On my rather lengthy journey to Bucharest from Austria, I made a stop in Sofia.
Unfortunately, due to a delay in leaving Austria, I only got the opportunity to spend one night there which meant my entire stay in Sofia totalled less than 12 hours.
However, from my (short) stay in the country, I know I want to go back.
Sofia has great transport links to quite a few major cities. I took the bus from Skopje to Sofia (approx 23,50€) with Bulgarian coach company Matpu (whose website is a little tricky if you can’t read Cyrillic, so I recommend BalkanViator!) and when leaving Sofia I went by train to Bucharest via Ruse (which I don’t particularly recommend… more on that below).
Read about my trip to Skopje and find out why it should be on your bucket list!
Trains run to Greece, Serbia, Turkey and other countries – check at BDZ for times and prices!
Eat & Drink
I had a plan to find a particular restaurant and, after arriving at my hostel and putting my luggage in my room, I decided to go and find it.
This would probably have worked had it NOT been -21ºC (-5.8ºF). I did, however, walk the half hour trek in the snow to the city centre but ended up giving up when I couldn’t find the restaurant too easily. It was cold, I was hungry, and I had walked past quite a few restaurants already and the aromas were so tempting.
Wok to Walk
Wok to Walk was the restaurant that I ended up in for dinner. The food was hot, tasty and quick (as you can probably guess from the name). I would post photos but this hungry traveller ate it before the photographer and blogger in her got a chance to have a say in the matter.
It turns out it’s actually a fairly big chain that I had just never come across before, but since it was after 10pm and it was freezing (as in, 21 degrees below freezing) I wasn’t too bothered at the time. The staff were great, the service was quick, the food was tasty and good value for money. My dinner (including a beer) came to less than €3.
Moma was the restaurant I had originally planned to go to, but hadn’t found because it wasn’t on the main street (Vitosha) and the lazy/cold/tired traveller in me didn’t really want to go wandering around trying to find it, since it was late and I didn’t know for sure if they would still be serving food.
When I go back to Sofia, I will definitely make sure I visit Moma! They serve traditional Bulgarian cuisine accompanied by specially selected wines typical of Bulgaria. The first floor is divided into three “themed” rooms and the second floor into five – all themed to resemble traditional Bulgarian homes.
Moma has an average rating of 4.5 on TripAdvisor, with many diners citing it as “the best restaurant in Sofia”.
Sounds good to me, at least!
Although I didn’t have enough time (or willingness to go out in -21) to explore the coffee scene in Sofia, Megan did – check out her post on the best coffee shops in Sofia!
For my brief stay in Sofia, I had already organised accommodation at Moreto & Caffeto Hostel. I had originally booked for two nights, but they were understanding and were perfectly happy to alter my booking to only one night. The hostel is actually pretty close to the city centre and you would normally be able to walk there in about 15 minutes if you weren’t doing what I was doing and trekking in the snow.
When I arrived at the hostel, we did chat about how January isn’t really the normal time for tourists in Sofia – they recommended that if I do come back to come in Spring. After the cold spell of Winter and before the larger influx of tourists in the Summer!
All of the above was true! One of my pet peeves is hostels that charge you for linen… but then tell you that you have to have it. The beds at M&C were comfortable and cosy, the rooms were clean and warm and they didn’t lie about the free tea and coffee – they had some good stuff! As a bit of a tea aficionado, I was impressed by the selection they had. Brits – you’ll do fine there.
They also have a small bar where you can purchase alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and there’s also a little gift shop where they sell handmade souvenirs made by Bulgarian and foreign designers.
Basically, I’m a little in love with this hostel. They are pretty much everything a hostel should be – friendly staff, great atmosphere AND loads of extras. You can sign up for (affordable) tours with them and the staff give great advice about where to go and what to see.
I’ll be back!
See & Do
Since I (unfortunately) didn’t get the chance to properly see Sofia, this is more of a round up of what I had originally planned to see. If you’ve visited Sofia – tell me in the comments where you would recommend! Here are a few of the places I had planned to see…
A little further afield from Sofia is Rila Monastery – I hadn’t originally planned to go there but when I return to Sofia I definitely want to make time for this amazing place!
