It’s a great feeling, the start of a new trip. Everything seems fresh and exciting, the world beckons you with as-yet undiscovered possibilities… Except that I woke up late on our first day in Sofia, and panicked that half the day had already gone. Then I remembered Josh and I had decided, over the previous night’s beer, that this city was unlikely to have anything much in the way of daytime distractions, and we needn’t concern ourselves with early rising.
Sofia was a strange place to begin, chosen solely on the basis of airfares. Indeed, the receptionist at Hostel Mostel seemed unnervingly surprised to hear that we’d booked for three nights. This chimed with the experience of my last visit seven years ago – all I can now remember is that it was utterly forgettable. The receptionist supplied us with a city map which failed to inspire any additional enthusiasm, featuring such important landmarks as ‘tall building’.
So, what a wonderful surprise it was to learn, once we finally ventured out in the afternoon, that Sofia does actually have plenty to see, and much of it is very lovely. Wandering around, without much need to pay attention to directions, you’ll find an appealing array of old cathedrals, churches, monuments and parks.
August seems to be a particularly pleasant time to be there. The sun beats down over café-lined boulevards, and the place exists in a state of lull, as the locals are all down on the Black Sea beaches (well, the ones which aren’t already drenched in British vomit…). I can’t remember ever seeing such a sedate capital city of equivalent size.
The only partial disappointment of the first day was culinary. We were sent, against our better judgement, to a tourist trap of a restaurant (Manastirska Magernitsa), where we were served expensive ‘traditional’ fare by a waiter who managed to look simultaneously scared and scary, and said ‘what?’ a lot. The food was certainly not delicious, but it was substantially more digestible than the menu, which consisted of 27 pages of stuff Bulgarian people supposedly like to eat. It also provided in full the appropriate prayers to say before and after each meal. Amongst this assault on the brain, I identified the following Bulgarian dishes as particularly intriguing:
…And, most ominously: Rabbit with expired shooting license….
The pub crawl on our last night in Sofia threw up the following time-honoured conundrum: what do you do when the person you’ve been talking to all night turns out to be really unpleasant? Fortunately this is not something that comes up very often while hostelling, but its very unusualness made it all the more alarming.
It was all our fault really. The conversation had already been drifting into dangerously right-wing territory, and rather than taking control and steering it back to safety, we allowed Aussie Sam to drive it irreparably down the abyss. Time to move on swiftly we thought…
Would I recommend staying in Hostel Mostel? Absolutely. Meeting people couldn’t be easier and, rather unusually for a hostel, they provide not only free breakfast but also (admittedly basic) dinner. There’s a pub crawl most nights, the staff are smiley and welcoming.
In fact, Mostel was such a friendly place that we spent rather more time drinking there than actually finding out stuff about Sofia. That is the mark of a very fine hostel. Not so much of a fine blog, though, so I will leave you with an image of Josh and I setting off on Saturday afternoon with enormous hangovers, waving goodbye to our many new Bulgarian friends, and move swiftly on to our next stop, which is sunny Macedonia…
What will he get up to next? Follow our intrepid adventurer Tom on twitter using #Tomsblog…