In Sofia, there are a lot of graffiti art on the walls. The images are beautiful, fun and it really highlights life in the city. I learned that there’s a group in Sofia called the Transformers. Their mission is to paint over boring grey electrical boxes and transform them into wonderful pieces of art. Such an awesome idea, and it really reminds me that, all you have to do is dream and do it. We always talk about how it would be nice to do this, and do that. Why not just take a step forward, bring those ideas to reality like the transformers of Sofia.
We were ecstatic about joining the Balkan Bites food tour. The tour is free, and runs everyday at 2PM. The meeting point is always the same:
There was about 15 people on the tour. A bunch of people from New Zealand studying in England was there, and also a Belgium woman and her Canadian boyfriend was there. The boyfriend is living in Sofia as of now, and they purchased a rose farm in Bulgaria. How awesome is that?!! And we had a camera following us as we were going to be featured in the news that night!!
Our first stop is Supa Star. It is a traditional Balkan soup shop. The decor in the shop was very cute. It was colourful, fun, and very cozy.
They serve a variety of cold and hot soup. We tasted a soup made out of yogurt. Balkans is known for their yogurt, as they were the original inventors of yogurt. In fact, Bulgaria is one of the largest exporters of bacterial cultures for yogurt fermentation. This cold yogurt soup is made simply out of water, dill, cucumber, walnuts, garlic and salt to taste. It was delicious, and very refreshing. I think I would try to make this again in the summer.
Our next stop was at a placed called Lubimoto. They are a traditional family restaurants tucked away in the corner of a building. Here we tried the Shopska salata. It is a traditional salad that is commonly served at dinners. Usually consist of white cheese, salad, olives, and tomato.
We also tried Bulgaria’s national drink: Rakia. A clear alcohol similar to brandy, made by the distillation of fermented fruits (grapes, plums, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, figs, quinces). The alcohol content is approximately 60% which makes it the drink of choice during the winter season, and summer parties. It is meant to be sipped slowly, but our New Zealand tour-mates decided that bottoms up was the way to go.
Feeling all warm and fuzzy from the Rakia we had, our next destination was Sun Moon. It is a bakery/ soup and sandwich shop. We tried various homemade jams with bread. The soup looked very tasty, and Ru and I actually came back here for dinner. She ordered a bean soup and I had a latte. So that was the end of our free food tour and we gave a generous tip to our guide as the tour was very fun and informative.
Other tasties in my tummy from Sofia included:
This Chinese hot dog bun looking thing. It tasted like one, except the sausage was Bulgarian style and so was the bread. The bread was so soft and chewy. Very fresh.
We had a fish crepe. The crepe was very thin, and it was served with a side of tomatoes and cucumbers. The sauce in the middle was made of potatoes. It was slightly sour, tasted a bit like sour cream. The crepe itself was fresh, chewy. The mouth feel is a bit different from the ones you get in Paris (which is the standard used when assessing crepes).
And elder flower fermented tea. Slightly sweet carbonated tea.
There is so much to be said about this beautiful city. A picture is worth a 1,000 words, and I’d like to share a few 1,000 words with you.
Tiles patterned in a scallop shape. I thought I could sit here all day.
A lovely church that we happened upon. We took a sneak peak inside and it was gorgeous.
Lucky of us, it was a beautiful Sunday. The sun warmed up the cold brisk air which made it perfect for exploring the city.
The girl has in her hand a traditional Bulgarian Survachkas. Children make these and they usually attach popcorn, or beans. It’s all strung up and then attached to the stick. Then, they will go to elderly people such as their grandparents and lightly pat them with it. The acting of patting is suppose to give them good health for the rest of the year. The whacking continues until they receive lucky money. 🙂
Trams that run in the city in Sofia are really old. They are usually very brightly painted which adds to the charm of the city.
We arrived late at night in Sofia, Bulgaria. Exhausted from our long journey we took a taxi to the hotel, Central Park Hotel. (Cost: 60 Euros per night. Major credit cards accepted.) The taxi only cost 8 Euros, as the airport was only 15mins away from city centre. But you will find in Sofia that many shops do not take coins in Euros -they only take bills. So we ended up paying the taxi driver 10 euros, which was way more than what we should have paid.
