Before another spike in COVID numbers I was lucky enough to book and visit a few countries in eastern Europe. Some places I visited just for a weekend, others for a longer puente, or bridge, long weekend. First up was Sofia, Bulgaria.
This compact Eastern European city is the perfect size for a weekend getaway. A Friday night flight got my friends and I in around 11pm, which was still enough time to grab some snack foods from a small convenience shop. Stocked up with local wine, chips and crackers, we were happy to get back to our warm apartment and out of the freezing cold temperatures. Unlike my drafty Barcelona apartment not built for the mild mediterranean “cold”, the apartment in Sofia was well insulated and cozy warm.
The next day was filled with some sightseeing and a free walking tour. We did our own exploring to start. After fortifying ourselves with coffee and some baked goods we decided to check out the Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya. For a small fee we were able to take photos inside of the intricate designs and beautiful decorations. To our surprise there was also a baptism happening with just the minister and parents present. Quiet and off to the side we didn’t notice the ceremony happening at first.
Next we met our free walking tour group and took off. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and brought us through the city to all the must see attractions. Some of the highlights were The St. George Rotunda, the Saint Sofia Monument, seeing the outside of the Sofia History Museum, the ancient Roman ruins, and the main boulevard with communist era buildings. We learned about the history of the country and city. It is a long and complicated history filled with groups conquering one another and fighting for independence.
What I really loved about the city was the melding of religions all in one place. Muslims, Jewish and Christians all have houses of worship right near one another. It was a great example of different groups of people living in harmony among one another.
After our free walking tour we did a free food tour. And yes, it was actually free. Just like the free walking tours I’ve gone on in many cities this one was set up exactly the same. It was a great way to try some bite size portions of local cuisine. It also inspired us to go back to a few of the spots for a full sized portion later. My favorite stops on the tour were a traditional soup place called, Supa Star, the wine shop, Garafa Wine Shop and Mekitsa.
We meandered down the Main Street after our tours. It was fun to hear a mix of languages as locals and tourists alike went about their day.
We returned to Garafa Wine Shop for a full pour and to purchase some wine after we decided it was time to get out of the cold. What we didn’t expect was to meet the most wonderful and helpful Bulgarian on our trip, Gabby. She suggested we go to Halbite Beer Hall for authentic Bulgarian food for dinner. In fact she even called and made us a reservation as we sat sipping our wines. And let me tell you, this suggestion did not disappoint! Like all of the other traditional places we ate that weekend, the food at Halbite Beer Hall was bursting with flavor and left me pleasantly stuffed.
The next day was our last, but with an evening flight we still had time to squeeze in a bit more. On the walking tour the day before we learned about the women’s market which was not far outside the city center. Our guide described it as an open air market selling foods and some goods. I’m still not sure why it is called the women’s market as it wasn’t specific to women, and I don’t think our guide knew either. After wandering through side streets, following our trusty google maps directions, we finally found it. Stalls were all lined up selling mostly food. Yogurt and sausage were on our list of things left to try so we picked some up. Both were delicious and we washed them down with a local beer. The local liquor drink however eluded us and we did not end up finding it at any of the stalls.
For our final hours in Sofia we warmed up with a coffee and then made our way to an amazing restaurant called, Moma, that served local cuisine. As with all our other meals and snacks the food was to die for. My personal favorite dish being the shopska salad. It is a simple dish of cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, red pepper, feta cheese and a light dressing of red wine vinegar and olive oil. I have been obsessively making this at home since returning.
Sofia was just the right size for a weekend trip. Cheap, easy to walk around, and filled with history and culture, I really enjoyed my fleeting time in this small city.