published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
After visiting Athens and Greece for ESWC 2018, I visited Sofia for two days. Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, and is one of the nicest cities I have visited in terms of life and just the peacefulness of being there. Since it isn't such a hotspot of tourist activitiy, walking around felt more authentic and inspiring than the usual throngs of people flocking to places. Sure, there were tourists going to places, but after Athens, this was a very refreshing change.
Bulgaria is within the EU, but is not in the Schengen area. However, it will soon be joining (in the future) the Schengen area, and has started adopting certain things. Under this, the government allows any visitor who has a valid multi-entry Schengen visa to also visit Bulgaria without additional visas. This allowed me to enter the country from Athens. Flights were very cheap (<20 euros). The currency of Bulgaria is the lev and it is locked to a fixed exchange rate with respect to the euro.
I stayed in the nicest hostel so far in Sofia. Called Hostel Mostel, the layout is simple. The staff are super friendly. But what is best about this place is the encouragement of interactions with other guests. The place is simple, but very clean. And everything just works. Also, it is very cheap. The hostel beds are well isolated (in a dorm) from others, and have amazing things like a curtain, little bed lights and lockers. It was genuinely an amazing experience staying there.
The general attractions in Sofia are the various old and cultural buildings and museums. These are beatiful, especially the churches. There are also various food markets and farmers markets that are a great experience for the local culture. Cherries were incredibly cheap, and me and other people from the hostel ended up eating them in kilos.
Food is cheap, and very tasty. One of the best dishes was (I do not remember the name of specifics) made from pork legs or neck, and was a little spicy, but immensley tasty. I had mushrooms starters before, and some local wine. Very very tasty. Like, cannot forget tasty. Other than that, I went to a local place that served a lot of variety of tea (I miss you Oolong Flower Power!) and they had this ayurvedic take on things which I found to be very interesting and tasty. They also had homemade ice-cream which I had in dollops.
This is like a famous street where there are tons of cafes all around. Taking a stroll here is highly recommended, especially in good weather as there is an amazing view of the mountains up ahead.
This is a very creative place. Essentially an apartment, different rooms have been themed differently in various styles. It was very creative (and expensive) and visiting here is a great experience even if you just buy one drink and hightail out.