To be honest we were pretty much stopping in Bulgaria to break up the journey to Greece. To get to the Bulgarian capital it was a total of 13-hours travel; Brasov-Bucharest & then Bucharest-Sofia.
The first part of the journey was rather forgettable as it was early in the morning, the seats were comfy and the train was clean so we both took turns at dozing. The second leg however was 10-hours and I have to say probably the most uncomfortable seats and dirtiest bathrooms of all the trains we took during this trip (and that’s quite a few!). Let alone one of our seats had been booked 3 times so out of the 5 people in the cabin, 3 were suppose to be sitting on top of each other! However the Romanian woman in our cabin told us this was very normal. Thankfully the train never filled up.
It was a long journey full of crosswords, DVD watching on the laptop, last card and standing up in the hallway trying to stretch our legs and escape from the sauna inside the cabin. I spent a bit of time chatting with the Romanian woman in our cabin in her leather mini-dress with a zip down the front! I swear she said her name was ‘Erotica’ but I may have just misheard, perhaps ‘Veronica’. Anyway she was telling me all about how she was going to Sofia to visit her German lover for the weekend. It’s very interesting whom you met on trains!
By the time we got into Sofia it was 10pm and we had about 2kms to walk to our hostel. It was nice to have the fresh air, however it’s not preferable showing up in a new city after dark and walking that far, especially in Eastern Europe! The walk was fine, we didn’t see a whole lot as we spent most the time watching where our feet were going since the pavement was so erupted from the tree roots growing underneath.
Our hostel was very welcoming and I have to admit the only downside about our stay was the 45-minute long check-in at 10:30pm. Hostel Mostel is a geat choice though. Our private double room for 22 Euro a night was large & comfy and included in the price was breakfast and dinner, including a beer!!
We ended up staying 4 nights due to the sudden unrest in Greece. We first found out that there are no international trains going into the country, so we would have to bus (our Eurail pass wouldn’t cover this). secondly there had been violent protests and lastly the huge amount of strikes were randomly affecting all transport modes including ferries which was our only way out of the country. So after much deliberation we decided to book a cheap flight to Rome, which was at its cheapest 4 days later, so we ended up spending 4 nights in Sofia.
Sofia isn’t the prettiest city and needless to say we spent a lot of time organizing our onward travel however we did see the main sights of the city on ‘Morgan’s Walking Tour of Sofia’. We started off walking through the ‘Ladies Market’, which has stalls full of everything from food to clothes to stalls dedicated just to rat poison and barrels of wine that were leaking onto the pavement and seemed to be eating the concrete. I think I’ll sit that wine tasting out!
My favourite part of the tour was the Wizard of Oz like yellow-brick road, which surrounds the city gardens. The full road was truly made of yellow bricks. This lead us up to the church that inspired the name of the city – Sveta Sofia Church. The church is one of the biggest and one of the most impressive churches I have seen in Europe – Aleksander Nevski Church. This beauty is a bit worn and torn but has a stunning gold domes on top and the inside is miraculous + free to enter! It was built between 1892 and 1912 as a memorial to soldiers, including my beloved Finns. It was also here in the parking lot we ran across a man in an AK-47 t-shirt who presumed we were American and went on to tell us that Russia could f*** up our country (America) in 5 minutes with the most powerful weapon in the world – the AK-47! Interesting…
We hastily continued on our way around the block passing the Soviet Army Monument on the way. We then left Oz back to Kansas walking along Graf Ignatiev Str also known as the shopping street. Lots of second hand book stalls (around Slaveikov Square) and again food stalls, which seemed to specialize in roasted BBQ foods like pumpkin. It was also up this street I found the perfect winter jacket so I was a happy chappy.
Next up was St. Georgy Church and ruins which was close-by the church that stands at the center of the city – St. Nedelia Church. By this time we were churched out and needed some sustenance, we grabbed what we thought was a cheap .65-cent kebab to snack on. It turned out to be a pita sort of bread filled with chicken, sliced olives and gherkins and French fries. Very strange but oh so cheap! We of course needed something to wash this down with so we headed to the ‘Ale House’, which was recommended by the hostel. Morgan was in love as every table there has a beer tap with ‘live beer’ in. Between us we drank about 2 liters, which ended up costing around 5 Euro.
We spent the arvo strolling the streets, I had particular interest in checking out all the little wine shops. We found some great bottles to taste over the following evenings, after we had our free pasta meal and beer from the hostel of course.
The next morning we got up bright and early for breakie and then went in search for somewhere to watch the world cup final. It ended up being in our hostel bed streaming it live online, we had 1.5 liter of Bulgarian beer each. It was awesome and needless to say we were getting congratulations for NZ for the rest of our stay.
The rest of our time was spent catching up on sleep, researching for our next adventure in Italy and wandering through the streets of Sofia. On our last day we decided to hit the Irish pub (JJ Murphy’s) up the road to use up the rest of our Leva where I managed to get the closest thing to a Kiwi pie that I have had in ages – an imported Irish beef and onion pie with fries and baked beans on the side. Delish!
We killed time at the airport and used up the rest of our change using the 1 Leva for 5 minutes on the massage chairs -awesome and then it was time for us to go back to the expensive clutches of Western Europe.