Monday, December 30, 2013

Taking the Free Sofia Tour, Sofia, Bulgaria

The first stop if you're sojourning in Sofia, should be at the Tourist Infomation center in the underground passageway at the Sofia University Metro station, directly across from the McDonalds and some talented buskers.  The second stop you should make is the Free Sofia Tour.  

During the weekend I was in Sofia, we had some time off, so a couple of my friends and I took the twice daily tour (just once), meandering for a couple of hours around the increasingly charming city. 

Meeting Time: 11:00 and 18:00
Start point: Corner of the Palace of Justice
Duration: ~ 2 hours
Distance: ~ 4 km

The tour is free (obviously), and run by a group of volunteers.  Our guide, Filip, was in a post-grad who fell in love with Sofia, and loves showing it off.

As I've spent almost 3 weeks here over the past few months, I have to say, it's growing on me.  It's nice to spend enough time in a palce get to a point where you feel comfortable, and, while not a local per se, at least a little bit less like a tourist.

The tour starts at the Palace of Justice, identified by its prominent lions (one of whom has something wrong in its depiction...try to figure it out.)

After introductions to the city and the tour, the group of us began the wander, stopping first at St. Nedelya Cathedral. Originally constructed in the 10th Century AD, it's a fixture in the center of town.

Following this, we wandered to the statue of St. Sofia.  Originally, a statue of Lenin stood in the place where the golden woman now stands.  Ironically, Sofia the city was not named after St. Sofia.  For millennia, it was called Serdica, and only recently was "unofficially called Sofia because of a prominent nearby church. The statue of St. Sofia was actually met with some criticism, because she has 3 pagan symbols (the owl, wreath, and crown), as well as the revealing outfit she wears. Still, we saw the Lenin statue on a tour of the Museum of Totalitarian Art, and frankly, she's much easier on the eyes than old Vlad (who we saw at the Museum of Totalitarian Art).

We then began walking to the "Square of Tolerance" where, within 200 meters of one another, are a Mosque, Synagogue, Catholic Church, and Eastern Orthodox cathedral

Following this, we walked past some Roman ruins that were being excavated to Hamam (bathhouse) that was under renovation, and to the hot springs area where people come to take advantage of the mineral rich water spouting forth.  I tasted it, and found it not terribly palatable...

Underneath the imposing Communist architecture were the original gates of Serdica, and some of the older ruins under excavation and renovation.  Pretty amazing to see the centuries literally layered upon each other.  

Leaving this, we went to the St. George Church, considered to be one of the oldest buildings in the city. 

Next, the National Theater...

And Alexander Nevsky Cathedral...

And the St. Sophia Church and Tomb of the Unknown Warriors...

And finally, a trip to some delicious lunching at the Manastinska Magernitza (Monastery Kitchen) with recipes from the 161 Monasteries surrounding Sofia with some of the new friends we met on the walk.  One of them, Prashant, and I hit it off, and traveled to the Rila Monastery the next day...he too is an avid amateur photographer, and we had a lot of fun comparing notes and talking shop.

I'll be back again in February, and must say that I'm kind of looking forward to it.  Definitely want to hit that restaurant again...

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