Wednesday, October 4, 2017

So Much to Explore in Sofia

Sofia had so much to explore.

We didn’t start until 10:30 this morning because John caught Graham’s cold and wasn’t feeling well.

Sofia is a great walking city and we were fortunate enough to be staying in the central area. The architecture of the city is a mix of communist era neoclassical and Western European.


From  our apartment we walked to Sveta Nedelya Church and square in the heart of the historical city.


We discovered the Church of Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska which is in an underpass on the  way to a metro station. This ancient weathered church is surrounded by concrete walkways; it’s roof peaking out above the street level. Archeologists were on a dig nearby...Roman I think.


We checked out the Banya Bashi Mosque and then sat in the lovely park behind the mosque and in front of the old mineral baths. The beautiful building that housed the baths was recently restored and is now the Museum of Sofia. 


According to the 12 year old guide book we found at the apartment, the park was slightly scruffy (obviously has since been spiffed up), but popular for strolling and meeting people. Between the two big wars, freelance hit men would hang out there in hopes of picking up a well paid armed robbery or assassination job.


We crossed the street to the Central Market building. I bought some handmade beeswax candles. The shop owner took so much care in packaging them that I can only think that she must have made them herself.


We next found the red brick St George Rotunda which is the oldest building in Sofia. It is in a courtyard, surrounded by a hotel and government building.


Brilliantly uniformed soldiers gathered in the courtyard, preparing for the changing of the guards in front of the residence or offices of the Bulgarian president. It was about a 15 minute, perfectly coordinated presentation with much goose stepping. It was really impressive and I’m glad we were in time to see it.


The square in front of the Presidency building was flanked by the Archaeological Museum and the Party House...ok, not party like Oktoberfest but party like Bulgaria’s former Communist Party headquarters. It was built in the 1950s as the office for the Communist Party’s central committee.  There was a popular joke about that building which I will directly quote from The Rough Guide to Bulgaria”. “A man cycles up to the building and leans his bike against it, whereupon a policeman shouts, “Hey! You can’t leave that there, a high Soviet delegation is due to arrive any minute.” “That’s ok, “ replies the cyclist, “I’ll chain it up.”

The Communist party was ejected from the building in 1992 and it now is office space for the Bulgarian Parliament.


We passed the beautiful yellow Royal Palace which currently houses the Ethnographic Museum.


Moving on, we stopped for a rest in a pretty park in front of the gorgeous Ivan Vazov National Theatre. A slightly drunk guy came over to talk to Graham about why he is a communist (the drunk guy, not Graham) and what he thinks of many world leaders-he’s not a Trump supporter.


We noticed that a lot of people smoke in Bulgaria; like everyone. 


We made our way to the picturesque St Nikolai Russian Church. We went inside and then down to the crypt. People were writing requests to St Nikolai on paper and there was a box to deposit them in.  There was some type of liturgy going on and one women’s voice rose above the rest, it was beautiful.


We next visited the Saint Sofia Basilica. I don’t know why but six black plastic ravens were attached to a tree directly in front of the church. There were architectural excavations beneath the basilica.


We passed the Monument to the Unknown Soldier with its eternal flame and majestic lion.


The St. Alexander Nevski Temple Church catches everyone’s eye. It was built in 1882. We went inside and just sat, taking it all in. I looked over and John’s eyes were closed. “Look at Dad”, I said to Graham. “Do you think he’s sleeping?”
“I think it looks more like he’s praying...a lot”, Graham answers.
Eyes still closed, John quips “Yea, praying that you two would shut up for a few minutes.”


Leaving the Basilica, we walked through a number of neat streets back to the pedestrian shopping street of Vitoshia Boulevard. We stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant called Pectopahtu Wactaubeua (www.shtastliveca.com). We ate delicious home made Bulgarian food under the outdoor space heaters. My lamb over mashed potatoes and mushrooms was heavenly.




We checked out the park and The National Palace of Culture at the end of Vitoshia Street before turning around and heading back, shopping for gifts and souvenirs along the way. I also had some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor.

We had an early night. Hopefully John will be feeling better in the morning.


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