Gordon: We spent three days cycling from Velingrad to Sofia. The first day was a pleasant surprise, with a 20 km descent through an attractive canyon. We were accompanied by a small river and a narrow gauge railway that passed through innumerable tunnels beside the road.
The second day saw us regain our altitude and more, climbing to 1350 metres at the Borovets ski area. We stayed at Alek’s Guesthouse in Samokov, where we also spent a night in 2016. Ruth’s review of our earlier stay, and a picture of the two of us in cycling togs, are still prominently displayed on the Booking site. Alek is a cyclist and remembered our earlier visit. He insisted on making us an amazing crepe breakfast with four different type of crepes – two savoury and two sweet. The ham and eggplant, and the walnut and comb honey were particularly delicious.
We are spending three nights in Sofia before flying home. The end of every cycling holiday involves a search for bike boxes that are not always easy to locate or transport, and puts us on edge a little. However, after a few telephone calls and a cab ride, and an Atavan and a beer, we obtained some boxes earlier today, and our bikes are now ready to go to the airport. We celebrated with a beer and an eclair.
From discussions with Bulgarians in other parts of the country we learned that Sofia is not highly regarded by thise that are not from the city. It is indeed a large and somewhat chaotic city, but we are very much enjoying our time here. We are staying in the central part of the city, within easy walking distance of many of the popular sites. This area of the city is rather gritty, with many buildings in a rough state of repair or already demolished. When you look carefully at the buildings, however, you realize that many of them were at one time quite elegant. Like much of Eastern Europe, the late-19th and early-20th century was a time of prosperity, but the period since then has been more challenging. There still does not seem to be the money or will to restore the formerly gracious buildings, with the default being demolition and new construction.
It is a pleasure to wander around Sofia, whether it is the central residential area, or the public edifice district. There are treasures scattered about, such as 6th century churches and extensive Roman ruins. There is one church, the St. George or Rotunda church, that claims to be the oldest church in Europe that has been in continuous use. This may be a bit of a stretch, but it is remarkable to see fragments of five layers of frescoes, including one from when it was in use as a mosque.
All that remains of our summer trip is one more trip to the breakfast smorg trough, and a cab ride to the airport. We’ll be home soon Russell.