We’ve made it to Sofia, Bulgaria! This is another country we never thought we’d visit. After a brutal overnight bus ride, we arrived in Sofia at 6:30 AM. We weren’t sure what to expect, but in the end we experienced plenty of random things in Sofia Bulgaria. By the way, here’s where Bulgaria is located:
Bulgaria is one of those countries I (Scott) lobbied hard for. Hayley didn’t have a strong desire to visit, but since we were in the neighborhood anyway, we decided to swing by. And I’m glad we did. A lot of Westerners think of Eastern Europe as a backwards place. While it certainly hasn’t developed as quickly as the rest of Europe, we had a fantastic time. The streets were moderately clean, people were as friendly as anywhere else, public transportation was above average, and goods were affordable. There might not be a ton of high paying jobs, but for the tourist, Sofia Bulgaria is a good choice.
Anyway, let’s get on with the highlights. Because of a Schengen Zone snafu, we had to cancel our trip to Slovakia and split that designated time between Ukraine and Bulgaria. That bumped up our time here to 10 days.
You may have noticed a theme in a lot of our Eastern European blog posts: Socialism. Pretty much everywhere we’ve been from Czech Republic to Albania has had to shake off the specter hand of doom known as Socialism. Coups, the surveillance state, revolutions, public executions, food rations, brainwashing, lack of rights – these are all but a sampling of the horrors we’ve learned about cruising through the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
I’m absolutely fascinated by Socialist Art. The Brutalist architecture, the Romantic paintings, the modern statues – I love it all. So when we heard about a museum dedicated to Socialist statues we hopped the Metro and checked it out.
Basically, when Socialism failed in Bulgaria, a bunch of cities had statues they didn’t know what to do with. They ended up shipping many of them here, to the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia.
This gigantic statue of Lenin was over 20 feet tall.
Lenin seemed to be a fan favorite here. He’s always in a pondering mode.
One more bulky Lenin head. It always amazes me to think how these historical figures were venerated one day and the very next the locals tried to eradicate every living memory of them. It was only through some quick historic preservation work these statues were preserved.
This was a nice collage sculpture at the Monument to the Soviet Army. Pretty much anytime the Soviet army invaded a Nazi occupied country, they called it “liberation”. This sustained liberation continued for the next 50 years.
Notice how all the statues are happy and peace loving. Everyone got along and the State was productive in its march to a classless utopia.
Sofia, and Bulgaria in general, have a reputation with football hooligans. Basically these folks support their football team and travel around causing mayhem and fighting other football clubs and socialists/communists/anarchists/leftists/cops/rival fans, in general. They also may or may not be involved in organized crime.
It just so happened we stumbled into a “hooligan shop” on our walk home from sight-seeing. Their shop is filled with all kinds of violent and fascistic-themed clothing – all designed to strike fear in the hearts of their opponents. Super interesting but we didn’t buy anything – we didn’t feel comfortable knowing our dollars would be funding a violent hooligan football club.
Here’s their shop on Google Maps.
Here’s a taste of what kind of trouble they get into on the weekends.
A longer version for your viewing pleasure.
Eastern European Churches
Sofia has some nifty looking Orthodox churches. They pull inspiration from Roman, Russian, and their own Bulgarian styles to give their buildings plenty of gazing power.
A smallish, tall Russian Orthodox Church.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is perhaps the most famous house of worship in Sofia. For as interesting as it is, what we found more interesting is that until January 2018, this church had a living Saint.
Dobri Dobrev was an ascetic who walked 12 miles everyday into Sofia to beg for money to donate to church repairs and other charities. All in all he donated over $46,000. He had no possessions and gave no interviews. He died at age 103.
Saint George Rotunda was built 1700 years ago by the Romans. It’s the oldest building in Sofia – pretty good condition, huh?
Here we have the lovely Regional History Museum – it has all kinds of natural springs bubbling up around it which you can safely drink.
And here we have St. Kyriaki Cathedral Church, a lovely Eastern Orthodox church.
Who is BNE?
Okay people, this is a weird one. The origins of this go way back to Romania. During our time in Romania, I noticed tons and tons of “BNE Was Here” stickers. They were on everything! Light poles, bollards, electric boxes, downspouts – everything!
We noticed them in Ukraine (blog post coming soon!) and we also noticed them here in Sofia, Bulgaria. Again, they were on everything! And the stickers looked newish, to boot. I can only assume two things: 1) BNE, the artist, recently visited Eastern Europe; 2) BNE sent stickers to contacts in Eastern Europe and had the stickers applied to everything.
There are so many BNE stickers and graffiti I don’t know how only one person could place them all. Anyway, if you want to read more about him, here’s his wikipedia article.
My favorite mode of public transportation is the tram. Big bonus points if it’s boxy. I love the 80s vibe to them. It feels like riding in the past but there’s something futuristic about it – kind of like cyberpunk. Anyway, Sofia (along with Melbourne, Australia and Strasbourg, France) has some great boxy trams. Plus their color scheme is perfect. Here’s a couple of my favorites.
Food (of course)
No country blog post could be complete without a little mention of the local food. Besides cheap beer (my favorite food), we learned a couple of valuable lessons, food-wise, from Bulgaria.
First, fried dough with powdered sugar on it is fantastic. Also great with Nutella or jam.
This stuff is called mekitsa. It’s a traditional Bulgarian dessert – real peasant food. Delicious and cheap. Make your own with this recipe.
We also learned about the pepper roaster. It’s a clever kitchen appliance that speed roasts peppers, eggplant, corn, or whatever else you can fit it in. I think it was invented somewhere in Bulgaria. A lot of Bulgarians have one and use it for making salsas and whatnot. Looks useful until you need to wash it.
The last bit of Bulgarian food we gorged on was, in fact, American style burgers. We were feeling a little homesick for some greasy comfort food so we pigged out on these over at Skaptoburger. 10/10
Sofia probably wouldn’t have been on the shortlist for vacation destination given normal circumstances, but since we were in the area we stopped – I, for one, am happy we did. I think Hayley could have taken or left it.
In general, Sofia was affordable, safe, and had enough to do and explore for a couple of adventurers. So with all that in mind, we have two ratings…
I give Sofia
Hayley gives Sofia
There you have it! Those were our random things in Sofia Bulgaria. Have you been to Sofia? Did you love it? Did you hate it? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.