SHOPPING in Sofia:
Mushrooms don't spring up like these small, lively shops à la Muhomorka. This one is the oldest of its kind, selling clothes and accessories from all over the world since 1999. The focus is on items from India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. The clothes are made for colourful peacocks, but even some grey mice or friends of a more classic style could need one or the other colour speck in the form of a multi-coloured hat, a scarf, a bag or a piece of jewellery. The accessories that are sold in the shop are perfect souvenirs and gifts: Lamps, lights, candles, water pipe kits, rattles, drums and flutes. According to their own declaration, the shop-owners sell anti fashion here. True, their stuff doesn't have to do much with fashion; more so with a taste of the big wide world. Whatever: It's fun to rummage.
The Vitosha Boulevard is Sofia's ritziest avenue, and comes in 32nd worldwide when it comes to the most expensive shopping streets. It's still worth a stroll - after all, you don't need to buy everything you see. That would be quite expensive, indeed, because the brand portfolio of the posh street is no different from the Parisian Champs-Élysées or the Via Montenapoleone in Milan. Versace, Bulgari, D&G, Escada, Max Mara, Van Laak, Ermenegildo Zegna, Moreschi, Marella, Armani, Ferré, Boss, Baldinini and, of course, also the slightly more modest colleagues such as Sisley, Bennetton, Hilfiger, Lacoste, Pepe und Levi's. Once you've had enough of this glamour world, check out the side streets. You will find many nice boutiques with an ample choice.
The list of celebrity customers of Andrews' is long. Yet outside of Bulgaria most of them aren't really well-known. But probably they all have good taste. For men there are mainly shirts and more shirts. Even that can be exciting, when you are looking for the perfect piece and then find it in the end. There're also the suit to go with, the tie, the shoe, the wallet and much more. The women's collection is a feast for the eyes and offers much more variety. The flattering dresses and suits bestow an almost doll-like elegance to the woman, along with a lot of self-confidence. The perfect outfit for people of the brand young and successful. Information on the side: Andrews Fashion, too, creates uniforms for companies and hotels. Which ones, that's up to you to find out.
EAT in Sofia:
When Audrey Hepburn graces the restaurant with a smile from the wall, then you can't go wrong, can you? The brasserie is a slice of Paris in the middle of Sofia; not overloaded with things, but the devil is in the detail, and here he makes it quite obvious that this is a step up from most places: Gilded frames, crystal chandeliers, intricate stucco. On the floor checkerboard tiles, along with simple bistro tables and wooden chairs. The mix makes you feel immediately at ease, making you want to stay longer every time you have to leave. On top of this you'll find a great variety on the menu. The French delicacies on the fixed menu are complemented by daily changing specials. For those who love greens, there is a separate salad menu, full of vitamins and interesting combinations. You combine that with the right wine, from Bulgaria or elsewhere, et voilà the perfect night.
Bulgaria ranges among the oldest states in Europe. The gastronomic landscape of the capital is, however, anything but dusty. The Brasserie in the centre of Sofia serves as the best example for this claim. From the outside the restaurant behind the Slaveikov Square looks like its surrounding concrete buildings - apart from the padded bench standing at the wall. Inside you might spontaneously feel like being on a ship: the main entrance is long and narrow with wood panelling, and small tables on each side. Some might possibly think of allotment-garden cottages now, but the wooden walls in the brasserie are way to chic. Continuing straight on the room will open more and more - up to a glass wall in front of the small patio. In between there's a brick wall. That might not turn the venue into a hot spot but the stones still look pretty good. Just like the psychedelic green wall and the display that evoke 70s feelings. The perfect match: lounge and house music. Some might say that the tables and chairs resemble garden furniture. But that doesn't matter - they even add to the cult status of the Brasserie.
While sitting here you keep wondering how to describe the interior design: Just sparing or already Spartan? While still wondering you realize that, despite rather plain chairs and tables, it's far too cosy for the latter. Moreover, anybody steady enough will find some quirky and nice details that a Spartan wouldn't have thought of, for example to plaster a wall with crazy signs. Or to paint the formerly dark wood panelling olive-green, turning it into a retro eye-catcher. The trendy in Sofia like the place and flock to it. They like the combination of good cuisine and reasonable prices, including Italian pizza, American onion rings and Bulgarian herdsmen salad. By the way, waiting for the waiter isn't a nuisance here: The menu is designed like a newspaper and tells you all sorts of interesting stories about the drinks and dishes.
