Our train from Plovdiv to Sofia was delayed by an hour for reasons I am still unsure of. Phil and I sat on the hot train and waited and waited. We didn’t know what the hold up was. The steady stream of announcements, in Bulgarian, on the train station’s loud speaker were, of course, useless to us. We knew we were on the correct train, however, so we stayed put. There was a fellow, one of our cabin mates, who had his bag on the train and was sitting outside smoking and drinking a beer with his friend. His “bag” was actually a cooler bag filled with tall boy beers. As we waited, he entered the train twice to retrieve additional beers for himself and his friend.
As we waited (and sweat) I looked up on google translate how to ask the woman in our train cabin what time the train would leave. She responded in English and indicated we would be leaving in another half hour. Eventually, the beer drinking fellow snuffed out his last cigarette and boarded so we knew it must be time to go. As we traveled the two hours to Sofia, the guy drank an additional four tall boy beers. His cooler bag was like a Mary Poppins carpet bag..just when I thought surely, it couldn’t possibly hold any more beer, he would pull out another one. It was kind of amazing. Also kind of amazing is how the fellow was able to down 7-8 large beers in three hours time and walk straight.
After an uneventful train ride, we exited the train in Sofia it was raining; then getting turned around in the less than impressive underground train station (trash, broken escalator, and huge dead pigeon) we eventually were able to find a taxi to take us to our rental.
We dropped our bags at the apartment and headed out for some grocery store supplies and doner kebab for dinner. It was still raining so we navigated the streets, trying not to get too wet, under our small umbrella as best we could. We had grown accustomed to walking under the giant umbrella we had in Gijón (that stayed in Gijón with our friend, Diana). Contrary to what My Fair Lady may have taught you, the rain in Spain stays mainly in the mountains, not the plains, but I digress.
The next morning, we hit the yellow brick road to see the city and see the National Art Gallery.
The National Art Gallery is housed in a former palace built in 1880. It’s high, ornate ceilings, chandeliers, and grand staircases certainly give it a royal feel.
We enjoyed viewing the art collection including a temporary exhibit by The Master, Vladimir Dimitrov, a Bulgarian artist we first learned about in Veliko Tarnovo.
After we left the museum, we walked around Sofia, taking in the city, stopping to take photos of the Ivan Vazov National Theater, the Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker (a Russian Orthodox Church built in 1914), among others.
After our walk, we decided we needed a snack and I just so happened to have saved Cakey Bakey on our google maps list of spots to check out. I’m glad I did. As the reviews suggested, the cake and coffee were very good and it was a cute little spot to take a break.
The next morning, we had a wine tasting! I saw this particular activity listed as an experience on a popular travel app several weeks prior and booked right away. It had great reviews, was reasonably priced, plus, wine! Several of the eastern European countries we traveled to are known (by wine aficionados anyway) to have good wine. In fact, two Siberian women I met in Turkey told me that if I had the chance to taste Georgian wine, I would not be disappointed as it is the most delicious wine. We didn’t travel to Georgia and did not have a chance to sample Georgian wine but their advice got me thinking about eastern European wine and why it isn’t more well known by the masses.
I was excited to learn more about Bulgarian wine and to sample a few. Our tasting was held at a local wine shop named Coupage Wine and Cheese, by a fellow named Alex. Alex was very passionate about Bulgarian wine and although his shop was on the same street as several other wine shops, his is the only that sells exclusively Bulgarian wine, cheese and cured meats.
As we waited for Alex to prepare our wine and cheese samplings, we perused a book he offered us about wines of the world. While Spain, France, and Italy had multiple pages about wine and grape varieties and regions, Bulgaria had only one page, which is not a surprise as those other countries are quite known for their wines. Though Bulgaria has a wine making tradition that goes back thousands of years beginning with the Thracians in the 5th century BC (later conquered by the Romans), so why aren’t Bulgarian wines more well known?
Alex explained that the craft of traditional wine and cheese making in Bulgaria was all but lost under Communism. This was because the state seized wineries and vineyards and set up large operations that churned out mass quantities of low quality wine for the masses. There were no privately owned wineries under Communism as they all became state owned.
After Communism fell, all state seized land was given back to the original owners (or more often their heirs). The new owners of the vineyards often did not know the former family business; grape cultivation and wine making, thus it took many years for traditional Bulgarian wine to make a comeback. Lucky for us, it did. We had a lovely time talking with Alex and sampling wines. We even bought a bottle to take with us to enjoy at a later time.
After sampling the wine we were quite hungry. Alex gave us a few restaurant recommendations and we ended up at a place called Table. It was cute and trendy feeling and lucky for us, they were serving Brunch! Brunch is not a thing in Spain, or in most of Europe from what I can tell, so we were pleased with the opportunity to enjoy some fancy cocktails and brunch food. We both ordered the Eggs Benedict. It is very unusual for us to order the same thing as we usually like to order a couple of things and share them but we were not disappointed as we each chowed down on a full plate of the delicious eggs.
Another must-do when visiting Sofia, or Bulgaria in general, is a visit to the Rila Monastery. It is stunning and beautiful, and Phil writes in detail about it here. We spent a lovely day there and I am so glad we went.
Our final day in Sofia (and Bulgaria) was spent walking around the town, past the Byzantine ruins, and through Knyazheska Garden Park.
We enjoyed our time in Sofia and throughout Bulgaria over our three weeks in the country. People were friendly, the food was good, the transportation was reasonable and I highly recommend it as a European travel destination. Next up for Phil and I; Germany and our final days in mainland Europe. Stay tuned!