SHOPPING in Sofia:
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.
Souvenir hunters will find their luck in the most varied corners of the city, but in the Maxido Shop everything is at one spot. Icons, bronze statues, paintings and crystal art - a little bit of kitsch doesn't hurt. Aside from that there is a good choice of newspapers, maps and postcards. Much of it is rather quirky, other stuff is charming, some rather helpful. Smell some of the rose oils, try Bulgarian natural cosmetics, admire traditional dolls? Rummage, find and buy. Tip: The shop is located directly inside the Hilton Hotel. If you feel like it you can also take a look into the KULT shop next door. It reminds one a bit of the wild mix of duty-free shops, yet it may harbour one or the other jewel.
Central Sofia Market Hall is one of the most popular spots to go shopping in Sofia. Being situated directly in the city centre and opposite to the Banya Bashi Mosque it is also one of the most popular meeting points in general. It was erected 100 years ago. Back then in 1911 it was the city's most important trade centre. In 2000 the hall was refurbished in a neo-renaissance style. In the basement there are still traces of bygone times, i.e. remains of the Roman fortress Serdica. The market hall is divided into two levels: while the ground-floor houses mostly delicatessen stores, the first floor attracts with clothing boutiques and souvenir shops. Furthermore there are two stores that have specialised on rose oil and rose water. On the occasion of the centenary there will be a photo exhibition with pictures of the market hall from the beginning of the 20th century. By the way: the market hall is one of the architectural and cultural monuments of Sofia.
SIGHTS in Sofia:
It's reputed to be the most magnificent building on the Balkan peninsula, at least from the 20th century. And this not only according to Bulgarians. Absolutely convince yourself of the cathedral's beauty. It was built as a remembrance to an important historical event: After the Russian-Ottoman War at the end of the 19th century, Bulgaria broke out of the Ottoman Empire, and the building is a sign of gratitude. At the same time it is a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives. The Russian Tsar of the time, Alexander II, was and is known as the liberator king. The cathedral was named after the hero's patron saint. Construction started in 1904; however, it was only consecrated in 1924. The first highlight, its gilded domes, are visible from afar. The second is the size. As was the wish of the Bulgarian government, it has room for 5,000 people. This makes the never ending façade almost as imposing as the inside of the church, which consists of innumerable artworks: Frescoes, icons and mosaics.
Once upon a time the omnipotent comrade Lenin stood here, today there is a twinkle-toed girl with the name of Sophia. Between Maria Louisa Boulevard and Todor Alexander Boulevard the patroness of the city finally got her space in the city centre. Despite her beauty, however, she wasn't welcomed by every one: Many locals clearly found her too erotic to be dancing around in public like that. The sculptor Georgi Chapkanov made an eight-metre high bronze, which is perfectly staged on the 16 metre high base. Next to herself the bright young lady has deposited three symbols: The owl for wisdom, the crown for power, the wreath for glory. A nice sight!
The National Theatre is a jewel in the centre of Sofia, and the locals are rightfully proud of it. Even the Austrians can take some credit for its glory. The architects Helmer & Fellner, professionals for theatre buildings, were hired from Vienna. The opening took place in 1907, and only later the theatre was named after the great Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov. Just as many other great theatres this one wasn't spared the bad fate - in 1923 a fire broke out, and World War II destroyed large parts of the house. Yet it was rebuilt over again, grander than before. Today it provides space for about 1,000 spectators. Not only are the performances great, the façade is a feast for the eyes. It's 40 metres high and is supported by six marble columns ornamented with Apollo and the Muses.
STAY in Sofia:
The Greenville complex not only combines apartments with hotel rooms, but also city with wellness holidays. The hotel was opened in 2004 and offers about 100 suites, rooms and apartments. Most of the rooms are fitted with balconies, with a view onto lush nature or the tennis court. No, you haven't misread this. The hotel looks like a mixture between enchanted castle and grandiose country house, providing all sorts of pastime activities that you wouldn't expect so close to the city: Pool, Jacuzzi, solarium, and massage temple. If you use the park for an extended stroll or morning run, you can easily skip one service in the hotel: the fitness room. Doubles start at 71,- euros a night.
Grand Hotel Sofia
There is none more classic. More luxurious neither. The Grand Hotel is one of the most renowned hotels in Sofia, and at a prime location: Just go outside for a bit. You are near the National Theatre, the City Art Gallery, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the great Concert Hall. The VIPs who go here do this less because of the location but because of the stars. The Grand Hotel is graced by five of them, and each one of them stands for pure luxury. The façade is imposing with its marble, granite and glass. Inside you have sumptuous curtains, classy and old-fashioned upholstery and colourful glass doors. Thus it's no surprise that the Grand Hotel also features a museum: The in-house collection has over 400 oil paintings. Originals, of course. Doubles start at 79,- euros a night.
If you look for a private alternative to staying at a hotel, check out the Sofia Inn Residence. Beautiful apartments in prime neighbourhoods are on offer. There are no annoying fellow hotel guests, and you can go to have breakfast in your pyjama. The apartments can be rented for short stays, yet they are also a good deal for long vacations and business travellers. The apartments are fully furnished, in a way that you can receive visitors with no problems. There's a choice between 1 to 3 room apartments, which are professionally cleaned twice a week. In case you still end up missing the hotel feeling including travelling acquaintances, then you can simply linger a little bit in the hallway. All the Sofia Inn Apartments are in the same building! A night in a studio (with sleeping accommodations for two people) starts at 30,- euros.
EAT in Sofia:
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.
No, the dream house isn't particularly fancy, stylish or hypermodern. Yet it's a secret jewel that will make the eyes of vegetarians sparkle. Yet first you have to find it: The house of the meatless dreams is pretty much hidden in a small shopping arcade. The advantage? Only few tourists find their way here. And when they do, they deserve it. The cuisine is full of the rich tradition of local, Bulgarian vegetables, including crunchy salads, tasty soups and local vegetable meals. At the same time, there is a touch of Asia: Here a piece of Tofu, there some Sushi and invisible spices from all over the world. Moreover you'll find delicate teas and a good selection of beer and wine. At noon the small, colourful restaurant wakes up, and you have to be lucky to still find an empty table. The very lucky ones get hold of one with a view of the alley.
If you've come to Sofia overland, you might have been a guest in one or the other of the monasteries. Often you can experience arts and culture there, maybe even stay for the night. Yet the food is mostly reserved to the pious permanent residents of the monastery. But don't think luckily so. In the Manastirska magerniza, the monastery kitchen, you'll eat food cooked according to monastic recipes. Not only from the area of Sofia, but all over Bulgaria. The cuisine is simple but made from fresh ingredients and authentic. The hungry pilgrim is welcomed with bread and salt, thereby experiencing the traditional Bulgarian welcome greeting. If you come as a couple, you can try a telling wedding rite: Break the bread in two. The one who gets the bigger piece, wears the breeches in the relationship.