We had a great time in Plovdiv yesterday, but we're not staying anywhere long on this holiday and today it was time to move on to our next destination: Sofia. We were travelling to the Bulgarian capital by train, so our first task was to find Plovdiv's main railway station. Tim succeeded in navigating us down a scenic route, so we were able to see Plovdiv's colourful main street one more time.
The guidebook had warned that the queues to buy train tickets in Bulgaria could be enormous, so we'd arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare. It turns out that I needn't have worried; the queues were quite small this morning and we got served within a few minutes. The train fare from Plovdiv to Sofia - a journey of around 100 miles - cost 9 lev each (£4.17). We were charged an extra half a lev each (23p!) to make a seat reservation. I wasn't sure how much to budget for travel in Bulgaria originally, because the part of the Bulgarian trains website which is supposed to show prices seems to be permanently down, but I don't think I need to worry about not having enough cash
The train itself arrived promptly and the seats were reasonably comfortable, but the train was incredibly hot. There were windows which could be opened, and periodically someone would open one in the corridor, letting a nice bit of breeze into our compartment for a while, but then someone else with a fear of draughts would come along and close it and it would be very hot and stuffy again! The journey itself was scenic, taking us through some mountainous countryside towards Sofia. It took us just over 2.5 hours to get to the capital.
Once we arrived, we had a walk of a couple of miles to our apartment. The area around the train station wasn't terribly scenic, but as we got closer to the centre of town, things improved. We crossed a bridge known as the Lions' Bridge, which was quite imposing.
It crosses the river Vladayska, which was a bit underwhelming
From here the city started to look a lot more appealing.
Some of the pavements were very uneven though, which made pulling our suitcases hard work. There were also some busy main roads, which had to be crossed by going down steps into an underpass; not the most fun in the world when you've got heavy cases. We went down into what I thought looked like a particularly grotty underpass...
...and were surprised to find that it seemed to be home to some sort of archaeological remains
From there it wasn't far to our apartment. The owner had sent me a message on Whatsapp to say that it was next to a bank and to text him when we were outside. I was glad for the directions because I think we would have struggled to find the correct building otherwise! Checking it was a rather surreal experience. The guy who owned the apartment communicated with us by speaking Bulgarian into Google Translate and showing us the English version! It worked remarkably well
The apartment seems really good, with a comfy living area...
...a large kitchen...
...and a nice bedroom too
At 88 lev per night (£41) it's more expensive than our apartment in Plovdiv, but Sofia is the capital and we are in quite a central location here.
Once we'd settled in and enjoyed the air-conditioning for a bit, we set out to get some food and to explore a bit more of Sofia. Not far from our apartment is the Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church.
This is a Bulgarian Orthodox church, inside what was formerly an Ottoman mosque.
We'd seen some really impressive buildings while we were walking with our cases earlier, so we wanted to try and retrace our steps to take some photos.
This building seemed to be something to do with the Bulgarian president.
There were uniformed guards on duty outside.
We went back into the underpass to have a closer look at the remains.
It turns out these are the remains of the ancient city of Serdica and were only discovered within the past few years when construction work was taking place on the Sofia metro.
We saw a few bits of mosaics... not quite as impressive as the ones we'd seen in Sicily in July, but definitely the most interesting underpass I've ever been in
Once we'd come up the opposite side of the underpass we caught sight of a mosque in the distance.
This is the Banya Bashi Mosque, which was built in 1566.
It's still a functioning mosque today and as we walked around it, we heard the call to prayer.
Behind the mosque we found this beautiful yellow building. It was historically home to Sofia's public mineral baths, but is now a museum.
A little further on, we found Sofia's synagogue, which is one of the largest synagogues in Europe.
By this stage we were back near the Lion Bridge
As we made our way back towards the apartment, we caught a glimpse of what looked like a pretty church. It really was just a glimpse, because it was surrounded by trees
When we crossed the road and got around to the other side of it, we had a better view This is the church of St Nedelya.
We'd almost managed to come round in a circle back to our apartment by this point. First impressions of Sofia are that it seems like a small but pleasant capital, and we're looking forward to exploring some more of it tomorrow