From Macedonia it was east to Bulgaria. We’re still in the Balkans but no longer in the former Yugoslavia; the development of an independent Bulgaria dates back to about the 7th century AD when the Bulgarian Empire emerged to dominate most of the Balkan Peninsula. Of course, given that this is still the Balkans, Bulgarians think of that greater Bulgarian empire as their natural border.
We were here once before when we came to a wedding in 2010. We only spent one night in Sophia then, but we loved it and have always wanted to come back. Despite the recent history as a Soviet satellite, Bulgaria had quickly emerged in the 1990s as a full-fledged member of the European Union complete with cafés and all that kind of pleasant life. Unfortunately, on this pass through we had a bunch of errands to do – especially the need to work with the U.S. embassy and get new passports – and still didn’t really get to enjoy the city that much.
The embassy is stuck a pretty fair distance from the center of the city and they make it really difficult to accomplish things. Ultimately they set an appointment for us, but somehow neglected to tell us that to get access to the embassy you couldn’t bring any electronic gear larger than a cell phone. No Kindle, no iPad. Do they know what decade this is? So we show up for our appointment – our really hard-to-get appointment – and are told, no, you can’t enter with those devices that we always have with us. What are we supposed to do? It’s not as though the security-conscious embassy is going to take kindly to us just trying to hide our little purses in the bushes or something.
So we decide that I’ll take stuff back to the hotel (some two miles away) as quickly as I can and try to get back for the appointment. Fortunately a Bulgarian guard at the embassy took pity on me and told me of a grocery store just a few hundred meters down the street that had lockers where I could store my stuff. Ultimately that worked, I made the appointment, and we have new passports coming.
Besides that, yes, we got to enjoy the cafés a bit. There are a couple of absolutely huge parks near the city center with miles and miles of great trails for walking and biking and running and sitting and all that, and some good food. Ultimately, though, we didn’t get to see a great deal of Sophia. From here we’re east-bound toward the Black Sea but we have to come back to pick up our passports – we don’t know precisely when as they can take anywhere from five to 10 business days to produce – so maybe then we’ll have more time to explore and enjoy Sofia.