A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy from Bulgaria. I excitedly told him I would be visiting Sofia soon, and his response was “Ugh, why?” And I have to say, I can kind of understand that reaction now.
I’ve only been here about half a day. And unlike my usual “Could I Live Here?” posts, which I’m only willing to write after at least a weekend stay, I thought it would be interesting to summarize my first impressions. I’m curious to see whether my this perception remains after a couple of days.
But enough preamble. What is my first impression of Sofia?
The first thing I saw here was the Metro, which is quite nice and easy to use. There are only two lines, so it’s really hard to fuck it up. And still, I felt like I had done something wrong and might have been headed in the wrong direction. But perhaps that’s due to the fact that Google Maps doesn’t give you public transport directions here. Already, that’s a huge downside, because the city is large and not terribly pedestrian friendly. They have so many trams and buses going everywhere, which seems so convenient, but I can’t easily look up where they go.
When I arrived at my stop, I emerged from the metro station to see this:
After this familiar sight in an unfamiliar place, I walked a couple of blocks over to the apartment we rented. Past uneven streets, piles of trash spilling out over dumpsters, and casinos everywhere. And not like Vegas casinos, more like Atlantic City casinos. Just kinda dodgy and like the Latvian delegates that were on my flight are definitely playing roulette in there before they go to a titty bar.
I don’t want to say I feel unsafe in this kind of atmosphere, because it takes a lot to make me feel unsafe. But I’m definitely keeping an eye on my things. On my way from the airport, this guy kept eyeing me in a way that made me put my phone away and not take it out again for the duration of the ride.
The people here seem cold, in an almost aggressive way. For instance, if you’re walking in the opposite direction as someone, they simply won’t move if you’re in each other’s way. It’s like a game of chicken. Even if their shoulder is about to clock you on the chin, they won’t look at you and they won’t get out of the way. Because they know you probably will.
Aesthetically, after half a day of sightseeing, I’m left with two familiar comparisons for Sofia.
- It looks like Prague if Prague was a shithole. And I only say that because some of the trams are the same style. Funny enough, they also have some the same tram numbers. Outside of the churches here, the architecture leaves a lot to be desired, so it doesn’t really compare to Prague in any other way.
- One particular street, Vitosha Boulevard, a long pedestrian thoroughfare that has tons of shops and restaurants looks like Boulder, Colorado. (If Boulder was in Bulgaria and had been subjected to 40 years of communism.) That’s mostly because you can see the snowcapped mountains at the end of the street.
Though there are some interesting buildings around, I think it’s a very generic eastern European city. I won’t make a judgment on whether I love or hate it yet. I definitely haven’t done nearly enough to make that call. But what I can say, because it’s a thought I’ve had every 20 minutes when I’m walking around is: “Wow, this place is a dump.”