We knew we were probably doomed while our previous hostel talked about the sick that everyone had. But it wasn’t until the train to Sofia that it really started to kick in. We arrived with screeching sore throats, coughs, and the general ick. With only four days in Sofia, being sick affected our ability to really see the city and we spent the majority of our time under blankets watching Christmas movies. On the up side our apartment was spectacular and decorated for the holidays complete with Christmas tree. So we were content to hole up for a while and convalesce. We did manage to make it to the local Christmas festival for some Christmas meat and warm beverages and find a couple of gem restaurants serving local comfort food.
My first impressions of Sofia is that it was a bit run down with the age showing on the buildings and sidewalks. The weather was gloomy and my mood was pretty gloomy too. But after a couple of days I started to really like Sofia. There’s not a lot of superficial smiles and pleasantries with strangers but once you make a connection, even a small one, people seemed to be very welcoming and friendly, in a genuine way. The city was sprawling but there seemed to be a community atmosphere at a basic level. It felt like the city was for people who actually lived there if that makes sense. And when we stood too long looking lost at a metro sign someone usually would offer their help without us asking. The food was similar to other Balkan food but had it’s own character and dishes and that’s what we ended up craving when we were hungry.
We decided to stay just north of bul. “Todor Alexandrov” in Sofia Center on a great pedestrian walk full of shops. It was lively with people, some street food around, old trolleys whizzing by, lots of interesting buildings and churches and mosques all around. Most of the tourist sites were within a 15 min walk.
The German Christmas Festival
This was Katy’s #1 thing to visit. Sofia’s “German Christmas Festival” which was a collection of wooden sheds with stage and decorations at one end of the City Garden. My favorite stand was selling smoked pork ribs, cheeks, and sliced ears stewed in a sauce. They also had a Swiss Raclette hut where they would heat wheels of raclette cheese with a heating element and scrape the melted cheese to toast. Always wanted to try that. And of course lots of sausages and mulled wine and treats.
Olive Kebap and Vegetable Restaurant
Luckily for sick us there was a late night diner of sorts a block away with a cafeteria style selection of traditional Bulgarian food. We ate here three times and loved everything we ordered. Simple dishes but filling and delicious. Sadly everything was in Cyrillic so I don’t know what most of these dishes were called.
I found this place searching online and validated it with some reviews. It’s a lesser known Iraqi food joint with an elusive owner and homey vibe. Walking by you might think the place was deserted but I had been warned online. The owner is an older man who may or may not come to your table. We asked another couple arriving when we did how to order and she said, “No one knows, it’s a mystery. But it’s easier to get his attention if you order up here.” The dishes and drinks are self service and we did manage to order without much hassle and the food came quickly. The owner was very nice I thought in his own way. And the food was really good. I recommend the place to anyone in Sofia.
A few sites we saw
We didn’t get the most time for exploration but we did swing by a few churches and sites. Most of these places did’t allow photography inside.
An interesting food stand.
I saw a few of these food stands around town. They sold three things: roast chestnuts, roasted corn, and a roasted pumpkin/squash sort of thing. Kind of cool. One night we got some sarma and dolma from the grocery store and a big piece of this pumpkin for dinner. It was really good.