I spent hours and hours walking around Sofia trying to get a feel for the city and I found it quite interesting. I should mention I was there during winter so it was quite cold and the architecture reminded me of Soviet buildings which made it even cooler.
I walked from my hotel straight to the downtown area and it was rather active with what I assume were locals or primarily tourists from the surrounding countries. I walked all the way down to the far end of the city and ended up at a building I think is a university but there were stairways out in front of the building which lead down under the place to what turned out to be an open area with bars. I took note of this oddity and headed back up to the sidewalk to continue my tour.
The stores were typical of what you’ld see in any town and since it was christmas I thought I’d look for a christmas bulb as I started collecting unique bulbs some time ago. I bet I went in every store I could find as I made my way in the direction of the hotel but to no avail. For some reason there were just no single bulbs to be had anywhere, or so I thought. I was getting close to my hotel when I noticed an indoor mall and headed inside. It was packed with people and had everything imaginable for the holidays, food, christmas decorations, clothes, sweets, you name it. And, right on the bottom floor was a stand with a couple women selling huge christmas bulbs, perhaps twice the size of a softball. They spoke a bit of English so I spent some time looking things over and ultimately came away with a bulb which I was quite satisfied with. The environment in the mall was pleasant with the sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays and everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. Well, I took my new found treasure and headed back to the hotel to drop it off.
So it was the evening by this time so I asked the desk clerk if there was a restaurant that made authentic Bulgarian food and he directed me to a local place within easy walking distance. I went in with a couple friends, was seated and asked the waitress the same question. She spoke just enough English to point me to a dish she felt I should try, Calf Brain. It looked decent in the picture so I ordered. The others ordered more western type fare and we began to talk as we waited for our meal. Well, it wasn’t long before our meals came out and mine was before me steaming away. I grabbed a fork, selected a piece and put it in my mouth when at that instant I realized I’d finally found something I just couldn’t eat. I’ve traveled to dozens of countries, hundreds of cities and not once have I tasted anything I couldn’t eat. Well, there it was in front of me at last. I pushed the plate away and the waitress immediately came over to see what was wrong. Nothing I told her, it turns out I just don’t like calf brain. Apparently, that didn’t translate well and a minute later the chef was standing next to the table saying something in Bulgarian and waving his hands. I felt bad and my friends were afraid I just caused an international incident so we finished, paid and left before the chef returned. I tried to reassure the waitress all was well but the her English and my zero ability with Bulgarian made it somewhat of a challenge. Luckily we were able to get out without triggering a diplomatic crisis but it was a lesson learned.
So, since it was getting on in the evening I decided to head back over to those underground bars near the university. When I arrived there was a bit of a wait to get in and when I finally made my way to the door the bouncer said something to me and of course I didn’t understand. I indicated so and luckily there happened to be a woman from the U.S. standing there and she translated for me. Turns out this woman was studying at the University of Sofia for some reason, I think she mentioned a degree of study and cost as being issues. Anyhow, I wandered in and the place was absolutely packed.
If you’ve read the news regarding Bulgaria you probably know the place is sort of an economic mess and from what I can tell, the youth make up for this by having as much fun as possible. The scene was something out of a wild underground party in New York. There were plenty of people in costumes seemingly designed to shock and awe, a guy on stilts dressed as Uncle Sam and of course a huge array of people attempting to drain the place of alcohol. One scene reminded me of Laugh-In a sitcom I watched in the 70’s here in the U.S. People dressed like they had just stepped out of the 60s or 70s, dancing on tables. It was all quite interesting and I ended up staying for a bit just to watch all the people doing their thing and the odd thing was no one there seemed to think anything strange was going on, as if this was a daily thing (it probably was I suspect).
The only drawback I could see was the fact that the music was so loud it was impossible to have a conversation with anyone. So, as fascinating as the environment was I decided to leave some time after midnight and wander around the town again.
Despite the cold and time, the city was still quite vibrant, filled with people window shopping or heading to the next bar for some fun. As I travel I’ve come to expect to see an Irish bar in just about every major city visited and Sofia turned out to be no different. I wandered over to the Irish pub and sure enough it was packed as well. I sat out back in a covered area outside despite the cold as the place was just too crowded to move around. The back area was also quite busy and for some reason the group I was with immediately attracted the attention of an extremely inebriated Brit. He probably heard us talking and came over to investigate. We learned right away he was in a foul mood due to his football team losing and proceeded to tell us in intimate detail why his team got screwed. If you’ve never been to Britain you should be aware that the Brits take football serious and I mean serious, some people take it to the extreme and it is a matter of life and death … seemingly. Anyhow, he was so drunk that after 15 minutes or so he ran out of beer, went back in for more and apparently forgot we existed. Thankfully, as far as I was concerned as I’m not a football fan (soccer for those of us in the U.S.). Other than that the evening was uneventful and I eventually made my way back to the hotel for some sleep.
The next morning we left out very early for home and despite the long ride it was quite scenic and I enjoyed it. The transition at the Bulgarian – Macedonian border was uneventful and we were soon home. Another trip to add to my experience and an enjoyable one at that.