Trip Tips: A weekend in Sofia

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TRAVEL GAZETTE  – SOFIA is a beautiful city. Its historic buildings date from the turn of the century up until the 1930s. It was just such a pity that I booked into the Arena di Serdica which is dubbed online as the ideal place to stay.

I can only assume that many of the reviewers and travel experts that write about this hotel have not stayed there, or at least received a much better experience than I did during my unfortunate 3 night stay.

In fairness, the hotel looks stunning, but is immediately let down the moment you attempt to get a good nights sleep.

The beautifully furnished room was spoiled by a terrible hard bed and paper thin walls, meaning for the entire stay I could hear in great detail the nocturnal phone calls of my very chatty Italian neighbour in the room next door.

Sadly, changing rooms was ‘not possible’. The receptionist was rude and very curt and on one occasion kept up her private phone call, whilst I stood waiting – the lone customer- for a good 15-minutes to change currency – yes, don’t forget – no Euros in Bulgaria yet.

In fairness, the hotel is in easy access of business and shopping districts as well as variety of restaurants and bars.

The star attraction of the hotel is that it has been constructed and integrated into the ancient ruins of a Roman amphitheatre which can be viewed in the lobby basement. Thracian and Roman remains can still be seen dotted around the city: in the underpass in front of the presidency; behind the Military Club, and behind the Sheraton hotel.

Sofia though is beautiful and it’s people charming – and there is nothing more stunning than the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which was built in 1902 on base of a derelict Ottoman mosque.

It is one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world, made up of green domes, arches and bell towers. The tallest gold-plated dome stands 45 meters high and the cathedral has 12 bells weighing a total of 23 tons. (The cathedral is open daily from 7 am to 6 pm, with services throughout the day.)

Across the road from the Cathedral you’ll find a flea market lined with stalls full of Nazi and Soviet memorabilia. Most of it is reproduction, but sold as ‘original’. You can get everything from ‘original copies’ of Nazi papers, to a documents signed by Hitler himself.

Food here consists of lovely fresh salads and grilled meat. Try one of the many traditional taverns, which serve the best of Bulgarian cuisine, mostly at very reasonable prices. You must try the shashlutsi – smoky pork and chicken served on skewers or a traditional thick stew.

One thing that is immediately noticeable about Sofia is the dog problem – I’m a huge dog lover, but the amount of big strays wandering the streets was a bit unnerving. It is estimated nearly 10,000 stray dogs live on the streets of Sofia – and attacks on people are common.

During my stay in the city, Professor Botio Tachkov, a renowned economist, was brutally attacked and killed by a large pack of stray dogs triggering public outrage.

Forget your worries in the evening with a large glass local plum brandy, you’ll soon feel better.

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