Monday, 9 November 2015

Sofia - The Capital and some culture

Whilst waiting for some time to pass - because of which I will blog about later - we decided to hire a car for a week and take a city break in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city.  In preparation and to get a little practice driving a left hand drive car, we ventured down to the market on Wednesday to pick a few things up.  Graham wanted a supply of chillies (which he uses like normal people use salt and pepper).  We approached one of the stalls who advertised 1.60 levs per kilo.  Because we were not sure how much we would get for a kilo, I duly pointed at the sign and said "edna" which means one in Bulgarian.  The seller started putting more and more in the bag and when we told him to stop he charged us 2 lev.  That's what I call rounding up!
 In UK I used to get 4 chillies for 80p and this lot cost 72p.
 Phew - what do I do with these now? - Ah, a nice decoration!
We decided that because of our lack of Bulgarian we would play it safe and book a "Best Western" hotel right in the heart of Sofia called 'The Bristol'.  We arrived amid masses of traffic going every which way - scary for us country folk.  We parked the car on the pavement outside the hotel (several cars already on the pavement so just followed suit) and the bell boy came out and shimmied us into the hotel and took the car off whilst we checked in.  Phew, it was all a whirlwind.  Our room was what you would expect from a "Best Western" with en-suite, mini bar etc. so we settled in to look at the menu to see if we would eat there that night.  Now the reason the break was so cheap is that they make up for it on the menu - without wine, averaging £70 for two which is mega expensive for Bulgaria.  So off we went into the city and the first, most inviting place we came across was a "Happy Bar".  This is a restaurant chain that primarily supplies tapas type dishes, sushi and larger mains.  In the UK we would order our starters, mains and drinks first and they would come in that order.  Not so in Bulgaria.  Each dish comes when it is ready (so one person could have their dish 20 minutes before another and main before a starter).  For us though, it all came together.  I ordered courgette cakes to start followed by a chicken dish, GJ ordered a beef tongue starter with another chicken dish to follow.  Voila - four plates on the table together.    
I will say the service, buzzing atmosphere, and food were great together with the cheap prices but unfortunately Bulgarians still smoke in the restaurants and the fog was quite thick.
Next morning we were advised by the bell boy to take a guided walk around the city and our free guide would be in front of the National Theatre at 11am.
Well we waited and waited..
met this lady en route..
listened (and donated) to this trio whilst we waited - they were excellent.
We got talking to a German chap who was also waiting.  He was in Bulgaria to help out with integration of immigrants - what an interesting chap.  We were accosted by a lad on a bicycle who explained that there were no volunteers to do the tour on foot but that he was available to do it on a bike.  Now I know that we are proficient bicycle riders after our French trip but this city is as busy as London and there was no way these old folk could cope with that.  Off went the German fellow.
See the universal fast food joint on the left!
So after a coffee, we went off to do our own sight seeing.  Not sure what the buildings are but I thought I would give you an idea..
We thought we would learn about the history of the country we were going to be inhabiting so we went to the History Museum...
Unfortunately we were not able to take photos inside but the history of Sofia was very similar to ours once the Romans had left their mark.  Even up to the start of the 20th century, the clothes looked like they were used in Downton Abbey.  It's amazing that the city is rich and vibrant yet move out to the country side and even though there is no more communist rule, the villages are still very poor.
 Lunch in the American Cheer Leaders Bar that we stumbled across - very cosmopolitan...
and when in Rome (or America) - Ceaser Salad - which came about 20 minutes before GJs Burger.
That night, we decided to find an Indian restaurant (Spice Island) but they were hosting an Indian birthday party - always good to go were the locals go.  The host managed to squeeze a table in by the reception desk for us which was great because the dewali style singing started downstairs which gave a great atmosphere.  We ordered, 1) Popadums with pickles, 2) Onion Bahjees and Samosas, 3) A chicken dish, king prawn dish and vegetable dish and drinks.  However, firstly came the Bahjees and Samosas - both excellent. Then the drinks..... 
then the popadums.. 
 and before we had finished that lot, along comes the mains with rice - Phew, our little table was groaning so we had to use the reception desk!
All were absolutely excellent.
Next day, we went to the National Theatre once again for our walking tour but when we got to meet the guide, it turned out that the walking tour was actually a hiking tour to the mountains overlooking the city.  Well neither of us were dressed for that and we didn't have packed lunches either so we had to be left to our own devices again.  As you will see - my legs were starting to play up so we slowly meandered around the city to find parts we hadn't yet seen

 On Saturday, the parking areas are deserted

 We visited this cathedral which was quite impressive but again we were not allowed to take pictures
 This chap was a bit stern and if we had had a guided tour, I could have told you who it was
Just one of the unusual sights  A biker who clearly had a bad leg!
Back to the Happy bar for lunch - because we couldn't find a Greggs! - Sushi for me with edemami beans and chicken dippers - Bulgarian style for GJ.
 And that night back into town to the Spaghetti House, which unfortunately was empty at 7:30 pm but once again the starters came with GJ's pizza and 20 mins later came my rigatone with capers and mozerella.
Tempted though we were, we decided not to get a taxi back to the hotel but I thought I would put this on to remind GJ of what he is missing - Ha Ha!
More ramblings and news soon.....
H, GJ & Bracken
PS: It's was the first time we have actually gone away and left Bracken with someone else (Sister & BIL) and he didn't pine a bit - unlike me!


  1. Looking at photos seems as if only you and Graham in Sofia! I know what you mean about leaving Bracken, we have only left Teddy one night when we went to a wedding and the house seemed empty without him.

  2. Taxis in Sofia are great in my experience and well priced. Only time they are expensive is when picking one up at the airport.

  3. Oh - and if you get the chance - go and visit Plovdiv City. its a wonderful city built on 7 hills with a fabulous old town. its older than Rome! I offer a guided city tour as one of my excursions.