Push starting the bike, so we could head into Sofia was no fun at all this morning. There was bugger all charge left in the battery. I pushed it the length of the street and couldn’t get it to fire. Luckily at the end of the street was a small slope and I was able to pick up a bit of speed before dropping the clutch. There is nothing more beautiful than the sound of the V twin firing up. After pushing it up the street it was like the voice of an angel.
Our first task today was to find a bike shop and get another battery. We found a Kawasaki/KTM shop up on the highway which opened at 10 am so parked up and waited. When the store opened they got the battery book out and checked the shelves. Sure enough they had the right battery on the shelf and after adding the battery fluid it was time to wait for the chemical reaction to start. The thirty minutes dragged by so slowly. In the meantime we took the opportunity to check out the store. There was two floors of all sorts of KTM/Kawasaki gear, boots, helmets and bikes.
There was even a click on track and skis to convert your bike for snow use. After thirty minutes one of the mechanics came out to tell me the battery was ready. The mechanic was super friendly and reminded us if we had any problems to contact them.
With a new battery the bike fired first go and we were on our way towards the centre of Sofia. Well that’s what we thought, but we got a little lost. Eventually we got back on the right track and were bumping over the golden cobbles of the city centre towards the Palace of Justice. Once again the crowd of people waiting for the Free Walking Tour were spilling out onto the road. It was unbelievable that both days there were over 60 people waiting for a tour.
With Hostel Mostel’s Walking Tour map in hand we decided to catch up with Smitty and make our own tour. There was no pressure, or crowds as we wandered around the beautiful city streets.
Sophia has a long history dating back about 7,000 years to Neolithic times. Down through the years it was home to Thracians and Celts. The Romans peacefully arrived in 29 BC, well actually they conquered the city, and there’s still evidence of Roman occupation in the central city. Some roman ruins quite close to the main subway which include baths, houses and city walls. It was quite interesting walking along seeing the Roman ruins surrounded by shops.
Using the hostels walking tour map as a guide we headed down Maria Louiza boulevard to Sveta Nedelia Church. The medieval church dates from the 10th century and its shape reflects its origin. However, despite its romanesque style it was demolished and rebuilt to accommodate more people in 1863. In 1925 a bomb was exploded and 150 people were killed when a column and the roof collapsed. The attack was by the Bulgarian Communist Party during the funeral for General Georgiev, who’d been killed in an earlier Communist Assault.
At Sveta Nedelia square the copper and bronze statue of Saint Sofia sits atop a 14 metre pedestal. She is adorned with a crown, a wreath and an owl. They symbolise power, fame and wisdom. She’s a recent addition replacing the statue of Lenin which once directed traffic in the central part of the city. Along Dondukov Boulevard old soviet era buildings reflect the symbolism of power in the architecture.
Another interesting thing we noticed along the central city streets was the sentry boxes of the traffic police. At key intersections traffic policemen with remote controls controlled the traffic lights.
A few blocks walk from Sveta Nedelia square we had a look around the Bania Bashi Mosque which dates from 1576 during Ottoman occupation of the city. It’s a fairly basic structure with one dome and just the single minaret. It was built over the thermal baths from the earlier roman period and the ruins of the baths can be seen behind the mosque.
The sun was relentless so we took a detour to find a cafe and passed the Bulgarian Presidency where two soldiers with strange caps adorned with a single feather stood guard. As we were watching the clock struck the hour and we witnessed the changing of the guard. They were quite impressive with their immaculate uniforms and precision timing.
After our break at a cafe not far from the presidency we headed towards the St Nicholas Church, one of the places we’ve wanted to see. We’ve passed it everyday on the bike an it looked really nice.
St Nicholas or Russian Church is a quaint 17th century Russian style church which was built in the early 1900’s for use by the Russian embassy next door. Despite its large size it’s actually quite small inside and is set up like traditional Russian orthodox churches with a beautiful iconostasis. It’s quite a beautiful little church with lovely quaint spires set amongst park and trees.
Not far away was the imposing Alexander Nevski Cathedral. It was built between 1882 and 1912. It’s the second largest orthodox cathedral in the balkans after Saint Sava in Belgrade and can hold 10,000 people. Around the edge of the dome is the Lords Prayer in gold letters and like all orthodox churches it has outstanding mosaics around the dome. The walls are decorated in ornate stone onyx, marble and alabaster.
Monument of Tsar Osvoboditel not far from the cathedral is a monument featuring Russian Tsar Alexander II astride a horse. Tsar Alexander received the title of Tsar Osvoboditel (Tsar Liberator) after his army defeated the Ottomans and liberated Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War in 1878. They even named the street Tsar Osvoboditel boulevard in his honour.
The day was heating up by the time we reached Soviet Army Monument. The monument was built in 1954 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria by the Soviet Union. Atop the 37 metre high pedestal are a traditional heroic soviet soldier with rifle over his head accompanied by a Bulgarian woman with a child and a Bulgarian man. Around the three sides of the base are friezes of different scenes of workers in Bulgaria including a frieze of soviet soldiers. In recent years it’s become a mural for street art protests. The most famous of which was captioned “V krak s vremeto”, (In pace with time) was painted on the night of June 17, 2011. At that time the Soviet Army soldiers on the monument were painted as American pop culture figures: Superman, Joker, Robin, Captain America, Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, Wolverine, The Mask, and Wonder Woman. It caused an outrage but despite the outrage it still took three days to remove the paint.
Since then the monument has been painted many times protesting for Anti-ACTA, Pussy Riot, Apology for Prague 68, Hands off Ukraine. Unfortunately we only got to see the monument in its plain state. The pictures on the Internet were so cool and it’s interesting that they were posted on Atlas Obscura.
After all our walking it was time to relax, grab a cold drink and cool down. The monument was set in a park with lots of trees and shady spots with a few cafe’s around the edge.
Walking back through the city we passed the National Theatre and the park where we sheltered during the rains yesterday before ending up on Makedonia Boulevard. It’s quite surprising that we hadn’t seen Makedonia Boulevard before. It’s the central pedestrian promenade in the city lined with bars, restaurants and cafe’s. The street was just jam-packed with people enjoying the lovely warm weather. As we hadn’t eaten as yet, we found a nice burger bar and ordered a few burgers. As the sun was going down it was a great place to chill and chat. Pretty soon we checked the time and discovered it was time to go. It was great meeting Smitty and spending the last two days wandering around the city.
Tomorrow we head to Niš in Serbia and he heads towards Turkey before heading up into Russia to rendezvous with Kurt and Lynette . The three of them will ride across Russia to Vladivostok, which will be the end of Smitty’s around the world tour. (We have received news since we met Jeff that he did not make it to the meeting, he suffered from a heart attack and did not survive. He was a lovely man who leaves behind many who will miss him.)
Starting the bike was no problem with a brand new battery. No pushing and dumping the clutch, just a simple push of a thumb.
Arriving back at the couchsurf our hosts treated us to a night of Bulgarian food and a movie, despite the subtitles was actually quite funny. It was an old communist era film which was a Bulgarian classic. After the film we chatted late into the night. We really enjoyed our couchsurf in Bulgaria and it was nice to gain a locals view of the world.