SIGHTS in Sofia:
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.
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.
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.
Mirella Bratova is a local heroine, who contracts exclusively with local craftsmen. The designer works with natural materials only: Silk, linen, hemp, cotton and wool. Maybe the odd thread of rayon. Along with the dresses she also sells bags and fine jewellery, designed by Maria Ivanova and Daniela Andreevska. Mirella Bratova is on her way to conquer the world with the fashion she designs in her Sofia studio. Her clothes are sold in Florida, and even in London there's a shop. Be ahead of your times and take a knitted dress home with you.
EAT in Sofia:
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.
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.
In the fast-paced club scene you can almost call the Tiffany Club an oldy - for five years now it's been one of the top places to party all night long. The restaurant offers a broad spectrum of European dishes, as well as creative and tasty sushi. The furnishing appears to be very retro at first glance, and ultramodern at the second: Crystal on the ceiling, cushioned benches, different easy chairs and stools, leather on the walls. One tends to order a Martini and feel like James Bond, yes, even as a woman. If you want to enjoy the bar at your ease, you should come for lunch. It offers the right framework for a business meeting or a nice chat with friends. At night it's getting louder, when the DJ starts to make everybody dance. Special parties and events keep people from getting bored.
STAY in Sofia:
If you've ever slept in a Kempinski hotel, you'll have to admit: One could get used to it. And why not? The advantage is that each one is designed differently, and so each experience will be unique. Naturally, this top class elegance has its price. Yet it's easily forgotten as soon as you dive into your giant luxury bed. Kempenski Zografski is almost a city within a city. The area covers 30,000 square metres - more than enough space to stretch your legs. The latter is particularly enjoyable in the garden: A unique, deep green jungle, with small ponds, labyrinthine paths and enchanting bridges. And a walk into the city? No problem. Compared to that the rooms are almost boring - provided you are used the classic luxury. You will be impressed by the presidential suite, however: Lie down in the freestanding bathtub and enjoy the night view of Sofia. A standard room starts at 50,- euros a night, while the presidential suite costs around 1,690 euros.
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.
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.