Bulgaria – First Impressions

Flying into Sofia, it should have been apparent from the snow on the ground that it was cold. But -4C on a windy tarmac is far colder than I anticipated. Still I was looking forward to zooming up to the nearby mountains to enjoy a bit of ski and spa in Borovets. Sofia has 1.3 million inhabitants and, sadly, we do not get to really visit the capital of Bulgaria but I will make up for this sometime soon as the history of this ancient city, named after St. Sofia in the 14th century, is quite fascinating.

It is amazing to think that it is just two decades since Bulgaria changed from Communism to Democratic rule. It was a bloodless event, with one leader leaving and a new one arriving virtually the next day.

To be really honest, what I had most wanted to see on this visit was the cultural equivalent of our Morris Dancing (exaggerating a bit here). Kukeri is a local tradition that takes place around the New Year in many villages, when men dress up in grotesque masques and animal costumes and dance about erratically and ecstatically to drive away evil spirits.

But, apparently, I have missed out. Sigh. A close second is being in the cold clear mountain air of Borovets. I must admit, that this resort is a bit ticky, tacky and people hawk their establishments, trying to drive tourists into restaurants and bars, in a rather aggressive way, but it still has some charm. Our hotel is rated 4 star but is actually more like a two star by Western European standards. The monastic bedrooms have quite small mattresses and boast feeble
curtains that do not cover the windows. This means that the garish outdoor lights will seep through into the room and keep me awake all night.

But I thoroughly enjoyed Maria’s aromatherapy sports massage at the Rila Hotel Sports Centre. It was administered with amazing strength and I walk out of the treatment room a puddle of relaxation. The steam room is the hottest I have ever tried and the multiple unisex saunas were a real hit with everyone using the centre as was the enormous pool and Jacuzzi.

Soon enough it is time for our buffet dinner which offered grilled meats, cooked beans and a wonderful red cabbage and meat dish called Kavarma. There was an excellent selection of salads,
one called Easter Salad, which I hadn’t expected to be as good as it was.

Everyone plans to ski tomorrow but I don’t fancy freezing and will go to an iconography museum in nearby Samokov instead.