Friday, November 30, 2018

Bulgaria via Turkey - Sofia - Our First Week in the Balkan Peninsula

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Our flight from Batumi, Georgia was delayed by over an hour and when we landed for our short layover in Istanbul, we had missed our connection to Sofia, Bulgaria.  It was a bit of hassle and the Istanbul airport is HUGE.  After three hours of being sent from one desk to another, having to purchase a full Turkish visa, and finally getting to a hotel paid for by Turkish Airlines, we settled in for a well deserved rest.  It was a lovely hotel about 20 minutes from the airport.

We slept in a bit and got to the airport with our boarding passes already issued.  Getting through security was quick and our flight to Sofia was on time.  We landed an hour later to a winter-scape of snow and ice.  Sofia at first blush is a lovely European styled city.  Lots of buildings form the late 19th century.  The one thing that stood out immediately was the amount of graffiti.  And |I mean everywhere...on nice buildings in the middle of the high rent district, the facades of banks and office buildings...and this is what our apartment building looked like from the outside.  We would have been alarmed if it wasn't for the neighborhood and EVERY other building being the same.


Once inside this is what met us.  Once again a great deal.  This whole apartment nicely furnished and equipped for $30 a night.


We were exhausted and after getting unpacked we went to the local store for supplies and then crashed for the rest of the day.  We had a nice dinner and got a good night's sleep.  

For our first full day out we decided to take in the local Free Walking Tour offered by a non-profit called 365.  It was really cold, but a beautiful sunny day and the guide was quite entertaining.  We walked ten minutes to the city center, met the group, and for the next two hours we saw a lot of the city from the outside.  We took a lot of mental notes and ended up with a good idea of what we would visit over the next few days.

Our neighborhood.
 Palace of Justice.
 City trams.
 Great lions.
The cathedral from 1380 AD.
  Our guide, Stanislove.

 Roman ruins.

 Great stone walkway.
 City baths.
 Stalin constructed government buildings, now multipurposed.
 More Roman ruins.



 The orignal Roman road of the city.


 The cathedral of 432 AD.

 St. Nicholas.  The largest in the Balkans.

 Anther St. Nicholas...this one in the traditional Russian style.
We retraced some of our steps the next day and visited a few of the buildings inside.  This is the grand mall in the city center...lots of shops and restaurants.
 A tourist market.  Boring.
 Great closeup of the tiles on the public bath.
 Amazing graffiti.
St. Sofia Church built in the late 1220's and the first official church of Bulgaria.  What we did not realized until we got in is that this is the fourth church build on top of the prior three. 
 Underneath is an archaeological dig of the first three churches going down three levels.

 Fresco inside one of the tombs.

 Amazing tile floors.



 Tombs of the first church.
 Another view of the modern cathedral across from Aya Sofia.
The National Gallery.  It was huge, several buildings and a wonderful collection of art, mostly Bulgaria.
 These were my favorites of the day.



 Another view of the cathedral.  It is massive.
The yellow brick streets of the old sector.  The brick are made of a yellow clay found in Russian and were a gift of Emperor Franz Joseph to the city.  They have kept their color all these years.
Our last days in Sofia were quiet and comfortable as we relaxes and made ready for our road trip up into the mountains.

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