Black Sea to the East, Turkey and Greece to the south, Macedonia to the Southwest, and Romania to the North. Sofia is a feast of richness in culture.
I had a 5 hour stopover in Sofia on my way to Istanbul, and I asked the Taxi to drop me off in the center of town. As we got close I saw this amazing gold roof, and I asked him to drop me off at what I’d find out was Alexander Nevsky Cathedral an Eastern Orthodox church that can support 10,000 people.
What a fascinating area. First you just start walking around and you find amazing vendors selling antiques. Antiques including old money from Yugoslavia, Germany, Iran, Iraq, across the middle east and various EU countries prior to their adoption of the Euro. Amazing masks, art work, and antique razors, knives, and swords. What a beautiful area to wander around.
Next door sits St. Sofia a crazy old church even for Europe. On the site of the church in the 2nd century was a Roman theatre, and over the next couple of centuries were built churches only to be destroyed by Goths and Huns, and in the 6th century was built the Hagia Sofia church, a contemporary of the Hagia Sofia church in Istanbul. In the 16th century it became a mosque, and the mosaics destroyed. Now one of the most valuable pieces of early architecture in Southeastern Europe. The city took it’s name from this church.
The young population of the city breathes life in a big way. My second visit to Bulgaria a week later after having traveled across Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia to then drive from Skopje to Sofia in 3 hours with an impressive taxi driver. One estimate we had in Sofia was an 8 hour drive. My hat off to our Macedonian driver. The same driver who took us to meet the Roma.
I’ve seen skaters in large cities in Europe before. In fact in Paris, I saw huge jumps setup in a park, but in Sofia it was different. Here it was as if the youth were the center of the city. There presence is more important and embraced. Vibrant youth. Radical change. Hope.
I met one such youth. Yordan. He is full of hope, he is full of energy. He was playing his accordion for fun. It added a cultural element to the air. We had a quick chat and extremely quickly we became friends and built trust.
Speaking of hope… I spent a few days with these guys at MS Days Bulgaria. Two company owners and Microsoft Employee. Radi, the Ninja Master, opened up his office and on my way home I had dinner with his team. Again, passion, energy. The old guard is getting old and retiring, there’s a lot of change a foot in Bulgaria. A new generation is building businesses and generating successful employment. Over 1000 attendees came to the event held in a very new Movie Theatre complex.
One of the coolest things about Sofia Bulgaria is the various fresh local markets. While the antique market may be catering somewhat to the tourist. The book market, the fruit and fresh market, and the vendors in the area. Encouraging passion, intelligence, and getting people out into the streets engaging. The culture is very open, very talkative.
Travel Tip: We had no problems with metered Taxis, but yes you might pay more than twice more if you don’t negotiate a local price. Use the OK taxi, use the meeter and you’ll save a bundle. Don’t believe them when they say fixed price from the airport, and don’t take a taxi that isn’t in line. Those soliciting are going to charge you more than the yellow OK taxi.
The parks aren’t setup specifically for the tourist. A book market… YES! Can you believe it! Knowledge is power, and whether it’s the book market or the extremely passionate chess games with crowds as large as 20 people watching the intense game. There’s something going on in Bulgaria. It’s called life.
Sorry to say… I had a delay on my way home from Turkey which caused a domino effect. It did put me in Sofia for another 5 hour layover, a third trip to Sofia in a 10 day period and rather than sit at the airport lounge, I reached out to my new friend Radi who invited a few friends. Many thought it was an April fools joke.
One of the things I loved most of Sofia was how easy it was to find incredible food. I didn’t have a single dish that wasn’t incredible. The salads, the soups, the vegetables… I don’t think I’ll ever rave so much about various red and green peppers, cucumbers, egg plant, TOMATOs, and the cheese… yes the cheese. I mean really, they were spectacular. I’ve never tasted anything like it, there’s something in the soil, or something. I have to imagine organic plus no chemicals, hormones, no accelerated growth, or weed killer. Something I just can’t get in the US or in Western Europe. When I saw goat head on the menu, I was getting a little excited. The guys had some fun with that. Unfortunately Goat head wasn’t available. Parts and pieces depend on what’s available.
A crossroads of East and West, Bulgaria may hold an important piece of the future of Europe and hence the future of our world. Often overlooked, but sleeping spark of economic growth. While Greece, Spain, Portugal and others slow, there’s a sleeper that is emerging. Let us welcome Bulgaria to the world stage. I’d definitely welcome a Bulgarian restaurant in my home town.