Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sofia, Bulgaria

A horse and cart as on main street in Blageovgrad.

I walked to the Blageovgrad train station to buy tickets for the evening train to Sofia. When the woman told me it was 7.50 Lev ($5.26), I asked again Sofia? I took out a map and pointed to the capital of Bulgaria. I was shocked it was so cheap for a 2-3 hour train ride. Wow! Mom had told me the guidebooks warned of poor trains in the Baltic countries in the evenings so I had low expectations of the evening train. I was surprised! We had a new comfortable train ride and arrived in 2 hours. 

We arrived in Sofia and decided to splurge and take a taxi to the hotel since it was late at night and we were exhausted. The taxi cost more than the train ride! Oh well, at $7 I was not complaining. It was better than wandering the streets for a half hour. I always try to arrive in a new city in the daylight. If I arrive in the dark, I would rather be safe and take a taxi. He took us to our hotel and while I was getting us checked in, I heard mom say "Halelluiah! An elevator!"  She was excited! Especially when we were told we were on the 4th floor!  I think I am killing her with the walking and stairs but she is a trooper. 

In the morning I went to explore while mom stayed in the hotel nursing a cold. I walked to the Sofia statue that was erected after the fall of communism in 1990. 

A Lenin statue originally stood in this location and was removed and replaced with Sofia. I found several of the Communist sights had been demolished or removed from Sofia.

As I walked along, I came upon the Svetea Nedelya Church. This was in the guidebook as a must see sight. I walked in and noticed a baptism was taking place. 

I watched the children playing with their candles and listened to the liturgy. It was beautiful. As I was sitting and watching, I heard a chicken clucking. It was in the church. Huh? I looked around and saw a man handing a box with holes to an older woman.
The clucking came from the box.  My first thought was please don't sacrifice the chicken. Then I realized I wasn't in Asia and the chicken was probably someones dinner. This is the first time I have been to a baptism and heard a live chicken in a church! I didn't know what to expect next! 

My next stop was the park near the mineral springs and bath house. The bath house is closed and there is disagreement over the future of the building. It was a beautiful building and I hope they restore it and open it someday.
The Bulgarians were enjoying the sunny fall day. Men were playing chess and children were playing in the park. Around the corner were the mineral springs of Sofia. The city has 42 springs with different water temperatures. Water flows freely in the square.
I noticed steam in the chilly morning. I saw many people washing their hands and faces or filling up reusable water jugs with the warm water.
The water is pure, clean and pollution free. The city provides the water free for people to take home and use. I was shocked when I read this. After traveling to many places in the world where fresh water is not available to residents, it was refreshing to see the Bulgarian people had free access to the water! I was more amazed when I learned that Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European continent and the water was free! Wow!

I walked on towards the old communist party headquarters, the theater and another park. 
As I walked, I passed several stands selling books and healthy snacks. One of my favorites was the nut and dried fruit stands. I stopped and bought a cup of mixed fruit and walnuts for $1. Yummy! Why don't we have these at home?
Then, I continued on to the Russian Church where an old lady grabbed my hand and took me to the basement.
She pulled out a chair and put a pen and paper in front of me. She told me to write a wish. I did as I was told. She waited and then grabbed my arm and took me to a room with a sarcophagus and pointed for me to leave the wish. I did as I was told. When I turned around she had two men and was  handing them paper and pens. I waved goodbye and she smiled and waved to me.

A woman selling flower bouquets outside the Russian church.
I continued exploring Sofia and walked through a flea market with furry hats, Nazi and Soviet memorabilia. I had no idea what was real and which were fakes but it was interesting. 
Next, I went to the red brick church of St. Sofia Church. I walked in and started walking around when I heard singing. I sat quietly and listened. Then, I realized I had walked into a funeral! There were 6 people  in the front of the church with a priest and an urn at the front of the church. Then I noticed the huge bouquets of flowers. Oh no! I crashed a funeral! I got up to leave and a man started talking loudly to me. I shook my head no and pointed to the door. He started saying something loudly and pointing to my pockets. I left the church. I am such an idiot!

Down the street, I saw a gold dome shining and surrounded by 6 tour buses. I knew from the description this was Alexander Nevsky Church. The church was a beautiful memorial to the 200,000 Russian soldiers that died fighting for Bulgaria's independence in the Russo-Turkish War. I sat quietly in a corner watching Bulgarians praying and lighting candles. I find myself wondering what type of comfort or for whom they are lighting a candle. 
It was mid-afternoon and I thought I should head back to the hotel to check on mom. When I returned she was sleeping. I decided to walk to the bus station to buy tickets for Skopje, Macedonia. I found the bus company and booked us on the early morning bus.  

The next morning mom felt better and was ready to travel. We walked to the bus station and boarded the bus to Skopje. Time to explore another country. 

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