The start date for my new job was unexpectedly pushed back by a few weeks. After spending about a week sort of in limbo, I eventually decided to just book a flight to Bulgaria and take advantage of the opportunity. I already had some idea of places to visit from initial research two years of eagerly reading travel guides to the country.

So, I changed £400 for 880лв., packed a bag, and headed off to Birmingham airport.1

The flight arrived late at night in Sofia, because that’s what you get with Ryanair.

Here are the outskirts of Sofia near the dormitory of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, where I was staying.


Socialist statues

The first thing I went to see in Sofia was the Museum of Socialist Art.


This statue is called ‘Victory’ by Ivan Funev (1980).


This is ‘Women Diggers’ by Penka Mincheva (1928).

women diggers

And another bust of Lenin.

lenin head

Besides the statues, the museum had an exhibition of paintings. The curators consciously went out of their way to show different styles. It would have been easy to stick to the stereotypical examples of socialist realism and I appreciated that they went beyond that.

The Sofia metro

The city has an integrated transport system. You can buy a day ticket covering everything for just 4лв. (£1.70), which on its own is well worth it.

The metro stations are beautiful. Lavov Most has chandelier lampposts on the platforms. Serdica-2 station is built into roman ruins.

serdica metro

This is Joliot-Curie station.

joliot curie metro

Pretty stations aside, I ended up getting pretty frustrated with all the places the transport network doesn’t quite work. It didn’t help to stay at the university fairly far away from the city centre.


Some distances which seem short on a map take ages to cross by foot because you get stuck having to negotiate traffic lights and underpasses to cross big roads.


If you’re on the metro and have to change at multiple stations, you can get delayed waiting for trains which sometimes only run at ten minute intervals. Every metro system has a sweet spot for train frequency and Sofia feels like one of the slower ones. Other small complaints: you can only buy a day ticket at a ticket office, and understandably not every bus or tram stop has one of these. Or on a few occasions I came across ticket offices which didn’t open until 10am. Very minor pitfalls which the actual city residents can probably account for when commuting.

Multipurpose military machines

I went through the national military museum, didn’t stay too long as it was snowing and bitterly cold. The park around the museum held the usual collection of old tanks, jets, and artillery cannons. I was curious about the other machines there.

This is a high-speed trench digger.

high speed trench digger

Here are some more unusual machines:


Here is the Largo, the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party.


The building served as the country’s parliament for a while, through the big anti-corruption protests and a series of snap elections the parliament shifted between meeting here and the old parliament house.

I did visit the current offices of the Bulgarian Communist Party, which occupy the top floor of an unmarked office complex down the road from the National Archeological Institute. The modern Communist Party is part of the BSP coalition, which is itself part of the governing coaltion supporting Rumen Radev, although the communists have no parliamentary representation of their own.

I was fairly excited to see the square of the Tsar Liberator, and behind it the old parliament.

tsar liberator

When I used to cut news packages of protests in Bulgaria, the protesters would always gather here outside the parliament. I must have seen the square from all angles and could recognise the statue straight away. The square seems smaller than I imagined it.

Here are the Sofia central baths.

sofia central baths

The building contains a museum with a fairly eclectic mix of 19th Century artefacts - Tsar Ferdinand’s royal chariot, some maps of the development of Sofia, a collection of old hats, a room containing just religious icons, and some explanation of the origins of serdica as an ancient city. It’s worth visiting to see the interior of the building, the upper level of the entrance hall is exposed to some balconies, which are decorated with chandelier lampposts. I’ve decided I’m a fan of these indoor lampposts.

  1. Not a direct train to Birmingham of course, I had to change in Nuneaton for a rail replacement bus to Coventry and then change again for the airport.