By: Anthony Manzi
Hey guys, I’m going to see Sofia and she said to bring all the boys! Sofia who? The capital of Bulgaria of course. Let me guess you want to know, where the hell is Bulgaria? It’s an Eastern European country that was formerly part of the USSR, set right on the Black Sea squeezed between Romania, Turkey, and Greece, with a touch of Macedonia and Serbia. Здравейте, моето име е Anthony Manzi, that’s Bulgarian for “Hi, my name is Anthony Manzi” and yes, I definitely used Google Translate for that one! I had visited Sofia Bulgaria when I studied abroad in Rome during the spring semester of 2012, and I’m here to share my experience of an extremely unique, one of a kind city and culture entirely.
Since it was our first time in Europe, let alone our first time traveling by ourselves, we decided to step out of our comfort zones. Persuaded by one of our friends who was forced to take Russian in high school, we figured why not go somewhere he could speak the language. We agreed and booked our flights and accommodation in AUR’s computer lab. Our excitement on the way to the airport fizzled out when we discovered the discount airline we booked uses a fleet of airplanes that look like those from Soul Plane. This was just preparation for how bizarre Eastern Europe was to be.
If you have seen Euro Trip, you would remember their knock on post-Cold War Soviet Eastern Europe; the scene in Bratislava with the buildings with half-missing walls, the old guy bathing, and that guy spouting off quotes from “topical” US shows that were 20 years old. That may have been an exaggeration, but our ride from the airport definitely reminded me that we were no longer in your typical tourist adventure. The city center was more modern, complete with beautiful pre-war architecture, massive orthodox churches, casinos, “special” clubs, and crazy nightclubs, along with the luxury of all major fashion stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc. There was even a McDonald’s, which I admit, is where we had our first “Bulgarian meal”. This amazed me mainly because the city was decently nice, except the sidewalk was literally crumbling beneath your feet. It’s okay though, there is Prada store on every corner.
My buddy’s understanding of Russian got us nowhere, which would be okay in most countries, except that Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet, so we couldn’t even figure out which letter represented P. Lucky for male travelers, every street corner had a provocative advertisement that leads you to a special “show.” These seemed to be pretty popular in Eastern Europe. Luckily, pretty much everyone there speaks English. After about 20 minutes to a half hour we found our hostel. It was definitely our fault for not finding it, because it was only tucked away behind a women’s lingerie store, pretty much in someone’s apartment. Talk about being out of your comfort zone!
The first day in Sofia was a learning experience, but come the second day we adjusted pretty quickly. Throughout the second and third days we indulged in our version of the culture of Sofia, which basically consisted of killing it at the blackjack tables and those “special” clubs. There’s more to Sofia than its focus on the seven deadly sins, such as those amazing Orthodox churches with incredible architecture. We were even forced to see a Bulgarian ballet. Props to the one girl we traveled! Come night time in Sofia, there are young people and travelers everywhere, all going out to these insane nightclubs; one of Eastern Europe’s many claims to fame. Remember the other scene from Eurotrip when they went to that crazy nightclub in Bratislava? Well, there was no green fairy that night but there definitely was beautiful women dancing in cages above the crowd with a great DJ spinning good house/trace music with an awesome crowd!
All in all, Sofia was definitely our biggest travel learning experience I’ve had in my many years of travel, and the best part about it is that it is very cheap! When it comes to Sofia, Bulgaria, do your research on the best hostels and you’re sure to have a great experience and never be afraid to travel outside of your comfort zone, and try somewhere new. It may be bizarre and more difficult to navigate, but you’re bound to have a better overall experience. Until next time, сбогом и на добър час! That’s Bulgarian for “Goodbye and good luck!”
Anthony is a graduate of CUNY – Staten Island. Anthony studied abroad for one semester in Rome at the American University of Arts, and one semester in Florence at Scuola Lorenzo de Medici. Anthony will be working for Bus2alps in Florence starting August 2012. If you have any questions about how to get out of your comfort zone while traveling, contact him at [email protected]