2023 Travelogue: Sofia

Easter is always a four-day weekend in Germany. As someone who doesn’t celebrate Easter, this makes for a great travel opportunity… as long as you travel to somewhere that also doesn’t celebrate that Easter.

Since Germany celebrates the Protestant/Catholic Easter weekend, which consists of Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, this means we have a nice four-day weekend that should hopefully coincide with the weather improving. This also means that everything is closed on the Friday, Sunday, and Monday. A four day weekend with little to do locally makes for a great opportunity to travel. The downside is that most of the other countries with Catholic or Protestant backgrounds also are shut down for the weekend, which rules out a big fraction of Europe. That leaves Orthodox countries, as Orthodox Easter is a week later, and Muslim countries. Last year I visited Tirana and had a blast. This year, I headed to Sofia, Bulgaria, to continue my eastward exploration.

This time, Christine joined me for the weekend. She flew out to Bulgaria and arrived not too long before I did. Together we caught a cab to our hotel, which I again accidentally booked as a theme hotel. This time, the theme was art.

Unfortunately, for much of the time I was there, I was not feeling well. So we didn’t get out to see as much of the city as I would have liked to, but we were able to get out and visit the Museum of Socialist Art, which is small but enjoyable. They have a large garden with a large collection of statues from the socialist era, and a gallery with some interesting art, including propaganda posters from communist states around the world. It was in the museum that I learned of Vela Peeva, a Bulgarian partisan who was killed and beheaded by fascists after she was betrayed, but not without holding out for forty days and putting up a righteous fight.

Sofia is not on the Black Sea; Varna is Bulgaria’s main city on that coast. Nevertheless, the city had a Black Sea sort of cultural vibe, similar to what I sensed in Romania. It’s markedly different than other former communist states like Poland or Czechia, but the influence of socialist utopianism is unmistakable on it. To Sofia’s southeast lies Vitosha, a national park and looming mountain peaks. It makes for a rather spectacular backdrop to the city.

Like Bucharest, it was easy to see Sofia’s public infrastructure in a transitional state. Sidewalks were haphazard and public transit was functional, though the metro stations felt a bit like they would feel at the end of the world. Bulgaria’s population is in decline and the aging demographic was certainly visible in the Women’s Market, where Christine and I were the youngest people present by a large margin. Nevertheless, our cab ride from the airport gave us the opportunity to notice the offices of many tech companies opening development centers there, taking advantage of cheaper but skilled IT labor.

I found many of the people to be quite friendly and helpful, and I felt confident enough to try out a few phrases in Bulgarian. I was actually surprised at how much I could understand; my limited Czech knowledge helps with slavic languages like my Spanish knowledge helps with the romance languages.

I don’t know that I enjoyed Sofia enough to schedule another pleasure trip back there, but I’d love to see Varna someday. Bulgaria marks the 25th European country I’ve been to.

Posted: 19.05.2023

Built: 23.06.2024

Updated: 24.08.2023

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Words: 584

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