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  • The Bald Guy

Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (2.2) Bulgaria - Sofia, Rila & The Rest

After a couple of days in Plovdiv, we arrived back at the captial Sofia.

I thought I'd try my luck with the taxi's again. 5 Euros, I was quoted. I told the taxi driver it should cost just 2 Euros. "Have a nice day" he said, and walked off. Guess I have no luck with taxi's in Bulgaria.

It's the tram for us.

We made our way to "Hostel Mostel", our accomodation in Sofia. It cost us 1 Euro by tram and took around 15mins from the bus station.

(Above) Looks a little dodgy from the outside. I thought it was a garage.

(Below) Once you get through the metal doors, a huge traditional Bulgarian house awaits you.

It cost us 8 Euros a night for a bed in a loft dorm. I thought it was pretty cool.

The bathrooms were decent too. I don't think anyone should have a problem with them. Well, maybe Singaporeans would; they get kind of choosy, so I'm not too sure.

And our 8 Euros included not just free breakfast, but free dinner too!

For us, Sofia is worth around 3 days, most of which should be spent outside of the main city. It is more interesting compared to say Bucharest or Belgrade, but not enough to hold it's own among the other more interesting capitals in Europe. Prague or Budapest for instance would put Sofia to shame.

Things to do Around Sofia

1.Rila Monastery

This is the undisputed Number One attraction in the entire Bulgaria.; Rila Monastery. It is what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, and Bulgaria's answer to Rome's Colosseum.

Nestled high in the Rila Mountains, a trip to the monastery promises beautiful mountain views, fresh air, and serenity should you feel inclined to kneel somewhere quiet and meditate.(Not during tourist season though)

Not only a place for the religious,it's an ideal place for an arts/architectural guy to just walk around and admire the artwork all over the monastery.

And of course, it's ideal for Singaporean's (or tourists) who just want a photo at the most iconic place in each country they go to. (Think Eiffel Tower or London Bridge shots)

(Above) Boyana Church, part of the Rila Tour. Picture from wikipedia.

The annoying thing about Rila is that it's difficult to get there on your own IF you haven't rented a car or paid for a Rila Tour. You have to change around 2-3 buses and that will waste 3-4 hours of your day. Our advice? Just pay for a day tour unless you have alot of time. It costs 25 Euros for a standard Rila day trip plus Boyana Church (not as nice as Rila obviously). We got ours from the hostel for 20 Euros.

Around 4-5km away is the Cave of St.Ivan Rilski. It's an easy hike up (but The Girl was panting), and you get a nice experience squeezing through the cave where the hermit St Ivan lived.(something like the Chu Chi tunnels in Vietnam; see below)

(Below) With friends we met at our hostel outside the Cave church of St Ivan Rikski.

2. Cathedral of Saint Alexandar Nevski

The Cathedral of Saint Alexandar Nevski is arguably the most iconic attraction in the City of Sofia. I found it way more impressive than most churches in "tourist" Europe.

Guess how much it costs to enter? Nothing! Unlike that "forever under construction" La Sagrada in Barcelona that costs a rip off 19 Euros for entry; I was so much more impressed by the Alexandar Nevski, and glad it's yet to be ruined by hordes of tourists like how the La Sagrada has become.

(Above) Art gallery at the Flea Market right beside the Alexandar Nevski

Right beside the Cathedral is some sort of a flea market where you can get souvenirs.(a bit of bargaining is required)

You can get all sorts of stuff from vintage watches/phones/typewriters/antiques to stamps, to Russian army uniforms. Pretty much all the shopping you need Bulgaria is there.

(Below) Close up of antique stuff available there. I like the camera but i was not sure it worked

Oh for us Singaporeans, we don't have to worry. There's Zara for us too! Though I can't understand why we have to look for luxury items whenever we are overseas. Surely traveling is more about experiencing a country than its shopping scene?

3. Vitosha Mountain

As we didn't have enough time, we had to Vitosha a miss. Vitosha is popular for skiing and hiking. If your looking to escape from the city life of Sofia, it would be perfect for a couple of days. There are many buses which connect Sofia to Vitosha. To save time, just ask your hostel if they have a tour.

5. Ivan Vazov National Theater

I thought this was one of the more beautiful buildings in Sofia. If you don't mind listening to music in Bulgarian, this is the place to catch maybe an opera if your interested. In front of it is a nice park. We just sat there and people watched for a while.

There are loads of churches in Sofia but the most impressive is the Alexander Nevski, so I won't bother to talk about the rest of them.

(Above) Typical "Eastern European" style of buildings found all over Sofia

For Sofia, I would recomand going for one of the "Free City Tours". Unlike say Brasov, Sofia is big enough for you to miss out some stuff if you don't follow a guided tour. It's cool to have someone explain to you what's what anyway. All you have to do is leave them a small tip. Nothing a Singaporean can't afford.

(Above) "Make-shift" book shop at a park in Sofia

Would I recomand Bulgaria to a friend? Yes! I know i'd like to pay 5 Euros for a 3 course meal with desert rather than 5 Euros for a coffee in Venice.

For a Singaporean, probably not. They need their bragging rights posing for photos with the Effel Tower or the Swiss Alps so they can upload it in instagram. You won't get much bragging rights here in Bulgaria; just an authentic, less touristy european experience. I dont know about you, but that's alright for me.

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