Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sofia- Explore behind doors

Sofia is quite a small capital city, you can walk across the centre in half an hour. While still overlooked by many travellers, it is becoming increasingly more vibrant as the city grows. It serves as a base to explore the rest of Bulgaria, I met many travelers who had been trekking around the mountains, but also holds some worthy attractions such as the impressive Alaxander Nevsky cathedral, Sveti Georgi and the museum at the Institute of Archaeology, with the Boyana Church and Mt. Vitosha nearby.
What struck me most about Sofia, which I only found through surprising experience, was how much of the cities gems were actually hidden behind doors. Walking around the streets of Sofia, the buildings, aside from the main attractions, were generally unremarkable, concrete blocks . The pavement, broken and choppy, was some of the worst I've seen (and that's saying something).
My hostel is the perfect example of how you have to search for the best of Sofia. The door was one of those that are part of a larger garage opener, and even once you ring inside I had to walk under construction scaffolding to a building set back a ways. I was a little worried since I was just beginning travel on my own, but the cute Hostel Mostel ended up being one of my favourites. It had a pool table almost always in use, a great open common area to relax in, an extreamly welcoming and helpful staff and a portion of spaghetti and a beer included in the 9€ a night charge. This all made it a great location to meet people and relax as Sofia isn't the busiest of cities at night and you can end up with some down time.
I don't recommend Sofia if you are looking for a crazy night-life, the streets were dead as we wandered around, it was even a Saturday night mind you. There are a few places to head out though, and the cheap price of beer in particular is quite tempting with a liter costing only £1.30. Some groups headed out to the casinos, the cheaper ones as we are hostel goers, where a minimum buy in of 5 leva (£2) gets you free drinks and toast. Others visited the ever-classy Ale house where a tap is located right at your table.
And yet many others got completely lost trying to find the hostel bar located a 3 minute walk away. This goes back to my hidden Sofia point from before. It looks as if you are entering a clothing shop, but instead you pass through two sets of doors, and follow the pounding music up up a tight staircase to the bar. With their sign broken, I saw more than a few groups return to the hostel for directions a second time.
The most remarkable of these hidden experiences though, was the small restaurant Before and After. I ended up here after a losing a bet of tea over a game of pool. Entering the restaurant from the busy street I felt as if I had fallen down the rabbits hole into another universe. A large fountain stood in the middle of slightly dark room with 30's style wallpaper and and paper-crane-like ornaments dangling from the ceiling. Large, overstuffed booths lined the back wall and all of the tabels had been pushed to one side to make room for the couple tangoing across the other half. We only had tea and coffee, and the most delicious buiscut cake, so I can't recommend their food, but Sunday tango lessons was the icing on the cake to the experience. We watched as a the room filled up with people of all ages and eventually the lesson began while the beats electric tango filled the room. If I knew something in Bulgarian, other than thank you, I would have been tempted to join in.
In my opinion, if you have some time Sofia is worth a couple days. Based on recommendations, ext time I would stay in Bulgaria longer and take the time to stop in Plovdiv and I would also like to return to do some trekking in the mountains. 

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