SIGHTS in Sofia:
It's reputed to be the most magnificent building on the Balkan peninsula, at least from the 20th century. And this not only according to Bulgarians. Absolutely convince yourself of the cathedral's beauty. It was built as a remembrance to an important historical event: After the Russian-Ottoman War at the end of the 19th century, Bulgaria broke out of the Ottoman Empire, and the building is a sign of gratitude. At the same time it is a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives. The Russian Tsar of the time, Alexander II, was and is known as the liberator king. The cathedral was named after the hero's patron saint. Construction started in 1904; however, it was only consecrated in 1924. The first highlight, its gilded domes, are visible from afar. The second is the size. As was the wish of the Bulgarian government, it has room for 5,000 people. This makes the never ending façade almost as imposing as the inside of the church, which consists of innumerable artworks: Frescoes, icons and mosaics.
Lesson number one: Patriotism. That starts with this monument, hits the centre of the heart and doesn't get passed the history and personality of this man. To most Bulgarians, Vasil Levski is sacrosanct. He was the brain and ideologue behind the Bulgarian national freedom movement and lived from 1837 to 1873. In his 36 years he endeared himself to the Bulgarian people by fighting the Ottomans. His name is more than a word - it stands for dreams, hopes, potential and freedom. If you talk to locals ask about the local hero. You'll be surprised how people, in particular the younger generation, can still get excited about good old Vasil. The monument to the freedom fighter is located at an ominous spot: It's exactly where Vasil Levski was hanged by the Ottomans, on February 19th, 1873.
Built on a necropolis, abused as a gladiators' arena, extended as a mosque and finally restored to a church: The history of St. Sofia is just as long as it is fascinating. The classic Byzantine masterwork from the 6th century is the oldest Orthodox church in Sofia and was then built on the highest elevation of the settlement. In the course of several bouts of destruction and rebuilding efforts the church has changed, but retains its basic structure: Even today the three-nave basilica shines in the classic Byzantine look. Unfortunately, most of the frescoes have suffered severely over the years, however, you can still admire many icons and three impressive altars. And since you are already there: Just pay a quick visit to the grave of Bulgaria's national poet, Ivan Vazov, on the Eastern side of the church. That's the gentleman with the book in his hand.
EAT in Sofia:
The opera club is definitely the place to be. For the cosmopolitan, bon vivant, music lover and every one who wants to chill after a day in the city. The way it's sitting there, in the city centre of Sofia, it's not so far from the flair of the equivalent clubs in London, Paris and Vienna. Modern style meets baroque patterns; minimalism harmonizes perfectly with ornamental knick-knack. The menu lists delicious dishes, with influences from all over Europe, artfully combined. Whether for lunch or brunch, coffee or cake - the Opera is always a busy hot spot. After dinner, when the garden becomes enchanted, the DJ sets the colours of the cocktails to lounge music. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday people party and enjoy till the morning hours.
There is none more modern and trendy, at least not in Sofia. Almost everyone finds happiness here and the perfect ambiance for their projects: For lunch you can still come with the entire, if elegant, family. In the afternoon at the latest, they should cede to best friend, when the first cocktails are mixed. At night it gets romantic - with Italian cuisine and excellent wines from Chile, Australia and New Zealand. The centre of the restaurant is the bar, with room for a whole swarm of bar flies and the perfect surrounding for a good start on the night. The barkeepers know the ins and outs of their work, putting on the perfect show with a drink. Once you've looked and drunk enough, you can turn your back to the living barstools and go back to one of the more intimate tables.
In the fast-paced club scene you can almost call the Tiffany Club an oldy - for five years now it's been one of the top places to party all night long. The restaurant offers a broad spectrum of European dishes, as well as creative and tasty sushi. The furnishing appears to be very retro at first glance, and ultramodern at the second: Crystal on the ceiling, cushioned benches, different easy chairs and stools, leather on the walls. One tends to order a Martini and feel like James Bond, yes, even as a woman. If you want to enjoy the bar at your ease, you should come for lunch. It offers the right framework for a business meeting or a nice chat with friends. At night it's getting louder, when the DJ starts to make everybody dance. Special parties and events keep people from getting bored.
