26/06/2011 at 6:35 pm 2 comments

Making a daily commute by train in England isn’t much fun. The trains are regularly late and you will often not get a seat. However, after my experience of the Serbian train network I don’t think I’ll be making any complaints about National Rail for quite some time.

Between Belgrade and Sofia there is only one train which runs during the day. It claims to leave at 7:50am which meant that Chris and I had a early start in order to get to the station in time. Turns out that we needn’t have bothered getting up so early because the train did not leave Belgrade until 9:30am. Given that Belgrade was the trains first port of call I would be genuinely interested to know what caused such a delay. Worse still, there were not enough seats on the train which meant standing up for the first three hours. You really do question the point of your existence when you’re on a train which insists on trundling around at 30mph passing through dilapidated looking Serbian villages and stopping at regular intervals for no apparent reason. One Macedonian guy on the train had obviously done the journey several times before and had decided that getting drunk was the best way to alleviate the boredom. He spoke very little English so the brief conversation that I had with him basically consisted of us saying names of footballers and football teams at each other. That really is all the conversation you need though.

Most of the Serbs on the train were getting off in Serbia rather than travelling all the way to Sofia so Chris and I did eventually get ourselves a seat. For the rest of the journey we shared a cabin with two fellow Brits, both in their 80s. Veteran travellers still living the dream.

It was past 10pm when we arrived in Sofia and began the walk to Hostel Mostel. After being given a map of the city and a key to the room we headed out to one of Sofia’s 24 hour restaurants. The service left something to be desired and the food was pretty average, but by that time our stomachs were starting to digest themselves so we couldn’t complain too much.

Most of Sofia’s main attractions can be seen within a day so that is exactly what we did. Walking around the city we passed by the Communist Party HQ. It’s a fairly imposing building and like a lot of Socialist architecture is not particularly attractive. Near the HQ was a small park which contained a sculpture of a massive head. Unfortunately I can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet so I’ve got no idea who it is meant to represent.

Make up your own caption for this one.

Sofia’s main attraction is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which was built between 1882 and 1912. Most of the Cathedrals which we have visited in Europe have been ruined by scaffolding, this one however is ruined by the presence of a massive car park. I’ve no idea why the Bulgarian authorities thought that would be a good idea.

One of Sofia's fine car parks with the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the background.

Also worth a look is the Monument to Soviet Soldiers located next to a large park. On top of a large column in a Soviet soldier raising a machine gun above his head. Standing to either side of him are a Bulgarian man and woman. Unfortunately I know nothing of Bulgaria’s involvement in World War II so I’m not entirely sure what the monument represents.

For lunch we stopped at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant called Pri Yafata. Here I tried the tripe soup which was actually extremely nice. You’d never get people in England eating tripe soup. Perhaps its got something to do with the name. Perhaps they should rebrand. For the main course I settled on chicken stuffed with so kind of plant. Not really sure what it was but it tasted really good and that’s all the really matters. Chris decided to go for something called “Wolfs Appetiser”. Perhaps the word “appetiser” does not translate properly to Bulgarian because what turned up was a huge mixed grill. Another cause of much amusement was the “cured ham” which was listed under the vegetarian dishes. Maybe “vegetarian” doesn’t translate either.

Another day we made a visit to the Rila Monastery which is about a two hour drive from Sofia. This was all arranged through the hostel and we were driven (along with two other travellers from New Zealand) to the Monastery by a guy called Ivan. The Bulgarian driving style is a little erratic. Cars seem to weave between lanes almost at random and the white line down the middle of the road serves merely as a guide rather than something you should obey at all costs. Anyway, we managed to get there are back still in one piece.

Before going to the main Monastery we visited the Cave of Saint John. Here he spent most of his life living in isolation, praying and doing various other religious things. Even in the harsh winters he still continued to live in the cave. Perhaps he was trying to prove a point. Sounds stubborn to me. You can still crawl around the cave where Saint John lived. In places it was a bit of a tight squeeze but we emerged from the cave unscathed. Rumour has it that once you’ve survived a Bulgarian car journey and crawled through the cave you can survive anything.

After another brief stint in the car we made it to the main attraction, the Rila Monastery. Dating back to the 10th Century it is a hugely impressive looking construction. When it comes to religious buildings the Orthodox Christians have got things spot on.

The Rila Monastery

The main church is covered in extremely intricate frescoes. Hundreds of hours of work that you just don’t see on Church of England buildings. Devils and Demons are depicted. Each picture tells a story. Good versus evil.

After three hours or so we got back in the car and headed for Sofia. Next stop on our European tour would be Dubrovnik, although getting there would prove to be an experience in itself, and not one that I am keen to repeat any time soon.


Entry filed under: Bulgaria. Tags: , , , , , , .

Belgrade Dubrovnik

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan  |  26/06/2011 at 10:03 pm

    Hi David
    Still having fun and gaining a huge knowledge bank for a future carer as an after dinner speaker. Sofia sounds ok and I think the sculpture of a massive head. Is an ad for Pain killers (note the splitting head) Dubrovnik next will be a little more sophisticated and more expensive no doubt. Time to relax on the beach !!

    I’m taking Sarah to the airport tomorrow for her holiday in Portugal

    Keep on trekking Oh by the way ..Love the beard

  • 2. Stéphane  |  06/03/2012 at 1:46 pm

    Hello David,
    So here is an hint for big head statue. It represents Stefan Stambolov, a Bulgarian politician and poet.

    On July 3, 1895, Stambolov took a carriage to his home, along with his bodyguard and a friend. Midway, the carriage was stopped by an assassin who fired his revolver, thus startling the horses. Stambolov quickly exited, but was met by three more assassins, armed with knives. Stambolov, who carried a revolver, shot one of the attackers. The others wrestled him to the ground. They knew that Stambolov wore an armored vest, so they stabbed at his head, which he tried to protect with his hands. His bodyguard finally chased away the assailants.

    Stambolov was hurried to his home with a fractured skull and mutilated hands. He is supposed to have said on his deathbed, “Bulgaria’s people will forgive me everything. But they will not forgive that it was I who brought Ferdinand here.” It is believed that Stambolov was well-aware that his days after his resignation were numbered, and that Ferdinand was likely the one who would orchestrate an assassination.

    He died at about 2 AM on July 6.

    Hope I could help with only my knowledge of cyrillic reading.

    Cheers from a frog in Hamburg.


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