63km – 10H52’
Sofia, the 5th European Capital (not counting Paris) that we have touched on during the European race, is at an altitude of 550 meters, the second highest after Madrid. In order to understand Sofia and Bulgaria, we have to look at the country’s history. From 1396 Bulgaria was a province of the Ottoman Empire. “The Turkish yoke” lasted for 5 centuries, until 1878. For 500 years, the Bulgarians were able to retain their language and their religion. It wasn’t until 1850 that some Bulgarian “nationalist” leaders began to assemble partisans to fight for freedom, but in vain. Bulgaria’s borders were set in 1878, thanks to the intervention of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, who declared war on the Turks. In 1879, Sofia became the capital of a constitutional principality, whose prince was a German, Alexander of Battenberg. The Austrians and the English put their noses in Bulgarian affairs at the time (that’s a very European habit!). Then between wars and treaties and various governments by 1946 when the borders of the country were again established, the country was in ruins. Bulgaria became a republic and the Communist Party took the reins of power until 1990, and it was then that the country, which had been primarily agricultural, began to industrialize. This country’s history appears to have been chaotic and for a certain period it must have been difficult for the population to know which way to turn.
I suggest you go on the Internet for more information on this young capital, which has only recently become a member of the European Union.
We are in luck because the sun comes out just as Serge reaches the center of the city via the Boulevard Vasil Levski, one of the main figures of Bulgarian nationalism in the 19th century, during the Ottoman occupation.
Serge and part of the team (Daniel and I stayed with the vehicles, which were not well parked) entered the city near the Alexander Nevski Cathedral before reaching the presidential palace, formerly the communist Party headquarters and the Banja Bashi Mosque, which is in the midst of works being done around Independence Square.
We can’t say that the city’s architecture is beautiful. The palaces and buildings are rather heavy, then you turn a corner and you find yourself in front of a charming little church. I don’t think it is the historical monuments of Sofia which attract tourists, as they do in Rome or Athens, but I am sure that this city exudes an old fashioned flavor, which is a mixture of Slavic, Russian and Turkish. Some works are even unearthing Roman ruins. It is now up to the country to promote its heritage and to shops to sell postcards because Bertrand didn’t find any!!!
The country has a population of 8 million (8 times less than France). The population of greater Sofia is 1.2 million and represents a political, cultural and industrial center with 20% of the country’s population. The city is on a human scale and its center is not very large. Parks border the south of Sofia and the map looks very green. Judging from the crowds in the streets, the population walks, even with three days of accumulated snow, which has not paralyzed the city. On the contrary, everyone gets out a shovel to clear the sidewalks, the bus and tram stops. Driving is not a problem, there is public transportation and carpooling is frequent, not, I think due to a concern for the environment (compared to the numerous civic actions to save the planet which we have at home) but because the standard of living does not allow everyone to have a car. I don’t have any figures but I’m sure that the minimum salary is not very high, whereas a liter of diesel fuel at 1€ is as expensive as it is at home, which must be a luxury for a fair number of Bulgarians.
So, Serge continues on his way, along a road where he feared he would be crushed against a guardrail by a truck. The sun is quickly melting the snow and the sides of the roads look like small streams in which Serge is splashing with obvious pleasure (smile!). He is fed up. Nobody dares talk to him about his knee, or ask him anything for that matter, because quite frankly he is not in Olympic form and has had enough of cold, wet feet. The route we are on is not the one we planned on paper, but the snow, the mountains and the condition of the secondary roads won’t allow us to take the most direct route. The camper had to backtrack on a road that was buried in snow and in terrible condition. We are taking Highway #6 toward Burgas; what about going to a spa on the Black Sea in Burgas? In the end, it’s not on the agenda of the European Race so we will head toward Pleven and then Ruse, on the Romanian border.
Town : Dolno Kamartsi
GPS : N 42.43010° E 023.51134°