Beautiful Sofia – a city of dancing children, vibrant streets and souls from a bygone era.

I hear a rumbling – oh, it’s our tummies. Yes time to find food – and I shall not venture even a little toe out the door unlike the other places we have visited, this area feels intimidating. We are hungry so ask Booking.com’s advice, it guides us to a gas station close-by where we anticipate finding bread, milk and fruit perhaps. Along a dark sinister street we find this business – but lo and behold – only selling diesel! Universal language games proceed – gesticulating, we cut invisible food in the air, drink beer and shrug our shoulders – ah ha, the nodding gas man points in that …. direction, a wide something with flashing lights which has teeth gnashing and drinking available. Sounds promising – but could also be a brothel?

We find it and slither into a dimly lit pub, everyone turns in their seats to suss up the visitors and “cheers” us, with long ale glasses in the air. Here we go again, gibberish scribed onto a menu with no pictures. Our food and drink order becomes a free for all – enthusiastic patrons pointing at their platters, waiters and owner scurrying back and forth from the kitchen showing us fresh fish on a plate, a piece of suspect meat, soup, heap of mashed potato and a raw pizza. Pizza is always safe, indicating NO meat and NO fish, hope for the best. Pointing at the neighbour’s Ale brings instant results. At the end of a lovely laughing, slightly confusing evening ‘shared’ with foreigners (who OBVIOUSLY weren’t related to the crocodile bus terminal staff) we tipsily race for our apartment reeking of cigarette smoke – dodging broken pavements, all bogeyman and dustbins posing as loitering attackers.

https://anelephantinmysuitcase.com/sofia-bulgaria-a-princess-in-a-beggars-coat/ – to read about the day of arrival in what we thought was a dump of a city!

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After a shower in the morning, plus a few paracetamol, we head back to town in the direction we came from yesterday afternoon, The Hilton Hotel. It is Saturday and trickles of people flow down streets to the left, so we follow to discover what the attraction is. Tiny bohemian shops spread their wings left and right, no car zones are filled with benches and coffee shops spill out under shady chestnut trees. Model-like couples drink coffee holding hands and window shoppers dogs strain on leads to piddle on every tree and greet coffee drinkers.

We admire statues , amble into magnificent old churches where we light candles and ‘illegally’ take photos there and browse shops selling above knee high boots and bohemian clothing. In Turkey, where we were last week, the Hotel manager commented about Sofia – “all those statues, and ALL THOSE churches!”. Now we understand – they are everywhere.

Behind us we hear foot traffic funneling down a small road between buildings, we backtrack to catch their slipstream and minutes later spat out into a brightly umbrella’d farmers market. Huge spring onions with octopus-like roots, cadmium pomegranates to die for, wagon upon wagon (some moving into place and others set up) all displaying assortments of exotic fruit, over-fed veggies, dates/nuts/figs/Turkish delight sweets and the traders are shouting prices at the shoppers, whilst laughing at the top of their voices with fellow hawkers beside them or shouting across the path to their other pals 10 metres away.

Overloaded with sights and sounds, and now overwhelmed, tears slither under my sunglasses, as I observe stoic senior citizens stumble off busses, list and lean bandy legged and hunched over, shopping baskets in the crook of their arms, big worn-out leather purses grasped tightly in their precious gnarled hands making their way, possibly the only weekly outing. I’m spellbound by the time warp they’re stuck in and watch them silently navigate their way through the crowds, wearing characterless peasant style clothing which could easily be from the communist era 30 years ago, on their faces they wear expressions of people who have endured pain and hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. Shamefully my emotions don’t stand the test of time, noise, aromas and the kaleidoscope of colours have me holding my ears to keep myself together.

WINE BARS AND ROWS OF UMBRELLAS
Moving on to “The Boulevard”, Vitosha Boulevard, which is similar to those in other ancient Cities where grand political meetings have taken place, armies have marched and revolts have stained the paving red. However, there isn’t a creepy feeling here, which I have come to dread in these places because my claircognizance wakes up. I cannot deny a nasty history, but the resilience of the people has led them to create a vibrant space filled with decked wine bars, rows of umbrellas to coffee-date under, trees have been left to crack up pavements and bloom into maturity where men sit playing their Contrabas (like small bass guitars) and children dance in spinning circles to the Chalga – which is a folk-inspired dance music genre blending Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish and Arabic music.

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Everyone is slim, tall and elegantly dressed mostly in black, their sallow skins glow healthily and the young generation allow their hair to flow down their backs…. everyone is smoking. I question – is it fashion, a social habit, is this how they stay slim or are they actually bored and depressed with their lives?

Gardens and fountains
The happiest family park, Sofia

At the end of the commercial area a chocolate box picture park opens up onto squares of green lawns which are lined with tapestries of flowers, swathes and swathes of bright red, strong yellow, candy-floss pink, midnight purple and stark white tulips.
Through the middle flows about 100 metres of tiered ponds trickling crystal clear water downhill, after being tumbled through rows and rows of fountains, in tiny waterfalls from a Museum at the end – with the backdrop of distant mauve mountains which are well known for their winter wonderland of snow and skiing.

The sun begins to set after a perfect day and families trickle out of their homes with picnic baskets and blankets escorted by young children who dangerously weave on tricycles between other cyclists, skate boarders, amblers and wobbly toddlers for an evening under the indigo sky I love so much overseas.

Statues abound, Sofia
Everywhere one turns, there is a beautiful statue

Of course we play musical chairs on the way back home, a wine on one deck, garlicky pizza (not very brave but safe) on another, finishing off with ………. yes, you got it…….. honey wafer ice cream cones stacked full with three different flavours which we share back and forth. My favourites are toffee caramel, vanilla-hazel nut, rum and raisin with a scoop citrus sorbet to tease the taste buds. What is your favourite Ice Cream flavour?

This City dances and dazzles, she is beautiful.

To be honest, I dread tomorrow , meh – dragging our suitcases around until early afternoon when we catch a high speed train headed for the next leg of the adventure – but needs must and it probably won’t be nearly as bad as we anticipate – as with so many things in life.

Ice Cream land
Wherever we go , Ice Creams follow us