STAY in Sofia:
To sleep here introduces a flowery dimension to your stay in Sofia. The first eye-catcher is the mosaics in the entry-hall, which show giant flowers and petals. Kitsch? Certainly. Yet it's administered at the right doses. The hotel doesn't differ a lot from better-known places in town when it comes to luxury. But it does when it comes to size: Small and very nice, this is the motto. The hotel is located in the middle of the city, close to the Vitosha shopping street. The neighbourhood has just as much style as your room. Everything is said and done in a flowery way here, whether at the desk or on the big, cosy bed. When you are hungry you don't even need to go far, in order to gather the best aromas around you: The hotel restaurant Le Bouquet serves wonderful seafood with great wine. All non-smokers, who suffer from chronic coughing during their time in Bulgaria, will find a reprieve for their ailing lungs: The hotel is entirely smoke-free, from the roof down to the basement. Doubles start at about 110,- euros.
There is none more classic. More luxurious neither. The Grand Hotel is one of the most renowned hotels in Sofia, and at a prime location: Just go outside for a bit. You are near the National Theatre, the City Art Gallery, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the great Concert Hall. The VIPs who go here do this less because of the location but because of the stars. The Grand Hotel is graced by five of them, and each one of them stands for pure luxury. The façade is imposing with its marble, granite and glass. Inside you have sumptuous curtains, classy and old-fashioned upholstery and colourful glass doors. Thus it's no surprise that the Grand Hotel also features a museum: The in-house collection has over 400 oil paintings. Originals, of course. Doubles start at 79,- euros a night.
The Sheraton is one of the best hotels in town and deserves every single one of its five stars. It's located at a prominent spot, in the centre of the city. Even travellers with limited time on their hands get a chance to explore the city and plunge into city life. The motto? Luxury of the finest kind. It starts in the hotel lobby, which welcomes you with sophisticated stucco, columns reaching to the ceiling and marble floors. It goes on with spacious rooms with ceilings so high that the chandeliers almost seem to get lost. Not enough? Enjoy the comprehensive programme in the fitness centre, the sauna or the beauty parlour. If you don't want to go outside after a tiring day, you don't have to get bored: You can lose your money in the casino or invest it in an elegant evening in the Stardust Restaurant or the Lobby Bar Pliska. The terrace is particularly beautiful; from there you'll have a great view of the city centre - and this is really an unforgettable experience, especially at night. Doubles start at 125,- euros.
SHOPPING in Sofia:
Are you sporty or would like to look as if you were? Then go get a new outfit at Dielsport. Everything here is both functional and makes you look good. Thus it's the right place for ski-lovers and those who just want to make a good impression in winter without freezing to death. Cool hats and snowboard jackets, ski trousers, which will remain dry with a wild downhill style and therefore, falls, as well as practical backpacks. Dielsport is working on different slopes: Divine, Alpine, Ultra, Sport and Demon. The hallmark: Top materials and fair prices. And, not surprisingly, Dielsport also designs uniforms for snow-workers of all kinds - from the ski school to the mountain rescue service.
If you take a walk through the shopping malls in Sofia you may doubt that Bulgaria once had anything to do with communism. Here capitalism reigns, and the Bulgarians who own the necessary capital enjoy every bit of it. The City Centre Sofia at the Arsenalski Boulevard is an impressive mall that extends over six floors. Included in the entertainment programme are bars, restaurants and an imposing IMAX cinema. Fashion lovers can buy French fashion at SInequanon and Turkish glass ware such as vases, drinking glasses and bowls. Highlights are the Nolita Shop, with unique fashion for unique women, and the Ra-Re Store, which not only offers clothes but also history and way of life along with it. Morover, there are Kookai, Energie, Fornarina, Stefanel, Missoni and other international brands. Kenvelo is a kind of Czech H&M and a Mecca for Bulgarian youth.
The list of celebrity customers of Andrews' is long. Yet outside of Bulgaria most of them aren't really well-known. But probably they all have good taste. For men there are mainly shirts and more shirts. Even that can be exciting, when you are looking for the perfect piece and then find it in the end. There're also the suit to go with, the tie, the shoe, the wallet and much more. The women's collection is a feast for the eyes and offers much more variety. The flattering dresses and suits bestow an almost doll-like elegance to the woman, along with a lot of self-confidence. The perfect outfit for people of the brand young and successful. Information on the side: Andrews Fashion, too, creates uniforms for companies and hotels. Which ones, that's up to you to find out.