Recently, I went on an awesome road trip through Bulgaria and Greece. I’ll cover the entire trip over the next few posts. The first day of the trip, we drove to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We only planned to spend the night there, but we got there early enough that we were able to do a free walking tour of the city. For two hours, we saw most of the important historical sites and buildings in the city.
For those of you who don’t know about free walking tours, omg. I recently discovered that this is a thing in almost every city (Brasov included). Basically, you meet up with a tour guide who has agreed to do the tour for free. If the tour guide does a great job, you can give them a tip, but you’re not obligated to pay anything. However, our tour guide in Sofia (Nikola) was so incredibly informative that we really wanted to give him some money. He really gave us an awesome view into the history of Bulgaria and the city.
Sadly, I spent a lot of time out in the sun after I took this tour, so my brain didn’t retain too many details. I’ll try to describe what I remember.
Sofia has been inhabited as a city for thousands of years. Over time, it’s been conquered a bit by various empires, but it has retained its spirit and beauty. There are lots of ruins right in the downtown part of Sofia. They are always discovering new archaeological sites as they build.
Recently, they’ve finished preserving a new section of ancient foundation. You can see where the ancient foundation ends and the reconstructed part begins at the line. These foundations are thousands of years old.
One of the things that I liked the most about Sofia was its symbols of religious tolerance.
There are several houses of worship very close to one another in the downtown area – an orthodox church, a roman catholic church, a synagogue, and a mosque.
During the second world war, the Nazis insisted the Bulgarians send their Jewish population to the camps, and they basically refused, savings thousands of lives.
Sofia is built on many thermal springs. The water is supposed to be really healthy for you, but I couldn’t get past how hot and kind of sulfur-y it was. Lots of people were filling up jugs and jugs of water at this public water station.
Naturally, bath houses were a thing back in the day. This was a really popular place for Sofians to come and socialize and enjoy their delicious hot sulfur water. Our tour guide said it was like the Facebook of the 1800s. Now, I think the building is closed (? correct me if I’m wrong) for renovations, but it’s usually an art museum.
Bulgaria, like Romania, was a communist country. The statue of St. Sofia replaced the statue of Lenin when Communism fell. Other monuments are not so easy to replace – the former headquarters of the Communist party is still a centerpiece of the buildings downtown.
The people of Sofia are laid back and like to be outside. The parks were jam packed full of people enjoying the night air. I can’t imagine staying cooped up in an apartment when you have such beautiful parks like they do.
This fountain was very long and when the sun went down, it had beautiful lights!
What would Freud say about our food choices in Sofia?
We got some street food and hung out with the locals before we returned to the hotel to get some sleep for the next part of our trip.
As we were walking back to our hotel later that night, we witnessed some kind of street kid gang roundup by the gendarme. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t feel as safe as I normally do. Watching those kids get hustled up reminded me that there’s definitely a darker side to all beautiful cities.