Sofia: Autumn in Winter World
NIGHT IN THE CITY
Bulgaria was my 46th country and that’s how much it cost me to get there (€46), only one euro more than the train from Thessaloniki to Athens. It is also unique in that for the first time since July I am heading north. It must be said that my research has seen a few eye openers.
Most notably having to pay for TWO tickets if travelling on public transport (one for you and the other for your bag!) Secondly avoid the Sofia metro at rush hour if you have luggage! The stations may look spacious but the trains are standard size!
COLD ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
One thing to note about Sofia, it is bitterly cold! Even in October it feels like it skipped autumn and went straight to winter with many people wearing Puffa jackets and jeans. Like any other country there are oddities, for one who the hell calls a convenience store KINKY!?
And the harlequin zebra crossing; what do all the colours and symbols mean? There’s even a yellow brick road and if you follow it you may encounter the people who like neighbours Turkey nod up and down for no and from side to side for yes.
The cold does have a positive though and that is it’s good coffee weather so I end up in the creperie on the street known as Tsar Shishman for breakfast. I also sample the Banitza pastry so I did manage something Bulgarian in my two day freeze fest. As for coffee I select the very art-some but abysmally named Street Bar on the main drag (Vitosha). It’s a mocha-latte hybrid but really I should have stuck to hot chox.
Admittedly because of the cold, writing, editing and planning ahead, I didn’t get to see too much of Sofia and my main aim was to return to the sun, which meant back to Athens (see below). However, one of the main sites to see is the golden domed Alexander Nevsky cathedral – in respect of the fallen interior photography is not permitted hence my few shots from the outside.
TRAVELLING TO ATHENS?
Sofia to Athens train 80levs (about £36 or €40)
Departs earlier than the buses but you’ll have to change onto a bus near the border anyway and change back onto the train in Thessaloniki, it’s simpler to get a direct bus at the time of writing.
*not sure if you can pay in euros
100 lev / €50
dep 17:00 12hrs
*Can pay in euros
105 lev / €54
dep 18:00 arr athens 6am (more like 5am)
Can pay in euros, croissant and water inc in ticket price
*this is the one I end up going with, the above nicities didn’t make it much better than Ivkoni but it was a nicer bus with in seat entertainment.
Sofia – Tirana
80levs / €42.10
Dep 18:30 arr 6am
Woman on reception a little dour but bear in mind she may have had a bad day or is a bit fed up with being asked the same questions – that way I can’t say I blame the occasional dour personage.
Both the Tourist Service and Ivkoni I used were the overnight service arriving in the early hours in both Sofia and in Athens. All stop at Central Bus Station in Sofia which is itself divided into two parts, one – a kind of village with lots of travel company offices outside the train station while some buses depart from the adjacent purpose built station. Confused? Welcome to Bulgaria.
TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Some of the operators have staff who are ok with English and others seem forlorn and not happy in their roles (as mentioned above in some cases this is understandable). Above all avoid the convenience store in the bus station village (outside the train station near the Tourist Service office) as the young woman there couldn’t care less should you happen to query the price in English.
Hopefully she won’t be there too long. If that happens don’t be embarrassed to walk – I did and got much better service from the ladies in the actual bus station; there are a few cafes in there and I used the first one I came to on the ground floor. There is a bigger one upstairs with a waiting area and an excruciatingly slow lift to get you there.
Another foot note regarding the toilets, you have to pay 50 cents to get in BUT it’s a turnstile which if you have bags can be an unfortunate addition to your situation in that my bag wouldn’t fit under it so I put it through thus using my 50c – there was no-one to ask for help so I manoeuvred the stile toward me and had to squeeze through, another reason I abhor this practice of charging to use basic human facilities.
The positive is they are usually cleaner toilets. Some of the cubicles had no lock and as always have your own paper handy in case, just so you know. If you are stuck for change, then run over the road to the Ramada Hotel (which also has wifi).
While Sofia may have been a so so affair, it is the landscape around it on leaving which really made me think that Bulgaria is much more than just its capital, simply sublime in the eventide which I was unable to shoot from a moving bus. I also heard good things about Plovdiv but for now it was time to return to the warmth of Greece for a secondary glance at Athens and especially its old airport, Hellinikon.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching. Please contact me to discuss what works for you! FREE Overview PDF available on request. Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world.
Shiver – Boom Crash Opera
Freeze Frame – John Foxx
Cold – Annie Lennox
In a Landscape – William Orbit
Simple Day – Steve Jansen
Photo Credits: KH