Bulgaria: A city break in Sofia

Wanting to go somewhere cheap and cheerful for our summer holiday this year, we decided upon Bulgaria and started our trip in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city. Sofia is quite small, and you could easily visit the main sights in one day - we spent three days there, but used one of those days to visit the nearby Seven Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery.

After dropping off our luggage at the centrally located 5 Vintage - described as a hostel but we had our own cute private double room and bathroom - we used the TaxiMe app to go to the Museum of Socialist Art, which is where all the statues of Lenin have ended up. The taxi cost 4.63 Bulgarian lev (£2.16), which worked out only slightly more than taking the Metro (1.60 lev each), but was so much more convenient, even if the entrance is a little hard to figure out.

Whilst you don't have to pay to see the statues, the museum is only 6 lev (£2.60) so you're not going to be out of pocket buying a ticket. After exploring, we walked back to the centre through Park Borisova Gradina - which will make you feel like you are somewhere completely rural and not in the middle of a city - stopping off in the park at the Mound of Brotherhood (pictured below) and the National Stadium (where that racism happened recently in the England match).

We grabbed a drink near our hotel before having dinner at Shtastlivetsa Vitoshka (service was hit and miss, but the food was tasty - I can recommend the traditional Bulgarian kebab). One thing you'll find in Bulgaria is that if you sit outside at restaurants, the locals smoke profusely. Bulgarian restaurants don't have a non-smoking section, and even though a smoking ban exists, the fine is cheaper than the restaurants losing local custom. By the end of the two weeks, we were thoroughly fed up of eating with an unwanted side order of cigarette smoke. You have been warned!

The next day we had a later start to the day than anticipated, so ended up having an early lunch at MEAT after failing to find a brunch place with empty tables, before using the TaxiMe app to head up to Vitosha Mountain (22.80 leva; £15.50 one way). Vitosha, you see, looms over the city, so we decided to hike from Aleko Hut up to the Kamen Del peak to get an awesome view of Sofia.

We certainly had a tale to tell from our afternoon hike, which you'll find out about when I write that blog post(!), but it was with great relief that we made it back to the city and to Made in Home (pictured above) - definitely our favourite place for dinner in Sofia. It's cash only, but the food had great flavours and I'd highly recommend eating there.

If things had turned out differently on Vitosha, we would not have hiked the Seven Rila Lakes and visited Rila Monastery the next day, but since we made it back (relatively) unscathed, we set off early to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (pictured above) to meet our tour group. Again, another blog post coming soon about this, so I'll fast forward back to Sofia after a tiring day hiking to dinner at La Bottega all'Angolo - also where we had those drinks on our first night. It was, unfortunately, a bit hit and miss due to poor service - you'll see a pattern emerging here - so I'd say avoid this one (though the food was nice enough, even if I had finished my main by the time Olly got his).

You've probably noticed that, up until this point, we hadn't actually spent much time seeing the sights of Sofia. In fact, it was only on our last morning that we spent time wandering around the city and, to be honest, that was ample enough time to tick off the main sights. OK, we didn't go into any museums, but we still felt like we got a sense of the city from our morning exploring.
You'll find lots of churches in Sofia and, if you look down to the ground, you may just notice a klek shop (pictured above). These were introduced to the city after the fall of communism because it was a cheaper way to have a shop - a shopkeeper doesn't need to pay rent if they convert their basement into a shop. Clever! Klek translates as "squat shop" and that's how you get your goods - squat down and ask the shopkeeper for what you're after.

One sight worth seeking out in Sofia is the Roman ruins of Serdica which you'll find blended with the Serdika II Metro station (see above). I love in cities when old meets new, and this is a perfect example of the two. The ruined city of Serdica dates back to around the 4th Century, and you'll also find back above ground St George Rotunda - a church still used today, which also dates from the same period. 

After our wander, we returned to MEAT for lunch, the amazing place we ate at on our first day - they do super delicious hot sandwiches and burgers; the carnitas on artisan bread, pictured above, was my favourite - we picked up our luggage from the hotel, and caught a taxi to the airport. Taxis cost around 8-14 leva (£3.50 to £6) to/from the airport, depending on traffic and, again, we used the TaxiMe app. 

With Sofia firmly ticked off, it was time to fly down to Burgas to start the next bit of our Bulgarian adventure - ten days in Sozopol and Nessebar on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. 

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