From here to God knows where.
Sofia apartment block

Hey where is everyone going.

Hi.  What are you doing in Sofia?  I came to live here for awhile.  Why now.  Everyone leaves Sofia in July and August.

Ok I know I have come to a country that has lost 25% of its population in almost 30 years.  I have quickly found out that a lot of people leave the capital Sofia during the peak summer months of July and August.  Sofia gets a bit hot and sticky during these months and people hit the black sea resorts and mountains. If this trend keeps going I might have the whole place for myself.

Not that I am complaining.  The first few days have gone ok.  I was met at the airport by 2 really nice ladies who look after the Airbnb where I am staying the first month.  One who told me she has played professional basketball in France and Spain.  She now works in an I.T company in Sofia.  The money is bad but I want to live in my own country she said.  I think this is a good sign.  If this country is to have a future it will need to be built on its young people staying and returning.

My apartment could not be in a better place.  Right next to Vitosha Boulevard.  This is the main restaurant and entertainment area of the city.  The apartment itself is perfect in most ways.  It has the basics and I have a balcony and a view of Vitosha mountain.  There is no elevator so I do have to climb 7 floors.  I suppose I can do with the exercise.   All in all, it is not bad for 400 euro a month. Even though it is currently over 30c I cannot get a picture of snow not only covering the mountain but also the balcony in winter out of my head.  4 years in Gran Canaria has left me soft.

I got out of bed early on Saturday morning.  I needed to stock up.  I made my way to the nearest Lidl.  Lidl stores seem to be everywhere in Sofia.  It went fine although I might not try to bring 5 bags of groceries up 7 floors again.  Pricewise I thought it was on par with Lidl in Ireland and Gran Canaria.  Ireland has become a very expensive country but I find its supermarkets seem to be competitive with other low-cost countries.  The big difference is going out for a meal or drinks.  On Saturday night I had 5 quality local beers.  Cost 7.50 euro.  In Ireland that would be closer to 40 euro.   A good meal in a local restaurant Sunday cost me 10 euro.  Ireland would be substantially more.

On the first reflection, Sofia is exactly what I was hoping it would be.  The centre is full of bohemian type coffee shops and bars. The pavements are in a bad state but there seem to be ongoing works to upgrade in the centre.  I think this is a good idea as Sofia is a very walkable city. Some really nice buildings stand side by side with really low-quality prefabricated apartment buildings constructed during communist days.  While I would not like to live in those buildings I can smell the history from those days.

Are you right there Comrade are you right. 

I find the communist era interesting and hope to get to get to explore Bulgaria’s part in this fascinating period in history.  I had spent a month travelling around communist Cuba last year.  While I personally think communism was a failed experiment I do not think it was bad as the propaganda from the other side made it out to be.  Having travelled in the still communist countries such as Vietnam, Laos and Cuba last year I can understand how the ideology was attractive to people who had nothing.   I am sure life for the Bulgarian people was not great in 1944.  A recent Trend study has found that 41% of Bulgarians would to prefer to live under communism today.  I find this really interesting and I want to find out why.  Is it looking back and just remembering the good things but forgetting the bad things or a disappointment with how democracy has turned out.  I am going to try to find out.

Irelands most favourite man in Sofia’s history.

When I go anywhere I am always interested in seeing any Irish connections.  For such a small country Ireland has produced some really interesting characters that have made their mark in some strange places.   Most of these people go mostly unknown to most Irish people. I recently read a book about Thomas Francis Meagher from Waterford.  He was a famous General in the Amercian civil war and also acting Governor of Montana.  An amazing story of a guy I have never heard of before.

That was in America and I am in Sofia Bulgaria so it may surprise you that the most famous person for many Irish people with a Sofia connection is a Scotsman.

It was on the 11th November 1987 in Sofia during a soccer game between Bulgaria and Scotland.  In the 87th minute, the Scotish player Gary Mackay takes a shot from the edge of the box.  It passes the Bulgarian keeper Mihaylov and hits the back of the net.  Scotland unexpectedly wins in Sofia.  The result sends Ireland into the Euro 88 tournament in Germany.  The first time that Ireland participates in a major football tournament and so begins the Jack Charlton era.

It was another JFK moment.  I remember I was in the back of Murphy’s roadworks van sitting on shovels and picks and we made our way through central London repairing pavements.  The result came over the radio.  We cheered.  Little did we know the party was just beginning.

