that was duck themed! Duck disco balls, rubber ducks on the bar – it was strange and cool.
On Monday I went on a monastery tour to the Rila Monastery about two hours away from Sofia. We took a car and were able to see the gorgeous Bulgarian countryside. Before the monastery, we hiked a short ways up a mountain to see where monks had lived 1000 years ago. Of course it started absolutely pouring so we got drenched when we emerged from the cave we had been exploring. Undeterred, we popped back in the car to go visit the monastery. First we had lunch and tried to wait out the rain a little and dry off, before we explored the grounds of the still-functioning complex. You even will witness monks walking around, living their life. Even with the drizzle it was still gorgeous, and the mist in the mountains and the fog among the trees added to the beauty.
We all slept pretty hard on the car ride back, and the Kari and I enjoyed the free dinner at the hostel. The rooms were so cheap (10 euro a night) and it came with free breakfast and dinner. That’s pretty unheard of when it comes to hostels!
On my final day in Sofia, I had planned to go on a free communism walking tour in the afternoon. However, the tours only run Thursday to Sunday, and it was Tuesday. Plans down the drain, I reevaluated. First, I found a really cute cafe called the Rainbow Factory where I ordered a delicious latte and a huge chicken sandwich, both of which totaled under 5 euro. Everywhere I travel I bring my Kindle, so I decided to read my book in the park for a while and enjoy the nice sunny day that of course Sofia was having. After a while, I popped back into my hostel, and I met a really nice Brazilian guy in the lobby. He was doing a trip from May until August of Russia and Eastern European countries. We talked for a long while, and ate the free hostel dinner. After dinner we took a walk to the grocery store, as I needed snacks for my flight the next day and to spend the last of my Bulgarian lev (their currency). As we were walking around Sofia, we popped into a shop called 1001 Beers, that had so many great beers from around the world, all ridiculously cheap. Beers we would pay $4 for in America were about $1. Also as we walked home, a strange small parade passed us, made up of people in traditional Bulgarian clothing singing and playing instruments. I still have no idea what that was about.
Finally, it was time to sleep and prepare for my flight the next day to Munich. Fortunately, I was able to take the public transportation to the airport (it cost about 80 cents, amazing!), so no more taxi adventures. I absolutely loved Sofia and I would love to explore the rest of Bulgaria, maybe with a little less rain…