For us, one of the exciting parts of travel is the research and planning that it takes to make each trip a reality. Normally our trips are regional, and rarely do we just pick one destination, so in the early stages it’s thrilling to think that everything is possible.
But obviously, seeing everything isn’t possible, so we must whittle our itinerary to determine where we’re actually going to visit.
Our priorities, preferences and allotted time determine which locations make it through the sieve, and how much time we spend in each place. Some cities become secondary or fall by the wayside altogether, and on our recent trip to Bulgaria, the capital Sofia fell into our “visit but not for very long” category.
As a regional hub, whether you’re on a bus, train, or plane, it’s a near guarantee that one of the spokes of your travel wheel will take you through Sofia. But when we put Sofia and Plovdiv in the balance, we made the decision to spend most of our time in a smaller, more relaxed city rather than the larger, busier capital.
Don’t get us wrong, Sofia has an incredible variety of attractions and something for all tastes. It’s a modern, vibrant city and its combination of onion-domed and Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques, and communist relics, make it an interesting east-meets-west destination. We enjoyed both our short stays there, but the timing meant that we spent most of our time wandering the city without a planned agenda. And as it happened, this was an excellent way to explore.
The travel gods were smiling on us, when we picked the Boulevard Maria Luiza for our first walk. It’s one of Sofia’s main streets and the amazing concentration of sights scattered along its length make it a tourist epicenter. In addition to the sights and sounds of normal city life, there’s the 450-year old Banya Bashi mosque, a large, attractive turn of the century synagogue, market hall and Turkish Baths, as well as a couple of Orthodox cathedrals, city monuments, and the excavated ruins of the 8th Century BCE city of Serdica. The cluster of sights along this one-kilometer stretch of road is perfect for short-of-time visitors.
Sofia is a modern city which strives to focus attention on its past, but there were a few glaring examples of the city’s faded glory as well. Smack dab in the center of the attractive Maria Luiza Boulevard stands a couple of what were once grand buildings that are now derelict and have truly gone to seed. We’re always intrigued by buildings like this and wonder what their story is.
Then there are the people of Sofia: talented buskers, bench-hoarding people watchers, somber street sweepers, alfresco feasters, flea market entrepreneurs, and colorfully coifed beauties.
And Sofia had a few dashes of quirkiness thrown in that made us smile. A display of fridge magnets outside a tourist shop had us scratching our heads. We didn’t make it to any of Bulgaria’s beaches, but we’re fairly certain that palm trees are in short supply. Also, in what must be the best repurposing of empty beer bottles in history, this unique courtyard wall garden won the prize.
Most travel guides make helpful recommendations for how many days to allot for a certain destination. However, our philosophy is that we see what we see, so we don’t necessarily think that way. For instance, Sofia has a number of excellent museums that we didn’t have time to visit but we’re not worried, because there’s always next time. Our final word on Sofia is that it’s an interesting city with lots to see and do and we’ll always be happy that we visited. It can be done in two days or two weeks, and if your travels take you to Bulgaria, you owe it to yourself to stop in.
James & Terri
1. by Dennis Jarvis via Wikimedia Commons