Yesterday I shared some of the "big things" in Sofia, so today is all about the "small things." What do I mean by small things? In this case, I mean many of the quirky, unique things that make Sofia such an interesting city - things that are easy to overlook or forget about when we focus on the big landmarks, historical sites, and other more notable parts of the city. Our blog title is supposed to help us remember to focus on both the big and the small in life and in travel, so today let's chat about the small!
Even though Bulgaria is a part of the European Union (since 2007) they do not use the Euro. Instead, they use their own money called the "lev" (honestly though, I have not idea if I'm spelling it right, but that's how it's pronounced.) Right now, the lev is about a 2 to 1 ratio with the dollar, so if something costs 2 lev that's about $1. That exchange rate has made everything in the city very affordable for us! The paper money is colorful and doesn't feature people very much. The coins come in increments of .02, .05, .10, .20, .50, 1, and 2.
Bulgaria is famous for its roses, and for many products that can be made from them! There are stores everywhere selling rose oil, rose lotion, basically any beauty or health product that could be infused with rose oil, they've got it. We kind of sort of accidentally purchased some for ourselves. We don't usually buy souvenirs, but a very convincing elderly woman at an outdoor market talked us into this one. It's a vial of rose oil in a wooden flask that she promises was all made in Bulgaria ("not in China! not in China!") It was only 5 lev which seemed like a really good deal... until we saw other stands selling the same thing for only 2 lev. Oh well!
Sofia is famous for having high-quality spring water that comes down from the surrounding mountains. It doesn't smell great (kind of sulfur-like) but we have been assured several times it is perfectly safe to drink. It comes out very warm, like a hot bath, so I haven't drunk it straight from the tap, but we have filled up our water bottle several times, chilled it at home, then drank it, and it's great!
Many of the locals use this spring water in their own homes all of the time. There are several locations around the city where one can fill up, and you will see people heading there with giant plastic water bottles to fill!
Low Convenience Stores
This next small thing is completely unique to Sofia (as far as I know anyway) - dotted around the city are these extremely low to the ground convenience stores! I read about these in an article and kept my eye out every time we ventured downtown. For the first couple of days, I didn't see any, but as soon as I spotted on I started seeing them all over! The one I grabbed a picture of gives you a good idea of what they look like, though I also saw several that were even lower! At one of them, people were literally crouching down on their knees to talk to the proprietors. Apparently, these date back to right after the fall of Communism when citizens were trying to figure out how to make a living. They started selling items out of their basements and thus the low convenience store was born!
Vitosha Boulevard isn't exactly a small thing in itself as it is a huge pedestrian walkway in the middle of the city. If you ever visit Sofia you definitely want to come here right away! There are tons of restaurants both sit down and takeaway (and all the food is super inexpensive), clothing stores, souvenir shops, and more. I loved to go here, get some food, and eat on a bench while people watching. The mountains are in the background when you look down the boulevard, making it extra beautiful!
City Parks and Fountains
The more we criss-crossed our way around downtown Sofia, the more we discovered beautiful parks. What I really loved is that most of them had some sort of fountain or water feature! We often would find a shaded bench by a fountain and just sit and take a break in the city. This one is located in front of the Palace of Culture which seems to be a large theater showing plays/musicals/etc. The fountains were particularly stunning here.
Almost every time we started to head home from the city our Google navigator would give us a different way to get to our main bus home. We loved this because it helped us see parts of the city we otherwise might never have explored. A few days ago we got on a new to us trolley that then suddenly went through a wooded area! In the middle of the city!
The ride suddenly felt very magical and strangely, reminded me of riding the train at my favorite amusement park back home (shout out to Adventureland!) For a few minutes we felt like we were transported outside of the city, before just as suddenly returning to the hustle and bustle. It was odd but very wonderful!
So which of these small things about the city intrigues you the most? I think I'm still most fascinated by those tiny low convenience stores - I've never seen anything like it! Remember when you travel (even around your hometown!) to keep an eye out for all the small things that make a place truly unique.