An Interrail Adventure – Blog 2: Sofia

When I spoke to you last, I was barrelling through the Bulgarian countryside, in a two-carriage train with some Estonian travellers – Interrailing doesn’t get much more European than that! Other than the lack of air conditioning and carriages, this train had something else to set it apart from your usual British train. This was that the windows opened down to halfway, as opposed to our usual small slit at the top of the frame. Consequently, anyone inside could stick their head (and most of their upper body) out of the train window when it was travelling along at high speeds, if they were so inclined. I mean, who would do that? Well, me of course! On a hot summer’s day in a metal tube, it was the only real way we could catch a breeze – we just had to watch out for the trees hanging over the rails!

Arriving at Sofia with more than a few bugs in my eyes but a head fully intact, I parted ways with my Estonian train buddies and made my way to the hostel – I needed sleep after my 10 hour journey! Arriving at the hostel, I was immediately approached by a Bulgarian chap who beckoned me into another room, while repeating the words “booking, room, yes yes”. I decided it was probably best to follow him. In the context of a hostel, these words made sense. Sitting down (after he pointed at a cushion and shouted “sit!”), he pulled out a phone and started speaking furiously into it, and then handed it to me. On the other end was the hostel owner, who informed me my original 12 bed dorm had been overbooked, so I was switched to a 3 bed room – result! As soon as my head hit that pillow, I was out for the night. The next day, as I was about to set out and explore Sofia in all its daytime glory, a woman came into my room asking for me – it was the lady from the phone! She said she had some bad news. Sitting down, she told me that my new 3 bed room had been booked out by a group of Turks and I’d have to move. However, she had found me a room in a hostel in the city centre, which she assured me would be perfect for me – a lot to say, seeing as she’s known me for less than 10 hours! As I didn’t have much choice, I agreed, packed up my bag and was led through the city to the new hostel. After the handover of myself, I dumped my stuff in my new room and was finally ready to explore. Yet, I hadn’t counted on my new host giving me a guided tour of the nearby supermarket, cafes and takeaways. I accompanied him while he bought food, coffee and at one point stood idly by while he chatted with what I assumed was a friend of his. I’d been in Sofia less than 12 hours and I’d already had both a room and hostel transfer – I’d never have imagined this.

After the obligatory walking tour of Sofia – a lot of fascinating stuff about communism – I joined two fellow English folk exploring the city, including the markets, cathedral and the fountains. It turned out I had some mutual friends with one of them – small world! The following day was spent exploring a bit more and going on Sofia’s “free food tour”. Purported to be the first of its kind in the world, it took a small number of guests on a walking tour of the best restaurants and bars around Sofia, while allowing us to sample traditional Bulgarian food. What followed was a lot of cheese, yoghurt/sour milk, peppers and meat, with the whole tour ending in a dance in a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. A fantastic idea which I wholeheartedly think that other cities should take up, as it took me to a lot of places I’d never have visited in my short stay. The day ended in stumbling across a free music festival taking place in the city parks, which was a perfect way to relax and mellow out after a fantastic couple of days.

This morning was sadly the end of my time in Sofia, so I had to depart from my hostel (I’m used to leaving them now) and make my way to the train station to head to my next destination, Nis in Serbia. After a bit of confusion at the platform (my train had a final destination of Moscow, not the expected Belgrade), I’m now sat on my train, ready to go. It’s been a hectic time in Sofia, but I enjoyed every minute – who knows what the future will bring!

James Jackman will be sharing stories from his Interrail trip every few days throughout June and July – follow us on Facebook and Twitter to catch his updates as soon as they’re posted!