Europe, Bulgaria, Sofia

More sights in Sofia

No Comments 21 July 2010

More sights in Sofia

As a one-time resident of Sofia (back in 2001-2002), the Monkey got to explore the city a bit more deeply than some of the places he visits. Here are a few of his photos from those days.

Lyulin, Sofia, Bulgaria
The Monkey enjoys the view from an apartment in Lyulin, one of Sofia’s Communist-era housing developments. One of the Communists’ greatest accomplishments was in the realm of home construction. Across the Eastern Bloc, high-rise concrete apartment blocks rose up, filling the housing gap in growing cities and replacing post-war rubble and shanty-type dwellings. Much disparaged by those who have never been in one of them, the blocks can be quite comfortable, although with the neoliberal belt-tightening of the post-Communist period many are fast drifting into disrepair. Nonetheless, millions of people across Eastern Europe got quality housing from developments such as this one. In the distance you can see Sofia’s 2,300 meter Mount Vitosha.

Tram, Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia’s public transport system features a new metro, buses, and electric cable-powered buses, but the Monkey’s favorite ride was always the tram, or tramvai as the locals call it. A number of tram lines wend their way through the city center and into the outlying neighborhoods. One even runs through a heavily forested park in the city limits.

Shopska salata i rakia, Sofia, Bulgaria
Maimunka enjoys the delicious Bulgarian cuisine in his local mehana (tavern) in Sofia. The shopska salata mixes tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and white (feta) cheese. To wash it down, the Monkey has a glass of rakia, Bulgaria’s national drink (a strong brandy made from plums, grapes, or apricots). And for good measure, the Monkey is sporting his martenitsa—a red and white good luck charm exchanged by Bulgarians each year on March 1.

IMRO Headquarters, Sofia, Bulgaria
On one of Sofia’s only pedestrianized streets, Ulitsa Pirotska, Maimunka stops by the headquarters of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO; BMPO in Cyrillic), now a political party and cultural group but once a highly militant secret society aimed at reacquiring large swathes of Macedonian territory that were removed from Bulgaria by the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

The story of IMRO, as well as that of Macedonia and the irredentist claims of various Balkan states on that historic region and its people, are among the most complicated topics in all of human history. For a bit more on the subject, see the Monkey’s photo at Rozhen Monastery, as well as the Republic of Macedonia page.

National Palace of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria
The Monkey awaits a rendez-vous at one of Sofia’s favored meeting spots, the plaza in front of the National Palace of Culture (NDK).

Ploshtad Slaveikov, Sofia, Bulgaria
The Monkey enjoys the Sofian tradition of posing for a photo with the sculpture of Petko and Pencho Slaveikov in the square that bears their name. Petko and his son Pencho were poets of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, a time when Bulgaria was emerging from centuries of Ottoman occupation as a vibrant, free nation. Petko Slaveikov’s poems dealt with Bulgarian folklore as a means to invigorate and give shape to the national liberation movement, while Pencho honed his craft on more metaphysical and existential themes. Both men are highly revered by Bulgarians to this day. The two scribes enjoy a year-round view of Slaveikov Square, site of Sofia’s teeming open-air book market.

Trabant, Sofia, Bulgaria
Maimunka sits on the epitome of what some have dubbed Communist Chic: the Trabant P-601. The little East German four-seater—nicknamed Trabbie— was a personal mode of transport that many Eastern Bloc families hoped to attain after years of work, and maybe a few well-placed acts of “loyalty” to the Party. Although Trabant could not survive the onslaught of Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen in a reunified Germany, many of these easy-to-maintain autos are still plying the roads of Eastern Europe today, though the early two-stroke models are pretty heavy polluters. Trabbies also have a cult status among auto collectors around the world.

Monkey's apartment, Sofia, Bulgaria
The Monkey poses by the window of his apartment in Sofia. A pretty but dilapidated house catches the eye in the back garden.

This Monkey adventure has been viewed 1244 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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