SIGHTS in Sofia:
Lesson number one: Patriotism. That starts with this monument, hits the centre of the heart and doesn't get passed the history and personality of this man. To most Bulgarians, Vasil Levski is sacrosanct. He was the brain and ideologue behind the Bulgarian national freedom movement and lived from 1837 to 1873. In his 36 years he endeared himself to the Bulgarian people by fighting the Ottomans. His name is more than a word - it stands for dreams, hopes, potential and freedom. If you talk to locals ask about the local hero. You'll be surprised how people, in particular the younger generation, can still get excited about good old Vasil. The monument to the freedom fighter is located at an ominous spot: It's exactly where Vasil Levski was hanged by the Ottomans, on February 19th, 1873.
The Banja Baschi Mosque is an impressive monument to the Ottoman Era, one of the very few in Sofia. It was built in the 16th century under the Turkish master builder Hadshi Mimar Sinan, who was also responsible for the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque has two floors - the upper one is reserved for female visitors. The mosque is the only active one in Sofia: Every day the muezzin calls to the believers from the 15-metre high minaret. Visitors are welcome outside of prayer times. The neighbouring baths are also worth a visit. They were built in 1908 and harbour a big pool. Behind two separate entryways for men and women there are several small mineral pools.
Museum of History
Romans, Greeks, Turks - each of its changing masters has left traces in Bulgaria that shaped the country. Those traces were gathered in a laborious effort and are now on display in the biggest museum of the country, 650,000 pieces altogether. Aside from the internationally renowned gold of the Thracians you can admire Bulgarian traditional dresses as well as arts and crafts and traditional pieces of work. Unfortunately the exposition only spans the time up until the lead-in to World War II, yet the sheer number of treasures make up for the missing parts of history. The museum was founded in 1973 and is today one of the biggest in the Balkans. Since you have already delved into Bulgarian every-day life, here you have a chance to get to know Bulgarian history.
STAY in Sofia:
The Radisson is located in the middle of the cultural and commercial centre of the city and provides the perfect refuge particularly for business travellers. If you enjoy elegance and the advantages of big hotels, this is the right one for you. The rooms are classic and cosy; the junior suite offers luxury at of the highest level. If you are lucky you'll have a room with a magnificent view of the nearby Alexander-Nevski Cathedral. Enjoy your stay in Sofia: Between tasteful and stylish, between marble bath and fitness room, between happening city life and relaxation in one's own home for a while. Tip: The in-house restaurant is top class. You still prefer to eat elsewhere? No problem, the great restaurants Motto and Egur are just around the corner. Doubles start at 105,- euros a night.
To sleep here introduces a flowery dimension to your stay in Sofia. The first eye-catcher is the mosaics in the entry-hall, which show giant flowers and petals. Kitsch? Certainly. Yet it's administered at the right doses. The hotel doesn't differ a lot from better-known places in town when it comes to luxury. But it does when it comes to size: Small and very nice, this is the motto. The hotel is located in the middle of the city, close to the Vitosha shopping street. The neighbourhood has just as much style as your room. Everything is said and done in a flowery way here, whether at the desk or on the big, cosy bed. When you are hungry you don't even need to go far, in order to gather the best aromas around you: The hotel restaurant Le Bouquet serves wonderful seafood with great wine. All non-smokers, who suffer from chronic coughing during their time in Bulgaria, will find a reprieve for their ailing lungs: The hotel is entirely smoke-free, from the roof down to the basement. Doubles start at about 110,- euros.
The Casa Boyana is located in an idyllic neighbourhood, only a stone's throw away from the city centre. The eponym of the boutique hotel is the Church of Boyana, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you'll find just around the corner. The distance to the city has two advantages: Absolute calm and a great view onto the city and the Vithosha mountain range. With only 14 rooms and 2 junior suites, the hotel is among the smallest, thus offering a perfect service: You are a VIP 24/7, luxury is with you everywhere. If you feel like Italian cuisine, you should definitely dine in the hotel restaurant. After that you will lose your extra pounds with ease in the fitness room. Aside from sauna, solarium, as well as a whirlpool in the bathroom you'll have a wellness bonus of a different kind: Throughout your stay you have access to free fruit and mineral water. Doubles start at 105,- euros a night.