The concert was a lot of fun. The sets were extravagant and she'd mixed a lot of her songs together in a really interesting way with a great mix of old and new. The stadium was full-to-overflowing. (I just saw in a Bulgarian newspaper that there were more than 50,000 people in attendance!) We had tickets out on the field, which turned out to be fun, because everyone was dancing and singing along.
The one complaint I have is that the show started 2+ hours too late! The audience remained remarkably cheerful and well behaved, however, true to my other impressions of the Bulgarian people over the weekend. During the entire evening I think I saw only three people who were visibly intoxicated, and everyone around us was friendly and relaxed!
When I mentioned this to Lyudmil, the owner of our B&B, he smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said wryly: "We are used to waiting..."
I just can't say enough about how friendly everyone was this weekend. For some reason I'd expected them to be gruff and distant, and I hate to say it, but more like the Russians. (Who can be very friendly if you get to know them, but who are very rude to strangers.) But people in Sofia consistently went out of their way to make us feel welcome! For example, L and I took some pictures of these guards in front of the President's residence. When turned around to leave when a woman suddenly came up to us, tapped L on the shoulder and said: "Wait, you're about to miss something great!" We walked back and got to see the changing of the guard, which was really impressive!
The city is full of green spaces, and the park in front of the national theater has a whole row of stone tables with chessboards on them. At any given moment most of them were manned, and there were small clusters of onlookers crowded around to watch the games.
L and I stopped to watch and one guy sitting at a table on his own kept urging us to play. Suspecting some sort of trap we turned him down a couple of times and he said: "No money! Just play!" So eventually L gave in and sat down and played with him. One of his friends smiled and boomed: "Welcome to open air chess club!" We ended up spending the better part of an hour just enjoying the relaxed, easy demeanor of these guys hanging around in the park!
In fact, we had such a nice time, that as we were leaving L turned to me and said: "You know, I owe you an apology. Yesterday when you texted me and said how lovely the city is and how nice the people are I didn't really believe you. Thought you were gushing, or just plain insane! But you were right, this place is fantastic!"
Another impression: The main streets in the administrative center of Sofia are paved with yellow cobblestones, which were a gift from Austria back at the end of the 19th century. It lends the whole area a warm, friendly feel. This morning I've searched the Internet to see if there was some sort of connection between these yellow bricks and the ones of Oz fame. Can't find anything, but can testify that these are definitely NOT in Kansas...
Another fascinating footnote: There's a residence hotel that's been built in the center of the city at the site where a 3rd century Roman amphitheater used to be. But instead of just building on top of it they've actually incorporated the ruins into the architecture of the building so that it's part of the lobby and decor. It was very elegant and lent the whole atmosphere a very sophisticated feel.
Oh, and the food was surprisingly delicious! I'd been expecting beige Russian-style mystery meats and simple carbs. Instead we got to sample a wide variety of salads and colorful dishes that satisfied even my picky vegetarian palate. And it was so incredibly cheap! We would eat these spreads of really delicious food and even with drinks and then coffee afterwards it rarely came to more than EUR12 for two people!!!
I guess it's time to stop gushing and close this. Of course we also saw our share of decaying courtyards, crazy electrical wiring, stray animals and a handful of homeless people, but on the balance my impressions of Sofia were overwhelmingly positive. It's beautiful, friendly, affordable and unpretentious. Really my kind of city!
I'll leave you with a few more pictures...