Bank holidays while living in London mean only thing… travel time! For the May Day bank holiday I went to explore Bulgaria with Jess and Elisa.
After a very late night flight, we exited the airport to find around 50 people who were all on our flight waiting for taxis… and there were none. After a minute or so a few taxis rolled up, which were quickly snapped up by a few people. Then after another few minutes, more started coming, and then even more. At that point we realised they must all just be parked elsewhere… and it didn’t matter much to us as we managed to swipe one and get on our way. As luck would have it, our driver didn’t speak English. After some faffing about we managed to communicate where we wanted to go and got there safely, with Coolio’s Gansta’s Paradise as out soundtrack.
After arrival and a sleep in, we attempted to pay for our accommodation before heading out to explore the city. This again proved difficult due to a lack of English and some confusion of the amount we owed. Once we got that sorted (which required a phone call to the manger) we got the metro into town and found ourselves a breakfast spot. It just so happens we managed to find what was probably Sofia’s most popular hipster café, complete with funky music and flat whites.
After breakfast we wandered the city, exploring the sites and trying to figure out what the different buildings were. At one point during our wanderings, we were sitting enjoying a coffee and saw what looked like football fans causing some trouble and letting off fire crackers. As we continued exploring the city we kept hearing the fire crackers but figured it was all pretty harmless. As we made our way to checkout the Sofia markets and get some food before an evening walking tour, we came across a massive group of what we thought were football fans earlier, apparently beginning some kind of demonstration. They were all kitted out in blue and white, with flags of the same colour and a large banner. They were being escorted by police and letting off blue flares and firecrackers. One they started marching, they also started chanting and doing Nazi salutes. At this point we realised all of them were skinheads, and figured they must be some sort of extreme Nationalists (a bit of a thing currently in Eastern Europe) . Being sensible young women, we decided we were better off far away from where they were so continued on our way. 5 minutes later we walked past the cities Mosque, to find it surrounded by police fully kitted out in Riot gear….After finding ourselves a very delicious but late lunch/early dinner at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant, we made out way to join a walking tour. Enroute to the walking tour, and all day in fact, I couldn’t help but notice all the Roma and Gypsies. Bulgaria is the first European country where there have been a lot of them so I found it really fascinating.
Our walking tour was very enjoyable and informative, and helped us understand more about the long history of Bulgaria and Sofia. It was also a great opportunity to ask our guide about the demonstration we have seen earlier. Turns out they were football fans, as there was a local derby match that evening. However, also turns out Bulgarian football supporters are all Neo-Nazi, skinhead nationalists. Our guide gave us a very serious and sombre warning to stay well away from them, avoid all interactions, and even suggested being back at our accommodation before the game finished at 11pm to avoid all travel.
After our tour, we went and had a few drinks at what appeared to be British stag do central, before wisely being home by 11pm.
Our second day we spent the day exploring more of the country. After an early start, we drove up into the mountains south of Sofia to visit the Rila Monastery which was credited with preserving the language, arts and culture of Bulgaria during the 500 years of Ottoman rule. Exploring the Monastery up in the clouds and the rain was almost mystical, and the frescoes on the Orthodox church were truly stunning.
After a quick pit stop for lunch and a nap in the car we made it to Plovdiv. Plovdiv as a settlement is over 6000 years old, and interestingly, over the last 50 years or so, Roman ruins have been discovered and dug up right in the middle of the city. We wandered the city with our guide, and explored the old town, before making our way back to Sofia. After dinner, drinks, hookah and a Taxi scam attempt, we made it safely back to our apartment to have a nice sleep in before our flight back to London.
Photo credits to my travel pals, Jess and Elisa. You can check out Elisa’s blog here https://quarterlifewhatblog.wordpress.com/
The Mineral Baths
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Sneans on Tour
Tulips and Churches
The former royal residence
The National Theatre
Nationalist Neo-Nazi Football fans
Sveta Nedelya Church
Royal guards, previously the most eligible bachelors in Bulgaria
St George Rotunda Church and ruins
Bulgarian Orthodox Church within the Rila Monastery
The oldest part of the Monastery
Go Pro shots in the rain
The Longest pedestrian street in Europe
Old Town streets
Old Town houses
Gossip boxes from Ottoman times… where the women would watch and gossip since they couldn’t leave their homes.
New Town from old town
Conquered old town
Plovdiv street art