I conjured up images of crime and danger and a generally backward city before I left but once I arrived in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, it only took a few hours to realise how horribly wrong I was. True, the remnants of the Soviet Union were still present in the grey buildings and the general reticence of the older population but Sofia is a cosmopolitan city emerging from the shadows of the past and I was so glad to have visited it when it was still generally uncommercialised.
Sofia is generally safe and modern comforts are aplenty. Tap water comes from the mountains and is safe to drink. The metro stations are clean and spacious, a far cry from those in Paris. The younger generation speak good English and are so friendly and warm, offering help whenever they see someone looking lost. The prices were also very affordable; hotels and food cost less than half of those in Paris. We got decent restaurant meals for less than 10 euros each.
Sofia is nestled at the foot of the Vitosha mountains and it provided a spectacular landscape for our city walks.
The Alexander Nevsky cathedral - built in memory of Russian soldiers who liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.
We also drove out of Sofia to visit the Rila monastery, one of many monasteries dotting the nearby mountains. The view of the mountains and small villages along the mountain roads were something I never expected of Bulgaria.
Nestled at 1147 metres amongst coniferous forests, the Eastern Orthodox monastery is a sight to behold with intricately painted frescoes and courtyards with mountain views.
After this, I had to return to Paris (rather unwillingly at this point) while my sister & her husband continued on east to Plovdiv, a more authentic Bulgarian city and then on to the Black Sea coast.
Definitely going to put this country on my list of places to revisit!