Interrail #7 Thousands of Years of Tolerance in Sofia

Welcome back everyone!

Train travel
About twelve hours and a passport check and country border later, I’m still on the train in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Romania. The train is running late and it’s getting dark, additionally the staff as well as most other people don’t speak or understand neither English nor German which makes it hard to communicate… and find out where my stop is. In the end, I find my way to Craiova and instead of walking another 30 minutes I take a taxi to the so-called hostel. It’s more a usual family house where the owner rents out 2-3 rooms. This day has been one of the most exhausting ones during the whole trip, but sometimes life surprises you just the moment you don’t expect it anymore. Finally arriving at the hostel, I meet a man from Austria living and working in the area for the past 30 years already – to me it’s a relief to be understood again in the middle of nowhere – sometimes even trying to speak Spanish. Anyways, I’m still happy to leave again early the next morning to catch my train to Sofia.


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Walking to the train station in bright sunlight the next morning, I find a nice litte town including quite a nice city centre and university. Not too bad, but still strange if you arrive in the middle of the night. At the station, I cannot find any signs or directions on the platforms or trains but some of the staff points out the way and between old, rusty trains, I find myself sitting in a rather new train – similar to small local trains in Germany (could actually be an old version exported to Romania). Along the train tracks, I discover once more how much waste people thrown on the ground and use the space along the tracks as a bin. It’s not nice to watch and reminds me of how strict waste separation is in Germany compared to many other countries.


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The train has never been full from the start but the closer we get to the Bulgarian border, the emptier it becomes. In the end, it seems like I’m the only one to change trains in the little town of Vidin. At the station, though, I meet Laurent from France also travelling to Sofia. And there finally someone else speaking English 😀 In Bulgaria, it’s much easier to talk to people again, anyways. After the border control and some food, the next train is the total opposite of the one before. Since the weather has become increasingly warmer since Vienna and it’s feels like 30 degrees in Vidin, it was great to have air condition the whole morning. The old train to Sofia, however, doesn’t have anything like this at all. Even doors and some windows don’t close properly, thereby it’s quite loud all the time and almost unbearable hot. The landscape is amazing though and I hope return to Bulgaria, to see more than just Sofia.


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Capital of Bulgaria
Finally in Sofia, it’s still so hot, that I’m really relieved having a shower and air condition at the hostel. After the strange night in Craiova, the hostel in Sofia is the exact opposite: great people from everywhere, nice staff, clean sheets and rooms and even a dinner is included in the price 😀
I’m really happy and just enjoy the evening chatting to some guys from New Zealand and England instead of walking through the city.

The next morning, a bunch of other hostel guests and me join a free walking tour through a rather small city center. We get to see some old ruins of the city which have been rediscovered and are presented in large open air areas at underground stations all over the city. It’s supposed to be an open museum throughout Sofia and the process has only been started. Walking through the ancient streets while seeing the new buildings and the buzzing 21st city around is quite strange but a great idea.

From a central point, you can see four different houses of prayer of four different religions – a christian church, a mosque, a synagogue and an orthodox church. They are all within walking distance and all of them live together in peace. Those four religions represent some of largest religious groups living in Sofia. Besides people living together such peaceful nowadays, tolerance and respect have quite some history in Bulgaria. During WWII, for example, the Bulgarian king managed to save the whole Jewish population of Sofia because he told Hitler that they had to work for him and he cannot let them go until everything is done. The king extended the deadline several times and thereby saved the Jews from the concentration camps.

After the tour we have lunch at a great Moroccan restaurant with a big group and it’s very interesting to hear from all these people from such different places about their travels. Either weekend trip from Wales or travelling for a living and stopping only for 12 hours to get from Turkey to France, which are only two examples out of several more. Each and everyone has their own attitude and perspective towards travelling but we are all united by the wish to explore countries and culture and get to know each other. Those moments – the conversations and people – that’s what makes each journey special to me.

In the evening, after a chat over an ice cream with an expat from New Zealand, the goodbye from Sofia is one of hardest during this trip. While being on my own the whole time, the contrast of the days previous to Sofia and being in the city couldn’t have been bigger. Thanks for a great day in Bulgaria!

Another big thanks goes to the stranger traveller who actually just gave me the equivalent of 10 euros in lev at the train station so I could book my sleep cart on the train to Istanbul because I had neither enough Bulgarian leva on me nor the time to find an ATM. Thanks for that unexpected gift – it’s much appreciated!!!


After that little picture collection, I’ll say goodbye and see you in Istanbul for the next stop.

Cheers, Anna


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