All that Bulgaria needed on that winters night was a draw and they would be heading for Euro 88 in Germany.  A 60,000 crowd was expectant.  General Secretary Todor Zhivkov was at the time the longest-serving leader of any communist eastern bloc country.  2 years later he was gone as communist leaders fell one by one as the Berlin wall came down.

Mackay said it was one of the strangest atmospheres he ever experienced.  He could feel the nerves in the Bulgarian players.  A big part of the crowd were people in military uniform. No advertising allowed in the ground and grey soldier uniforms made for a dreary atmosphere.  Bulgaria had blown a similar chance 4 years previous for Euro 84.  Scotland hung on and won the game.  The Bulgarian manager was sacked.  Rumours of hard labour for the players abounded but never materialised.  They did have to go onto Bulgarian television and apologize to the nation.  That would never happen in Ireland.  Just as well as the Cork Gaelic football team would be on television a lot.

In the pursuit of happiness, freedom and cheap beer.

Cards on the table I like beer.  I believe that any worthwhile society should have freedom of speech and the availability of affordable beer.  A lot of the time and with the right amount of beer a person can feel free to tell their views on many subjects.  Too much beer is another thing.   I have been told that Bulgarians have little time being politically correct.  This might not be good all the time but because of it, I feel free to proclaim my love of beer. Wine is ok too but I think it should only be drunk when a beer is not available.

I am going to dedicate a section on the blog about the best places I can find to have a beer in Sofia.  It will be called beer.  If you are looking for advice on trendy bars in Sofia or elsewhere in Bulgaria you won’t find it here.   I like a bar to be a bar.  I don’t need so-called avocados that are built into the price of the beer.  Peanuts are ok.  My perfect bar is a place with a good quality good priced local beer.  Good conversion and a mix of locals and foreigners.

A special mention will be given to any bar I find with the cheapest beer I in Bulgaria.

The first bar I visited in Sofia called the Muse had all of the above.  The only concern is I was told that if neighbours complain about the noise the police can come and close a bar at 10 pm.  Having spent the last 4 years in Gran Canaria I am used to going out at 10 pm.  I hope the law is applied like rural Ireland.  Its the law to close at 1130pm but really it is not applied in many places.

I once attended a funeral in Tubbercurry in Co Sligo Ireland.  We left the bar after an all-night session and went straight to the funeral at 11 am.   A few years later another funeral in the same town and the same pub.  This time I left the pub at 5 am.  I never woke up for the 11 am funeral.  I apologised to my friend saying I had left the pub to late.  He said the problem was I had left to early.  If I had stayed and gone directly to the funeral I would have been ok.

I hope you are enjoying the blog so far.  I have read many blogs and some can be 100% information.  That is ok but I would like this to be more real life as well.  The trials and tribulations of an over 50s guy packing a bag and going somewhere new and a bit different.  The highs and the lows.

One guy’s blog I enjoy reading is wandering Earl  He has been on the road since 1999.  Not sure if I will ever beat or want to beat that time on the road but he has many good stories and tips and worth a read.

If you have any questions please contact and I will be more than happy to help if I can.

Join me on my journey. 

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Comments (9):

  1. Paul

    July 17, 2018 at 8:52 am

    Glad you are settling in Pat.

    We will be taking careful note of the bars and restaurants you visit – always good to hear from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

    I am sure the people of Sofia will flock back to their city when they hear that there is a famous Corkman in town.
    I am sure your reputation will proceed you!

    Paul

    Reply
    • PATRICK O Neill

      July 17, 2018 at 9:10 am

      Being famous can work both ways Paul. I find at times it can be good to keep the head down lol.

      Reply
  2. Mary

    July 17, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    Hi Pat like to know how much weight you will loose in the month from climbing all them stairs and lol wishing you all the best

    Reply
    • PATRICK O Neill

      July 17, 2018 at 4:11 pm

      I might lose more weight by the very fact of avoiding going out and buying food so I don’t have to walk them, Mary.

      Reply
  3. Tom

    July 18, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    Mc carthys pub, tis all you need

    Reply
  4. Melissa

    July 20, 2018 at 8:39 am

    You should try Kanaal! Lots of craft beers there. Cozy enough place.

    Reply
    • PATRICK O Neill

      July 20, 2018 at 8:55 am

      Ok you have got my interest Melissa, Will take a look over the weekend. Thanks for the tip.

      Reply

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