WITH A COCKTAIL IN HAND
One of the great pleasures in any tourist visit is to enjoy a sunset, to see how the reddish tone of the sunset is changing the colors of the city and everything is transformed. And if that stretch is enjoyed from above being able to contemplate the city at our feet, then it will become a real spectacle. In Sofia, you can also do it with a cocktail in your hand from the rooftop of Hotel Sense, a 5-star hotel located in the center of the city that has a wonderful terrace from where you can enjoy the domes and towers of the numerous churches and cathedrals that the city possesses. From the top we can photograph the golden domes of the Russian church, located near the hotel. Our cameras will also capture the green domes of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, a building of great beauty.
But without a doubt, what will most attract our attention from the top of this building is enjoying the sunset with Mount Vitosha in the background, especially when the first snow turns it white.
For the moment to possess all the Bulgarian essence, we encourage you to change the cocktail for a glass of rakia, the famous typical liquor of the Balkans. Rakia is a liquor similar to brandy, obtained by distillation of fermented fruits. The amount of alcohol in this drink depends on the type of distillation, but it is normal for it to be between 50-53%.
Rakia is considered the national drink of Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Bosnia.
Hotel Sense Sofia
Bulevar “Tsar Osvoboditel" 16. 1000 Sofía Center, Bulgaria
TARATOR FOR HEAT AND BANITSA FOR COLD
Bulgarian cuisine has a great influence from Turkish and Greek gastronomy, so in its dishes we can recognize flavors or even confuse foods such as the famous Greek feta cheese, which in Bulgaria is called sirene, which is somewhat harder and saltier than feta.
We propose two quick dishes to snack on. If you visit Bulgaria during the summer, you will be grateful for a snack that, in addition to quenching your hunger, also quenches your thirst and what better than the traditional tarator, a cold soup made with cucumber, yogurt and garlic that also contains walnuts, dill, parsley, water and a splash of olive oil. Tarator is considered as an appetizer, it is served alone, in a drinking bowl and its origin is the Turkish soup cacik, since we cannot forget that Bulgaria was occupied by the Turks for centuries. Also, if you have visited Greece, this soup may remind you of a kind of salad that accompanies meat dishes and is called Tzatziki in Greek.
If, on the other hand, you visit Bulgaria during the cold months and more specifically during Christmas, you will surely find the traditional banitsa in the city´s bakeries. A bun made with an egg, sirene cheese and filo dough.
The custom is to eat this bun in the Christmas Eve celebrations, when in addition, a small gift such as a coin or a figurine is included inside, something similar to the roscón de Reyes in the Spanish culture and gastronomy.
It is very common to have it for breakfast, both hot and cold. You can have it salty only with cheese, which is traditional, but also with spinach or other products, or sweet, with milk or with pumpkin.
A delicious snack that will allow you to enjoy the typical gastronomy while continuing your walk through the city.
BULGARIA ROSE OF BULGARIA
Without a doubt, the best thing you can buy on your trip to Bulgaria, as a souvenir and as a gift, is the Bulgarian rose and any of the products made from it, such as rose oil. Bulgaria is the largest producer of rose oil in the world and this product is considered to be of the highest quality.
The origin of this crop is in Damascus (Syria); hence its name of Bulgarian rose or Damascus rose, queen of crops in this country. It is a small rose with 30 petals and very resistant that requires very little care. Today this crop is a large industry and an important source of income for the country. With the rose, cosmetic oil, perfumes, essences, soaps, creams, ointments and ointments are made. For the elaboration of a kilo of oil, between 1,000 and 1,500 rose petals are necessary, which are collected by hand. It was introduced to the country in the 16th century during the Ottoman rule. Over time it was discovered that there was a region in the country with more than favorable conditions for the cultivation and growth of this variety of roses. Kazanlak is the center of these crops. Its climate and the composition of the soil, rich in minerals and nutrients, means that the plant can grow only here with the right quality to obtain that strong aroma of rose.
Harvesting in the Valley of the Roses takes place over three weeks, from the end of May to mid-June, and always at dawn. Harvesting is done by hand and is a difficult task due to the large number of thorns that this flower has. Before noon the petals have to be in the distilleries that are close to the crop fields. The distillation is carried out quickly in the following four hours, since from that moment on, the aromatic compounds lose their properties and quality.
Its distillation consists of heating water to 120° centigrade and introducing the petals. The steam that comes out is cooled and collected and from there the aroma is extracted. Very small amounts of oil float on the distillate, which are separated from the water and become the essential oil of Rosa Damascena, the most expensive product on the market. A single drop of essential oil is used to make a perfume or a cosmetic. Its fragrance lasts for weeks.
The Bulgarian Rose is acquired by the main perfume and cosmetic brands in the world and you have the possibility of acquiring it in its place of origin, Bulgaria.
DOMES OF THE RUSSIAN CHURCH
Yes, Sofia also has a Russian church, it is the Church of Saint Nicholas the Miraculous who built the Russian embassy at the beginning of the 20th century. Its golden bulb-shaped domes attract attention and on the way back from our trip, we will be asking ourselves where we are.
The Russian Orthodox Church was built on the site of the Saray Mosque, which was destroyed in 1882 after the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottomans. The domination of the Ottoman Turks over the Balkans began at the end of the 14th century and with it the mighty Bulgarian empire fell. The Ottomans spread from the Danube River to the Aegean Sea.
In 1887, the Russo-Turkish war began and as a result of this the Principality of Bulgaria was born. In 1908, Bulgaria declares its independence.
The Russian church was built in 1907 by Russian workers who had emigrated to Bulgaria to be the place of prayer of the diplomatic corps of the Russian State who lived in Bulgaria. The location is due to the fact that the Russian embassy building was located near this place and since at that time the Tsar of Russia was Nicholas II, the church was consecrated to his saint.
Built in a style inspired by Russian churches of the 17th century, the five exterior domes covered in gold and the multicolored tiles on its façade stand out. The bells that ring from its towers were donated by Tsar Nicholas II. Its interior is decorated with wall paintings made by the team of the artist Vasily Perminov, who also painted the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Church of Saint Nicholas the Miraculous “Russian church”
Bulevar “Tsar Osvoboditel" 3. 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia,
SERDICA, ROMAN RUINS
Serdica was the name of the city of Sofia before the Roman occupation and the Romans kept the name by calling it Ulpia Serdica. You may not know it but Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe. In the center of the city remains prehistoric settlements and later, towns have been found, such as that of the tribe that gave the city its name, the Serdi tribe. In 29 B.C, it became part of the Roman Empire, with Emperor Diocletian, the capital of the Mediterranean Dacia and thus experienced important political and economic development.
Serdica was destroyed by the Huns in 447 A.D. being later rebuilt by Emperor Justinian I.
The ancient Roman Serdica is located under the center of present-day Sofia. In 2011, when work was being done on the second metro line in the city, two streets from the 4th century B.C. were discovered as well as domus (houses) and a mansion possibly belonging to a Roman senator.
At the Serdica II metro station, we can see objects found in these excavations. Walking through the Roman Serdica, we can walk on the original ground, and contemplate the remains of one of the entrance doors to the city. Even more, in the Hotel Arena di Serdica, are the remains of what was one of the largest amphitheaters of the Eastern Roman empire. If we approach the small square formed by the president buildings and the Sheraton Hotel, we will find the Church of San George surrounded by Roman ruins, which was a church dating from the 4th century A.D. therefore, the Roman times. Since its origins, it has been a temple, a church, a mosque and went back to being a church again.
Today´s Sofia is full of the marks of its past and the more it is excavated, the more Roman cities are found.
Roman Ruins of Serdica, Sofía Center, 1000, Sofia, Bulgaria
DISCOVERING URBAN ART
Sofia has been redecorated in recent years by street artists or what is now known as street art. The gray concrete buildings from the communist era have been filled with color giving the city new tourist and cultural routes.
Do you dare to discover some of the most famous walls?
At the Serdika metro station we find a work by the Sofia artist Bozko entitled Antract.
We can continue our walk to the surroundings of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, where we find another work by Bozko entitled Ninety. The mural occupies the entire side of a building in which we find a man in jeans and a t-shirt sitting and hugging his legs.
In the Hadzhi Vomitar neighborhood we find works by Nasimo, another great local artist. His Memorial mural is really impressive. Another beautiful work by Nasimo is “Grandfather Dobri”. The painting shows a mystical figure holding a candle while pigeons flutter around. It seems that the mural is dedicated to a Bulgarian ascetic who walked 20 km every day to sit in front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral while asking for money for charitable causes. He died at the age of 103.
