Sofia, a City as Beautiful as its Name

This is the continuation from the previous entry. After nearly 6 hours bus ride from Skopje, we reached Sofia. As we took the bus from Skopje at 3.30 p.m. we reached Sofia nearly 9.00 p.m. Info: There is time difference of 1 hour between Bulgaria and Macedonia. 

From the bus station, we just walked to the hotel as the hotel was only 15 minutes walking distance from the bus station. Unluckily for us, it seems like the hotel was having some-sort of problem and could not accommodate us for that night (or the following night as we booked for 2 nights) and they re-accommodate us to another hotel about 10 minutes walking distance from the hotel. Which befits the purpose as we booked the first hotel because of the location. The other hotel was nearby but the location was not exactly as what we hoped for. But what to do, we were tired from the long journey and just proceed to the other hotel. Stay for 2 nights and cost us EUR80 including breakfast. We proceed to rest as the following morning, we have to catch a train to Plovdiv, a city in south of Bulgaria.

Comes morning, we went down for breakfast but not much selection that we could consume. End up just had coffee and fruits then we walked to the train station. We bought return train ticket from Sofia to Plodiv for BGN15 per person. Info: Bulgarian leva was pegged to euro for the rate of EUR1~BGN1.96. Child ticket is free. We missed the first train, so we have to wait for the following train from Sofia. Info: There are direct and indirect train from Sofia to Plovdiv, make sure you buy the direct train that took only 2hrs 30mins. Navigating yourself on which platform the train will depart from is quite tricky. We almost missed our train and only managed to get on the train in time. They changed the platform while we were at the platform and we were not aware as the announcement was in Bulgarian and there were no signage at the platform of the destination of respective train. Luckily we managed and we board on the train, after good Samaritan assisted us. But there comes another problem, the ticket was in Cyrillic and there were no indication of the seat that we were supposed to be in. We end up going from one carriage to another trying to find our seat. But finally, the ticket inspector was kind enough to let us sit at whichever empty seat available.

Once we reached Plovdiv, we proceed walking to the old town (we just asked for direction from the people at the station). It took about 20 mins walk from the train station and we headed directly to the tourist information centre, grab a map (the tourist information centre map was really useful) then headed our way to find something to eat. It was not that hard to find halal food as well as there were big mosque in the city. Tips: Rule of the thumb, most halal establishment in any part of the world is near to the mosque. Done our prayers, lunch and then headed around the old town area. Plovdiv proven to be a very fascinating city. An ancient city built around the 7 hills, and one of the oldest city in Europe. The tourist map shown all the places of interest which are within walking distance to each other. But its a hilly walk, combined with the super uneven pavements, and not to forget the numerous stairs, phewwww, imagine that and having baby stroller in tow. I think we lost lots of kgs within the few hours in Plovdiv. Later that evening we took the final train from Plovdiv back to Sofia and rest for the night. Info: Before boarding the train, you have to validate your ticket at the ticket counter. Failure to do so might result in hefty fine. Also please prepare additional BGN1 per ticket.

The same format as in Skopje, we checked out from the budget-friendly hotel and check in a nice hotel for a night. Actually, after this i don't think i would do this again as it really messed up with our activity for the whole day. If it was not because of check in and check out of the hotel, we might have gone for another day trip to another city in Bulgaria (i have Veliko Tarnovo in mind that time). Anyway, we checked in to this very nice hotel in the middle of the city with all places of interest in Sofia within walking distance. Getting Sofia tourist map is essential for this part. Or if you are a fan of Hindi movie, perhaps you could watch the movie Dilwale to get an idea of where to go in Sofia. Coz wifey is a total hindi movie fan and we literally let wifey lead the way this time around. What we done was to follow wifey to all those places that was featured in the Dilwale movie, with wifey explaining which part of the movie the location was featured, such as SRK meets Kajol the first time (National Library), Kajol flips her hair (Ivan Vazov Theater), Kajol took tram (Lion statues in front of Lion Hotel), etc. You got the drift. Wifey was happy and we were happy enough to comply.

Another thing that we love about Sofia is that, the mosque is also in the middle of the city. You won't missed it as it is nestled between the places of interest. It was really easy for us to find halal food, easy for us to go for prayers and toilets in the mosque comes with running water (phewww). We also done a lot of walking in Sofia. The city itself is huge but the places of interest are within walking distance to each other. So we just focused on the Dilwale-featured places. Tips: Souvenirs at all of the places are almost at the same price and Serdika Metro station has plenty souvenir shops. That night we had dinner one of the halal restaurant (there were 4 halal food restaurant in the stretch of Maria Luiza Boulevard, the same road where the mosque is) then got back to the hotel.

Final day in Sofia, woke up, went for breakfast then check out but left the luggages at the hotel concierge. We bought the bus ticket from Sofia to Bucharest departing at 12.30 midnight and it cost us BGN56 per person. Half price for child ticket. So we had the whole day to spare. Went for lunch then prayers then proceed with just getting lost in the city using the public transport, especially on tram because Eusoff really loves the tram ride. Info: One day ticket for all public transport, i.e. trams, subway & bus cost BGN4 per person. We continue with the places in Dilwale that we intentionally left out the day before. We ended the Dilwale-tour with Vitosha Boulevard. Had coffee while enjoying some street performances. Living in Abu Dhabi where latte mostly cost RM15 onwards, BGN3 (RM8) per cup of latte seems really reasonable for us. Headed back to the mosque for prayers and went to halal eatery nearby for dinner, to the hotel then off to the bus station for our 7 hours 30 minutes journey to Bucharest, our final leg of the journey. I intentionally chosen the midnight bus because it would be easier for Eusoff to fall asleep and rest. Info: Another bus is at 3.30 p.m. or one can chose to take bus to Rousse, then proceed to take train to Bucharest. Will proceed with the final entry in the series in our next entry.

To tell the truth, among the three of us, wifey was the most excited to go to Sofia. All because of the movie Dilwale. Me on the other hand, did not have any high expectation as the videos in youtube does not really highlight Sofia in the way that it has to be a must-visit city. But after being there, i have to say that Sofia should be in the list. Its a clean, beautiful city with good public transportation network (and freaking cheap). As a muslim, i have to say that it is one of the most convenient city to travel based on our little experience to European cities. The prices are affordable, seriously affordable whether it is for accommodation, transport, food, grocery, etc. The city felt laid back despite being home to 1.4 million people. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously and one of the place that we would not mind coming back. Already discussed with wifey that if there will be more affordable flights to Sofia in the future, we might come again and perhaps travel to another city in Bulgaria such as Burgas, Varna or Veliko Tarnovo or do that journey to Ohrid, Macedonia. Wifey really enjoyed her experience Dilwale-ing around town. And i would not forget the experience to Sofia, a city as beautiful as its name.



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