Bulgaria Sofia 2002.09.16 - 09.17

Bulgarian Capital

Most travelers to Bulgaria arrive in Sofia. Bulgaria bound buses from Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Turkey, and most West European countries terminate in Sofia. Arrival in Sofia is probably the best place to start. 50 meters from the international bus terminal towards city center is a convenient AMT connected to the Plus and Cirrus networks to withdraw Bulgarian leva (BLV). Accommodation ranges from the BLV 10 (US$5) per night hostel to the 5-star hotel. Whatever price and quality you want is available. Visit a city tourist information office to pick up a free city map. Transportation around the city is convenient. The trams cost BLV 0.40 and taxis are metered. Find the grocery store hidden in the basement of the TsUM building near the Sheraton Hotel. The TsUM building is most easily identified by the large Citibank advertisement on top.

Our stay in Sofia was brief, but we did everything we wanted to do in one afternoon. Our plan was to stay at a hostel for one night to collect information from other travelers. At Hostel Sofia, we met the travelers we were seeking: those arriving from the former Yugoslavian states. An Australian named Peter recommended places we visit in Croatia and Slovenia. An American Larry told us all the immigration and transportation information we needed for Serbia, Kosovo, and Montenegro to allow us to choose our route from Sofia to Croatia. (The summary is: no visa needed for Kosovo or Montenegro, US passport holders can purchase a Serbian visa at the border in the summer months, transportation through Kosovo is rough, the UN is running Kosovo for the time being and conditions could easily suddenly change for the worse.) OK. We decide to travel from Bulgaria to Serbia to Bosnia-Hercegovina. All travelers coming through these areas say they're safe.

Get a free city map at the tourist information office adjacent Goody's at Place Sveta Nedelya. See the yellow-brick-road around the former Communist Party Building. Visit Odysseia-In Travel Agency (boulevard Stamboliyski 20, enter from Lavele street) for topographical maps of nearby trekking areas and to get public bus information. Then stop by Luciano Cafe (near the corner of Rakovski and Moskovska) for excellent coffee and an incredibly yummy strawberry mousse.

Sofia is connected to all neighboring major cities by bus and train. Direct buses travel to Sofia from Istanbul, Turkey (1 morning, 1 night, 10 hours); Bucharest, Romania; Belgrade, Serbia; Skopje, Macedonia; and Thessaloniki, Greece. The daily Istanbul-Budapest train stops in Sofia. Also, between Sofia and Belgrade runs a night train where sleeping berths are the same price as the bus. This train departs Sofia at 21:50 and arrives in Belgrade sometime between 06:00 and 08:00 depending on how long it's held at the border by customs and immigration officials on both the Bulgarian and Serbian side. The best place to purchase this sleeper train ticket is at the RILA City Ticket Office located at 5 General Gurko Street, across from the Post Office building. The Rila City Ticket Office has helpful English speakers.

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