What to expect? A horse and carriage here and there, black fast Mercedes and BMWs emitting thick clouds of smoke, a market in a field with locally grown vegetables and goods with a slightly more questionable background, concrete, beautiful vistas, mountains, extremely friendly helpful people and a meeting with an old client.
Traveling to Sofia, transferring in Munich
An early trip to the airport. There is no direct flight from Amsterdam to Sofia at this hour. A transfer in Munich follows. Arriving in Sofia is a bit of a switchover. From 'being able to read everything everywhere' to 'making a little more effort' to read something. The taxi takes me in half an hour to a hotel on the edge of the city centre. On the way, I see a lot of concrete, plaster, cracks in the streets, cobblestones. The small lift upstairs and the warmth in the hotel room tells you immediately - if you hadn't already realised: you aren't in Western Europe any more.
A walk past the Bulgarian Socialist Party building and the Ivan Vazov National Theatre takes me to the "City park" (Градска градина, Gradska gradina) where there is a Christmas market tonight.
Maxim, an old client of my graphic design studio has been living in Bulgaria for a long time. He’s celebrating his birthday here with colleagues and friends. But of course, a typical German Christmas market in Sofia. Why not!
The Ivan Vazov National Theatre of Sofia
Inside the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – "No pictures" yeah yeah
The next day I check out the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Храм-паметник Свети Александър Невски, Chram Pametnik Sveti Aleksandar Nevsky) in the city centre. Very beautiful inside. The cathedral was built between 1892 and 1912 to honour the estimated 200,000 Russian soldiers who fell during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) in an attempt to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman (Turkish) occupation. Outside is a little market. However... this is a bit of a tourist event. A nice Raketa watch that is just a bit too new for my taste, scary things from World War II (fake, by the way) and artworks made by locals can be found here. Don't linger too long. Lunch at a "truly nostalgic Soviet restaurant" follows. I would prefer to stuff half the establishment in my bag and run!
Check out Raketa Rakia Bar on TripAdvisor. The link opens in a new window.
A not so vintage Raketa Perpetual Calendar
Inside the Raketa Rakia Bar
How can you not take a picture of this beauty? A Lada-1600 (Zhiguli, VAZ-2106; Жигули ВАЗ-2106)
Get up early!
A market awaits in Долни Богров, Dolni Bogrov. Where do you say? Yes, somewhere half an hour's drive from Sofia, on a grassy field. Chickens, a pig's head, metres of ‘second hand’ toolboxes you shouldn't ask where they came from. But also a few enamel warning signs and crazy gadgets. “High voltage”, “life threatening”, skulls and lightning bolts etcetera... This makes me quite happy! After three laps around the whole market, "three for luck" as they say, it’s time to go. On my way to Plovdiv!
A typical market is not complete without chicken
Plovdiv (Пловдив) is a city in central Bulgaria. With its 8000-year history, the city is one of the oldest cities in Europe. A fusion of architecture from thousands of years ago, buildings from the Soviet era, a lot of concrete (for those who love concrete, a few photos below) and sometimes something more modern in between.
Alyosha (an affectionate diminutive of Aleksey) is an 11-metre tall reinforced concrete statue of a Soviet soldier on Bunarjik Hill. The memorial commemorates Soviet casualties incurred during the Soviet occupation of Bulgaria (which had been an Axis ally) in World War II.
Street art in Plovdiv, 2022
The Ivan Vazov National Library is named after the famous Bulgarian writer and poet Ivan Vazov. It is the nation's second largest library containing more than 1,500,000 books. The library is also Bulgaria's second oldest, founded in 1879. This striking reading room had to be photographed – but signs and 'guards' said 'no'... Did it anyway, for you!
Exterior of the Ivan Vazov National Library
Just across the street of the Ivan Vazov National Library you'll find this concrete gem
In and around Plovdiv, we found more enamel signs and a large Entrance sign (there used to be a big French influence in Bulgaria, which is why the sign says 'entrance' in French - and we in the Netherlands and Belgium can also read it just fine). Also a lot of posters from a biology classroom from the past and, among others, a nice little statue of Yuri Gagarin that will hopefully get a new place on someone's desk. And check out this wonderful night lamp.
More on the new items later!
Back in Sofia!
I can't give everything away yet, but I am very happy to have spent my days here looking for beautiful objects. I’ve met wonderful people (thanks Boris for helping me at the post office), had fun conversations with locals, a few people from The Netherlands as well. Unfortunately, I had to leave the fighter jet. Something for next time perhaps?
When we see fighter jets we turn into kids, I know