Bulgaria – Sofia & Plovdiv

I had a very interesting bus ride from Skopje to Sofia. For the first hour or so I listened to music and watched the countryside go by peacefully. I was sitting next to a stylishly dressed woman who talked with her friend in the seat in front of us. At the first stop for a break, we started up a conversation and she mentioned that she had been to Canada. I asked here where and why and she answered Montreal for the film festival, because she was an actress. She mentioned that she is “very famous in Macedonia” and showed me some of her TV roles on YouTube where they had been posted. I also talked with her friend, who I believe is a doctor at the Sofia hospital. 

Thus my trip to Bulgaria began next to a Macedonian movie star!

Furthermore, when we arrived she introduced me to her contact in Sofia, who was a very nice man and helped me find the right direction to my hostel. He was Bulgarian, and warned me to be careful here. He mentioned that he was a professor and has done work in the States and all over the world. Before we went our separate ways, he was kind enough to give me his card and offered help if I need it while in Sofia. After some later research, I’ve discovered that this very nice person was Alexander Iliev, who as well as being a professor holds world records for highest mime performance and longest solo mime. 

Pretty cool start to Bulgaria.

This is the St. Nedelya church. It’s a beautiful, old church that has been rebuilt many times. In particular it was reconstructed after a terrorist attack by the Bulgarian Communist party in 1925 that resulted in 150 deaths.

Nearby, below street level and in the courtyard of modern buildings including a hotel, is the oldest building in Sofia.

The Church of St. George was built by the Romans in the 4th century AD, and still stands amongst other Roman ruins. 

I was eager to see Sofia’s big attraction, and soon made my way to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

After the St. Sava Cathedral, which I saw in Belgrade, this is the second largest cathedral in the Balkans.

I thought that the exterior was impressive, not so much the interior. It was beautiful, but I don’t think it matched the grandeur exhibited as you approach it.

There was another statue of what I again assume incorrectly to be a wizard.

Serdica Maxima!

Next to the Cathedral is the second oldest church in Sofia, a 6th century Byzantine church called the Temple Sveta Sofia.

Sofia has its Central Mineral Baths downtown with a nice open square and pieces of ancient architecture around it. 

Just across from the baths is the Banya Bashi Mosque, which dates back to 1566. 

Near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church.

And across town is the Romanian Orthodox Church.

I think now would be a good time to mention that I loved Sofia. It was such an interesting, beautiful city with a lot of history and culture. Not to mention at least 3 quality coffee shops. Some of my sightseeing was done with one coffee shop as a starting point and another as the destination. 

I even spent a few evenings drinking tea in my favourite coffee shop.

I spent one evening walking to this church, which has a pretty unique look. 

The yard was being used as a playground.

I spent my last day in Sofia at the National Art Gallery. 

It was inexpensive, and worth the visit. There were some interesting pieces, and I’m sure I’ve never seen an Adam and Eve like this one.

This creepy painting was my favourite piece there.

It was a good way to spend my last day.

I don’t think that they’re all in the same neighborhood, so Sarajevo can still claim uniqueness, but Sofia also has a mosque, Orthodox church, Catholic church, and synagogue. In fact it has the third largest synagogue in Europe!

The next day I took the bus to Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv. Before getting on the bus I got talking with a man from Burgas who was a chef on a ship in the Black Sea, and he was incredibly kind. He was very concerned for me that I was traveling Bulgaria alone and once again I was warned about how dangerous it could be. He helped me figure out my ticket and even got out of his seat at Plovdiv to let me know it was my stop. This was my second encounter with a kind, helpful Bulgarian who warned me that Bulgaria was dangerous.

I must admit that I wasn’t very happy in Plovdiv. The hostel was right in the old town, but the days went up to 40° and the hostel had no air conditioning. It made for some very unpleasant nights and loss of sleep, so I probably didn’t get all I could’ve out of Plovdiv.

That being said, it was still an interesting city.

Formerly called Philippopolis, Plovdiv claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe.

It’s got the ruins to back up the claims.

There are frequent performances here, and I missed seeing Chicago by a week unfortunately.

This cat lived at the hostel and definitely felt the heat too.

My way of coping with my bad mood was with my book in a really good coffee shop called Malkata. I’m working through Anna Karenina right now.

The taps on this fountain made me wonder if there might be a Basilisk under Plovdiv.

I was very impressed with the creativity at the coffee shop that turned an ordinary bucket into a sink.

On my last night I took a hike up to the statue of the Russian soldier Alyosha.

The view of the city was nice and it was a peaceful place to rest for a while. 

Despite the heat, I ended up enjoying Plovdiv anyways. I certainly didn’t see everything Bulgaria has to offer, but with such a good first impression I hope I’ll be back again someday.

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