Around Sofia – the bad, the ugly and some good

Around Sofia – the bad, the ugly and some good

This day I had a few hours on my own and I spent them walking around the city center. I have grown up in the neighborhood and seeing so many things changed and yet the same was a rather interesting experience.

The picture above is of Boulevard Vitosha, named after the nearby mountain and the main pedestrian shopping street in the capital. When it rained, there used to be big puddles on it and my then best friend and I would go and spend the day splashing and playing in them. Then it became open to traffic and now its back to being a pedestrian area. The trams have always gone through.

If you catch that tram and get off at the next stop, you would be right at the National Palace of Culture or as we call it NDK (en-de-ka). Its a big structure that used to be the heart of cultural events and whatnots and was built by communist grandiose ideas and aesthetics.

It used to be a wonderful and frequent place for play. It has numerous gardens and nooks for creative exploration. In winter we would go on the hilly bits and ride our mini ski there. There were fountains all along the water, and as you see they have kept only the upper ones. People would sit along the water and just relax. To the right of the building you can see a part of Vitosha mountain.

Now the place looks rather duff. Grey and old, with graffiti all over; dirty broken tiles and rackety benches. I took a few pictures of that stuff, but my friend says I am only showing the ugly stuff, so I kept them to myself.

As you can also see, this public building has not escaped the grab of opportunistic capitalism – all over the height of it are big advertising posters of private enterprises also some plazma displays of advertising. Everyones’ gotta make a buck, I guess.

Now some images of the streets.

This is how much space you have available as a pedestrian throughout the streets of Sofia.

The situation with the cars and parking is completely out of control. Because there is no available parking, the vehicles stop wherever and on top, around, in front of whatever with complete disregard for others. It is a frustrating experience to walk the streets on foot, I cannot imagine what it must be like for people with disabilities or mothers with prams.

I visited my old primary school, which is still there and thriving without much change from the outside. The center where I used to go and take ballet and piano lessons was being worked on as though they are trying to preserve its facade and build something new behind it. Not much left of it though.

As I walked through familiar streets I stopped by the place of a friend from primary school. Now there was a door before the house and there I saw the death notice of her grandfather. I remembered him vividly – I hope he is resting in piece.

Surprisingly my old kindergarten or childcare centre was still up and running. I stopped by and snapped a picture of the playground. It used to be a bit bigger to the left, but they have changed some things. Its quite strange how things we remember from our childhood seem so much smaller when we see them as grown ups. A lady was looking at me suspiciously, so I left in a hurry.

My snack: banitza with fetta cheese and “ayran”, which is just watered down plain yogurt.

Another thing that has unpleasantly surprised me is the number of homeless dogs roaming around. It feels like some third world country with those dirty animals walking the streets everywhere. Not only that, but their poo is everywhere too. Even children’s playgrounds are not safe… what have they done with this country of mine…

Yes, there are fancy shops, restaurants and establishments. New buildings are popping up everywhere. The rich are surely living the life, as much as is possible under this surrounding conditions of course. But then there are a large number of people left behind, namely the retired and disabled. They are given a big fat middle finger and left to fend for themselves.

Just now they decided to raise the minimum pension with 0.80 lev to 114 lev, which is about US$91 (per month!). And no, the prices of everything are not cheap, I would say they are pretty close to the prices back in Aussieland.

Then it was time for a late lunch with relatives at the house where I grew up. I have walked up and down those stairs for about 13 years. It felt familiar and foreign at the same time.

There were changes all over the place, but it has been…over 17 years since I have lived here.

I guess I have looked at the city from the point of view of an emotional used to be local with a certain amount of nostalgia to the inevitable past screwed through my childhood memories. I wished that in the 20 years since the collapse of communism, the country would have achieved and changed more, but from what I hear and see, the guts of it are still bolted in corruption and the never ending fight for a bigger slice of the supposable communal pie. Everyone in power has one concern and one only – how to steal more and in the few years in power to ensure that their future will be set forever. Screw the country, screw the people, screw it all. And what doesnt help is that the said people just take it – they grumble, they are angry, they have lost faith to the point of being completely apathetic, but the one thing they dont do is fight for their rights. I dont know if this is just the left over traits from 500 years under Ottoman rule and then the 45 years under the communist fist, but it is not something that is helping the situation.

On a happier note, the lunch was lovely and I ate all the cherries and most of the strawberries ;)
Produce here is still pretty tasty, although not quite as yummy as I remembered it, but still…

I have a bunch of pictures waiting for me to sort through. Tomorrow is the wedding, but Mon and Tuesday I should be able to update you again. I know, I am slacking, but the pace has been busy.