Sofia, Bulgaria

“United Bulgarians can lift a mountain”

Bulgarian Proverb

 

sofia ruins

So as part of my plan to visit as many countries as I can this year, whilst working full-time, I’ve been popping across to Europe whenever I have a few days off, so in April, I visited Sofia in Bulgaria.

I didn’t really know what to expect and travelling so soon after a month along trip, I hadn’t really done much research. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised! Bulgaria is cheap, the people are friendly with most speaking English well and it’s beautiful!

sofia mountain over city

The first thing I noticed on arrival in Sofia was a snow covered mountain rising above the town at the end of Vitosha Boulevard, the main shopping street. These are the Vitosha Mountain massif and somewhere immediately high on my priority list to visit!

I’d booked an Urban Adventures ‘Food, Heritage and Culture’ tour for my first afternoon so headed straight off on this. It was a great introduction to the city, as I saw many of the beautiful historic buildings and churches, ancient ruins and tried some delicious food along the way. I also picked up tips on where to head over the rest of my time and restaurant recommendations. The traditional Bulgarian salad was a big favourite and I ordered this a few more times… The dishes mostly feature hearty meat and potatoes. I made sure I sampled a few Bulgarian wines too.

 

bulgarian salad

I enjoyed just strolling around, admiring the architecture, and popping into churches or museums as they took my fancy. I visited the women’s market and the main food market and crossed over a few bridges.

I stayed at a Guest House just off Vitosha Boulevard, with a kitchen so that I could make my own coffee and breakfast in the morning, and had the option of making lunch for the day too. The room was comfortable but basic – just what I needed.

With only 4 days in Bulgaria, I have to confess that I didn’t actually spend all that long in Sofia itself, as I escaped the city by heading to the mountains and booked a day trip to Plovdiv and Koprivshtiza (more anon…). I’d recommend a visit to all of these and think I’ll be back myself to visit Varna, or to easily pop to Serbia or Macedonia!

sofia fountain

 

Saint-Louis, Senegal

“The chameleon changes colour to match the earth, the earth doesn’t change colour to match the chameleon”

Senegalese proverb

SL art

The only other place that I managed to visit whilst in Senegal was Saint-Louis, which I did on a two day tour from Dakar. Much more pleasant than a bus with no delays and travelling in comfort with air-conditioning. As it’s a good four to five hour drive, I’d definitely recommend staying overnight personally. I was impressed with the quality of the roads and once you are outside Dakar, there are lots of villages displaying different wares.

On the way, we stopped at a large baobab tree, thought to be 350 years old and my guide explained how every bit of the tree is used – pretty incredible! Once in Saint-Louis, I realised quite how far outside of the town centre my hotel (Hotel Mermoz – hotelmermoz.com) was. I had a few hours to kill before my city tour so would have struggled to get back into the town centre but this did mean that I relaxed by the pool and strolled along the beach.

SL horse cart

Truthfully, there is not a lot to do in Saint-Louis. I gather that most visitors do a city tour in a horse and cart and walk across the Faidherbe bridge (metal bridge in the first picture). The horse and cart tour is well worth doing and is a great way to explore the town. Saint-Louis was the original capital of Senegal when it was under French rule and there are a number of beautiful buildings that are reminiscent of the nationalities of previous inhabitants. We saw the world war 1 memorial, the old storage facilities for the when the ships unloaded and a couple of pet pelicans!

SL statue

The highlight of the tour was seeing the fishing community in action. Not only were the pirogues setting off for the night with families coming to wave them off but there was the fish market and lots of evidence of the preparation of salted fish. No one seemed to mind us wondering around taking photos. Once back at the hotel, it would have been rude not to have fish for dinner!

SL fish insta

The next morning, after a delicious continental style breakfast of French bed and croissants, we headed off for the Langue de la Barbarie National Park, which is famed for its abundant bird species. I think I was the first tourist of the day, so pretty much had the park to myself, along with my guide and driver of course! We set off in a pirogue and headed out to a sandy ridge where there were pelicans, herons etc. Apparently there are sometimes flamingos too.rons etc. Apparently there are sometimes flamingos too.

SL boat trip

I thoroughly enjoyed the boat trip, even if the others found it a little chilly! We could see fishing boats still out at sea and there were some pristine sandy beaches which were totally unspoilt – a real bonus in Senegal where I was shocked by the amount of litter in some places!

SL birds

SL national park

I don’t know much about birds but am pleased that I visited as it was something a bit different before the journey back to Dakar. On this journey, I asked to stop and see where the salt was being collected from where the river floods in rainy season. Absolutely fascinating but a lot of hard work.

SL salt

Overall, I had a great time on my fleeting visit to Senegal but don’t feel I really got to see the true country… If you’re planning on visiting, perhaps give yourself longer than 5 days!!

SL dusk

Next stop: Australia, Singapore and Vietnam!!