A Weekend in Sofia

Date visited: October 2009

Post written by Laura

Throwback Thursday

To another mother and daughter expedition!

20-odd years ago I dreamed up an ambition to visit every capital city in Europe. As of now I’ve been to most of them but still have a few gaps! This post is a reflection back to a weekend that Zoe my daughter and I took when we visited Sofia, capital city of Bulgaria.

Mineral Baths

This was a short Friday – Sunday weekend and we spent two nights staying in a hotel in the city centre. Sofia is easily walkable and our first impressions were positive as we set off to explore in the sunshine. We had arrived by lunchtime and were delighted to find Sofia has an outdoor cafe culture!

We found a pleasant outdoor cafe and had a tasty lunch but I felt uncomfortable when it became time to pay our bill. I handed over the cash and rather than bringing our change, the waiter glared at me and handed it to a (seemingly) homeless child who was begging nearby. What could I say? The poor child probably needed it more than me but my understanding is that sometimes children are used by adults as beggars as part of a scam and tourists giving them money encourages it. I would have preferred to have given the child some food.

Banya Bashi Mosque

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city centre. Above is the Banya Bashi Mosque which was built in the early 1500’s in Turkish design at the beginning of the Ottoman empire. Banya Bashi means ‘many baths’ as it was built over natural thermal spa’s. You can visit outside of prayer time.

Russian Church in Sofia

The Russian Orthodox Church, otherwise known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle Maker!

Decorative painted egg
St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was completed in 1912 as a memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers who lost their lives in the war between Russia and Turkey in 1877-78.

Halite food market

The Halite food market can be found opposite the Municipal Baths. This market sells all kinds of local produce including fish, meat, cheese and vegetables.

Serdica Ruins

As it happens, Sofia is the second oldest capital city in Europe, after Athens. The 4th – 6th century Roman Serdica Ruins are located in the centre of Sofia and the above section can be found under the Halite food market.

Sofia is the third highest capital in Europe (after Andorra La Vella and Madrid) and is surrounded by mountains. On day 2 we took a cable car ride to Vitosha about 6 miles away on its southern side. As there is little in the way of public transport outside of the ski season, we had taken a taxi to get to the cable car station. But this was the second time we had been mugged off in Sofia in as many days.

The taxi driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and demanded the equivalent of about 40 euros. I felt intimidated and obviously our safety was paramount so I handed it over and he drove off. Thankfully we realised we were not too far from the cable car station and slightly shake up but realising this was a scam directed at us tourists, we walked the rest of the way. This was an important lesson learned to be careful to get official taxi’s in the future.

Sofia from the cable car
Cable car to Vitosha National Park
Lifts going higher into the mountains

The cable car took us high into the mountains to the Vitosha National Park from where we had good views across the city. The gondola ride terminated in Aleko which has an altitude of 2,000 m. From here in the winter skiers can take chair or drag lifts higher in the mountains.

Zoe in Aleka, Vitosha National Park

We stayed for a short time in Aleka, wandering around and taking picures of the views.

When we headed back down we decided it was time for lunch…

Japanese Garden at the Hotel Marinela

At the time, back in 2009, Sofia was a cheap destination for British tourists to visit. We decided to splash out and have lunch in a 5 star hotel!

The 442 room Hotel Marinela has a unique Japanese Garden as well as a range of amenities for guests including restaurants and bars as well as conference rooms for business meetings. After a look around the gardens we enjoyed lunch in plush surroundings for a fraction of the cost of a similar hotel at home.

View from the top of the Marinela Hotel

We made our way to the top of the hotel for its extensive views across the city.

For the rest of the afternoon we wandered along the pedestrian area and took our time looking at amazing photos at an open air expedition.

Bansko House restaurant

For our final evening we decided to seek out something authentic and had a feast in Bansko House. This restaurant called ‘Hadjidraganov’s Houses’ consists of 4 separate houses built in 1866 and restored into restaurants in the style and architecture of Bulgarian towns Koprivshtitsa, Zheravna, Melnik and Bansko.

Bansko House restaurant
One of the many dishes we were served
Bansko House restaurant

Summary

If I’m honest, while I enjoyed precious time exploring a new city with my daughter and I loved spending every minute with her, Sofia is one of my least favourite cities. We had some great experiences but mostly I had a feeling of being an unwelcome tourist. That is not to say I would never go back!

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