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Magical Sofia

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Originally Published: May 2007

Sofia is a beautiful city for walking and walking is exactly what we did for the three days we spent in this colorful Bulgaria capital. We chose Hotel Slavyanska Besseda at Ul (St.) Slavyanska from our Lonely Planet Bulgaria guide book. The description was intriguing “decent mid-range option popular with businessmen from Russia and Eastern Europe.” Since we were coming from Eastern Europe (although I don’t see myself as a “business man”) and the price ($35-$50) seemed right, we reserved from our hotel in Varna and took a cab straight there from the train station. Hotel prices, by the way, are always higher than what is quoted in the guide book by at least 25%.

Our hotel was definitely in the middle of the action, hardly visible on a narrow corner that didn’t at first seem very picturesque after beautiful Varna. But we were soon out exploring, looking for a place to eat and window shopping in the late afternoon. We found a hip outdoor restaurant about a kilometer away and whiled away the evening on sumptuous Gazpacho soup, lots of wine and chocolate cake. The soup was so good I went back for more the next day. Sofia was more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than I had imagined. It has the old world charm with its narrow winding streets but it’s also very modern with its boutiques, bars, and restaurants. People are friendly, perhaps not as friendly as small town Varna, but certainly polite.

The next morning we were out walking, first past the Canadian Consulate, then on to find the synagogue, which turned to be huge but inviting, and the markets. Sofia is a beautiful, clean city with lots of long narrow streets full of boutiques and reasonable-priced restaurants. We loved the huge multi-leveled market, the outdoor market that seemed to stretch on forever, the grand synagogue where we met the leader of the Jewish community who talked to us about the Jewish community of Sofia.

We loved the outdoor fruit and vegetable market with its endless stalls of colorful produce, and the Cathedral behind it surrounded by parks and a playground. I’ll let the photos do the walking for you. I believe they tell the story of our days in Sofia better than my words. After three days of blissful discovery, we were off to Romania, the subject of next issue’s Times and Places.

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