Sofia – and Bulgaria – has not seen the last of me!
I received a discounted stay at Moreto & Caffeto Hostel in return for an honest review here on my blog. All opinions expressed are my own!
NB: The Train Fiasco
So I had decided to travel by train instead of by bus because a) I quite like travelling by train (blame my dad, he’s a trainspotter) and b) it seemed like it would be more convenient time-wise and also more comfortable.
Oh, how wrong I was.
It started off well enough. I arrived at the train station with (what I thought was) enough time to spare. A friendly porter helped me with my luggage from the taxi to the International Ticket Office. (I had expected him to charge a small amount as they usually do, but this wasn’t a problem and saved me dragging my heavy suitcase around myself.)
I went through the entire rigmarole of what ticket I wanted, handing over my passport etc. Then it came to payment.
I handed over my debit card – problem 1.
“Cash only,” the woman told me. This was even more annoying because I could see a card machine on the desk. I asked where the nearest cash machine was.
Problem 2 – the nearest cash machine was in the BUS STATION, a ten-minute walk away. What major international train station doesn’t have an ATM?!
With the porter shouting at me to hurry up because “no time, lady, no time”, we ran to the exchange office first (I didn’t quite have enough) and then to the bus station. Bearing in mind the amount of stuff I was carrying, running was a struggle. I also have a problem with my back so it was killing me a little and I was practically crying by the time we got to the bus station.
I finally got the money from the ATM and we returned to the train station, with him berating me for being slow the entire way. I could barely breathe while the woman at the ticket office took my money and gave me my ticket. After this, the running continued down steps and up steps to the platform. As he headed for the train, the porter shouted to me, “20 lev!”
This is the equivalent of about €10 – I wasn’t happy but didn’t have much of a choice. I fumbled in my purse (while running) and first found a 2 lev note, and then a 20. Gallantly, he took both. Thanks, mate.
My suitcase was unceremoniously dumped on the train and I struggled up after it, standing in the doorway and attempting to catch my breath as the train pulled away. Next up was the struggle to actually get my suitcase to a compartment that had space – the corridor space wasn’t exactly wide. As my suitcase got stuck around a corner, I saw the people in the compartment next to me (who could see everything) laughing at me. I actually had to hold back tears – at no point did anyone offer to help, just laughed.
Eventually, I found space in a compartment, and two of the guys there lifted my case up onto the overhead luggage racks. I was so thankful to them and I collapsed into one of the spare seats, bundled up my scarf into a pillow and fell asleep.
By the time I woke up again, I was the only one left in the compartment. I had just started to read my book when the guard came to the compartment to check tickets.
“This carriage does not go to Bucharest,” she told me. “Only 3 and 4.”
“What number is this one?” I asked.
“1,” she replied.
Wonderful, time to get my suitcase down and make my way through two carriages. With some difficulty (and almost getting crushed by it), I got my suitcase down from the overhead rack and gathered all my things together.
It was a major effort getting my suitcase through two carriages, but I eventually made it. The reading continued in my new compartment (that I had all to myself).
Problem 3 – the border stop took forever. I mean more than an hour, or maybe even longer. I’m not quite sure why we stopped for so long, but I heard and saw a variety of work being done on the train.
Problem 4 – we had eventually left Ruse and continued onwards towards Romania. It was at this point that I decided to go use the bathroom. I stepped out of the compartment and almost froze to death (and generally froze from shock and from being slightly terrified). The carriage didn’t have a door. We were travelling at 90mph or similar speeds in minus temperatures and THE CARRIAGE DIDN’T HAVE A DOOR.
I had to go past it to get to the toilet and it was possibly one of the more terrifying moments of my life. All I could think to myself was, “what if I fall off the train?!”
Problem 5 – there was nowhere on the train to get any sort of food or drink.
I survived my ordeal and we eventually arrived at Gare du Nord in Bucharest. We were supposed to arrive at 17:25 – we eventually arrived 3.5 hours late. I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before as I had planned to purchase something at the station but hadn’t had time due to the ticket problems.
But I’d made it at last!
For more about travelling Bulgaria (and other Eastern European countries), check out Will’s post on backpacking Bulgaria!
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