11.22.2016 Sofia, Bulgaria: the start of my journey

On November 20th the start of my mini European journey began in Sofia, Bulgaria. It has been a little bit over 10 years since I had last been to Europe so this was a major thrill for me! The first thing I did once I got to Sofia was check in to my hostel… or at least attempt to.

So, as soon as I arrived the gate to the hostel was opened because people were in and out making deliveries. So I just proceeded up and into the building thinking that things would be laid out plain, simple, and easy to find. Let me tell you, it really wasn’t—at least for me. On the website there are no specific directions on what bells to ring or what doors to go through so honestly when I arrived here I was walking around this building for at least 20-30 minutes trying to find something that seemed like an entrance. I learned later, that when you come, usually the front gate is locked and you have to ring up (unless you have the key). Then someone will come, let you up, and check you in.

So, until then, I am trying to ask these workers who speak no English, where the entrance to the hotel is so I could check in and as you can probably imagine, none of them understood.

I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do but I decided that freaking out was the worst thing I could do so may as well go walk around outside for a little bit. Fortunately for me, all the luggage I had was a medium sized purse and a backpack so I didn’t look that stupid walking around. I eventually made it to where the German Christmas Market was and then walked back the way I came (take in mind I have no map at this point so I don’t really know where I’m going.

Anyways I walked back to my hostel and I am so thankful that this time, it just so happened another person who was staying there was walking in. This allowed me to get in easily and took a lot of stress off my plate. It turned out that for the first night I would be staying at the sister hostel, called The House, which was just down the street. This hostel was awesome, and similarly, in another awesome location just off the main shopping street Vitosha, which means it is also an easy walk to all of the main sites.

If you plan on coming to Sofia anytime soon, I would definitely recommend staying a block or so off this street because it puts you very close to many shops, cafes, and restaurants and all the tourist attractions are basically within what felt like only a 0 minute walk.

Well, my day basically ended as soon as I entered my hotel room around 3pm because within 10 minutes of sitting in my bed I fell asleep. Call me boring but nothing is fun when you are exhausted.

The next day I woke up around 8:40 am so that I would have time to shower and get something to eat before having to head back to Guest house 32 to check in again at 12. For my breakfast I decided I would basically walk up and down the Vitosha street until I built up enough courage to go in somewhere. I made my first attempt in this one cute café when I realized I could not pay with my card and needed Bulgarian currency. Stupid me though, did not convert any money to Bulgarian because for some reason I thought I read that using a card or Euros would be fine everywhere. Nope. IF you are going to Bulgaria do yourself a favor and get some of the currency so you don’t end up like me at an ATM withdrawing only one days worth of cash.

After my ATM stop, I was embarrassed to go back to that same café so I walked up into this store Rois, which sold fruit and nuts and got myself a medium sized bag of roasted walnuts. Let me tell you, I am not really a fan of salted nuts but these were absolutely incredible.

One of the challenging things about the language barrier for me here was that even though the language both looks and sounds completely unfamiliar, the people do not so there is still a small part of my brain thinking I’m going to here a hello when really the most familiar thing I overheard was some French. Another struggle I faced was when I would try to ask someone something or order something, people would come up to me and speak completely Bulgarian in fast sentences, which then caused me to have to explain I spoke English.

So I then continued along the road again until I reached the café Shortcut, so I could hopefully get a quick coffee and sit outside. If there is one thing I have learned it is that if there was some sort of universal language, the word ‘cappuccino’ would be in the dictionary. As usual, the man behind the counter started speaking only Bulgarian when I looked at him and said cappuccino. Immediately he knew what I wanted and made it. I then took my drink and enjoyed it outside.

This cappuccino was incredible. Plain and simple. This is going to be one of those flavors that I remember forever. I ended up sitting here, eating my nuts, savoring the flavor of my cappuccino, and taking in the sights and sounds until about 12:00pm when I went back to my first hotel to check out, so I could check into Guest House 32. I was very impressed when I finally got in and was showed my room! The staff was very friendly and my room was perfect for everything I needed!

After I was checked in my goal was to go and see some of the sites, such as the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. I walked out of the hostel to Vitosha street and proceeded in the direction of City hall. I eventually reached an intersection where to the left is a huge column looking statue with a golden angel on top. Here I made a right. This road would apparently bring me to the Russian Orthodox Church (and many other things). As I was walking, I noticed I had passed the park with the German Christmas market in it, which helped to orient me.

I kept walking and eventually ran right into the church. It was so beautiful! The outside had these beautiful golden domes. The inside was painted so beautifully I wished I could have take a picture however, we were not allowed. The church is not that big so it didn’t really take a long time to tour.

