Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Central and Eastern Europe Part II – Sofia, Bulgaria

By Ryan Kinports

      After my week in Prague I flew to Bulgaria where I saw some of the most beautiful mountain ranges I have ever seen. There were aspects of Sofia that were similar to Prague – street cars, cobblestones, large public spaces, and the general architecture all related. It was obvious though that the overall economy was suffering. The average Bulgarian today has a net income of $461 a month and I seem to remember it being not much different in 2012. It was interesting for me as I could buy anything I wanted for a few dollars.
       I  had an interesting experience at the airport getting a taxi in that I got picked up by one of those private operators that don’t have posted rates. In Chicago this mistake would cost hundreds, in Bulgaria it was $20 and I got a short tour of the city so I had an idea of where attractions were.

One of the reasons I picked Sofia was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It is a beautiful example of a modern era cathedral completed in 1912. It sits as a centerpiece in the city. They did not allow inside photos but the interior space is stunning.

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Not far away is Sofia University which besides being nearly free to attend has a beautiful central building that serves 21,000 students. This is the main entry staircase.
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One of the more impressive buildings I saw on my trip was the National Museum of History in Sofia. The building is impressive but the way it was inserted into the terrain was well thought out.
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In most large cities in the region there are relics of the Soviet Union. Sometimes they are not complete. This sits in the main public square and his been sitting since dissolution.
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On that note the cold war museum is the most extensive I’ve seen in terms of hardware. This was just one part of the exterior display. Inside there was an extensive history of the Bulgarian military and equipment collection.

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I took a day trip into the mountains to the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila which was completed in 927 and housed over 250 monks at its height. The paintings and construction are as impressive as the mountains that surround them. The fish was good too.
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Plovdiv is neighboring city that contains some of the oldest structured in the region. This is a functioning Roman amphitheater that had Shakespeare booked when I was there.

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Bulgaria has much to offer in natural beauty and the people, like most in the region, are friendly. I would certainly go back some day. Farewell for now.

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All images courtesy Ryan Kinports.

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