For the 4 day weekend in October (thank you to the Army for having one every month!) I found uber cheap airline tickets through the budget airline Ryanair to... Sofia, Bulgaria! Why not? :) And since a couple other countries were only a few hours away, we decided to rent a car and explore Macedonia and Serbia. Kosovo was also on our original itinerary, but due to long lines at the borders, we opted out. Maybe another time.
Landing in Sofia.
It was a little rainy as we waited for the airport shuttle to the other terminal so we could pick up our rental car.
Rolling legit with Bulgaria plates! We've been listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks to help pass the time on all the long drives lately (the Memmingen airport we flew out of is 3 hours from home - longer than the flight itself! Funny.). As we were driving through Bulgaria we just happened to be on book number 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which features Bulgaria in the Quidditch World Cup. We both turned to each other and started laughing - what a coincidence! Things like that seem to happen often as we're traveling and it always gives us a good chuckle.
Sofia has a long, complicated history that begins on ancient foundations dating back to Neolithic times. More modern eras found it under 500 years of Ottoman subjugation followed by a relatively brief period of freedom and independence which ended when the Communist era started in the middle of the twentieth century. Under communism many monumental Stalinist-style edifices were constructed. We've seen apartment buildings like this all over the former Eastern Bloc.
Our Airbnb was in a nice little corner of town right next to a park and only a short distance from the city center.
This looks up to code...
Luckily the inside of the apartment was in the top 5 of my favorite airbnb's we've stayed at over the years!
The kids playing at the park near our rental place.
While the weather wasn't fantastic (because, #europe), it wasn't too cold and there were still some flowers in bloom so we were happy.
On our first morning in Sofia we stopped at McDonald's to grab some breakfast before we drove out to the Rila Monastery. The theme was 1950s Americana. Funny.
Jane enjoying Ronald's baked goods.
We didn't actually sightsee in Sofia until our last full day in Bulgaria. Thankfully, that allowed some of the clouds to clear out and we got mostly beautiful blue skies as we explored.
Sofia has the buzz of the capital city it is, but also the convenience of a compact center where all the main sights can be visited on foot. There is a good selection of museums, churches, and cafes.
This the Russian church of Sv. Nikolai built in 1912 by a Russian diplomat who feared for his soul if he worshiped in the non-orthodox, Catholic Bulgarian churches.
The imposing, Neoclassical Palace of Justice. It was built in the 1930s and for a while served as the city's National History Museum, but in the early 2000s it was returned to its original use as a courthouse and municipal office building.
Just down the block from the Palace of Justice is the nineteenth century Sv. Nedelya church.
It's fun to be walking in a modern area of town and then stumble upon things like this, the Church of Sv. Gorgi. Dating from the 4th century, it is Sofia's oldest preserved building.
The Bulgarian Presidency building in the heart of Sofia with beautifully attired guards standing watch at the entrance.
Is this Sofia, or Oz? One of Sofia's main drags is paved with yellow bricks which were produced in the Austro-Hungarian Empire by a factory near Budapest. They were a wedding gift from the Empire to Tsar Ferdinand I.
Follow the yellow brick road!
And a yellow building: the Ethnographic Museum.
Architecture that reminds me of Budapest.
An equestrian statue of Tsar Aleksandur II. It was erected as a gesture of gratitude for the role he and his troops played in the 1878 liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.
The National Assembly of Bulgaria built in the late nineteenth century.
The church was built in honor of the 200,000 Russian casualties who died fighting for Bulgaria's independence in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and is named after the Russian Prince Aleksandur Nevski who saved his country from invasion in the thirteenth century.
Just down from the golden domes of Sv Aleksandur Nevski is the church that gave the capital city its name, the Church of Sv Sofia. At the base of this wall is Sofia's eternal flame that burns in memory of the Unknown Soldier.
A large bronze lion stands guard over the monument. So does a small blonde Jane.
Details from our walk.
The park on the back side of the Ethnographic Museum was shady and peaceful.
More architectural details.
We ended our explorations of Sofia by enjoying the pedestrian area along Vitosha boulevard.
Our family in Sofia, Bulgaria on Sunday October 9th 2016.
Onto the Rila Monastery!