Today, I will write a little bit about Bulgaria or to be more specific – Sofia (the capital of the country). Those, who follow my blog know that I used to live in Bulgaria in 2014. It was both bumpy and wonderful experience and yes – if I could judge the attitude of people only – I would like to be there now :)
So first thing first: most of you have never been to Sofia, some of you have never visited Eastern Europe. Since I am from Eastern Europe myself, it might be kind of hard to be objective, but I will try.
Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. The city with around 2 million people (officially – 1,2 million) has its ups and downs. For the person from Western Europe it might be ugly, but I know some people from the Netherlands, UK, France, Spain and Portugal who hated it at first, but now they cannot see themselves elsewhere. Locals sometimes call Sofia “a different Bulgaria” – yes, it definitely is much more developed than the rest of the country though cities like Varna, Plovdiv or Burgas are not so far away.
Most of the people in Sofia live in old blocks. Of course, this is what communism left, but on the other hand – the living standards are not bad. When I spoke to my Bulgarian friends (and I have many of them) – they were quite shocked when I told them that in Poland many flats are like 25-40m2 and 50m2 is already considered as a decent sized one. Of course, the buildings are old, they look grey and ugly and some are quite dangerous (e.g. there were some elevator accidents in the oldest buildings), but inside they are absolutely normal.
Is Sofia safe?
Yes, I got that question around billion of times, if not more ;) My judgement is clear: Sofia is safe. Not super safe (you should use normal precautions as most of the cities), but generally safe. I used to live in Lozenets (ok, “the posh district”) and many times I was walking in the middle of the night from the center to my block. It took 40 minutes. And guess what – I am alive (just a little sick lately, but that’s not the point I guess ;) ).
Window view from my apartment in Lozenets
Anyways, if I was supposed to give you the areas I would avoid as a tourist, it would be:
- Filipovtsi – this is a gypsy district. Because of that – relatively unsafe and scary.
- Lyulin – some people from Sofia refer to it as a ghetto. I won’t say it’s unsafe, it’s just a little bit ugly. Plus quite honestly, there is not much to do there. I used to work in Lyulin 10 though and nothing ever happened to me.
- Nadezhda – not dangerous for me, but also – boring as hell.
- Obelya – never had issues there – though it might be unsafe at times.
- Studentski Grad – ok, if you want to party for your whole stay – go there. If you want to relax – don’t. It’s a “Student Town”.
The old buildings of Lyulin-10 (picture taken from the roof of Labirint Business Center)
Where to go in Sofia?
Sofia is very much accessible by subway, at least you can easily get into many tourist places with it. In the center you would find the square next to the “Ivan Vazov National Theatre” – I totally loved this place in summer. There were tons of people, beautiful fountains and in general – the atmosphere is great! You can also go to “Alexander Nevski’s cathedral” – the most famous one in Sofia. Usually you can enter inside.
Square next to the Ivan Vazov National Theatre
Center of Sofia is super beautiful, you can find plenty of old buildings, churches, and also what always strikes me – yellow roads made of bricks. It gives the city its special atmosphere.
Center of Sofia, typical building, some cars, and a little bit of my finger (sorry ;) )
In close proximity to the center there is some place I always liked (even though it’s not super beautiful outside, but for me it’s another symbol of Sofia) – Natsionalen Dvorets na Kulturata (NDK) – National Palace of Culture. A lot of events take part there – concerts, exhibitions, festivals etc. There are also club and restaurants inside. Well, quite multifunctional. NDK is surrounded by the park.
Further walk will guide you to “Yuzhen Park” (South Park). And no, it’s not the Bulgarian version of a famous animated comedy – it’s a real park. Actually, I used to live just next to it when living in Sofia.
Beautiful Yuzhen Park
Both in summer and winter it is good to visit Vitosha mountain. Of course, if you’d like to hike – summer is better. But in winter you can ski. And no, Vitosha is not few kilometres from the city, it’s like the part of the city.
View from the window of my apartment – Vitosha Mountain is very close
There is also a nice chance to use “older” public transport. In most of the cities old buses, trams and trolleys are already replaced – in Sofia there are still quite a lot left. If you had no chance to hop on such public transport yet, there is a chance to try.
Old tram, tracks and the nice, older couple – in Lozenets
People – so what I miss the most
Sofia has something that will always stay in my memories – vibrant and young atmosphere. Bulgarians are actually a great nation which knows how to laugh and have fun. I have also noticed that they like foreigners, especially when you try to speak with them in their own language (does not matter how ridiculous it is :) )
Sofians generally play with the rules – except the apartment owners, no one wanted to take any advantage of me. Only one person in the shop or the service center of any kind was not polite to me. People usually smiled to me, wished me a nice day, if they did not understand me – they asked politely to repeat. No one got mad that my Bulgarian sucked (yes, it quite did).
When I twisted my ankle on the street – everyone wanted to help. When I got lost – one person not only guided me, but also offered to drive me to the center. When I shared my problems with my colleagues – they wanted to help me (here in Tallinn it happened that someone told me that I am not allowed to complain while I did not even complain, just asked for advice…) etc.
…Sofia is the perfect example of “beauty lies inside” saying: outside it’s ugly, dirty at times and seems totally undeveloped, but inside it has a lot to offer. If you want to love it, you have to accept the fact that it does not want to undergo plastic surgeries for you – it will have its defects that you have to accept.
One day I’ll come back :)
PS. Thanks for the inspiration to Euroventure Travel. You can follow them @Euroventure on Twitter (you can also follow me: @Adomas86 if you want :) ).