When we arrived we were welcomed by a friendly gentleman at the front desk who spoke English -such a relief. We told him that we were only planning on being in Sofia for 1 day and will be taking an overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade. He paused and stared at us. His pause was long and the silence left a dreadful feeling in me. In his exact words he said, “The overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade is not recommended”. The dreadful feeling sank a bit lower in my empty stomach. During our trip planning stage, we struggled a little to find a way out of Sofia. We read on forums that an overnight train was possible, and the next best method was to take a private bus. However, there was no specific details provided on how to book a bus and the departure times available. Still shocked, I asked him why and whether if it was unsafe or if there were boarder crossing issues between Bulgaria and Serbia. He said that it is not unsafe, but the ride is not pleasant and it would not be recommended for us. We asked for details of how to book the train ticket and if there were alternatives, and all he managed to tell us was to go to the train station early in the morning around 7am to try to book a ticket.
A little shaken up, we decided that it would be best to take his suggestion. We got to our rooms, took a hot shower and the feeling of being really excited that we are in Bulgaria finally kicked in. With all that excitement, we couldn’t possibly sleep. We grabbed our cameras and decided to go canvas the city. The streets were lit for the holiday festivities. Cozy restaurants were filled with locals unwinding on a Friday night. After an hour or so of wandering, we were finally tired. We headed back to the hotel and called it a night.
Waking up bright and early the next day at 7am, we were welcomed by a pleasant surprise. The city looked like it was under a spell: the same kind of spell that I would imagine was cast over the whole kingdom in Sleeping Beauty.
We headed out quickly, because we wanted to get information about the overnight train. We hopped on the tram, which only cost 1 Bulgarian Lev.
We were a little confused as to what stop we were suppose to get off at. I approached a middle aged lady for directions and with all the English she could muster, she told me that she was also going to the train station and to follow her. Later on, we found out that she spoke French. Ru, who is well versed in the French took over. We asked her how the night train was like from Sofia to Belgrade, and if it was safe. She said she has never taken it before, so she is not sure. She said that generally Bulgaria is a pretty safe country to be. She mentioned that children in Bulgaria learn English as well as another language in school. She chose to learn French, but German and Spanish was also options.
Stepping into the Sofia Central Station was like stepping back in time. Manual train schedules were hung on the wall, benches lined the waiting area, and everyone was bundled up because there was not heat. A morbid looking evergreen tree with tinsels stood tall in the center.
We walked in and made our way to the train ticket counter. Located on the right far corner -it was a little difficult to find. There was one lady at the ticket counter who spoke English, and French. She told us that in order for us to reserve a Private Berth, we need to arrive precisely 1 hour before the train departs. It cost 55 Bulgarian Lev per person for a Private Berth. The train departs at 8:30pm every day. Only Bulgarian Lev is accepted.
Relieved that we could book a ticket, we left the train station. It was still early around 10am in the morning. We decided to wander around town and slowly make our way to our tour meeting point.
My curiosities have taken me to the less traveled parts of Europe. Eastern Europe has always intrigued me. Stories of gypsies, Dracula, lonely beaches, and misty mountains come to mind. It was a part of the world that I knew very little about, and what better way to learn about something than to go experience it first hand. When I learned that my dear friend Olga was working in Izmir for a year, I jumped at the opportunity to go visit her and check it out. And so my journey began -researching, deciding, changing my mind, researching, saving, saving, saving..
I had no idea that airfare would be so costly -though mind you I was traveling during Christmas peak season. Nonetheless, I try not to let finances impact my travel decisions. With that being said, I did have to save up a bit. I had a bit of Petro Points saved up so I converted it all to CAA Dollars, and used it towards my flight. It was about $1k, which really helped a lot. (At one point or another, I’ll do a post on playing the Areoplan miles/ CAA dollar game.)
So without delving too much on expenses here is a quick breakdown of how much the entire trip cost.
Flight: $2.4K CDN
Food, Hotel, Spending: $2k CDN
I know most of you would be very interested in how much I specifically spent on each place. Those will be detailed in my later posts.
So without further adieu, on December 20, 2013 I left for my first stop: Sofia, Bulgaria.