Sofia was our final and shortest stop; we had worked out our route and that we were able to fly back to the same airport we left from if we could make it to Sofia; our prior research showed that we could get a bus to Sofia for 15 euros each booked directly at the bus station. The journey was due to take around 5-6 hours depending on stops at the border. We arrived at the bus station and departed on time at 8.30am.
The bus itself wasn’t the most comfortable or modern but was ‘good enough’. Run by Transkop it was easy enough to find in the bus station. If you have luggage make sure you arrive early so you can ensure it is loaded up in time before departures because the drivers do like to be prompt with their departures.
The bus journey took approximately 4½ hours with a delay of approximately 45 minutes at the border and a quick rest stop over the border of Bulgaria. Due to our currency conundrum, we had no levs to purchase a drink, however, were lucky enough to still have a few euros left from Kosovo which they did accept. The bus arrived at Sofia bus station at 3pm making a total journey time of 6½ hours. Upon arrival, we still had no lev and so had to find a cashpoint in order to get a taxi to our hotel. I managed to find one in the central railway station just adjacent to the bus station.
We arrived at Hotel Centre Point at 3.30pm and checked in. We were lucky enough to have a ground floor room adjacent to reception. The room cost £29 and was basic enough but did a job. There was a coffee machine you had to pay for in reception but to be honest, it wasn’t that nice and there were plenty of coffee machines on the street outside which were cheaper. The hotel was central in Trapezitsa Street but surprisingly quiet considering its central location. After such a long journey we were ready to go and find a beer and something to eat! Off we headed into the town centre to have an explore.
Just to the right of our hotel were the tube station and a rather impressive gold statue!
From a little bit of internet research, we were able to determine this is the Statue of Sveta Sofia, also known as ‘Holy Wisdom’. The statue was erected in 2000 to replace a statue of Lenin. She stands 24ft high on top of a 48ft pedestal and is said to symbolise not one individual but both Sofia and Athena and adorned with the symbols of power (crown), fame (wreath) and wisdom (owl). The statue itself apparently caused controversy due to the fact the city of Sofia was not named after a god but after the church Hagia Sofia; therefore having no connection to Sofia itself. Nevertheless, she was quite an imposing and impressive sight.
After a bit of a google search for nearby attractions, we headed towards the ‘Ladies Bazaar’ or Zhenski Pazar. The market is known to be one of the cheapest places for fruit and vegetables and local produce as well as some clothes stalls.
Unfortunately, as our luck would have it most of it was closed either because of the time of day or because of the Easter holidays. We could see however how this could be a bustling place when in full swing.
Still in search of that beer, we headed off using our Google maps trying to find a local bar. This was a bit of a difficult challenge as everywhere appeared to be shut. We saw a stag party looking for beer and having no luck and eventually determined that this was because most shops, bars and restaurants were shut for Easter. All four days of it, This came as somewhat of a surprise to us as Easter had been celebrated the week before in the UK; however, the Greek Orthodox Church determined that Easter was the weekend we visited! After finding the local Irish bar was closed until Tuesday we eventually found a restaurant which was open and also served beer, called Happy where we stopped for some food and drink.
The restaurant was located just opposite the St Nedelya church, a medieval church which has suffered destruction over the ages and has been reconstructed several times. Its actual construction date is not known but thought to have been sometime in the 10th century; it contains the remains of the Serbian King Stefan Multan and was demolished and reconstructed in the 1800’s finally being consecrated in 1867. In 1925 the church suffered a terrorist assault when members of the Bulgarian Communist Party blew up the roof during the funeral of General Konstantin Georgiev, who was killed in a previous assault. 150 people died and 500 were injured and the church was rebuilt again and consecrated again in 1933.
After our food and drink, we decided to head back to our hotel and have a rest before planning to visit one of the Bulgarian Casinos in the evening. Unfortunately, my short power nap turned into a mammoth sleep and I ended up waking up in the early hours of the morning thus missing the casino…oops but I must have needed it. Instead, we decided to head out in the morning to explore further before we had to leave for our final flight back to the UK.
We grabbed some breakfast and coffee in the local bakery and headed back to the area we went yesterday by the church to determine what was further on from there. Leading off from St Nedelya church was the pedestrian area called Vitosha Boulevard, named after Mount Vitosha which overlooks Sofia. This area was full of bars and restaurants and had a pretty chilled out vibe to it. We enjoyed looking at the different artwork down here.
At the end of the Boulevard was a park where we observed some nice fountains before heading back towards our hotel; unfortunately, we were running out of time to get to the airport before our flight home. On the way back, however, we spotted the rather impressive Citibank building.
Alas, it was time to finish our 2-week European adventures and head back to Sofia airport for our return flight home. We really didn’t get much time in Sofia to give our real opinions of the place; we came on a weekend where everything was closed down due to Easter (much to our surprise and disappointment) however we did manage to see some parts. I am sure Sofia has a lot more to offer. The one thing we did note, however, was that in some parts it was quite run down and covered in graffiti; however, this is not untypical of any location in Europe we have visited. England compared to a lot of Europe is relatively clear of graffiti except at train stations and in abandoned buildings.
We managed to get a taxi from the hotel back to Sofia airport terminal 1; however, be warned there are two terminals at the airport and we had to go from terminal 2 which was reached by bus which left every 20 minutes so always leave time plenty of time just in case if flying out of here.
We caught our flight back to Stansted which left on time sad to be going home but we were ready. It had been an amazing trip covering 6 countries by air and road which at times was quite an experience and we ticked off a few more places on our European destination list in addition to experiencing different local cultures, architecture and history what more could we want! Now to plan our next trip!