Travel G-spots

TRAVEL DIARY: Cobalt Teal, Train Station Love Story + Weddings in Sofia, Bulgaria

Since I am yet to visit Cuba, I suppose Sofia is leaps and bounds better in terms of having disengaged itself from the time warp. My basis for this is flimsy and founded on my observation of Sofia’s fair share of McDonald’s, KFC and Subway sprinkled between the many valuable monuments from its long and storied past… and a few enchanting street art!

pHaque Sofia Streetart

Located at a strategic crossroads;

  • the route from Western Europe to Istanbul passes through Sofia via Beograd and Skopje, then through Plovdiv to Turkey,
  • it connects The Near East and The Middle East, lying between the banks of The Danube and the shores of The White Sea on the one hand, and between The Black Sea and The Adriatic on the other,
  • it is relatively close to the capitals of most Balkan countries: Ankara is 1,012 km; Athens is 837 km; Beograd is 374 km; Bucharest is 395 km; Zagreb is 762 km; Ljubljana is 897 km; Sarajevo is 549 km; Skopje is 239 km; Tirana is 553 km; and
  • three freeways begin in Sofia: Trakia, Lyulin, and Hemus,

it is no wonder Sofia has been settled for many millennia from the 8th century BCE by the Thracian tribes, overthrown by the Romans in the 1st century BCE, only to be invaded by the Bulgarian Han Krum (803-814) that was the corner stone of the Bulgarian Empire, to eventually fall into the hands of the Ottomans after two successful succession.

Fast forward many, many years later it somehow ended up being Communist, then not … and now it’s time to  hang on tight to your seat, the FREE people of Bulgaria on their own free will re-voted for a Communist regime!

Yes!, the only country in Eastern Europe to voluntarily retain the old form of government. And this was mind you in 1990 – the year Communism died in Europe. It was also the time where Bulgaria was a dark (literally) place where there wasn’t enough food to go around, no toys for the children and you’ll need a duffle bag full of currency to get a loaf of bread after queuing up for 3 hours! But I guess somehow the FREE people of Bulgaria had thought that the only way to restore their economy and lives was to be egalitarian …

… and that was the image of Bulgaria I had as I made plans to visit it some decade plus later.

But it was not!

Whilst the blandishments of American culture is not (yet?) evident – no revolving signs of Coca Cola in sight, thank God! – it has definitely progressed, developed and perhaps accepted the (rather sad) fact that the only economic system that appears to work is one based on self-interest and greed, not to mention that it’s ok to look fashionable in the latest Italian high fashion label and be driven around in heavily tinted German automobiles that glides through the city… while tourist rummage through the street’s flea market in search of Sofia’s communist and colourful political past!

pHaque Coca Coal Sofia Train Station

pHaque Sofia Flea Market Finds

With broad boulevards that seems empty of traffic (compared to any other European capitals … err… any cities for that matter!) with countless of monuments cramped together with lovely strips of parks or line of trees creating a semi-transparent like veil between them, I have to say I enjoyed Sofia simply because it had successfully maintained its old charms of yesteryear with a slow relaxing vibe to it.

Set against the city’s most recognizable symbol – the Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky that was built in 1912 by the Russian architect Alexander Pomerantsev with bell tower that rises to 53 meters with 53 bells and houses an impressive exhibit of Orthodox Christian art in the church’s crypt – Sofia I had to say is simply stunning.

Stunning in the unspoiled way. Stunning in a way all film images and 1950s-1960s old movie reels should look like.

pHaque Alexander Nevsky

pHaque Alexander Nevsky Sunset

Being a person who’s not fast complement, and yes not slow to show displeasure, Sofia most definitely captured my heart at the very moment when travels with my 3 (+1 midway addition) travel partners were beginning to crumble… So I figured, it must have been the calming yet refreshing colour hues of Sofia. See, if there was a colour assigned to Sofia, it would be the now legendary discontinued sizzling single pigment colour ‘cobalt teal’… and who’s to argue with that given the evidence that this colour continues to live on in Sofia, Bulgaria!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Cobalt Teal aside, my trip there felt like I had stumbled onto the set of a time compressed ‘four weddings and a funeral‘ {plus a baptism!}.

pHaque Classic Wedding Car Sofia

pHaque Street Wedding in Sofia

Though I took countless of photos and ticked official photographers and videographers by featuring the funny bone of my elbows that have an uncanny way of making their way into their photos… you could say that the excitement that radiates and happiness that exuded from weddings are just way too much for me. Simply said: there’s just too much H-A-P-P-Y going on there.

With that, I was thankful to sink my teeth into a deliberately squashed and flattened grilled chicken marinated with garlic and served with a spicy Georgian sauce (Tsipliate Tabaka) for 12.50 leva and drowned it down with one too many shots of cheap vodka at a funky restaurant half a block away from Dundukov and Rakovski Street called Gara Za Dvama.

Gara Za Dvama is a charming Russian restaurant that was apparently established by two Bulgarian actresses after being inspired by a melodramatic love story set in a railway station from the Russian classic “Railway Station for Two,” directed by Eldar Ryazanov. In a short sentence, the story goes: Vera, a waitress meets Platon, a pianist at the railway station…

(Well, that’s as far as my Cyrillic reading proficiency stretches after 10 years of time lapse between the time I needed it for my pre-medical entrance interview and test in I.M. Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy and zilt Cyrillic to read in my part of the world! Do read the reviews on IMDb though – it seemed to have had an effect on a lot of people’s lives.) 

In any case, you guessed right!, the restaurant is decked out to feel as if you had stepped into a train car with four booths (or “kufe“, i.e. compartments); two of which could seat about eight to nine people, though the other two could only fit no more than four or five.

The seats are upholstered in vinyl green, each erratically numbered. The walls are painted pale green, with “train windows” plastered within featuring black and white photo of shopkeepers peering out from his store – simulating the feel of a scene on the train station platform.

pHaque Gara Za Dvama

In the background, contemporary Russian music played, which wasn’t all that enjoyable, but really, who’s listening after the 3 shots of lethal straight vodka?!?

The menu (written in Bulgarian as well as English) offers a diverse selection, ranging from the most delicious salads, cold fish appetisers such as caviar, meat dishes such as boiled tongue, and soups like borscht, to popular national dishes including pyroshki and pelmeni.

Caution though – Serving is moderate to small, making it rather steep by Sofia standards. Also be sober when you’re ordering – you need to know what you’re ordering and exactly how much it cost; e.g. do not make a mistake of ordering the 69 leva black caviar if you would be satisfied with the red which is only 18 leva. Unless you hail from the Caspian or time traveled from the days of being Napolean’s right hand man, I doubt after the assault of vodka, you’d be able to tell the difference!

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Gara Za Dvama | 18, Benkovski Street (tel:  989 76 75)

ул. Георги Бенковски 18Sofia,

 

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