August 2015. I begin another road trip in the Balkans more than two years after my first journey that inspired me to create tripment. But this time I will head east, since I plan on crossing through Bulgaria to reach the Carpathian Mountains. There I plan on visiting a few cities and riding two of the best biking routes in Europe, the Trasfagarasan and Transalpina.
As always, my starting point is Athens, and I will make my first stop in Larissa where I will stay the night. The next morning I head of for Sofia. The distance is about 450 km and it will take me around 5 hours to get there.
The route is familiar to me, as I had driven to Sofia a few years back. The road from Athens to Thessaloniki, with the exception of a few small parts, is just a large and not so interesting to ride highway. I pass Thessaloninki and am a short distance from Serres, where the road there is one lane per direction. Several miles later the road becomes highway again and continuing on it I reach the Greek-Bulgarian border. At the customs checkpoint they signaled me to pass through without stopping, so even though there was a long line of cars waiting, I passed through without delay.
From here, Sofia is about 190km away. After the border, a 20km stretch of a new highway is under construction. After that I re-entered the road with one lane per direction. This road has lots of traffic at various points and you must be cautious when riding it as cars overtake against oncoming traffic quite often. Although I personally am indifferent about the route to Sofia, there were sections with lots of green, so the ride was pleasant. I am 60 km away from Sofia and once again on a highway.
I was a little confused when I entered the city because the signs were wrong. They said I had to take the 2nd exit at the roundabout, but the second exit lead back onto the highway. I used my GPS to find the correct route and once I got close to the center I made a stop in order to find the hotel I had booked on the map.
I really like Sofia. I was impressed by it my first time here, when I only stayed a few hours. It is the largest city in Bulgaria and 14th largest in the European Union, with a population exceeding 1.3 million. Sofia has a wide range of architectural styles, some of which are difficult to combine with one another. But even this particularity has its charm. One must not forget that Communism fell in 1989 and its impact is strong on many different levels.
The city streets are wide and paved at various points around the center, making it more picturesque. The main attraction here is the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky. It was built in the late 19th century, occupies an area of 3,170 sq.m. and can hold up to 10,000 people. Sofia has plenty of green areas and beautiful parks and if you’re like me and enjoy walking, makes it even more enticing to explore. Overall I walked many kilometers, as I wanted to collect as many pictures as I possibly could. At one point I came across a fast food grill that made Greek souvlaki.
The city’s largest shopping district is Vitosha Boulevard, which is full of shops, cafes and restaurants and is accessible to pedestrians only. It stretches 650 meters and gets its name from the mountain that lies just outside the city. Summers here are hot and sunny with temperatures reaching up to 35°C in August. Fortunately temperatures in the region aren’t very high right now, which would make riding my motorcycle rather unpleasant. Winter on the other hand is very cold and snowy. Sofia is a lively city and you’ll find many interesting things while exploring the area. I walked around until it got dark, and when I got tired enough, I sat to eat at an Italian restaurant. I enjoyed a pasta dish and a beer to relax.
I was a bit too exhausted to go out for a drink. So, I returned to my hotel to get some rest because I knew that the next day would be a bit difficult. The hotel I stayed at in the city center was pretty decent and very economical. You can find more information on the places I visited at tripment.net. The next day I’ll be heading northeast in order to reach Bucharest. The capital of Romania will be my next stop on my journey to the east Balkans.
The hotel that I stayed here is L’Opera House, it is decent and it is located in the city center (25€/night).
The Italian restaurant that I had my dinner is Victoria.
Enlarge map to view the sights of Sofia: