Friday, 2 September 2011
Tuesday 30th August
So after what seams a long break from proper "International" duty with England it was time to head to Bulgaria for the next Euro 2012 qualifier. We headed up to London for the afternoon as we had booked the Travelodge up in Londons Docklands due to the early flight on Wednesday morning. We had to go by train because when I booked I accidently managed to fly out from London City Airport and back to Heathrow - Oooopsss!
Wednesday 31st August
Today was a day of mostly flying and waiting around in airports. Our itinerary with Swiss airlines was
08.25 London City Airport
We flew over the new Olympic Village, stadium and Leyton Orients ground as we left London City Airport
Bored waiting in Zurich, happy to finally arrive in Sofia!
We quickly passed through passport control and were soon in a taxi heading to the hotel Budapest. A very quick check in and it was time to walk back into the city centre to get some food and drink. It was about a 20 minute walk into the centre, but as it was so hot (about 32C) we stopped for a nice cool refreshing beer. Now my memory from the last trip to Sofia in 1999 was cheap (but dire) Astika beer, so with a bit of trepidation I tried another local beer called Zargorka. It was superb and and at £1.25 a pint pretty much in the city centre a bit of a result. We soon moved on in the hunt for food and ended up Grand Hotel bar/restaurant. We sat and ate a drank as a massive thunderstorm passed overhead. So we decided it was time to head back to the hotel once the real heavy rain had stopped and got totally lost. A lot of the roads are only in Cyrillic but we finally worked out the correct road we wanted but headed in the wrong direction! Well we found out it was the wrong road when it came to an end and we were not where we expected to be, so we turned round headed back in the right direction but flagged a taxi down and headed back.
The 10 minute journey cost a whole £1! Back at the hotel the lobby bar was open for 24 hours so it would have been rude to head straight to bed. The barman recommened the Wymehcko (pronounced Shumensko), and it was the best beer of the trip and luckly was available in most bars!
Thursday 1st September
Views from our hotel balcony.
After a buffet breakfast we decided to do something different and head out to the Vitosha mountains for the morning.
We hired a taxi for £5 an hour and were soon out at Simenovo to catch the cable car up to the mountain top, well we would have but it was shut and only open at weekends at this time of year. So plan B and on to Dragalevtsi to vist the Monastery.
Next we moved on to the Boyana Chuch which is now a UNESCO world heritage site
Our final stop was the Natural history museum before getting the taxi to drop us of back in the centre of Sofia. So we were out for 4 hours for £20, a bargain. It was really nice being out in the mountains as about 10C cooler then the City centre.
We revisited the area by the Sheraton hotel as that was the area we spent most of our last visit, but it all looked very different. The memory plays games or had things all changed, they probably had over 12 years.
So after some food and drink we visited the Chuch of Sveta Nedelya. The taxi driver who had taken us on our trip had got married in this very impressive place. Sadly no photos allowed inside.
Behind the presidential building was the Rotunda of Sveti Georgi (St George). We then headed back to the hotel to relax and cool down before heading back out later on. We found a good restaurant in the guidebook but when we arrived they were full so continued on in search of food. Down one side street we spotted some umbrellas and a beer sign so headed that way. We found a cracking place full of locals and the Wymehcko beer at 75p a half litre! I had a tradition pork mixed grill and for about £7 had enough meat to feed an army. In Bulgaria they tend to serve you the food as and when its ready so we had Lizs starter then our main course and finished with my starter!
Friday 2nd September - MATCH DAY
So match day has arrived. Still feels strange making the games Friday, Tuesday and with the kick off 21.15 local time a long day ahead! We ventured back into the city centre to take in some more of the sights of Sofia. We started at the Tomb of the unknown soldier close to the Aleksandur Nevski Memorial Chuch. We then moved onto this gigantic church itself, the gold Domes very impressive. No photos allowed inside.
Next door was the Botanical Gardens, a green oasis on the middle of the city.
We then moved on to the Monument to the Soviet Army and this meant we were pretty much next to the ground. There was a small outside bar so we popped in and this time I sampled the Boliarka beer! Yuk! It reminded me very much of the Astika!
As it was still mid morning we wandered around the Borisova Gradina. We then caught a trolley bus back to the hotel. At about 5pm we headed back to the restaurant we had been to the night before and tucked into more food and drink. Plenty of England fans about now and the beer was soon flowing. We headed to towards the ground and bumped into a few Brighton mates drinking by the Soviet Army monument. It was now about 8.30pm so we decided to head into the ground
Well in the end an easy 3-0 win as we were just too good for them. The only sour note of the day was the Monkey Chants from the local Neanderthals, even against one of there own players. Will UEFA do anything about this as I believe that the English FA have made an official complaint.
At the final whistle we were held in the ground for about 30 minutes, before 3,000+ England fans were let out to celebrate the win. We had a final beer back at our hotel and finally got to bed about 1.30am.
Saturday 3rd September
We were due to fly home today but not until late afternoon, so we had all morning to explore the area around our hotel. The first stop was at the Zhenski Pazar Market. The place was busy with locals shopping for fruit and veg and this made for a colourful panorama. We then walked past the Sofia Synagogue, but as it was Saturday was closed to viewing as the Jewish day of worship.
Next up was the Central Market Hall. A bit of a let down as now just shops in a big building, not quite the old quaint stalls of local goods that we expected. Unlike the Zhenski market the place was empty!
As we continued our stroll around the local area we saw the Banya Bashi Mosque and the very impressive looking Mineral Baths. These have been shut since 1986 for renovation (the place was basically falling down) and will be open as a museum and working baths one day soon (or later probably more likely!)
We continued into the centre of Sofia and saw the Monument to Sveta Sofia (built for the millennium - a woman and an owl to symbolise knowledge and wisdom - MMmmm ok!!)
The next place was fascinating. The Church of Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska, which was basically a church built underground (to avoid persecution). Very surreal as most churches full of stain glass and light, but this place was dark and enclosed.
We finished our final morning of sightseeing at Slaveyko Square.
Just a few more pictures!
As we had hardly used the cheap and handy public transport we got back to the hotel using a Tram - the number 12 - which took us back to within a 10 minute walk of the hotel Budapest. A single tram (or bus) journey costs just 50p, a bragain as you can go for miles!
After a shower and a drink in the bar it was now about 2pm so it was time to head back to the airport and the following flights
21.10 London Heathrow
The Swiss Army knife advertising as you fly into Zurich airport
The first flight was OK, but the flight home from Zurich was 30 minutes late. We passed the time in the airport lounge so not too bad a delay.
Once we landed we headed to the Underground and made the 23.17 back to Three Bridges. So just time to pop into the local kebab shop before driving home rather tired.
So Montenegro to come, looking forward to that one as a new country for me!