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Friday 20 March 2015

80. Love letter to Sofia

Sveta Nedelya Church, Sofia

Moving to a Bulgarian village is like moving to the 1950s. In our village, they could easily film one of those TV programmes where people live like Victorian farmers or Tudor doctors or something: everyone knows everyone, chickens roam the streets, no one throws anything away ever, and plenty of people still have a donkey and cart. It’s like living in a Hovis advert. Except for the fact that the bread actually gets delivered in a white transit van with the words ‘Let the good times roll’ written on the side. Otherwise, it’s exactly like a Hovis advert.

And that’s great. It’s what we wanted. But I’m a Pompey girl and, every now and then, I miss city life.   

Unfortunately, our nearest towns don’t deliver much in the way of city buzz. If our village is like the 1950s, nipping into town is like visiting the 1980s. It’s all big hair, bumbags and matching tracksuits. And that’s just the men. There’s also an unfortunate amount of concrete. Our nearest town is a friendly and useful place, but our trips there tend to be more functional than fun.

So thank God for Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital and a mere hour down the motorway.

I love Sofia, and not just because it’s the only place near us that is located in 2015. Sofia probably rates in my top three favourite cities of all time, behind Istanbul and New York. I’ve been to some wonderful cities; many are prettier or more exciting than Sofia, but there’s something strangely loveable about Sofia. Maybe it’s the strong sense of culture. It’s like a cross between Berlin and Havana – arty and gritty, historic and crumbly, quite poor but very charming. Sure, there are tons of weirdos. (In fact, I’ve never seen so many weirdos in one place – and I spent three years commuting on the Northern Line.) And the broken pavements are designed to snap as many necks as possible (I think it might be a deliberate population control exercise). And there’s a minor problem with packs of killer stray dogs. But if you watch where you put your feet and don’t carry bacon in your pockets, it’s totally fine. 

Flowers, cracks in the plaster, electrical cables and beautiful architecture. This is Sofia.
You should come. Yes, you. Come now before it gets any damn cooler. In the past four years Sofia has seen a 900% increase in beards, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Not that I mind hipsters. I happen to like beards and craft beer and artisan anything so it’s all good as far as I’m concerned. But you should come now before it gets too cool or too sanitized or too expensive.

I recently had a caipirinha in a bar in Sofia. A caipirinha! It’s a cocktail. A Brazilian one.

Urban hipster image 1. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the end of the road.
Urban hipster image 2. Taken on a bus. I'm SO street.
Come now while you can still get a coffee at a news stand for 50 stotinki (about 20p). Come now while the old fellas still play chess in the parks. Come now while you can buy a handmade jumper or a tablecloth outside the cathedral from a sweet old baba. Come now while the police still direct traffic by hand outside parliament and there are hardly any Subways.*  

Let me know if you do. I know where we can get a killer cocktail.

* Hardly any Subways. Not zero, unfortunately. And there’s a shit load of Costas springing up.**

** Ah, Costa, I’ve missed you!