Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spring Break - Sofia, Bulgaria

From Sunday, February 28 to Thursday, March 4, a friend and I spent much of my spring break in Sofia, Bulgaria.

We arrived by plane in the evening to the Sofia airport. We had directions to the place we were staying, but we were not sure what the bus stop was. All we knew was it was the last stop. So we got on a bus from the airport. About twenty minutes later we started seeing familiar buildings and realized that the bus had come to the last stop without stopping for longer and then began the route back to the airport. So, we began the whole process over except we got off the bus this time.

In the morning, we went to see the city. The city does not have many huge attractions, only a few churches. One of the big attractions is the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Around it are many souvenirs and random junk. People were selling anything that might sell. Anything included cameras from 1980 to old money to old medals. Why would I want a camera from 1980?

In the afternoon, we saw Boyana Church, which is just outside of the city. This church is was built in the 11-12th century. Inside it are dozens of frescoes. The tour guide tried to impress on us how significant these frescoes were because of when they were painted. He was an interesting tour guide. We were the only people in the church, which is the size of a bedroom, and he would pull us around from fresco to fresco. Considering that we were in such a small place and the only ones there, I did not see any reason for him to pull us around, but it was humorous anyway.

Monday was Health and Happiness Day in Bulgaria and everyone was supposed to give red and white bracelets to their friends and family to wish them health and happiness. One is supposed to wear it until that person sees a stork or leaves on a tree. If the person sees leaves on a tree, that person should tie the bracelet to the tree. We bought a few red and white bracelets and gave them to our hosts and our hosts gave them to us. Around Sofia, there were hundreds of little stands selling these bracelets. They came in all shapes and sizes with all different sorts of things on them, such as ninja turtles or wrestlers or HelloKitty.

The next day we traveled out of the city to Rila Monastery. This place was fascinating because on the inside and outside of the church, the building was painted with pictures. I was amazed that the colors did not fade because of the sun, rain, and snow. It took five hours to go to Rila and back and we only spent two hours there, but it was worth it. Another highlight was the bus driver who took us. He must have known half of the people on the road. Every time he saw someone he knew, he would stop the car and yell, "Hey!" Then the other person would yell, "Hey!" Then they would go on their way.

Sofia is surrounded by hills and mountains, so on Wednesday, we went up to one of the mountains. We took a gondola up to another lift where skiers went higher. We just walked around the area and then had lunch. There were many people walking around. There was a lot of snow, so it was much different from being in the city where it was 50 degrees.

That afternoon, we went into the center of the city and found an outside concert. Wednesday was Liberty Day in Bulgaria, so there were many people with Bulgaria flags and such. After that, we saw that there was going to be a speech by someone during the National Assembly. So we waited around with a few thousand people, watched the military walk in, and then the president (we assume). After the president came in, we left. We didn't understand Bulgarian anyway.

In Sofia, one thing I noticed was that there are not many tourists. During our time there, I only recall seeing one person that could be considered a tourist. Also, the city was quite dirty. People did not seem to care about how much trash there was just lying around. Also, the alphabet in Bulgaria is Cyrillic, so reading signs and such is difficult and seeing brand names in Cyrillic can be funny. Finally, the city had these little tower for people to control traffic, but whenever I saw one, I kept thinking that a lifeguard was up there.