Bec has got today sorted.
We have got two free tours to do. One is a general tour of the city, and the other is a food tour of the city.
We are kicking off with a free walking tour of Sofia.
It goes for around 2 hours, and includes the history, architecture and culture of Sofia.
Being that I know nothing of Sofia at all, I am looking forward to learning about the place. We grab our stuff, and head out for the tour. We arrive at the city hall-ish spot, and there is a crowd that is so big, that they split the group into 3 separate tours. I had no idea that Sofia was such a hot spot for tourists.
I actually didn’t know that Sofia existed, let alone that so many other people intentionally chose to go there. In fact, I think we were the only people who didn’t intentionally book a flight to Sofia. We kick off the tour, and Alex, our guide, looks like she is in Uni at the moment and is doing this for a little something on the side.
I genuinely cant tell what Bulgarians look like. Most of the time, you can just tell by the person’s features roughly where they are from, but Alex was born and bred Bulgarian, but she almost looked like she was Egyptian. Alex, if ever you read this… Please take that as a compliment… Egyptians are good looking people. Bec even says so. This has happened multiple times, when I thought that someone had maybe moved to Bulgaria, but in actual fact, they were born and bred there, and their family lives around the corner.
Moral of the story is, don’t assume.
Anyways. We get going on the tour, and Alex does all the formalities of the tour, telling us how long the tour takes, where we are going to go and some of the things we are going to be talking about. The first thing, and probably the most important thing that she said was that “in Bulgaria, we have some very skilled pickpockets”.
You read the horror stories.
You see the shows.
I knew this day was coming, I just didn’t know when. Pickpocketing is something that isn’t really common in Australia, so I have been told to keep my wits about me, because the uneducated eye (like mine) is perfect prey. Everyone in the group’s hands slowly start making their way to their pockets. Nobody wants to look like that over paranoid tourist (myself included), but nobody wants their phone or wallet stolen. Hands slowly fill pockets throughout the group. Others casually move their wallet or phone to an inside pocket of their jackets. I’m watching the crowd, seeing how different people handle this new news.
There is this one guy who is a little too over-zealous about protecting his personal belongings. He straight away is patting himself down, checking his front and rear pockets of his pants, and the outside jacket pockets. Like, this guy is making sure that nothing is every getting nicked. Others try and make it look as inconspicuous as possible, and slowly lift their belongings from one pocket to another.
Its a little light entertainment to start the tour.
Alex then starts asking us questions about Sofia’s history. I’m thinking that it is just to gauge how much people know about Sofia.
I was wrong…
Alex asks us, “So does anyone know how old Sofia is?”. The answers come rolling in, “1000 years old”, “2000 years old”, “8000 years old”. All these answers fell upon deaf ears, until the elusive answer reared it’s head, “6000 years?”.
“Thats right”, Alex replied to the guest. But then the most absurd thing happens. For no apparent reason to me, she starts reaching into her pockets. There is a rustling among her hands. Now, literally everyone is looking at what she is going to pull out. Curious, I see a packet of lollies emerge.
“We will get lollies if we get it right”, I think to myself.
I was right.
She opens the packet and hands the chick a lolly. I cannot believe it. With no warning at all, she starts just handing little treats out to the visitors. God damn. She’s certainly got my attention now. Its a ploy I wasn’t expecting, but it was a good ploy, thats for sure. I’m not to much of a tour man, as I don’t want to just go to the same place that every other tourist is going to. But, this is really cool. I had got to know about the significance of things that would usually mean nothing to me.
For instance, we are standing a little way from a church at the start of the tour.
The church is in the centre of town, but it really just seems to be nothing special. Alex begins to tell us about how it fell down a few times. One was a fire from the candles that they lit inside. Apparently, Bulgarians like bulk candles in their churches. The other time, however, was actually a terror attack. Pretty much these crazy communist party nutters wanted to kill the head of Bulgaria (Boris the 3rd), so they set up this plan to bomb the funeral of this other really influential bloke, where they knew Boris was going to be.
They had set up the bomb, and then during the funeral’s proceedings, they detonated the explosives, killing a whole heap of people inside. There is this awkward thing that happened, however.
Boris wasn’t even at the funeral. In true Bulgarian form, he was running late.
…but it gets better…
The reason he was running late was because he was attending a different funeral. The funeral of his body guard, who was shot a few weeks earlier, by the same people who tried to kill him with the explosives in the church. So, pretty much the bodyguard saved Boris the 3rd twice. That is pretty bloody legendary.
Kinda funny though.
That’s the sorta thing that goes into a movie script.
