Day 144 – 10.10.2016
Thessaloniki, Greece to Sofia, Bulgaria

We left Thessaloniki early in the morning. It was drizzling and we walked to the parking with our luggage and left from there for Sofia. We had a 304 km drive with very nice expressways. Our GPS went crazy many times as it could not locate the new highways. It was a wonderful drive until we entered the city. Once we entered the city, there was a lot of traffic but our GPS guided correctly through the narrow streets of the city centre. The receptionist checked us in and showed us the parking space and then showed us to the apartment. It was a nice apartment. After keeping our luggage, we walked to the city centre.

As we were walking to the city centre we came across this beautiful Orthodox Church.

This Russian Church officially known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker is situated on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard.

We then walked for quite a distance until we reached the Cathedral.

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in Sofia, serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. It occupies an area of 3,170 square metres (34,100 sq ft) and can hold 10,000 people inside. It is the second-largest cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula, after the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a cross-domed basilica featuring an emphasized central gold-plated 45 m high dome with the bell tower reaching 53 metres. The temple has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, the heaviest weighing 12 tons and the lightest 10 kilograms. The interior is decorated with Italian marble in various colours, Brazilian onyx, alabaster, and other luxurious materials. The central dome has the Lord’s Prayer inscribed around it, with thin gold letters.

The cathedral is adjacent to St. Sofia Church, the church for which the city of Sofia is named.

The National Historical Museum in Sofia is Bulgaria’s largest museum. It was founded on 5 May 1973. A new representative exhibition was opened in the building of the Court of Justice on 2 March 1984, to commemorate the 13th centenary of the Bulgarian state.

The museum was moved in 2000 to the former primary residence of the dictator and last communist leader Todor Zhivkov at Boyana, and currently contains over 650,000 objects connected to archaeology, fine arts, history and ethnography, although only 10% of them are permanently exhibited.

The museum includes a cloakroom, buffet, library and souvenir shop. It undertakes professional conservation and restoration of historical monuments, authenticity investigations and expert valuation. Its collections comprise materials dating from prehistoric ages till the present. As of 2016, the museum’s director is Dr. Bozhidar Dimitrov, an historian.

The Church of St George is an Early Christian red brick rotunda that is considered the oldest building in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.[1] It is situated behind the Sheraton Hotel, amid remains of the ancient town of Serdica.

Built by the Romans in the 4th century, it is a cylindrical domed structure built on a square base. It is believed that it was built on the site of a pagan temple, though the original purpose of the building was for public use. The building is famous for the 12th-, 13th- and 14th-century frescoes inside the central dome. Three layers of frescoes have been discovered, the earliest dating back to the 10th century. Magnificent frescoes of 22 prophets over 2 metres tall crown the dome. Painted over during the Ottoman period, when the building was used as a mosque, these frescoes were only uncovered and restored in the 20th century.

One of Bulgaria’s most significant historical treasures, listed on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage list is the Boyana Church. Set amongst tall old pine trees in the exclusive suburb of Boyana, this quaint church dates back to the 11th century and was built in three stages.

National Historical Museum – with more than 22,000 exhibits, this museum will show you the development of social, cultural and political life on Bulgarian soil. Among the most spectacular exhibits are unique gold treasures from Panagyurishte and the Tracian silver from Rogozen.

Sofia preserves many valuable monuments to its long and storied past. Visitors exploring the city’s streets can see remnants of The Eastern Gate from the days when Sofia was Serdika and Sredets, dating from the 2nd-4th centuries CE. These remains are exhibited in the underpass connecting the Presidential Palace and The Ministerial Council, surrounded by shops selling traditional Bulgarian souvenirs and rosewater.

Ivan Vazov National Theatre – built in 1907 by the Austrian architects Helmer & Felner, the National Theatre is one of the most ornate buildings in Sofia. The interior was destroyed by fire in 1923, and restored again six years later increasing the theatres seating capacity to over 1000. The stage curtain, with its mythical firebird motive from Stravinsky’s ballet, was woven by women from Panagyurishte.

Presidency and Parliament building – both located in the heart of the city, they are very interesting and attractive sightseeing points, combining unique style and architecture.

One of Sofia’s favorite spots for both visitors and residents is Vitosha Boulevard. There are shops carrying world-famous brands, and since it’s a pedestrian zone, it a very pleasant place for strolling and relaxation. In general, the capital is a shopper’s delight, since Sofia is still one of the major crossroads on the Balkan Peninsula for trade of all kinds.

Borissova Gradina – once you are well away from the busy boulevards, there are plenty of woodland paths to wander around and pretend you are miles away from the city life. The Kokolandia rope park in the woods behind Park Hotel Moskva provides some challenging fun for young and old alike.
Vrana Park Museum – just before the ringroad in the direction of Plovdiv is the magnificent Vrana Park Museum. With an entrance fee of 5 leva the park is a very attractive place for the visitors.

