Bulgaria day three
30.05.2019 - 30.05.2019
I slept less well on my second night in Sofia - no fault of the Hotel COOP, which was as comfortable as it had been the night before, naturally, but perhaps due to the rich and plentiful, albeit delicious, food consumed the previous evening! Nevertheless I was up and ready for a good leisurely breakfast with the rest of the VT crowd.
A photo walk
After breakfast I finished packing my case ready for the journey to Plovdiv. I had several hours free before we needed to leave for the station, so I decided on a little photo walk down a nearby street where my friend Anne Marie had previously spotted some good street art. And it proved an excellent route!
I did indeed find some great street art, my favourite being this lady in the yellow dress.
My favourite Sofia street art mural
More street art
There was also some adorning the many electricity/telephony cabinets such as I had observed on my first afternoon in the city.
On electricity cabinets
Not sure what was going on here!
I also spotted some attractive if at times rather scruffy buildings.
Restored house (now a language school), and another in need of work!
The street was surprisingly quiet for such a central location – mainly residential, with a few small shops and cafés, and what looked like it might be a school, although I could hear no children. It was a good place for street photography as people were engaged in their own business and paid me and my camera little attention.
On the streets of Sofia
I passed some more remains of ancient Serdica. Interestingly the sign was in French as well as Bulgarian, and helpfully too, as I was able to read enough of the former to understand that I was looking at the north-east corner of the fortified wall that once encircled the city. The sign goes on to explain that the wall was built in the 2nd century AD, destroyed in the 3rd, and rebuilt in the 5th using bricks and stones in alternate lines. In the Middle Ages it was rebuilt again, from bricks this time, and used by the Bulgars. Or so I understood!
Ruins of ancient Serdica
At the end of this street I found myself by the History Museum, located in the former public baths we had learned about from our guide Deni yesterday. I love the ceramic tiles used to adorn this building!
Regional History Museum (former public baths)
And nearby was the area with lots of drinking fountains where locals were filling bottles, just as she had described.
Drinking fountains with spa water
Just beyond the baths was the mosque and the Central Market Hall. I decided to leave the former for our return journey through Sofia as I was planning to visit it with my friend Yvonne. But the market wasn’t in our plans, so I popped inside for a few photos.
The Central Market
The Central Market Hall was built at the start of the 20th century, opening in 1911. It is an imposing building, rather grand outside considering the practical function it serves. It is in a Neo-Renaissance style, with elements of Neo-Byzantine and Neo-Baroque design. The façade features the city’s coat of arms above the main entrance, which is opposite the mosque.
In the Central Market
I found this a good spot for people shots, although I needed to be discrete. I noticed that while most of the stall-holders and (non-tourist) shoppers were women, it was men who dominated the scene at the small café in the centre of the market - it is clearly a place that old friends like to frequent, to chat, drink coffee or beer, and play cards.
Women buying and selling
I also bought one of the red and white wool charms we had seen in the plum tree yesterday as a mini souvenir - for just one lev (less than 50p)!
By now the morning was getting on so I retraced my steps along the same road, rather more quickly but still stopping for a few more photos en route.
Love this yellow door!
And this café table
Off to Plovdiv!
Back in my room I downloaded and reviewed the photos, happy with my morning’s work. Just before midday I met up with the rest of the group in the lobby and we took taxis to the train station. Or at least, that was the plan. The driver of the second taxi, which I was in, misunderstood our destination (whether wilfully or through miscommunication I’m not sure) and dropped us off at the bus station! Luckily the two are only a short walk apart, and on the bright side, at least he didn’t rip us off.
Once we had joined the others in the right station we needed to buy our tickets. It was a while before we worked out that we should go to the ticket desks downstairs, a while before we found the lifts and escalators to take us there, and a while before we got to the front of the queue. Just as well we had allowed plenty of time! Eventually though we had our first-class tickets to Plovdiv, costing the princely sum of 10.10 leva (less than 5 EUR).
Some of the VT crowd at Sofia Central Station
Buying a snack for the journey also presented us with some challenges as the shop assistants spoke no English and all the pastries on display, labelled only in Bulgarian, looked very similar. But a helpful customer played the role of translator and eventually we were all served.
The final challenge was to find the correct platform. The sign was ambiguous as there were two platform ones, east and west, but by dint of asking several people, and getting the same answer (‘east’), we became confident that we should board the train on that platform despite the sign that suggested that this was a totally different train from the one we sought!
Is this our train?
Yes, so all aboard!
We found our two compartments and settled in, once an elderly gentleman had been evicted from his wrong seat! The journey passed pleasantly with plenty of friendly chat and a mix of pretty scenery, small town stations and odd pockets of industry passing outside the window.
All taken somewhere between Sofia and Plovdiv!
We did all comment, however, that if this was a fast train we would have hated to have been on a slow one! My video gives some idea of the speed of travel (this was about as fast as it got), but also of the lovely scenery that the slower speed did enable us to see more clearly.
Arrival in Plovdiv
The train came into Plovdiv on time and clambered down the steep train carriage steps on to the platform in blazing sunshine - 32 degrees! The search for the taxi rank left me rather hot and bothered, as signs were misleading/nonexistent and we went the long way around. But once in our taxis, things improved as our driver (I was sharing with Rick and Sylvia) was friendly and informative, even if he did try to persuade us to visit his friend’s restaurant!
We arrived at the Hotel Ego and checked in. My third floor room was a good size and the dark wood and bamboo blinds gave it rather a Japanese Air. I liked it! It was however rather too hot and the a/c took a while to have any impact (I was to discover in fact that it never had any impact!, so I took things easy and relaxed on the bed for a short while before showering and getting ready to meet the others for dinner.
Our first dinner in Plodiv
Outside the Hotel Ego,
on the way to dinner
Some weather forecasts for the evening suggested that rain was likely, others not. The sky was blue with only a few clouds when we left the hotel in search of dinner, but I took my umbrella just in case. As it turned out, when it rained (and it did rain - cats and dogs and some bigger animals too I reckon!), we were inside the restaurant, and by the time we left it was dry again and the air much fresher.
The restaurant we had chosen was Memory, only a few blocks from our hotel and well-reviewed, which proved a very good choice. They happily accommodated our large group of 15 in their air-conditioned dining room, and although the service was a bit haphazard at times, I forgave them that as there were so many of us.
It was also perhaps understandable that they were distracted from our table for a time as they had to deal with the sudden influx of all the outside diners when the heavens opened and started to flood their courtyard!
The food was for the most part delicious - especially my trout fillet en papilliote. And while dearer than the other restaurants we had eaten in so far, it seemed to me very reasonable compared to London prices - I paid around 20 euros for a starter of taramasalata and smoked salmon, the trout and a rather strange cheesecake with very good ice cream, plus a large beer, small bottle of water and a tip!
VT friends and VAs ('Virtual Attendees') in Memory Restaurant
After the meal we strolled back to the hotel in the cooler air, bumping into three other VT friends on the way. This is one of the delights of these large meetings, as old friendships are picked up where they last left off through just such chance encounters, in addition to the planned events.
Neon signs passed on the way back after dinner
Back in my room I flung open the window to let in the fresh air and relaxed for a short while before an early night - we had a prompt start planned for the morning.