Ultimate Adventures: Bored in Bulgaria?
In Bulgaria, taxi drivers deliver cigarettes. Parking is via text message but traffic lights are controlled manually. Nodding is “no” and shaking your head is “yes.” Once a year people put on bracelets which they can’t take off until they see a stork. Communist-era statues are painted to look like Superman and Batman. Tram drivers talk on cell phones, you can only say “cheers” if you have alcohol in your glass, and the city is paved with a yellow brick road that King Ferdinand was rumored to have won during a game of poker. If you’re bored in Bulgaria, you’re bored of life.
There is something for everyone in Sofia. Once again, it was a Triptrotter who proved this to me. In this case, it was my host Boyko, who showed me the spark of his city. With him I went to the top of the mountain overlooking Sofia, where, together with his friends, we watched the sunset and the lights come on throughout the city. With Boyko I tasted local delicacies (and ate the biggest pizza of my life). We watched old men play chess in the park and blew bubbles and went “Zorbing” in a small lake (check out Triptrotting TV for footage of me making an ass of myself). On my last night there, he took me to an unmarked bar in a barn, a place where VIPs had been able to hide their exclusivity during the Communist era. He also took me to going away parties, hidden teahouses, and even a business dinner!
Best of all, I participated in his FreeSofiaTour. The tour covered all of the must see landmarks but also provided really interesting and insightful information. Highlights for me included learning that all Sofian Jews had been saved in WW2, finding a church bell in a tree, trying mineral water from a spring, seeing the musical notes to “Ode to Joy” on top of the palace roof, and contrasting the modern architecture which was next to remains from the 4th century AD. Boyko: a tour guide, host, and local friend all wrapped up in one! There were many young travelers from all over the world on the tour, who were staying in hostels around Sofia. By the way, although I was lucky to stay with Boyko in Sofia, there were plenty of hostels to choose from on the Student Universe site.
My Sofia experience was further enriched by my tour with my Viator guide Philip. He took me to Boyana Chapel, an unassuming building from the outside that hid the most impressive frescoes I have ever seen inside. The expressions that are visible on the faces of the characters is made all the more remarkable by the fact that some of them are almost a thousand years old! With Philip I was also lucky enough to witness two baptisms, as it was a popular holy day in the the Eastern Orthodox Religion.
Finally, he shared some practical advice about Bulagarian idiosyncracies with me. My favourite was discovered over lunch, when I found out that food does not all come out at the same time. This, he explained, was a matter of serving it as fresh as possible rather than of bad service. A useful tip which many tourists do not realize!
And if that is not enough for you, there is always the Bulgarian countryside. I ventured out into the mountains for my final day, home to the “Jerusalem of Bulgaria.” More commonly, it is known as the Rila Monastery, and it is a superb example of the architecture of Eastern Orthodoxy. That, and it features a cave which washes away all of your sins when you emerge. Our driver, who brought backpackers there 8 times a week, must be the purest of the pure! All in all a fun day trip that left me feeling better about indulging in Bulgarian alcohol the night before.