Before today, I had visited София (Sofia) perhaps a dozen times and found it to be a city with very few redeeming qualities. I would have described it as little more than a giant cluster@%#&! But on my previous visits, I was in Sofia for a specific purpose – Peace Corps’ meetings, lichna carta red tape, etc. – and I wasn’t able to see past its obvious flaws. Today, I was able to wander around Sofia aimlessly and just take it all in, and that made all the difference in the world.
Even though I’m happiest tromping around in the bush, I love great cities too. And the sensory overload that hits you in a great city is something magical. Walking around Sofia today, I wasn’t hit with that special feeling, but, for the first time, I found myself enjoying and appreciating Sofia. It’s a place where worlds collide; where east meets west and past meets future. And of all the cities in the world I’ve visited, I’d be hard-pressed to think of another city which provides greater insight into a country’s people and its past, present, and future than Sofia does with respect to Bulgarians. There is contradiction everywhere, and, without knowing Bulgarians, none of it would make any sense. But seeing top-of-the-line Mercedes and BMWs share the roads with horse-carts and donkey-carts and seeing remnants of Thracian, Roman, medieval, and Ottoman-era buildings amongst a concrete jungle of Communist-era eyesores which now house McDonald’s, KFC, Gucci, and other familiar names all seems right. None of it screams Bulgaria, yet all of it does.
One of the best things about Sofia is all the parks. Men play chess, women talk, children play, lovers smooch. It's pretty cool. This is one of my favorites if only because of the view of Alexander Nevski Memorial Church.
A closer shot of Sofia's most famous building, the Alexander Nevski Memorial Church. Built in stages between 1882 and 1924, it's one of the world's largest Eastern Orthodox churches.
This is the National Gallery of Foreign Art.
Built in 1873 for Sofia's Ottoman rulers, this building now houses the National Gallery of Art.
This is the Party House. Built in 1954 as the headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the building now belongs to Bulgaria's parliment.
Built in 1913, this building was formerly home to Sofia's Mineral Baths.
Constructed in 1576, this is the Banya Bashi Mosque, the only Muslim place of worship in Sofia which still serves its original function.
This is Sofia's Central Market Hall.
Consecrated in 1914, this is Sofia's Russian Church.
Built in 1907, this is the National Theater.
Used as a church since the 6th century, this is the Rotunda of Sveti Georgi.
An interesting sculpture outside the National Gallery of Art.