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A nostalgic weekend in Sofia

31/05/2017

Before moving to Lisbon, Sofia was the city I was calling Home. First moved here in 2004 and over the years I had kind of Love-Hate relationship with it. Either I was hating it and would not go out of my routine for days, may be weeks, or I was madly in love with it and could not get tired of walking around it, even if that would mean to pass on the same street million times. Because in every season Sofia is different. Actually, Sofia is different every day...

Last time I went to Sofia was in winter time. Temperatures of around -15*C (if you're lucky) plus freezing cold wind and most of the days no sun, are not very friendly for outdoor walking around the city. But this time was different. I went back to Sofia in spring - my favourite season, I guess. The one bringing new colours after the cold and grey winter, bringing new life and is full of hope. And this is how I found Sofia - colourful, mostly green, sunny and happy. Even people looked happier. I couldn't wait to go back to my favourite places. And to visit some new ones. Basically I had only two days but I was determined to take the most of them.

The first day dedicated to a short road trip near by - the village called Gorna Malina is located around 30 km East from Sofia. The village itself is not a place of interest. The reason we went there was simply to spend a calm, laid back Saturday in a relatively new complex - The Windmills.

It has six pools (which is great for the hot summer days), several restaurants, a hotel attached to it, a lake and a small zoo. This is where a made the cutest new friend - a 3-months old baby mouflon. The first time I took it in my lap it was a bit afraid, but the second time it almost fell asleep. Cuteness overload ❤️

In the early afternoon we went back to the city where I took a stroll at the city centre. Passed on some well known streets and met with friends for a glass of wine. I'm very happy that Sofia is developing its creative side, as more "alternative" bars and markets are showing up.

For dinner however, we chose a typical Bulgarian restaurant with live music, far from the city centre. But who wants to close a Saturday night just after dinner? We went back downtown to discover the new 5L SpeakEasy bar (it's new for me at least). It very well deserves its name as we had quite a trouble finding it. It has several rooms and on the wall can be seen replicas of old medical prescriptions for alcohol. And the cocktails are divine! The ones with Rakia (Bulgarian or Macedonian brandy) are a must-try. 

When we left the night was still young so I wanted to pay a visit to an old love of mine - a bar I used to call "the paradise of cocktails". It surely didn't disappoint, although I found it too empty for a Saturday night.

I really wanted to spend the Sunday in the city. I wanted to dive in its spring-green and happy atmosphere, and to experience it as I was here for the first time. My first stop was the Alexander Nevsky Memorial Cathedral. Built between 1882 and 1924 in pale Bulgarian limestone, it's for sure Sofia's main landmark. Its domes shine exquisitely even in the dark winter days. The central dome and belfry are plated in gold, while the others - in copper. That's why with the years passing they are gaining more of a green-ish colour.

The interiors are impressively painted. The Dome fresco represents God the Creator with the Christ as child on his knee, looking down on the congregation.

If you see old ladies on the stairs of the cathedral, please don't ignore them. Most probably they are selling flowers for people to leave next to the image of Virgin Mary as a way to pay respect.

Just aside of the Cathedral is one of my most favourite churches in the whole world - the St. Sofia church (means "Holy Wisdom"). A very simple one - the bricks from the outside continue on the inside as well, it dates back to 6th century. It was actually built on the site of two 4th century churches, mosaics from which can be seen on the floor inside. During the Ottoman's times the church was transformed to a mosque but was abandoned after an earthquake in 1858.

From the Nevsky Square continued always straight on Moscovska str. and passed behind the Russian Church St. Nicolas the Miracle-Worker, built in 1914 to serve Sofia's Russian community. What is more interesting about it is the crypt. The last resting place of Archbishop Serafim - the leader of the Russian church in Bulgaria from 1921 to 1950, is believed to perform miracles. That's why there's always a large number of visitors in the tomb, handwriting their wishes and leaving them in a box beside Serafim's sarcophagus.

Next to the Russian church is the former Royal Palace (now a National Art Gallery), built in 1873 for Sofia's Ottoman ruler and after 1877 had been adapted for Bulgaria's new independent monarchs. On its back side there's another favourite place of mine from years ago - the Tobacco Garden Bar. In summer time its garden is so beautiful and romantic.

From the Royal Palace crossed the yellow pavement (watch out as it's quite slippery), passed by the building of the Bulgarian National Bank and went to the garden in front of the National Theatre "Ivan Vazov". How many afternoons I have spent here, sitting on the grass with a coffee and a great book in hand... I was happy to find out that now (actually since 2015) there's a small, alternative library exactly there, very close to the fountain.

From there headed to the pedestrian part of Vitosha Boulevard (between the Sofia Court House and National Palace of Culture). Before the big shopping malls appeared this used to be the most famous shopping street with best boutiques. A few years ago this whole part was repaired and is so pretty now.

Looking North can be seen the St. Nedelya ("the Blessed Sunday") cathedral. Originally built in the 10th century it was rebuilt between 1856-1867, but was severely destroyed in a communist bombing in 1925 (April 16th) during the funeral of gen. Konstantin Georgiev, that was attended by Tsar Boris III and his family. 193 people died and around 500 were injured. This is considered the biggest act of terrorism in the history of Bulgaria, and in the world by that time.

Almost in the end of the pedestrian area of the boulevard is the statue of Aleko Konstantinov - a Bulgarian writer, publicist, lawyer. He is looking towards his favourite mountain Vitosha, leaning against a pillar with signs showing the directions to the cities his most famous character has passed on his journey. 

From there the National Palace of Culture is just one crossroad away. Its construction started in 1978 and was officially opened in 1981 to celebrate the 1300 years of Bulgaria. The monument (that is falling apart) is part of the same project although in the last years it became more of a controversial issue. The fountains in front of and the green gardens surrounding them are a favourite spot for locals during weekends. 

Edit: the monument does no longer exist anymore.

Visiting Sofia I was lucky not only with the weather. This same weekend was taking place a craft market I've been wanting to attend for some time now. And I finally had the chance to do so. I was so happy. Mish Mash Fest supports creativity and I was really happy to see how crafts and fashion are developing in my home land. And to finally interact with artists I've been following on social networks for quite some time.

For a beautiful sunset over the city of Sofia I recommend you to go high on the mountain. Kopitoto (meaning the "Hoof") is the area of the television and radio tower and offers panoramic views of the entire city and surroundings. I had dinner in my best friends' house in one of the higher neighbourhoods, surrounded by these colours.

Stunning, isn't it? 😍

 

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