Vitosha Mountain – avoid the bare plateau in the summer and seek out the dense shade of the level path running from Zheleznitsa – Bistritsa – Simeonovo – Dragalevtsi or make your way from the centre of Boyana to the Boyana waterfall or lake, don’t miss also the Golden Bridges – the largest stone river, situated in the valey of Vladayska river.

The National Art Gallery is Bulgaria’s national gallery and houses over 50,000 pieces of Bulgarian art. It is located on Battenberg Square in the capital city of Sofia, occupying most of the historic and imposing edifice of the former royal palace of Bulgaria, having been established in 1934 and moved to the palace in 1946, after the abolition of the monarchy. National Art Gallery is situated at an altitude of 556 m.

Day 145 – 11.10.2016
Sofia, Bulgaria to Bucharest, Romania

We left at 9.00 am from the hotel for Bucharest. We had to cross the Romania border. The drive was very nice, though most of the part it was a single lane road. After which we were driving on a newly built motorway and it was a very enjoyable drive with hardly any vehicles on the road.

Unfortunately it was raining the whole day. When we arrived at the border, there was a long queue and it took almost an hour to cross the border.

Once we crossed the border, we drove towards Bucharest the capital and largest city of Romania, as well as its cultural, industrial, and financial centre. Bucharest is the sixth-largest city in the European Union by population within city limits, after London, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, and Paris.

We did not have much difficulty in finding the resident apartment booked by us through Booking.com – Royal Apartment (a lovely huge two bedroom apartment). We had to call the housekeeper and he came in a few minutes with the keys. After making ourselves comfortable, putting one sets of clothes for the laundry, and the raincoats on, we walked to the city centre.

Economically, Bucharest is the most prosperous city in Romania and is one of the main industrial centres and transportation hubs of Eastern Europe. The city has big convention facilities, educational institutes, cultural venues, traditional “shopping arcades”, and recreational areas.

There were some splendid 17th- and 18th-century Orthodox churches tucked away in quiet corners and graceful art nouveau villas. It seems, communism changed the face of the city for good, and nowhere is this more evident than at the gargantuan Palace of Parliament, the craziest and arguably crassiest tribute to dictatorial megalomania you’ll ever see.

This is Bucharest’s most prestigious concert hall and one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, built in 1888 in neo-classical style after a design by the French architect Albert Galleron. With its 40 m high dome and the Doric columns it resembles an ancient temple. The beautiful facade is adorned with mosaics of five Romanian rulers. On the inside there are scenes from Romanian history. This is the place to hear classical music in Bucharest.

We visited this small but beautiful church,, built in 1724 during the ruling of Phanariot Prince Nicolae Mavrocordat by the Greek monk Ioanichie. The inside is equally beautiful, with wood and stone carvings and paintings and frescoes.

The imposing building used to be the Royal Palace is located in the Revolution Square was first built around 1815 by prince Dinicu Golescu and it underwent changes over several decades. The building was damaged during the events of December 1989 and was closed for several years for repairs.

The Parliament Palace (Palatul Parlamentului)

People who grew up in this city consider this big building to be an ugly Soviet-style building which represents the peak of Ceausescu’s megalomania. Many old beautiful buildings were demolished to make way for this monstrosity, they say. This building is a big tourist attraction in Bucharest (the second largest building in the world in terms of surface, competing with the Pentagon in size).

The Choral Temple a synagogue which was devastated by the far-right Legionaries, but was then restored after World War II, in 1945. It hosts daily religious services in the small hall, being one of the few active synagogues in the city and in Romania. We were refused entry as it was closed for the day, only open for prayer to the Jews, but were asked to return back the next day morning. However it was not possible for us to come back as we were leaving the next day morning.

New Saint Gheorghe Church – was built between 1705-1706. It holds the tomb of its founder Constantin Brancoveanu, Wallachia’s ruler from 1688 – 1714 whose political and administrative sharpness brought the country into a period of stability, economic prosperity and cultural boom. Because of his anti-Turkish policy he was denounced to the Ottoman Porte, dethroned and brought to Istanbul. There he was tortured by the Turks and he and and his four sons were beheaded on August 26, 1714. His wife had his corpse exhumed in secret and smuggled back into Romania. She reburied him in secret in the church’s court.

Just like most major cities attract beggars in one form or another, it was no surprise to find beggars on the streets of Bucharest – after all, it is a city of over 2 million people in a relatively poor area of eastern Europe.

We walked around Bucharest and it wasn’t too much of an ordeal. There were quite a few underpasses and pedestrian crossings in the city centre.

Driving was difficult in Bucharest city. Quite a lot of vehicles are in a relatively poor state of disrepair, and road rules aren’t always followed, especially when turning from one road onto another across a lane of traffic. Traffic signs and rules may exist but none seem to follow them. People seem to drive on everywhere whenever possible. Cars were seen parked on pavements and block other cars from getting around.

With little time on our hand, we could explore Bucharest only to this extent. We then found a good restaurant and had our dinner. The next day we had a long day crossing over through the Turkey border at Kapikule, a very new border between Bucharest and Turkey.