The combination of the early flight, the late night and the time zone change meant we all awoke late in the morning. Slowly, we passed through the shower and wandered out into the lazy Sunday morning. Paul wanted to go to a local mass, so we found (online) a nearby service to begin at 11 am. In the meantime, we found a small café to sit down, eat breakfast and relax. Paul went to his service, and we stayed back sipping our drinks. We met up with him again in the centre of Sofia at midday.
Our first tourist attraction of the day was in the old public bathhouse in the centre of Bulgaria: the Sofia Museum of History. The museum was a strange collection of artefacts and memorabilia from Sofia from the time before the Second World War. This included things like national dress, local transport, local religion and former Bulgarian royalty. It was a good way to spend an hour of one’s time but not a major attraction in and of itself.
We walked through town to find a park where there would be a food tour of Sofia leaving from. However, there were too many people who wanted to go on the tour than places available, so we left to go find some lunch on our own. Eventually, we found a nice-looking sandwich bar on a local side street, where we ate our way through some nice sandwiches and soup.
From there, we found a local Metro station and went a few stops south to the Sofian suburbs. We had to walk along a highway a little way and then down an unassuming side street before we found the Museum of Socialist Art. The premise of the museum is that there was a large amount of communist memorabilia in Bulgaria at the fall of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved to not forget forty-odd years of cultural history. There was a large sculpture park with busts and statues of well-known communist leaders (in particular Lenin) or revered working men. There was also a video room showing Soviet-era newsreels and a gallery filled with portraits of Russia, Bulgarian, Slovak and Chinese communist leaders. All up, it was an interesting place, and not something one sees all that much in the West.
We travelled back into the centre of town on the Metro. In town, we found a Lidl supermarket to stock up on food supplies for our planned early start the next morning. We found a restaurant on yet another small side street, where we were shown to a table between a warm fireplace and a small pond. We were served homemade Bulgarian barbecue grill in a hot pot which we scooped onto our plates. This was complimented by homemade bread with olive oil and paprika salt and complimentary drinks (brandy for the guys and chocolate liquor for the girls, but the girls drank both anyway).
We left dinner, but only after each exploring the vast other parts of the restaurant, to try and find another restaurant which reputably had traditional Bulgarian dancing. It was a walk through a park, around the back of a building and down a long white corridor, but we eventually found the place and sat down to the sound of a Bulgarian singer in what appeared to be a kind of national dress. We ordered drinks and dessert and, at 9 pm, four dancers (two male and two female) to perform the dance in the centre of the restaurant. The males and the females alternated the stage, (while the other two went to change costume) though the transitions were short periods where they danced together. There was some drumming and some chanting and some audience members brought up to dance. At the end, we all joined in and danced in a line around the restaurant.
Leaving the restaurant, we walked through the now somewhat familiar streets of Sofia back to our hostel, where we climbed up into our beds and set our alarms for early in the morning.
NB: Neither me or my fellow travellers encourage nor disavow socialism or communism, however we feel as though it is important to experience fully a nation’s social and political history.