Another overnight train took us into the heart of Sofia. This time round, there was minimal fuss on the train as we slept throughout the ride after a fulfilling day in Belgrade. The sight that first caught my eye has to be the snow-capped Vitosha mountains in the background. Reading up on Sofia city before arriving has set my mind on making my (and our) way up to the top. Honestly, what's more soothing to the mind than to have nature at the doorstep of a bustling capital city! After 2 weeks of exploring cities, this is the perfect retreat for us. And I knew that I've always missed hiking and scaling mountains since high school days. Fun Facts
Upon reaching the main station, we bought tickets for the connecting trolley bus bringing us into the city centre. This starts a series of interesting stories/facts about our trip here. Firstly, instead of just getting 2 tickets for ourselves, we got 4 tickets, one for ourselves and one for our backpacks. Fun fact #1: Your backpack get to have a seat but you have got to pay for it! It is still the first time for my backpack (after a
good 3 years of following me around) and i guess he wouldn't be complaining about it, haha!
After settling into the hostel and a quick breakfast, we headed for the walking tour that brought us around the city. There were numerous stories told, many of which have already slipped through the short-term memory of mine. Still, there were a few that I could recollect. Here's one. For many, there is religious devotion. For Sofia, there is love for McDonald's, with the fast-food giant opening more outlets here than any other stores. Here comes fun (fact) #2: Before entering Macs, everyone does the McDonald's "prayer" by drawing a big M sign across his/her chest. Well, it'll be incredibly cool if we could really snap shots of anyone doing that!
Then there is the Ivan Vazov National Theatre and its facade facing the city garden. It's Bulgaria's national theatre as well as the oldest and most authoritative theatre in the country. Restoration in recent years brought along a funny story. Well, the triangular facade is primarily white with certain details touched with striking gold. Those details were pretty normal until a worker decided to try something unique by painting the
little boy's genitals gold. The worker was subsequently charged (or so we were told). Fun fact #3! I'm pretty sure that the 'golden' boy is in high demand now with anyone visiting the theatre looking out for his gift.
With the end of the walking tour, we explored the city in search of some cheap and good lunch. We ended up in a small local eatery after being drawn in by the roasted chicken displayed outside. Well, not surprisingly, the menu is cyrillic written all over and the owner could only speak minimal english. So after some hand gestures and eventually coming to a common understanding, we got him to give us his recommendations, which turned out to be a deliciously roasted half chicken together with some chips, salad and a kebab wrap. A spread with drinks amounted to less than 5euros per person, what a deal. During the meal, we also took the chance to learn simple Bulgarian from the waitress, like saying 'Blagodaria' instead of 'Thank you' and 'Dovizhdane' in replace of 'bye bye!'. The two customary words useful for travels anywhere!
A heavy lunch coupled with a good half day of walking brought us to
a rest back in the hostel before we headed out in an attempt to catch the sunset and a paranomic view of the city. Unfortunately, the hostel host was too busy to point out where to go. So, we just attempted to search for some good spots ourselves, heading towards the national stadium and its nearby park. Just when we were looking lost with the map in our hands, a Belgian expatriate kindly approached us and showed us the way, recommending decent dining places in the area too. Coincidentally, he is an avid adventurer and mentioned about hiking up Mt. Vitosha every weekend, giving us advices on what to do. It was just a sign that we will definitely be going up the next day! Anyway, there was nothing too special about the park and we didn't manage to catch a view of the whole city. Though, it was refreshing to see many locals out there just having a relaxing evening. We ended up indulging ourselves for dinner in a local restaurant, ordering a platter of grilled meat and enjoying the accompanying local music in the setting sun. Fun Hike
The next morning saw us having a hearty
breakfast in the hostel before taking the metro to Dzheyms Baucher station, the last stop on the line. We stopped by to get some drinks and a kebab wrap for the hike later, and walked some half a kilometre to the bus stop for the bus going to the foot of Vitosha. As the saying goes, things seldom go according to plan, and that was exactly what happened. We were supposed to go to the visitor centre to get a map of the hiking routes but the nearest one was apparently closed down. Next, we were intending to ride the cable lift up midway before beginning the hike, as suggested by our Belgian friend, but that too was closed down. Well, not that we were complaining much as that means we just got to walk a little longer, and exercise our legs a little more!
The hike up to the top of the cable lift was slightly over an hour with clear demarcations on the route we took. The weather was superb as we enjoyed the smell of nature and the crisp air, taking short breaks along the way. It was mid-day by then, with Jay a little hesitant
on going all the way up, having in mind that we have an evening train to catch. Well, of course I was insistent on making the top so I offered an alternative. We could perhaps hitch a ride up to where the road ends before hiking a shorter distance up! He was up for it, but too bad fate didn't favour that suggestion. Haha. We had our thumbs up to quite a few cars zooming past, with most having the back seats taken up by ski equipment. It was pretty hilarious having numerous failed attempts at hitchhiking and having drivers smiling and giving us the thumbs up back.
"Alright, it's fate ah! Just climb up!" was my enthusiastic response after the deliberate extended break.
Thanks to an almost faded board showing the hiking routes, we decided on the one that brings us to 2000m above sea level, among the few peaks in Vitosha. So off we went as we continued our ascend. There were warning signs of melting snow and falling rocks/ice along the way but thankfully the weather didn't allow any of those. Eventually, after overcoming fresh snow strewn along the way, getting across streams and rapids,
skirting steep slopes, and conquering rocky terrains, we reached the top. The good 3 hours up was more than worth it, with a clear view of Sofia city as we just admired the nature around us. Breathtaking. And very satisfying. It definitely made me miss scaling mountains more than I thought I would! I could just stay up there the whole day. Nevertheless, after half an hour of so, we started descending down and had a good time being kids, playing snowball fighting along the way. Real fun, with boys being boys 😊 Lovely Ride
It was another 2 hours thereabout before we reached the foot and time was catching up on us. Figuring that we wouldn't make it back to the hostel to grab our bags, have dinner and board the train, we tried our luck again. Hitchhiking attempt round 2. This time, we were real lucky at our first try as a Bulgarian couple took us in and drove us all to the way to metro station! They were an amazing couple, very affectionate with a good command of English. We chatted along the way and they shared with us some beautiful places to visit in
Romania (since we were heading there anyway). Along with other friendly locals in the country, they all left a wonderful impression of Bulgarians in general. Lovely place, lovely people.
With that, the short stay in Bulgaria's capital ended as we headed off to Transylvania, Romania.
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