I have a special relationship with Bulgaria.
Back in 1999, I visited Bulgaria during a 3-week holiday with my parents. My time there was quite curious. During the first week, we experienced the wonders of a total solar eclipse, and also the terror of an earthquake. For the remaining two weeks, I existed in a semi-conscious state, sleeping in a hotel room, fighting a strange virus I caught. It was unpleasant, to say the least.
Well, it’s been nearly 10 years since that awful vacation, and although I still had some residual fear of the country, we visited Bulgaria once again. Now, if not for my mother-in-law (who we planned to see during her vacation in Varna), I probably would have not given this country a second chance.
This next part of our Grand Eurotrip 2017 series is all about how this second chance with Bulgaria went— we booked 2 nights in the small resort town of Saints Constantine and Helena (near Varna) and 3 nights in the capital, Sofia.
Saints Constantine and Helena
We stepped off the bus in Saints Constantine and Helena, and I was immediately reminded of those glorious early 00’s summer days in Crimea, where I used to have month-long vacations at the sea with my parents. The nostalgia made me smile. . . Huge, jam-packed Soviet-style buses, many beautiful parks, and green covered hills that reminisced my native climate zone. The hotel we stayed at even greatly resembled a sanatorium back in Ukraine for family holidays and summer camps. It was a great place to refresh some sweet childhood memories.
Bulgaria’s second chance was off to a great start.
We were searching for simplicity, as we only needed a place to sleep and eat. We went with our cheapest option, which looked decent overall and also offered a breakfast and dinner meal plan. For 100 EUR in total, we booked a room for 2 nights at the Gloria Hotel.
If you are used to nice, luxurious European hotels with all amenities, be prepared for a cultural shock. The receptionists made us feel very unwanted every time we talked to them. Also, in order to use the Wi-Fi in the room and, from what I experienced, even in the lobby, you had to pay.
Plus, the design of the room nearly made me scream:
- The shower curtain was not long enough to protect from splashes, which made a mess all over the floor.
- The shelf was so crooked that anything you put on it fell off.
- A lamp was mounted over the bed in a way that would make you bump your head on it every time you sat up.
- The gross swear language of the youngsters that could be heard from the restaurant terrace. If you don’t understand Russian, you are very lucky. However, since I do understand Russian, we had to turn up our music loud enough to not hear it.
On the bright side, there were 2 things I really liked about this hotel: 1.) the seagulls that I fed waffles to on our balcony and 2.) the food that was, just as advertised, very tasty and of great variety.
Fortunately, tasty food seemed to be an important part of the Bulgarian culture.
During one of our nights, we dined at the Kopitoto Restaurant to experience some authentic, traditional cuisine. Phew! 10 out of 10! The restaurant had a very pleasant covered courtyard complete with beautiful roses and a place to sit comfortably even when it rained.
Their menu offered a great variety of traditional dishes; we tried several and were quite happy with the quality of the food, the atmosphere, and the service. Albeit touristic, it is definitely worth visiting.
Another thing we really enjoyed about our stay in Saints Constantine and Helena was the town itself. If you are fond of long walks in a park and gazing at small souvenir shops like I am, you will definitely appreciate this town. It was charming.
One thing we did not check out, however, was the beach— I am spoiled by the hot Cyprus weather and am not so much a fan of the Black Sea (it’s a bit too cold for me). So hey, no regrets there!
All in all, we managed to do everything we wished to do in Saints Constantine and Helena, including spending quality time with my mother-in-law. For that, we deserved a nice city break in Sofia.
On our way to Sofia, we had a plenty of time and, thus, decided to go by bus instead of a plane. Yet again, this was a great decision.
Many times during our bus ride to Sofia, I found myself looking out the window and thinking, “now I see what houses they sell for 10,000 EUR…” Needless to say, the scenery wasn’t always picture-perfect. However, every time we drove up into the hills, I was blown away at the amazing picturesque views.
That feeling of amazingness accompanied me throughout our entire stay in Sofia.
For a place to sleep and some breakfast, we chose the Renaissance Hotel.
The Renaissance Hotel is a well-maintained hotel not too far from the city center; it also seems to be quite popular among business travelers. We only paid 110 EUR for the 3 nights we spent there. The service was fantastic and gave me absolutely no chance to complain. The only thing I can think of that could use improvement is the variety of dishes they served for breakfast. However, that’s not necessarily a problem if you are only staying for a couple of days.
Next time I am in Sofia, I will definitely book another room at The Renaissance.
During our stay, we visited several malls to do some shopping. At the Mall of Sofia, we dined at the Flowers Restaurant, and at the Paradise Center Mall, we dined at Harem Paradise. Both places were fantastic! The first place served interesting dishes with goat cheese and tasty desserts; the second place had an amazing mint lemonade (that I completely fell in love with).
Thanks to the perfect location of our hotel, we were able to walk around the city quite a lot. As I am not the type of traveler who is fond of feeling like cattle and spending hours upon hours in museums, we didn’t see much of the typical “sights.” However, we walked around enough to get a good feel for the atmosphere of the city.
The top 3 things I loved about the city itself:
1.) Cleanliness — Cleanliness is not something I expect from such a big city. Amazingly, there was little garbage on the streets, no annoying shopping kiosks underground, and little to no homeless people in the center. It was a wonderfully pleasant place for walking.
2.) Parks — After over 3 years of living in Cyprus, I have really started missing ‘green zones.’ Sofia really made me feel as though I was back at home in Kyiv with all of its variously sized parks, those comfortable benches, well-maintained walking paths, and CCTV’s (security cameras along the streets).
3.) Vitosha Boulevard— This popular pedestrian street looked to me like a small version of Istiklal, a street we visited in Istanbul back in 2015. Although it was a bit crowded, it was a nice place for an evening walk or even some people-watching while drinking coffee at one of its charming cafes.
In summary. . . Well done, Sofia! You’ve made me want to visit again, even though Bulgaria scored 2 out of 2 for issues with my health— luckily, though, this time I got away with just a slight cold ;).