Inside Bulgaria: Lost in Sofia

June 4, 2012 at 10:52 am 3 comments

It’s easy to get lost in this 5000-year-old capital of Bulgaria. The street signs are in Cyrillic, an alphabet writing system that many would think originated in Russia but it was actually developed in Bulgaria in the 10th century. Most people don’t speak English, so there’s also the language barrier to contend with. In my wanderings, I did manage to go back to the hotel using landmarks like buildings, monuments, and yes, graffiti.

Our group spent three days in Sofia. We considered ourselves lucky to have the sights within walking distance from the hotel where we stayed. The hotel is an attraction by itself. It was built on top of a section of an old Roman amphitheatre built around the 3rd century. The remains could be found on the ground floor of the hotel.

In spite of the rainy weather, I enjoyed exploring the city on foot. When it was raining, I just had to watch for uneven pavements and concrete steps that could be slippery when wet. I also had to watch for those street signs that were placed so low that you could accidentally bump your head into them. If I may say so, placing the signs that way is pure genius. One way or another, they would get your attention.

Sofia has the old European charm with its cobblestone streets, parks, monuments, and beautiful buildings. The British bombed the city during World War II totally destroying 3,000 buildings and damaging 9,000 more. According to our guide, it was done in retaliation for the killing of a British Air Force officer whom the local partisans captured when his plane went down. I could only wonder how much of its architectural heritage was lost because of it. Fortunately, some of its notable landmarks have survived for future generations.

Sofia residents appear to be religious folks. Many places of worship can be found around the city, majority of them belonging to the Orthodox Christian religion.

My favorite is St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral that was built in Neo-Byzantine style in the early 1900s in honor of the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. One can’t help but be dazzled by its grand design as well as by its gold-plated domes. According to rumors, a visiting Russian acrobat scaled the heights of the Cathedral to steal some of the gold. There was no mention on whether he was caught and hanged befitting his profession.

We were able to attend Sunday service at the cathedral. Even for a nonchurch-goer like me, I found it spiritually uplifting and solemn and the voices from the choir heavenly. I was also in awe of the cathedral interiors with its icons or religious paintings. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. This restriction would hold true for the other churches and historical houses that we visited. Some less prominent ones would allow it for a fee, but I chose not to take advantage of it. I find that taking pictures could somehow get in the way when you want to live in the moment.

The city’s most famous church is St. Sofia church built in the 6th century. I guess there’s no surprise there as the capital was named after the church in the 14th century.

The city’s oldest building is the Rotunda Church of St. George built in the 4th century. It’s located adjacent to an ancient Roman ruins. After it was destroyed by the Huns in the 19th century, the Ottomans rebuilt and turned it into a mosque. it’s now a UNESCO-protected museum.

Other must-see attractions:

The Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker aka Russian Church. It was built in the early 1900s on the site of the Saray Mosque after it was destroyed following liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1882. Beneath the church is the grave of Saint Archbishop Seraphim.

Mosque of Sinan built in the 16th century.

Sofia Synagogue built in the early 1900s to serve the needs of the Sephardic Jewish community.

A brothel. I confess I don’t have firsthand information. The guide just told me.

The central thermal springs of Sofia at the corner of Serdika and Ekzarth Yosif Street, which offers free drinking water to the public. It’s said to be medicinal and supposed to cure some ailments imagined or otherwise.

On our second day in Sofia, we had the opportunity to have coffee with a former high-ranking government minister. I asked him about the estimated timeframe for Bulgaria’s conversion to the euro currency. He answered in half-jest that it would be after the euro ceased to exist. But seriously, he said that it wouldn’t be anytime soon. He mentioned about the current financial crisis in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy that threatens to destabilize the euro. He fears that Greece would abandon the euro and convert back to drachma. Such conversion might cause chaos and political instability in Greece and adversely affect thousands of Bulgarians working there who might be forced to go back home where there are no jobs waiting for them. I also asked about Bulgaria’s energy source. He said that Russia is the main source of their energy needs and that would continue in the foreseeable future because their country’s infrastructures and refineries have been developed by the Russians. I wouldn’t detail the questions the others raised because this narrative is getting long and I don’t want to bore anyone who missed me while i was gone.

After three days in Sofia, I learned a few bulgarian words to get by, such as “da” for “yes”, “ne” for “no”, “molya” for “please”, “blagodaria” for “thank you”, “dobyr den” for “good day”, and “ciao” for “good-bye”. Still, reading Cyrillic continued to befuddle me. Sigh, it still does.

I also learned a little about the culture. When a Bulgarian nods, it means “no” and when he shakes his head, it means “yes”.

Bulgarian restaurants love to play old American music loud. And when you order food, you order by weight in grams. Small portions are about 100 grams.

In addition, I observed the Bulgarian’s tendency for what I’d term self-deprecating nature for lack of a better description. For example, when you ask a Bulgarian how he is doing, he may respond with “good but could be better” with one hand gesturing up and down for emphasis. It maybe the result of a subconscious effort not to appear better than anybody else. I don’t know if our guide was pulling my legs when she said that in the old days, when somebody excelled or stood out, he was killed to become an angel for the less fortunate.

In my next post, I’ll write about the Rila Monastery visit. Ciao for now. See, I still remember my Bulgarian.

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Entry filed under: Blogroll, daily prompt. Tags: , , , , , .

fun – we are young Inside Bulgaria: From Roma to Rila

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Abby  |  June 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Welcome back! 🙂

    Reply
    • 2. plaridel  |  June 7, 2012 at 9:49 am

      abby:

      the flight home took 24 hours with two plane connections. a little tiring, but glad to be back safe and sound. 🙂

      Reply
  • 3. Tina  |  June 14, 2012 at 4:40 am

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