I’ve never spent my birthday away from home or from seeing my family for a birthday lunch but this year I decided to do something to remember my final year in my 40’s by. What better way to kick it off by a trip to yet another country I knew very little about and had never thought about travelling to – Bulgaria and its capital Sofia!
Wednesday saw me arriving up at Heathrow and crashing at the Heathrow Lodge Hotel – very close to the airport and with a free bus to drop you at the terminal door, there’s not much by way of shops nearby but a couple of pubs handy for a quick meal. It was a very early night for me, as I had to check in at 6am for my flight, but little sleep was had due to the noise of being under the main flight path to Heathrow.
On arrival at Sofia airport, some three hours after takeoff, I decided to opt for a bus ride into the city. I had no sooner sat down when I was accosted by a lady, who thankfully spoke impeccable English and who informed me that I would have been better getting the Metro. She decided that it was her duty to escort me off the bus, and through some godforsaken place – I did actually fear that this was all a rouse and that she had a cunning plan to have her friends suddenly appear and abduct or rob me, thinking I was a wealthy tourist, not a poor student! However, true to her word, she took me to the Metro station and waved me off towards me hotel. It’s worth noting that in Sofia, all public transport (buses and Metro) journeys cost 1.60 levs (about 72p) for a single journey, regardless of how many stations/stops you pass through.
I was staying at Scotty’s Boutique Hotel (http://www.scottyshotel.net) – not so much boutique as quirky! I was on the first floor (actually about floor three) in the Berlin room – a single room but one of the few with a balcony and free air conditioning – very much needed in 37+ degrees heat! It was a bit shabby but nothing a coat of paint and some TLC wouldn’t fix – the fridge wasn’t working in my room, and despite me reporting it, it was never sorted. However the manager, who was a delight, very knowledgeable and so very happy all the time, made up for it, along with the very central location and, after all, you’re only there to sleep!
Thursday was my first full day in Sofia, and my birthday so I wanted to spend the day sightseeing. People say you can see the city in a day and there’s not much to do – Wrong! Yes, you could possibly get around Sofia in a day, if you didn’t actually stop anywhere or visit any of the places of worship, museums and parks. Sofia has loads to see and do and also has the advantage of it all being within walking distance. The DK Eyewitness Guide to Bulgaria has a whole section on Sofia – photocopy it and take it with you, the map of the city alone was invaluable. I had a pen and ticked off every place of worship, historic square, building and monument there was to see, including spending an hour at the University Botanical Garden, ending up on Vitosha Boulevard at the end of the day, completely exhausted.
The Botanical Gardens (http://www.ubg-bg.com/en) cost me 3Levs (£1.35) to get in – it was actually hotter outside than in the greenhouses, but worth it to enter the butterfly house – Ok, so not many different species, but still amazing to have them flying around you. After the gardens, it was time for my birthday lunch and thanks to the Happy Cow veggie and vegan app, I located the Dream House eatery (http://www.dreamhouse-bg.com), just off the main Vitosha Boulevard. The young girl who served me spoke great English, the food was incredible and very cheap – my whole meal including tip cost £11. A hemp and spirulina smoothie, hummus and fresh homemade bread, baked potatoes, lavender lemonade and raw cocoa cake!
After my late lunch, I wandered up the boulevard, did a spot of shopping before heading back to my room for an early night and some much-needed air con!