It was rise and shine for us as we needed to catch our bus around 8am. We grabbed a taxi from the hotel to the bus station without a problem. Buying our bus ticket was a bit more challenging. Soon enough, the bus began boarding and we were off to Sofia. We realized as we headed out of Plovdiv that we had been assigned seat numbers on our tickets. Unaware, we had just chosen seats and prepared for the two hour journey. When we received a number of strange looks from other riders, we figured it was because we didn't look Bulgarian. Eventually, we put it all together and determined we were actually just in their seat. We had a good laugh about it, but just stayed put as there were plenty of empty seats on the coach.
Upon arrival into Sofia's bus terminal, we sought a cab that would take us to the Palace of Justice, the first stop on our tour. This would turn out to be our second interesting transportation adventure of the day. We negotiated with a cab driver that he would run a meter in the cab for our ride. He indicated it would be about 20 leva. We thought that sounded ok so we agreed. He then led us to a cab with a different driver. He said a few things to him in Bulgarian and we were off...without the meter running. We immediately requested the meter begin to run, but no such luck. I got a little scared at that point that he wasn't even going to take us to the destination we desired. So, naturally, I began answering his questions with comments about how we were meeting our friends and they would be expecting us soon as we were in town for a wedding. Not totally accurate, but it made me feel a little better about us not being abducted and taken to deepest, darkest Bulgaria. Fortunately, the only bad part of the cab ride was that we were significantly overcharged for our journey! Whew!
Needless to say, we were super happy to see Niki and his Free Sofia Tour sign! There were tons of people at the meet up location. They split us into two groups, and we were off.
The tour kicked off at the Palace of Justice. Niki pointed out war damage on the columns and some interesting facts about the lions outside the building before we moved on to view several religious structures. The first, Sveta Nedelya Church, was largely destroyed during an assassination attempt on Tsar Boris III in 1925. Over 200 people were killed, but the Tsar survived because he arrived late. The second, Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska Church, has no natural daylight inside though we weren't able to spend enough time to check out the well known murals there. The last, Banya Bashi Mosque, is the only working mosque in Sofia.
|Sveta Nedelya Church|
|Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska Church|
|Banya Bashi Mosque|
In this area, we were also introduced to Saint Sophia. She towers high above the city and proves relatively modern as the statue was erected in 2001. Sophia is adorned with the symbols of power (crown), fame (wreath), and wisdom (owl). The statue remains quite controversial in Bulgaria.
Next, we headed for the Central Mineral Baths. This building was beautiful on the exterior! I suppose that is ideal because it only functions as a temporary exhibition space now.
We headed over to the Council of Ministers building next. Formal guards stand watch over the Office of the President there. It reminded me a tad bit of Westminster Abbey in London.
The following stop included a short visit at Sofia's oldest perserved building - St. George Rotunda. I really liked this area. I can't imagine living in this square though. The tour guide had some interesting stories about some of the residents here. Apparently, if the President is in town and you open your window for some fresh air, you might just find a sniper pointing his gun in your direction.
Finally, we had a short rest from the walking as Niki asked for some group participation in a skit about the political history of Sofia. This skit played out just across the street from the former Royal Palace. The building is currently the National Art Gallery.
After our rest, we continued on to see a couple more relgious structures. St. Sofia Church is the oldest Eastern Orthodox Church in Sofia and is very popular for weddings. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was a real beauty. It is named for a Russian Tsar that helped liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.
|St. Sophia Church|
|Front of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral|
|Back of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral|
Our tour ended near Sofia University and Sofia's famous yellow brick road. I was so excited about finding the yellow brick road. I was worried we'd miss it!
We quickly grabbed a bite to eat at McDonald's before we dashed off to the airport. This time by bus...much cheaper and less scary! We were able to get a few Bulgarian treats while we waited for our flight to depart.
We had a connection through Berlin before we landed back in London for a bit more exploring. Chris hadn't ever been to Germany so we ventured away from the airport past a nearby train station for a quick photo of proof Chris set foot in Berlin.
Stay tuned for our adventures in London and Belguim. We covered lots of ground in our last two days of this whirlwind trip!