Sofia, Bulgaria

Travellers around the globe are constantly in search of that idyllic getaway; a little off the beaten track, away from all the salesmen but with the basic tourist amenities. I believe right now Eastern Europe to be that place; though as it develops and garners the attention of the masses will undoubtedly change. Now is the perfect time to see Eastern Europe already with basic ammenities but before the corporate tourism.

Traveling through Eastern Europe so far has been one continuous breaking of assumptions after another. Sofia was no exception. Sofia is a beautiful city with a well developed centre set to take the grand stage in years to come.

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Throughout Sofia you will find former communist buildings that at their time sought to make a statement; grand and unified. You will also find the largest completed Orthodox church in Eastern Europe (Temple of Sava in Belgrade is bigger but still being finished inside) The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which is gorgeous, complete with green and gold domes. Entry is free but beware of the €5 photo permit which they are very strict about, its a little dark inside anyway so probably best to enjoy the visit and get photos from google later.

Now while the majority of the Bulgarian population are orthodox christians there is also a reasonable Muslim and Jewish proportion. This mix is most prominently found in The Square of Tolerance where you are able to see an orthodox church, a mosque and a synagogue from the same spot.

Just around the corner from the square of tolerance you can find The Presidential Palace whose distinctive guards perform a spot switch routine every 15 minutes and a changing of the guards every hour on the hour. The guards wear quite a distinctive garb that features an Eagles’s feather atop of their hat; we are told that the Eagle feathers are ethically collected from the zoo when the  Eagles shed their feathers.

If however you are short on time in Sofia and you’re looking for one thing to do, make sure you join in the free Balkan Bites food tour which will take you to 5 different places to taste the local delicacies donated by local producers. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and for the price of tip for our tour guide was able to substitute the tour for a meal. I particularly enjoyed the Tarator soup, a soup version of Tzaziki sauce served cold, perfect for those hot summer months!

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Talking of local delicacies, much like the rest of the Balkan region, the national drink is Raikia a fruit brandy most commonly home brewed by a friend of a friend. The drink is tasty coming in several flavours but the most common being plum (very strong) or honey (less so). Raikia is served in large shot glass but shouldn’t be consumed as such but sipped and savoured.