Europe, Bulgaria, Sofia

Alpine terrain near Sofia

No Comments 21 July 2010

Alpine terrain near Sofia

The Monkey escapes from Sofia to hike in the nearby mountains. Get your boots on!

Forest on Mount Vitosha, Sofia, Bulgaria
Just at the edge of Sofia lies Mount Vitosha, a huge mass of granite that soars to 2,300 meters. Covered with forests and pastures, rocky streams and hiking trails, ski pistes and mountain huts, Vitosha truly brings the alpine to the people of Sofia. Its base is 30 minutes by public transport from the city center, and a cable car ferries day trippers to the mountaintop in another 30 minutes.

After enjoying an evening walk in the woods up on Vitosha, the Monkey was able to get back down to Sofia in time for dinner and a night out on the town. Not bad, eh?

TV Tower on Mount Vitosha, Sofia, Bulgaria
The Monkey inspects the Television Tower on one of Mount Vitosha’s lower peaks. Though you can’t really make it out due to the haze, some of Sofia is visible in the distance (above the Monkey’s head).

Stara Planina, Bulgaria
Catching his breath during a hike, Maimunka takes in the idyllic scenery of the Stara Planina (Old Mountains) near Shturgel, a village some 45 minutes from Sofia where some of his Bulgarian friends live. The Stara Planina—also called the Balkan range—cut east-west across the center of Bulgaria. Their highest peak is almost 2,400 meters, but most of the range is lower and heavily forested. Illegal logging is of increasing concern in the Stara Planina.

Shturgel, Stara Planina, Bulgaria
The Monkey sits on a wall in Shturgel, another quaint village in the Stara Planina mountain range. At left you can see the traditional timber-framed, mud-and-thatch walls of an old barn.

Shturgel, Stara Planina, Bulgaria
The Monkey relaxes in the garden of his friends’ cottage in Shturgel, in the Stara Planina Mountains.

This Monkey adventure has been viewed 1334 times since the 2010 website relaunch.



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7,262,675 (2008)

Land area:

110,550 sq. km.


Sofia (pop. 1,113,674; 2005)


In 2006, Bulgaria ranked 55th in the UNDP Human Development Index and 66th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $4,089.22. Public debt accounts for 10.5 percent of total GDP, while 14.1 percent of Bulgarians are beneath the poverty line.

Main language(s):


Monkey's name:

Maimunka (my-moon-ka)

Fun fact:

Bulgarians nod their heads up and down to say “no,” while they shake their heads from side to side to signify “yes.” That is, unless they adjust their head movements to accommodate for visitors accustomed to the more conventional non-verbal cues. Either way, head symbols can be a confusing affair in Bulgaria.

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Recommended reading

A Concise History of Bulgaria
R.J. Crampton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
This short book has become the go-to summation of this Balkan country’s long and complex history. A perfect introduction to the country.

Beyond the Frontier: The Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria 1944
E.P. Thompson (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997)
A fascinating exploration of a British mission to rendez-vous with Bulgarian Partisans and raise a force against the Nazi-allied royalist dictatorship during World War II. Reads like a spy novel at times, but also a memorial to the author’s brother, who was killed in the effort.

Communism and the Remorse of an Innocent Victimizer
Zlatko Anguelov (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2002)
Part personal memoir, part exploration of the all-encompassing nature of Bulgaria’s Communist government, this book poses uncomfortable questions about the banal, everyday forms of repression and victimization that take root under coercive governments. Anguelov’s observations resonate far beyond Bulgaria’s borders…

The Balkans: A Short History
Mark Mazower (New York: Modern Library Paperback, 2002)
As the title says, a short history of the Balkan region. A helpful intro to this corner of Europe.

The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999
Misha Glenny (New York: Penguin, 2001)
A rather epic undertaking by a former BBC correspondent for Central Europe, this book traces the tumultuous two centuries of the Balkan states’ struggles for independence from the Ottoman Empire, the emergence of pan-Slavic tendencies and their tribulations, and the reign of various regimes of the right and left during the 20th Century. A worthwhile read—don’t let its dimensions frighten you…

Description of a Struggle: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Eastern European Writing
Editor: Michael March (New York: Vintage Books, 1994: Out of print)
A great anthology of short stories from the former Eastern Bloc, providing an evocative snap shot of the early post-Cold War era. Stories are organized by state, with the Bulgarian Victor Paskov’s tale of “Romanian” exiles in the Paris Metro a particular highlight.

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