29 August, 2009

I heart Sofia!

Sofia is absolutely lovely! I am completely floored! (Seems this is the second time I've been surpised by a city in the last couple of weeks. Maybe I need to review my preconceived notions?)

Yesterday I got in at about lunchtime and spent the afternoon exploring. I'd forgotten how easy it is to sightsee sans enfants and managed to see almost all the major sights, including the Church of St. George, St. Sofia, and the Russian church.

Spent some time at the National Archeological Museum and admired its impressive collection of Roman (what else?!), Greek, and Thracian artifacts. They had some incredibly well-preserved helmets and armor from the 6th century BC, household utensils, jewelry, clothing, books-- it was fascinating!

My favorite piece was a bronze bust. Apparently no one can agree if it was the rendering of a philosopher or a homeless crazy person. It was lifesize and the eyes were made out of alabaster and glass paste in three different colors so that they were very lifelike, perfectly detailed even down to the eyelashes and the tearducts-- it really looked alive!

After that I walked down to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. I've been in a loooooooooooot of cathedrals over the years. Some of them were more beautiful, some of them were larger, most of them older, but I've never, ever experienced anything like this one. It was so atmospheric and subtly beautiful! I felt the presence of God in there. I'm not sure if I even believe in God, but I was so moved that I sat on a bench for a half hour soaking in the atmosphere with tears streaming down my face and dripping off onto my blouse.

I think that the main thing that's surprised me about Sofia is how lively it is. The streets are absolutely teeming with people! Even as I was walking back home at 8 pm the parks were full of people out enjoying the good weather. And when I say full, I mean jam packed-- the park benches were all occupied, and there were children running around everywhere! In one park I passed at least 5 different groups of people crowded around chess games.

I don't know why, but I came to Sofia expecting gray buildings and decaying Soviet drudgery. And perhaps that's the case in the outskirts of the city, but the center is colorful and lively. And the main difference I've noticed is that people are smiling and friendly. Even the guy who caught me surreptitiously taking pictures in the museum was nice! And when a cleaning lady caught me in a wing of a church where I didn't belong she shooed me back with a smile and a pat on the back.

The family that runs Casa Ferrari, my bed and breakfast is wonderful. Friendly, open, and very proud of their city and heritage. Yesterday evening I caught a ride with the owner out to the airport to pick up my friend. Her flight was delayed about an hour, and to kill time Lyudmil took me on a drive to see the sights that are not necessarily in the tourist booklets.

Because he knows I'm interested in Sofia's Soviet past he drove me out to a neighborhood populated with towering concrete soviet-style apartment buildings and showed me the central heating system, where gas supplied by Russia is transformed into steam and piped out to heat the city. As we were driving back he asked me wryly: "And? Did this remind you of Russia?" and I had to tell him that it didn't. Not at all! The main street was in a good state, the cars parked along it were relatively new and clean. There was no garbage littering the street, no hopeless air hanging over the place. (Of course I only viewed these things at night through the window of a speeding car, but even at night it's hard to ignore the depressing atmosphere emanating from run-down Soviet-block neighborhoods in Russia...)

I guess I'll close this long travelogue for now. Am happy to see my friend and we've got the whole day to hang out and then the concert this evening, so I'll be posting again soon...

7 comments:

Expats Again said...

I too was delighted by Sofia when I visited for the first time this year. Additionally, I found the lovely Bulgarian Rose Oil, gorgeous Bulgarian pottery, and sopska salat!! I hope to return.

Betsy said...

If you do return I can highly recommend Casa Ferrari for you stay there.

It's clean and comfortable and the owner and his family really go out of their way to take care of their guests. The location is central, yet quiet and safe. I just can't say enough good things about my stay there...

anno said...

It sounds like you've had a wonderful visit! How was the concert?

Betsy said...

The concert was really fun-- it had a good mix of old and new hits and kept us dancing for two solid hours!

Goofball said...

wow Sofia sure made a big impression on you so it seems.

I don't know anything about Bulgaria, but in my mind it would also bring the image of grey old soviet times, unfriendly people bundled up....unlike Prague or some Polish city which I consider much more trendy. But nice atmosphere and Bulgaria? Really....wow I learned something...

I clicked on some of your links and there sure is a lot of magnificent buildings out there. Hmm cool...!

Betsy said...

I didn't tour around, so I can't vouch for the rest of Bulgaria, but Sofia was great!

Africakid said...

Guess where I want to go now??? Sofia! So many places to see someday...

But I get to fly and visit our oldest daughter in DE at the beginning of October, so all's well. And we are taking a weekend trip to Budapest, so I'm excited to see that city for the first time.

Wonderful to hear about the Bulgarian people and your experience in the cathedral!