We took our last long distance train from Plovdiv to Sofia, only three hours; but this one was an hour late, and our companions were a very heavy woman who was on the phone most of the trip (thank gosh for headphones) and a man who we saw drink seven tallboys between waiting during the delay and on the train; he was having a good time for the mid-afternoon, even smoking a cigarette on the train in the hallway (which isn’t allowed, but people like to smoke, and they will do it on the trains if they feel like it, we’ve come to learn).
We arrived at the Sofia train station under dark clouds, with the rain increasing as we tried to figure out the way to the taxi stand. We made a wrong turn, found broken escalators with a dead pigeon warning us to “take the stairs,” along with a foul smell.
Finally we found the taxi stand just as the rain had become steady; there were two taxis and we motioned that we wanted a ride; they ignored us, but did not move from their parking spot at the cab stand. After about fifteen minutes, a taxi arrived (which we thought was a long time for a Saturday afternoon on a rainy day at the main train station in the capital city) and he took us to our rental apartment; while those other cabs never moved.
Since it was still raining, we made haste to the doner kebab place a block away, so at least a tasty dinner capped our rough introduction to Sofia. We watched some TV, which we normally have not done much of on our travels this summer, and prepared for exploring the city in the morning.
We woke up and headed toward the center of town; past the Banya Bashi Mosque,
and Sofia’s Central Market,
and Saint Sofia’s Monument, which towers high above the street.
We walked past the Bulgaria Parliament as well, onto the yellow brick roads.
The mains streets through the center of Sofia are made of yellow bricks, and its always fun following the yellow brick roads.
Our destination this morning was the National Art Gallery (not to be confused with the National Gallery), housed in a former palace built in 1880. It definitely feels like a palace with lots of chandeliers, huge mirrors, marble fireplaces, and intricate ceiling, floor, and wall designs.
Included in the collection were paintings that were presented at the 1892 Plovdiv Exhibition that we learned about when we were in Plovdiv a couple days prior. While the painting collection on display is not extensive, there are some really good paintings, here are a few of my favorites:
There was also a temporary exhibition of paintings by Vladimir Dimitrov, known as the Master. We have seen many of his paintings at other galleries in Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv, and have become big fans of his.
After we left the museum we walked around the city; past the stunning Ivan Vazov National Theater,
through the Crystal Garden park, then to the Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, a Russian Orthodox Church built in 1914.
We next walked under cloudy skies to the Cakey Bakey, a coffee and cake shop, where we shared two delicious pieces of cake along with good coffee. It was cool outside and a great way to spend the day. On the way back we walked past the big church, the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, pictured at the top of this post.
It was pretty dark inside, and is more impressive on the outside.
On our way back down the yellow brick road to our rental apartment we passed the obligatory “statue of a man on a horse,” that every European city has; though this one had major construction around it and we could not get close enough to see who it was.
Our last stop for the day was to try to see the Sofia Synagogue, which is near the Mosque. Very close by is also the biggest Catholic Church in Sofia, and of course, an Orthodox Church, completing the religious buildings quartet. Unfortunately for us it was temporarily closed.
After that much walking we were pretty tired, and called it a night. The next morning we had a wine tasting (at 11:00AM) at a small wine and cheese shop, hosted by its owner, a Bulgarian man named Alex. Alex told us all about Bulgarian wines, the regions they come from (Bulgaria makes a lot of good wines), and we tasted five, while snacking on Bulgarian cheese. We also learned about some of the history of Bulgaria, especially the more recent times under Communism. We have learned, from visiting many former Communist Countries, that there were (some) good and (many) bad things that occurred, and all of this left an indelible mark on each country and its people, though it was different in each country.
Alex recommended a few places to eat around town, and since we had a little wine and not enough cheese, we went looking for one of them, the aptly named Tables. We were excited because it was brunch time, and they had brunch food and drinks. Brunch is not popular in Spain, and we never had done one in a long time. So we both ordered eggs Benedict (we rarely, if ever, order the same dish, since we like to try as much as possible and usually order two dishes and share) and drank fancy cocktails sitting at an outside table on a sunny early afternoon. It was wonderful. After we walked down Vitosha Boulevard, a pedestrian street full of restaurants and shops.
We walked back toward the apartment, first underground (where there are remains of the ancient walls from Byzantine times and before) and then above; the remains can be seen through glass enclosures above ground as well as close up.
There are more ruins on the way to the Mosque.
We had a lot more fun and saw more places in Sofia, more to come!