Once I finished, I walked through a little park area to the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. This Cathedral is huge so by this point, you can see exactly where you need to go, it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

This cathedral is absolutely breathtaking. It is so architecturally brilliant from the exterior, you would think it would be hard for the inside to compare. Nope, the inside is just as or possibly even more beautiful. The inside is painted from ceiling to floor with these brilliantly detailed murals—and like I said this cathedral is huge so these paintings are no joke. I think I must have lucked out with the time of day I chose to visit because along the right side all of this light was coming in creating the most spectacular green glow. I could have stayed in here for hours just staring and feeling so tranquil I literally had to force myself up to leave. Even once I was out I took another lap around the building just taking in the enormity and the beauty.

One thing to note is that you can take pictures inside this cathedral; you will just have to pay 10 lev for a photo pass.

After I was finished here, I walked around the area a little bit longer and then headed back in the direction of the Christmas market. I sat on the exterior for a little bit in the park just taking time to myself to journal and reflect. What a blessing it was to be able to say I was able to just casually sit in a park in Sofia, Bulgaria and Journal.

After I walked through the Christmas market to try to get a little snack for lunch time and ended up getting these sliced potato things. I don’t really know what exactly they were called because I honestly just walked to a stand and pointed at something since there was no hope for me trying to read the menu. Fortunately it was delicious!

After I made my way back to my hotel to take a little nap and rest my feet for a bit. It’s crazy how you don’t really realize how much walking you’ve done all before 3:30 until you find yourself stretching in your hotel room. Okay so my little nap is a bit of a lie. I ended up sleeping until about 6:45 and left the hotel again around 7 to see the monuments lit up at night.

Again, I was completely blown away by the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. If you think it is brilliant during the day I urge you to see it again at night. Seriously. You would think that because it was dark you’d be able to see less but for some reason the way the lights illuminate all the crevasses and created all these intricate little shadows it seems as though you can almost see more.

Once again, I had to force myself away, back the way I came so I could go and get dinner. I went into this restaurant called CORSO, which is basically right across from the Russian Orthodox Church. I went here because I noticed the menu had English on it and I saw something that said vegetarian options. For most of the options on the menu, this place did not really fit my budget; however, one of the vegetarian options was significantly cheaper than the others so it ended up being perfect for me!

I ordered the Eggplant bayildi, stuffed with Ratatouille and quinoa, which also had tomato sauce. When the waiter brought out my meal I think I quite literally drooled. I’m not kidding. This thing looked so good I could not wait to eat it. If this thing were to look as good as it tasted they would need to find a way to make it look even tastier. Did that make sense? Probably not—lets just say it tasted so good I was ready to order a second.

Instead I went for the dessert of the day, which was some sort of cake with mascarpone nuts, biscuit, and all sorts of deliciousness. Once again, delicious. If you are coming to Sofia I cannot recommend this restaurant more! All the waiters spoke good English so I didn’t feel awkward ordering. As well, they have sections of their menu where it lists Bulgarian dishes, which is awesome!

Once I got the bill I made my way back to my hotel and went to bed. By this time it was about 9:45 and I was honestly impressed with myself for making it out this late. My flight to Athens the next morning (or in about 20 minutes as I write this now) is scheduled for 10:40am so I planned on leaving my hotel at around 7am to make sure I could find a taxi and get to the airport early enough.

I was able to easily find a taxi on the end of Vitosha street (opposite the end where city hall is) and it cost me 20 euros (which I think was probably too much) to get to the airport.

I am so happy I got to visit Sofia—what a great city! I was genuinely surprised at how not touristy the town was! There was no trouble at all seeing the landmarks and it was crazy how you really did not overhear a lot of English at all!

As far as dos and don’t go I would say don’t think you will be able to get away with just using a credit/debit card. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way and will not make the same mistake again.

One thing I 100% do recommend to do if you go to Sofia is to walk the monuments at night. What would recommend is to walk down Vitosha street towards city hall. I am not sure what the exact street is but you’ll make a right when you see a huge statue of what looked like some sort of angel on top of a column on your left. You will end up walking between two beautiful, grand buildings. This street will ultimately bring you to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral nad the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral.

This is ultimately the same route I took during the day time; however, I would definitely recommend it for walking around at night because it truly is well lit, which is good if you are a little bit hesitant about going out by yourself at night.

As well, besides my little difficulty finding the entrance to my hostel at first, I would still definitely recommend it! The location was absolutely perfect and the inside was well kept and everything that I could have hoped for! I would definitely stay here again, and or recommend it to a friend!

If you are considering Sofia, Bulgaria as a destination stop on your next trip definitely just go for it! In my opinion, it makes the perfect destination for any day-weekend length trip!

Hope you all have a great day!

Hannah

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