A Day in Sofia, Bulgaria

Note: Michael of the Michael W Travels weblog is currently on a trip where he will be in Bulgaria later this week, which inspired me to post this report of primarily photographs from my trip to Sofia — the capital of Bulgaria — back in 2007. This is part one. I hope that you enjoy — and, as usual, I look forward to your comments and answering your questions. Thank you.

I  purchased the round-trip ticket at a train station in Bucharest for an overnight trip to Sofia— which is the capital city of Bulgaria — and spend the day there, after which I would take another train overnight back to Bucharest.

Schlafwagen

The sleeping car in which I stayed overnight while traveling. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Being in a sleeping car for two consecutive nights deferred the cost of a hotel room for those two nights — nothing like being efficient with time and expense while experiencing something different. There were two beds in each sleeping compartment. I took the upper berth while another passenger used the lower berth on my way to Sofia; but I had the entire compartment to myself on the return trip.

Train Hallway

The corridor of the sleeping car. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Walking down the corridor of the train, I find the compartment to which I have been assigned.

Both Sides of Berth

The sleeping compartment to which I was assigned. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

It is not exactly luxury accommodations; but it is just fine for me.

Linens in Train Compartment

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Upper Berth

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The bed was actually rather comfortable. Hey — it was a true lie-flat bed!

Ladder with Lower Berth

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Lower Berth

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

After having grabbed a blanket, I slipped in under the top sheet of the bed — which was surprisingly comfortable — placed the blanket on top, and fell asleep rather easily as the miles of rails slipped by underneath me…

…until approximately 3:00 in the morning, when the train came to a complete stop. I looked out the window groggily and saw some lone light bulb illuminated outside in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere in the heart of the dark night.

The door to the compartment eventually opened. “Passports”, said some guy in a uniform of some kind.

I groaned as I fumbled through the pocket of my jeans, which I had fortunately placed on the shelf where the blanket once was. I whipped out my passport — as fast as one can “whip one out” while half asleep, I suppose — and it seemed like forever until it returned from wherever it went. Maybe it went on a trip of its own to Tunisia or Kygrytsizqxysidontunderstan.

I really was sleeping well before that interruption. I guess I fell back to sleep because I do not remember having stayed awake.

The train crawled through the darkness as it approached into the Central Railway Station in Sofia. All of the passengers seemed to mindlessly disembark the train into the cold morning air as though commuting to work…

…and there I was in the middle of a old and dingy crowded train station at 6:30 in the morning. No one spoke English when I attempted to ask for information; and all of the signs used Cyrillic characters. What the heck was I doing here, anyway? Everything seemed so cold and foreign to me; and I felt lost — a feeling I rarely ever experience…

…but that was momentary, as the trepidation gave way to curiosity and exploration. I found a map on a wall and looked at it. I noted that I was located north of the central part of Sofia; but I could not accurately judge the distances. No problem — I will just walk down the main street until I see a bus coming and just catch one at a bus stop to take me to the city center.

The faint glow of the sun was starting to announce the beginning of dawn as I approached an interesting building approximately 30 minutes or so later: it was written on a sign that the building is the Saint Nedelya Church, which was built hundreds of years ago.

Saint Nedelya Church. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Saint Nedelya Church. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

I then realized that was near the city center of Sofia at this point — no need for me to use public transportation after all…

…but there was a building even older: the rotunda of the church of Saint George, which was built in the fourth century.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

I did attempt to walk through the entrance which you see below…

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Entrance to the rotunda of the church of Saint George. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

…and the rotunda was indeed open to the public. There were actually services going on inside — but I voluntarily did not take photographs out of respect.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The rotunda of the church of Saint George. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The inside of the rotunda has fresco artwork on the walls with the old bricks exposed in some areas; and the small windows allowed the morning sunlight to shine in.

I probably should have taken photographs — although it would have been difficult to do so at that hour of the morning. I did find the fresco art work here if you are interested in viewing them.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The rotunda of the church of Saint George. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

You can see the brickwork for yourself on the exterior of the rotunda.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Artifacts and ruins of the ancient town of Serdica. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Artifacts and ruins of the ancient town of Serdica were lying around outside of the building, which itself was enclosed in what appeared to be a giant courtyard.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

A relic of the ancient town of Serdica. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The rotunda of the church of Saint George. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The rotunda of the church of Saint George with artifacts and ruins of the ancient town of Serdica. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

As the city of Sofia itself started to awaken as more people started to appear outside, I walked east of the city center and happened upon a large plaza with the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the center of it.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

I really liked some of the ornate work on the exterior of the building.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Ornate detail of one of the doors of Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Ornate detail of two of the handles of the doors of the Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

I walked inside of the building, which had no people. I was alone — or, at least, it seemed like it. The inside of this church is quite ornate; but I did not have the proper camera lens to do justice to take photographs inside; also, it was rather dark and I had no tripod with me.

However, the quiet caused me to sit in a pew for a while and simply reflect on random thoughts which came to me — almost as if in meditation, which I never do. I cannot recall what were those thoughts; but I do remember that the experience was strangely relaxing as I examined the detail in the interior architecture.

When I finally emerged from the church, the cold air had been warmed significantly by the strong sunshine; and it was turning out to be a gorgeous day — perfect for more walking.

I headed back towards the center of the city — I had no plan or itinerary for the day other than wandering around Sofia — and saw the exterior of the Presidential Palace.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The Presidential Palace of Bulgaria. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

I did not see the ceremonial changing of the guard; and I did not see the interior of the Presidential Palace.

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Guards stand outside of the entrance of the Presidential Palace of Bulgaria. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

As you can see by the photographs, Sofia is rich with interesting architecture.

National Art Gallery in Sofia. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

National Art Gallery in Sofia. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Central Sofia Synagogue. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Central Sofia Synagogue. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Saint Nikolas Russian Church in Sofia. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Saint Nikolas Russian Church in Sofia. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Sveta Petka Samardjiyska. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Sveta Petka Samardjiyska. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

From left to right: Ivan Vazov National Theater and Former Bulgarian Communist Party Headquarters. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

From left to right: Ivan Vazov National Theater and Former Bulgarian Communist Party Headquarters. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

National Palace of Culture Congress Centre. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

National Palace of Culture Congress Centre. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Photographs ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Photographs ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Additional photographs — including those of the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum and some of its relics; as well as of life in Sofia in general — can be found in the next and final installment of this trip report of a day in Sofia.

All photographs ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “A Day in Sofia, Bulgaria”

  1. Nice post and some very interesting architecture! We’re currently in another part of Bulgaria and look forward to checking out Sofia in a few days from now.

    I’d like to try out an overnight train one of these days but they never seem to fit our itineraries.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you, Michael!

      I am looking forward to a trip report from you which will put mine to shame…

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