A photographer friend and I have been thinking about a trip to take photos for some days and we decided to visit Sofia, Bulgaria. This is just a short write-up about my experiences there and some photos from Sofia.
After a little research we found that Sofia should be quite a good place to visit due to its history: Sofia is often referred to as the second oldest city in Europe with a history of over 7000 years. It was inhabited by Celts, Romans, the Ottoman Empire, Russians and many more.
Its location makes it a mix between European, Slavic, Balkan and Turkish influences which all mixes up to a very interesting cultural heritage that is still visible today. This should add up to a great spot for some days of photography.
As always I needed to make a decision on which camera to take along. This time I wanted to travel as light as possible and I did not want to risk losing my Leica because there was another big journey coming up where I would absolutely need the MP. So I chose the Contax T2 again.
I also decided to use up my stock pile of FP4+ instead of taking my new favorite film Delta Pro.
Photo stuff reconsidered
While we left Zürich at over 30°C Sofia awaited us with a cool 15°C, combined with rain and a dark cloudy sky. I soon regretted packing only ISO 100 film which was unusable in the f/2.8 Contax T2. (I am no fan of pushing film in the T2 so I always use it at its DX-encoded ISO level.)
Luckily there was a great photography shop right next to our AirBnB apartment and they had film on stock! This shop was a pleasant surprise anyway – it is on Graf Ignatiev and it’s called Фото Братя Трейман (Treyman brothers). If you come to Sofia I totally recommend them. They have a great collection of analog cameras and all kinds of film on sale. They also develop black and white films if you need that done.
From their great selection of films (all kept in a fridge) I bought some rolls of Delta 400 so I was back at my favourite film once again instead of using up my FP4+ but at least I was ready to shoot in the darkness of Sofia’s rainy summer days.
After landing at the Sofia Airport we took the pretty modern Metro from the airport to the Vasil Lewski Stadium close to our apartment. One ride on Sofia’s Metro was 1.60 no matter from where to where. It’s easy to get around Sofia by Metro an it is very cheap.
Sofia’s city centre is rather small and there is not too much to see there. There is one main shopping street called Vitosha Boulevard which has most of the international brands as well as some eastern european local chains. This boulevard does not offer much photography-wise but it is a central meeting place in the evenings with tons of restaurants and bars.
On the one end of the high street you will find the National Palace of Culture with an underpass and some interesting places around it which is a great place for street photography in my opinion.
At the other end of the main boulevard there are Sofia’s most popular sights Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Banya Bashi Mosque as well as Sofia Synagogue. These three are special because all three major religions have their main “temples” very close one to another. Nearby you’ll find nice places for street photography as well.
Not so popular Sofia
Walking all overs Sofia’s touristic centre for two days we had seen most of the centre and felt like going out to more remote places within the urban area. On a map we discovered spots like the central railway station and a power plant which was built very close to the city centre. There were some very run-down residential areas around the central railway station which might be worth a visit (if you dare to walk around there).
We missed meeting a local photographer to show us around which was a mistake probably regarding Sofia’s outskirts – the locals usually know the best places and of course they know better where it’s safe. So maybe next time.
First off Sofia is a much safer city than its reputation. The biggest danger in my opinion are the sidewalks which often are in a horrible state – it’s very easy to stumble or step into a deep hole and hurt yourself somewhere on the road. But that’s about it. I think in the six days there we heard police sirens only once or twice.
You get great food for a very low price all over Sofia and there are some spots that are really nice to see. There are many nice bars and coffee shops where you can spend your time.
But in my opinion there is no need to stay longer than 3-4 days if you want to stay mostly in the city centre. Otherwise you should make a plan to get a rental car and go somewhere outside the city.
Have a look at my flickr set with all the photos from Sofia.