For the first time, I let fate (or Skyscanner) dictate where we would go on holiday. That’s how Phil and I wound up in Sofia for a long weekend trip. Flights and the apartment were all booked in under half an hour! So, not, me. We knew very little about Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city since 1879, except that our friend comes from there.
We stayed at the Orange Flower Apartment, where almost everything is orange. I’m not kidding. It’s as if a giant, suicidal orange ball rolled in and exploded all over the walls, furniture, bedding, etc. Not my idea of tasteful décor, but for just over £100 for three nights, I wasn’t about to complain! Plus it’s just a five minute walk from the Serdika metro, a major stop and directly accessible from the airport on Line 1.
(I found out later that a 3-night stay at a 5-star hotel would’ve cost only £220. Damn.)
Here’s the view from the bedroom.
Once we’d checked in and dumped our bags, we wandered out for some food. About five minutes away is a good selection of restaurants, including Moma, serving Bulgarian food and wine. I had no idea that Balkan food was so yummy! My favourite thing was the starter of ljutenica, a garlicky spread of red pepper and MAGIC. Photos to come in another day’s post.
We then headed east because I really wanted to check out the top attraction, which you’ll see a few photos down. We passed through the City Garden, a sizeable rectangular park, Sofia’s oldest, and one of the nicer parts of the city, surrounded by fancy buildings like the City Art Gallery and the 5-star Grand Sofia Hotel.
There was a Christmas market taking place with signs taken straight from Germany. No, seriously, just look.
Something smelled really, really good, reminding me of belacan or fermented shrimp paste, a scent you might find particularly offensive if you’re not from Southeast Asia. I had no idea what it was and didn’t stick around to find out, as more merrymakers were piling in and I’m allergic to crowds.
Facing the park is this posh looking Neo-Classical building, the National Theatre, home to Bulgaria’s leading state drama company.
This is the Alexander Nevsky Church and the highlight of Sofia. The Orthodox cathedral was built in phases between 1882 and 1924 to commemorates Russia’s military role in the Liberation of 1878. We were told by a Bulgarian guide that it is named after one of Russia’s most revered medieval rulers who defeated the Teutonic Knights on Lake Peipsi in 1242.
Architecturally, it was modelled on Neo-Byznantine churches in Russia using Bulgarian limestone. The central dome and belfry are gold-plated, but you can’t really see it in these photos. The green domes were once plated with copper and have since weathered to a green hue. Reminds me of a Bulbasaur.
It’s worth a visit — the interior is stunning, bathed in the soft glow of flickering candles and filled with frescoes painted by Russian and Bulgarian artists. Sorry, no photos, as photography wasn’t allowed. To the side of the church is the entrance to the crypt, where there is a gallery of icons dating from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Icons are a big deal to the Orthodox Church, as they help believers feel the presence of God.
We also dropped by the Russian church, or the Church of St Nicholas, just off the busy Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard. It’s a small building but striking because it’s modelled on the Muscovite churches of the 16th century with gilt domes. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos because the buildings were poorly lit, surprisingly. It’s a shame — many of them would’ve looked stunning.
On our way back to the apartment, we took an underpass between the Presidency and the Council of Ministers, and discovered this!
Ruins of the East Gate of Serdica, the old name of Sofia and originally a settlement of the Thracians — think Spartacus.
There’s a bit to explore, and you’ll be able to walk on an old Roman road, last repaired in the 6th century. How awesome is that?
And that, my friends, concludes our first day in Sofia. Check out day two in Sofia in this other post.