In that same neighborhood we are going to come across another work by Bozko, a gigantic character with a helmet and a Harlequin suit covering the entire side of an apartment building.
Bonko´s most recent work, carried out in 2019, is a mural located next to the city´s Opera house. In it he pays homage to the arts and specifically to the Bulgarian National Opera with a mural that represents the artist and their battles.
The challenge is to photograph as many more walls as possible, all those that you find on your walk through the city, which will be many. The vast majority are not signed, so when you return home, and with the help of the internet, you will discover which artist the works are by.
ALEXANDER NEVSKY CATHEDRAL
With its 3,200 square meters, it is the largest church in Bulgaria and one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. It is 72 meters long and its towers are 52 meters high. The cathedral is neo-Byzantine in style, reminiscent of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul or the Blue Mosque in the same city.
The relatively new cathedral began to be built at the end of the 19th century and was completed in 1912. Its construction is a sign of the bond between Russia and Bulgaria. It was built to commemorate the fallen Russians and to thank the help that the Tsar Alexander II lent during the Bulgarian-Ottoman War in the last third of the 19th century.
But who was Alexander Nevsky? And why is the most important cathedral in Bulgaria dedicated to this person in history?
Alexander Nevski was Prince of Novgorod, of Kiev and of Vladimir -Súzdal and was the son of the governor of the Russian principality of Novgorod, Yaroslav II.
He was a key figure in the medieval period in Russia for his defense of Orthodox Christianity. He is also considered one of the people who did the most for the unification of the principalities of Russia.
He died on November 14, 1263 and was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547.
Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Sveti Aleksander Nevski Boulevard, 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia, Bulgaria
STROLL ALONG VITOSHA BOULEVARD
VITOSHA Street or Boulevard gets its name from the mountain that can be seen at the end of it, Mount Vitosha. It is very pleasant to walk along this street full of shops, bars and restaurants enjoying the views of this mountain, considered a symbol of the city and the closest place to go on excursions and practice sports such as skiing or mountaineering. From the city there are buses and trams that take us to it and once there we have a cable car to go up. But let´s go back to the city, let´s start our walk and see what we can buy and visit in this beautiful street.
Vitosha Boulevard stretches for 2.7 km from Sveta Nedelva Square to the Yuzhen Park. In it, we will find the most fashionable restaurants and the best shops in the city. In fact, according to a study, this street is ranked number 22 of the most expensive shopping streets in the world.
As we have said, the street starts at Sveta Nedelya Square where the Sveta-Nedelya Cathedral is located, one of the cathedrals that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has in the city. The first building dates back to the 10th century and was a wood and stone church, but the frequent damage caused throughout history has led to numerous restorations to this day.
At the other end of the street is Yuzhen Park (South Park), located in the south of the city. It has an area of ??1.48 square km. In the Yuzhen Park you can see around 65 species of birds.
During our walk we cannot fail to make a stop at the National Palace of Culture, which we find in the National Park of Culture, which was proclaimed in 2005 as the best congress center in the world.
Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia, Bulgaria
GARDEN OF THE CITY OR BORISOVA GRADINA
In 1879, Sofia was declared the capital of Bulgaria. At that time there was only one public garden in the city, the City Garden, as it was known throughout the world since it was the only one.
This garden was built in the place where a Turkish garden previously existed. The original garden was the work of the architect Anton Kolar. When it was finished, it was given the name Garden of Alexander II.
But little remains of that garden, since during the following years, different architects passed through the park who changed the type of trees, plants and flowers.
In 1884, it was given the name of Borisova Gradina, "Boris’ Garden", since the last transformation was carried out by the Tsar of Bulgaria, Boris II. Later, during the communist regime, the name was changed to Liberation Park and today, the inhabitants of Sofia know it by both names, although the official one is Borisova Gradina.
The space has more than 900 hectares that houses a soccer field, an equestrian center, a tennis court, and a lake where you can go boating. But without a doubt, its most beautiful corners are: the pond with water lilies, the beautiful rose garden and the wooded area with small paths to get lost and feel in a Bulgarian forest far from the big city, but curiously being in the center of it.
Here you can take a break and rest from the hustle and bustle of the city. Also, during the walk, you will find stalls that sell corn on the cob, something very typical in Bulgaria, as well as stalls where they sell guevretsi, some donuts that will serve as a snack
Borisova Gradina, Sofia, Bulgaria
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