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Published: July 15th 2006
Riding in from the airport past scores of decaying, grey, communist-era tower blocks wasn't the best way to lift my spirits after a sleepless overnight flight, so Sofia seemed a bit miserable at first. But then what doesn't at 6:30 in the morning. My mood wasn't helped when the hungover ticket inspector declined to show any leniancy towards my unvalidated bus ticket. I was clearly a new arrival in the country who was unaware if the idyosyncrascies of the Bulgarian bus system and I didn't speak any Bulgarian. The Inspector pocketed the fine.
I got off the bus by a city centre park containing an enourmous overblown communist monolith, depicting the workers struggle or something like that. The surrounding buildings were graffitied and peeling and the only signs of life were a few stray dogs and the type of shifty old men that one finds anywhere in the world if one arises early enough.
I spent about 20 minutes circling the park trying to figure out which way I was facing on the map, then I did the sensible thing and realised I had a compass in my pocket. This made things a whole lot easier. The walk to
my hostel was mercifully short. More stray dogs, more shifty old men.
My place of residence, the bohemian art-hostel, wasn't too difficult to find, considering it's almost impossible to read the cyrillic alphabet road signs. After a brief tour, I was shown to my room, climbed into my middle bunk and slept. Or, at least, tried to. Which was difficult because the mattress was about as pleasant as osteoporosis.
I relinquished the dubiuos comfort of my bunk at roughly 4:00 after little sleeping and much lying very still on my back. A quick itinerary established that my guitar had been demolished during the flight. So much for that idea then. A guitar hunt was on the cards.
By the time I emerged into the light, Sofia seemed much more alive. A bustling european capital rather than a post apocalyptic ghost town. In a masterstroke of urban planning, rows of shady trees ran down either side of almost every street, obscuring the unfortunate architectural disrepair and creating an attractive Parisian ambiance.
Another point in Sofia's favour, which I had failed to notice at 6:30 in the morning (probably because there were only strange peasent women around) was
the girls. I mean it gets a bit silly at times, like someone is playing some sort of elaborate practical joke. It's difficult to know where to look. If you don't know what I am talking about let me spell it out to you. The girls here are without fail, all stunning. Pick any random street in the centre of Sofia and the ratio of stunning girls to normal people will be something like 3:5. I'm not kidding.
Compared to Morocco, Bulgaria isn't cheap. But it's reasonable when compared to Western European standards. The Leva is roughly a third of the value of the pound, and so costs are mostly concurrent. A decent meal would cost between 2 and 3 pounds, a glass of beer about 75p.
I had dinner a cheapish Pizzaria and read some of Dance, Dance, Dance, before returning to the hostel, which was displaying an exhibition from an artist originally from Cambridge, but now farming somewhere in the Balkan Mountains. There was something of a celebration going on because of the exhibition, but I skipped most of it and hopped over to a local bar to watch France beat Australia. When I returned there
was still liveliness going on, so I hung around for an hour or so, met people of varying nationalities whose names I can't remember. I climbed into bed about 1:30, earlier than most people.
My other two days in Sofia was notable for not very much, really. Thats not to say I didn't enjoy it, I did. It's just that there really isn't very much to do in Sofia, tourist wise.
I toyed with the idea of heading to the mountains for a seven day Trance music festival. The scenery would have been pleasant and seemingly everyone from the hostel was heading there. But I didn't have a tent, and I'm not sure I could have endured seven days of Trance music.
So, what did I do in Sofia? I went for a run in the park a couple of times, which was a bit strange for two reaons. 1) the whole park was dwarfed by the unspeakably awfull Centre of Culture and 2) there was no one else running. Maybe Bulgarians don't exercise, but I certainly stood out.
I spent several hours of every day first trying to find a guitar shop, and when that
proved impossible, an internet cafe, (so I could search look for Guitar shop locations in Sofia) but I couldn't find one of them either. Turns out Cyrillic is very hard to read.
on my second day was approached by a shifty money changer while reading my book in a park. He was after English money.
I didn't have, any I said.
In that case, he would exchange some of his smaller Leva notes for some of my larger ones.
As I had few large Leva notes, and almost no desire to exchange them, I declined his offer. I pointed out, probably cheekily, that if he wanted large notes he could go to a bank.
He persisted, but I held firm, and just as I was about to get up and find a different park to read my book in when he abruptly got up and left me alone. I'm quite pleased with how I dealt with that.
There aren't exactly many sights, but of those that exist I saw most of them. The Womems market, which is basically just a big fruit market; The Alexander Nevski Church, which was certainly big and impressive, and
probably felt quite holy inside, if you like that kind of thing. I walked along the Largo, the main street with all the grandiose government builings,a few times.
For dinner I ate at a restaurant very near my hostel. It did these enourmous sandwhiches, which were literally called just that, big sandwiches. They were very good, so good I went back twice. I don't think it was authentic Bulgarian cuisine though.
I finished Dance, Dance, Dance, but managed to pick up The Elephant Vanishes at an english bookshop, which was fortunate as I having a bit of a Haruki Murakami binge at the moment.
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