Tuesday, July 27 — Sofia
My Wizz Air flight W6 4376 lands at Sofia Airport Летище София on time at 7:50pm. I exit our Airbus A321neo and walk onto the tarmac. It is still light out, the weather is warm, and the airport is nice and compact. Everyone is in a fair mood. I pass through immigration. Bulgaria is not part of Shengen so the formalities are a bit more complex than traveling in Western Europe. After customs, a nice lady at the airport calls a taxi and my driver heads to Les Fleurs Boutique Hotel, where I check into room 603, with a nice easterly view over terracotta rooftops.
Wednesday, July 28 — Sofia
One great thing about Sofia is the center is compact and many of the sites are walkable. There’s also a metro. Even though it was a hot day, the heat was dry so it was manageable with water in tow. After breakfast, I walked over to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and toured the crypt museum first displaying a wonderful collection of icons from the 5th century onward, mostly from the 17th - 19th century. Flashless photos were allowed so I took some and realized I need to learn a bit more about the apostles, etc. Afterward I walked to photography the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral with its classic dome, and then I went inside. The beautiful floor was lined in black worn stone, white marble stone, red stone with white striations, and yellow stone. What type of stones were these on the church floor? On the walls there was a mosaic icon art that was quite neat.
Thursday, July 29 — Sofia
Nice breakfast at the hotel, with eggs, cucumber, tomato, white cheese. After breakfast, I walk over and admire the Roman-era brick facade of the Church of Saint George. Built in the early 4th century as Roman baths, it became a church inside the walls of Serdica, capital of ancient Dacia Mediterranean during the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. It is considered to be the oldest preserved building in the city, built at a time when Sofia was the residence of the emperors Galerius and Constantine the Great. I am awe struck. I then wander over to St Nedelya Church and pay the entrance fee and top it off with a Bulgarian lev 5лв photography ticket. The frescoes on the inside of this church are quite impressive, and I enjoy taking photos, and for an extra few bucks, I don’t have the stress of having to pretend not to take photos.) I spend a lot of time inside, snapping away.
I continue wandering down Maria Luiza Boulevard, the main drag of Sofia. I take a right turn and visit the Sofia Synagogue. The Sofia Synagogue Софийска синагога is the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe, one of two functioning in Bulgaria (with the other one in Plovdiv) and the third-largest in Europe. It is quite quiet on the inside, with no services going on, but there are several other tourists mingling about.
I grab a beat and herring salad for lunch. I pass by the offices of Bulgarian Air and wander around the back alleys of downtown Sofia. I visit the museum. For dinner, I hit a up a trendy spot on the walking section of Vitosha Boulevard. I order some fried fish. It is excellent. It is at this point that I decide to eat more at trendy spots than cultural or traditional food spots in this part of Europe.
Friday, July 30 — Plodiv
Nice breakfast. After, I head over to Sofia Metro Serdica Сердика station and head northish for two stops to the Central Railway Station, where I exit. The station is of the classic era, and most of the writing is in Cyrillic, which could cause some to get nervous, but luckily I have some time to figures things out. The first thing I notice is my train БВ 8611 doesn't have a track assigned yet, so I have to wait. In about 10 minutes, I notice my train is assigned to that track 11и. I previously did some research and learned that there were two track 11s: 11З & 11и. With a bit of translate help, I realized that З meant West, Запад, and и meant east, изток. It all makes sense as Plovdiv is east of Sofia. All set. I find the first class carriage, which is quite old, but at least the windows roll down. At 13:20, on the dot, my Bulgarian State Railways train rolls out of the station. We average about 33mph and the trip takes a bit less than three hours. It is very hot outside, about 35 Celsius, so as long as the train is moving with the windows down, there is a bit of breeze to cool things off a tad. But when we pull into a station without an overhang, it becomes a pizza oven!
Eventually we pull into Plovdiv station, and a taxi takes me to HillHouse, where a very nice attendant checks me into room #302. After relaxing for a bit in the A/C, I take a walk around the old town and end up Nebet Tepe Небет Тепе around the sunset which offers incredible views of the old town, and the new town beyond. When I walk back, I hear music and wander towards it. I end up atop, and outside the security fence, of the Roman theatre of Philippopolis. Inside, a large audience is watching a DJ or band perform. I try to get in, but no one is selling tickets. I wander off to the right side of the theatre, down the hill, along a road. After 15 minutes, I end up at the bottom of the theatre, still with no luck in finding a ticket. A security guard whistles to me, and after some negotiation, I am let in. I wander up the stairs in the theatre, find a nice spot with some mats, and lay down and listen to the concert. They main band has come on my now, with a singer named Poli Genova. Even though I know no songs, it is wonderful to sit an the ancient theatre and watch the singer and crowd enjoying the warm evening. After some time, the concert ends, so I wander around inside even more, and eventually call it, and head back to my guesthouse.
Saturday, July 31 — Plodiv
It is still so hot out today. I embark on an architecture tour of the old town, taking it really slow, as the mercury is hitting about 43° Celsius, and the stone streets and walkways of the old town are acting like a pizza oven, slowly cooking and dehydrating us all. I eventually end up downtown in a park, with some evening light shows.
Sunday, August 1 — Sofia
Bus back to Sofia, check into room 401 of the Les Fleurs Boutique Hotel. Had a great dinner at another trendy cafe on Vitosha Boulevard. I order the Sarva Rose, made from Rubin & Mavrud grapes grown in the Thracian Valley, by the Dragomir Estate Winery. I also have another fish.
Monday, August 2 — Sofia
I have a nice hotel breakfast. My hotel connects me with a driver, and we speed off to the Rila Monastery. After 90 minutes at the monster, we drive for another few hours, until we arrive to the Bulgarian / Macedonian border. The power is down, so the immigration officer looks at my passport and jots something down in handwriting in his book. I get a nice stamp and we speed off towards Skopje, North Macedonia.