Sofia

Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
1
79
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. It has a long history of turmoil as many Central European countries do. It was heavily influenced by centuries of Turkish rule while the last major and lasting controlling force was the Soviet Union before things began to open up in 1989. After shedding its Communist skin, it seems to have taken very little time to embrace Capitalism. Some of the first things to sprout up were "squat shops". These shops were actually basements of homes with a low window out to the street. The homeowners would sell corner store type things out of their basement windows to passersby who needed a coca-cola, cigarettes, a snack, etc... The customer just squatted on the street and did business with the shopkeeper standing in their basement. These shops are still everywhere and have developed slightly to have glass display cases that surround their shop window. Apparently they didn't want to waste time and money paying for and renovating their main floor and chose this method instead - pretty clever. Things have progressed somewhat now and Capitalism is rampant. There is a McDonalds on just about every corner, the big clothing chains are everywhere and shoppers have more ways to spend money than they have time for. The city itself doesn't have that old-world charm that you see in other cities, but there is a smattering of beautiful old buildings that remind you just how rich the history is here. The building that housed the Communist Party Headquarters is quite impressive and very intimidating.
We spent our time here walking the city. Our first stop was a traditional market that was packed with locals. It had all the usual stuff as well as something we hadn't seen before. All along the market were people sitting on chairs surrounded by the produce from their own gardens taking up maybe a square metre or two selling just as well as the big stands. What was most astonishing about the market was that although it was packed, it was eerily quiet. There was no shouting or jostling for position at stands. People were lining up and practically whispering to make purchases. It was as if someone hit the mute button... very odd. Later on in the walk we came across an old Russian military statue. It was quite impressive and of course intimidating, but what was most striking was that it is now covered in graffiti and kids have made the site a park to skateboard in. They have even ripped marble chunks of it off to create part of their park.
We have enjoyed our first taste of Central Europe and are finding it MUCH easier to save money. For example we managed to find an Irish pub (of course) that sold cider. For what we paid for our last bottle of it in Santorini, we could buy 4 of them here. Also, our hostel gave us a private room with free internet, all-you-can-eat breakfast, and dinner (a bowl of pasta and a beer) all for about 30 Canadian dollars - and this is one of the more expensive ones. From here we are catching an overnight bus to Bosnia to check out Sarajevo for a few days before we head to Croatia.

Megan and Kevin
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