Sofia Is Yours To Keep

Big Disclaimer; during my trip in Budapest I went to a beautiful 19th century library hidden within a modern library and worked on an amazing post about my trip to Bulgaria. Yes, I can confidently say “amazing” to my original post as the library was inspiring and had me in my writing grove. This is sadly not that post, that post somehow disappeared out of thin air from my iPad like the sock in the dryer that I also lost in Budapest while doing laundry. So if this post doesn’t sound amazing or inspire you to pack your bags and visit Bulgaria, I apologize in advance.

IMG_0376Anywho, as I arrived for my departure flight after spending 5 days in Bulgaria I read a sign in the airport that read, “Sofia is yours to keep.” This quote caught my attention and as I reflected on the message, I knew that it was very accurate. All the memories, the sights, encounters and even the calories, were mine to keep. (Even the calories, sadly) When someone travels to a city, these moments stay with them and no one else will experience said city like them. Even as I write this, I know, that I myself cannot convey my experience in this post.

Many asked why I was starting my #GirltakesMundo adventure in Bulgaria and even if you told me 7 years ago when I started traveling, or even 6 months ago when I started planning for this trip that I would visit Bulgaria, I probably would have questioned why myself. During my 5 day trip, (4 days with 1 travel day) I visited Sofia and Plovdiv, the 2 biggest cities in Bulgaria. I can tell you first hand, that if you have extra days while traveling Europe or living/studying in Europe and looking for a weekend trip; Bulgaria is the country for you! Many Europeans are visiting this little gem as flights are very cheap and the pound, euro and dollar go a long way here. For me, stretching my dollar and looking to fill gaps in my itinerary got me to Sofia. Plovdiv was added as a day trip while I was already out in Sofia.

Sofia for being a smaller European city has tons of things to do and a lot of it is free. Don’t believe me? Check out this link here for details of walking tours, bike tours, hiking tours to Vitosha mountain, jogging tours, graffiti tours and even food tours. And did I mention they are all free!!! Of course, with the concept similar to many free walking tours in other countries where you tip your guide at the end of the tour.

While I wasn’t able to do all of these or opted out, below are my personal tips on these tours based off my own experience or what I heard from those who did the tour.

Sofia Walking Tour – Like all tours, a good guide is key here. I was fortunate to have Viki who was a 5 year vet and was super knowledgeable about the city.

Bike Tour – While this is a free tour, you do have to rent a bike which will cost you $10 Lev or roughly $5.75 dollars. This tour will cover some city spots but will focus more on parks and off beaten bike trails around Sofia. You can easily do both the walking and bike tour with out feeling like it will be the same. My guide was Peter a “Squirrel Whisperer” who not only had names for these squirrels but these squirrels responded to their name and fed off Peter and his guests hands (see pic below). As with all activities, dress appropriately. I wasn’t originally going to do this tour and didn’t dress appropriately especially since half of the bike tour I did holding an umbrella due to rain (a new skill and learned during this trip).

Hiking Vitosha Mountain Tour – While this is a free tour you do have to pay for the train transfer which is $6 Lev or roughly $3.45 dollars. This is a hiking tour and not to be confused with a walking tour as you will be visiting a mountain. The guide advises people to wear at the very least gym shoes, bring water and pack a lunch for this tour. Keep this in mind and plan accordingly.

Food Tour – Many blogs and even hostels will tell you to just show up at the meeting point and time for this yummy one of a kind tour but I’m here to tell you not to do that and instead make reservations via their website and wait for your confirmation to this tour. Since the tour consist of visiting 6 restaurants in Sofia, learning about Bulgarian cuisine and enjoying samples of said food, it this has become a very popular tour. Only 30 people can go on the tour each day and if you don’t have a confirmation email, chances are you will not be allowed on the tour. Which is sadly what happened to me. Moral of the story, do yourself the favor and reserve in advance.

Jogging Tour – To anyone who knows me, you know this would be the one tour I would opt out of since I LOVE running soooooo much (insert my most sarcastic voice here). For those who fancy running, this may be a cool tour to do.

Graffiti Tour – This tour at the time happens on Sunday’s and I hear is pretty amazing since you learn about the pieces and artists. I was really bummed when I missed this. If you’re like me, I would still say to go to the meeting area and walk around the neighborhood to check out the art for yourself, if you have time.

Nightlife – Anything that looks like you’re hiding something by nature intrigues people more and that’s how nightlife in Sofia is. While you will find your regular clubs and bars in Sofia, it’s the cooler concept bars that captured my attention. These night spots have no signs outside indicating they are a bar and when you finally find them, you still have to be “cleared” so to speak after you knock on the door. They will open a small window to see who you are before letting you in like it was in “Pub Lorca“. If electricity isn’t your thing then you will love “Hambara“, a piano bar with no electricity that is lit up by the many candles in the establishment. If nature is what you fancy, drinking in a park, under the stars while exchanging stories with your new found travel friends is also an option.

Plovdiv – is the second largest city in Bulgaria and named the European capital of culture for 2019. It is a short 1.5 hour road trip. 4 of us, who stayed at Moreto & Caffeto hostel decided to split the cost of renting a car and spending the day in Plovdiv.

The total cost for renting the vehicle including gas was $160 Lev or roughly around $92 dollars ($23 per person for a group of 4).

Plovdiv offers a free walking tour (11am, 2:30pm and 6pm, during summer months.) which really helps maximize the day trip and get a good overview of the city. By the time our group arrived to Plovdiv we had missed the 11a tour and the 2:30p tour wasn’t available, so we walked around the new and old town on our own, ate a typical Bulgarian lunch and got lost in the Plovdiv neighborhoods until the 6p tour. My favorite neighborhood was “Trap” as it was once an abandoned neighborhood that just until recently had a renaissance so to speak with many great restaurants, shops and cafes opening up. Including a cafe themed after the tv series coffee shop, “Central Perk” in Friends. The neighborhood itself is filled with awesome murals, which only adds to the color of this charming neighborhood. Of the many awesome walls, the ones by the crew Stern below were my favorite.

Ultimately, no matter how you decide to make this trip your own or any trip for that matter, remember it’s yours to keep just like I can say about my time in Sofia. 7 years ago or even 6 months ago, I wouldn’t have thought that Bulgaria would start my #GirltakesMundo journey but now I don’t see how else it could have started. Sofia is mine to keep!

Check out some of my favorite pictures from this trip here and see more on my instagram account, @girltakesmundo

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