Just as Alex is trying to tell us this legendary story, we all hear this tooting going on. Like, not just a little bit, but I mean HEAPS of horns repeatedly tooting. It’s getting closer to us and more distracting, and more of us tourists are peering over our shoulders, trying to workout where it is coming from, and why. Alex isn’t even phased and just continues on with her stories until they get so close that she can’t speak over the top of the noise.
“It must be a wedding”, she says all casually.
I had no idea what it was. All I could hear was car horns, and a lot of them. I’m thinking “Jesus… Bulgarian drivers are super angry, and all at the same time”, but no, it was just a whole convoy of cars going hard on the horn.
Sure as eggs, they come past us, a whole convoy, and as soon as they came, they went. Tooting all the way down the street. Everyone in our little group has a bit of a chuckle. Its great seeing the different ways that cultures celebrate and the little things that you usually wouldn’t see on a TV commercial.
We walk to our next spot which is the old ruins of Sofia. So, check this out. This is pretty funny. They discovered this massive big archaeological site, which is actually the city that the Romans built in the 3rd and 4th century, while they were digging the tunnel for the metro line to be installed in Sofia. Apparently, they’ll totally just build straight on top of the old buildings. How classic is that? I mean, they ended up having to have the subway line run deeper underground, so that they could then explore the city ruins.
These ruins were pretty bloody impressive too. The city walls are 2 metres thick and 8 metres high. They are still so strong, that you can pretty much support an entire infrastructure above it. The romans really were a monstrosity of a super power back in their day. They had the infrastructure and a lot of it too. This was just another tiny glimpse into how huge they really were as a super power.
Alex tells us about this statue in the middle of the city. It is a really gorgeous statue, but not one without controversy. The statue was from an artist and is of St. Sofia, made of this glorious gold & black material, showing a little bit of cleavage, holding an owl on one hand and what almost looks like a crown of leaves in the other. To the untrained eye, this would mean nothing. But, at the time, it caused a huge uproar. Being that Bulgaria is(/was?) a largely christian nation, the government received a HEAP of letters from people saying how it was too revealing, and that the owl and the crown-thingy were pagan symbols.
That would make things a little difficult…
How they came to the conclusion of keeping it, I am not sure, but it is a bloody epic statue, and I am glad that they did keep it. It’s become an icon of the city.
Another icon of the city was the shopping mall. Back in the day, this was the place to be. People would literally come from all around the country just to buy something from the shopping mall, so they could show their friends and family that they got something from the mall. Alex tells us how the escalators in this mall were the first set of escalators in the country and that kids would come and ride the escalators all day long.
I thought that was odd, until Bec reminded me that we used to do the exact same thing. Turns out that escalators are a fine means of entertainment regardless of democratic or communist rule.
She goes on to tell us about the pavers that run their way through the city’s streets. So, check this out. The mayor of Sofia at the time, wanted to lift the face of Sofia. I’m not sure which country it was that he visited, but he fell in love with these pavers that they had. Being that he took it upon himself to make city that much better, he decided that he would order enough of these fancy yellow pavers to do a fair chunk of the city’s roads.
The only issue was that they came at a HUGE premium.
So much so, that the mayor decided to take a loan from the German to pay for the new roads in Sofia.
This is mental enough right?
It gets better.
The mayor knew that the people of sofia would be pissed off that he took a loan to pave the roads, so he decided to tell them that it was a royal gift.
…a royal gift…
Can you imagine that conversation actually happening?
King: “Hey babe, I wanna give the people of sofia something. What do you rekon?”
Queen: “Geez… I dunno hey… Maybe if we buy them some toasters?
K: “Nah, everybody gets those at weddings babe”
Q: “I dunno. How about we buy them a few roads instead?”
K: “God, you’re good. Lets do that”
Not exactly a cunning plan, but the mayor ran with it, and the people bought it.
The mayor kept it all under wraps for years until it was too late, someone else was in power, and they had paid back all the money anyway. But, to his credit, Bec said to me earlier in the day that she really liked the yellow paved roads. So, I guess he was onto something there.
There were a whole heap of little nuggets of information that Alex left us with throughout the tour. One thing, which was pretty hectic was that during the time that the communists were in power, they had a huge big red star above the parliament building. The people were told that it was made of pure ruby. When they took it down, they found out that it was just made of plastic.
I would been taking that home to cash it in.
Anyway. Our tour wraps up. Its been a fully knowledgable tour, and I am really glad that we actually got to do it. Props to the guys for making it happen.
We head back and get changed real quick to head out for the next tour.
So far, so good.
Come back for the next story.