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Skopje to Sofia (Bulgaria)

It’s a pleasant 5 hour bus drive covering just over 200 km from Skopje to Sofia. Pay £13.50 and the trip could be yours. Once again the bus was a relatively “new” tourer and only 1/3 full. Compared to the Albania / Macedonia crossing which took almost 90 mins the passing from Macedonia into Bulgaria through border control was a lightening like 45 mins. 

The drive from Skopje is along a bumpy national highway with one lane each way and not a whole lot to excite in terms of views. Undulating terrain that climbs gently towards the border. Once into Bulgaria the land opens up and the scenery is of wide open cleared hills and large tracts of expanded farming land. Always omnipresent on the right side of the bus is the shadows of the Bulgarian Alps.

Into Bulgaria and you are back inside  the EU. This is quickly expressed in the quality of the road which is infinitely smoother and as we edge closer to Sofia it opens into a dual carriage way resplendent with a drive through Macdonalds located in the middle of nowhere. 

Although part of the EU Bulgaria still hangs onto its own currency and 1 GBP will get you approximately BGN 2.1

Coal fired electricity is still the norm in this part of those world. Meanwhile in the West we’re worried about the methane level from cows manure? Really? 

The outskirts of Sofia have that very real and gritty feeling you’d expect from a country with the history of recent communist rule that existed here. There are rows upon rows of drab looking multi storey apartment blocks in ill repair. However there does seem to exist some concept of urban planning which has been universally missing on my trip to date.

Sofia looks positively “developed “ in contrast to the recent cities visited on this itinerary. Taxi’s with meters that work AND are used. A tram system and even an underground subway. Flag fall in a taxi is .40 of a BGN and a trip of 3 miles in peak hour will cost you £ 2.40. All trips on the subway regardless of distance will set you back 1.80 BGN (90 pence or AUD$ 1.50 approx)

Clean cheap and efficient. What’s there not to like about Sofia’s subway? Hardly overutilised too.

Excavating for a new underground station they came across Roman ruins. Solution was to incorporate the archaeological find into the development of the station.

Like Skopje they don’t half mind a grand building and statue in downtown Sofia

The past sits incongruously alongside the present.

Some flowers for the wifey on the way home? Temporary florist set up outside a subway station.

Tourist registration at apartment hotel check in. Welcome to Eastern Europe son.

Observations since my arrival 8 hours ago 

: there’s a lot of people trying to eek out a living providing some very basic goods or services. See florist above.

: there’s a lot of people trying to eek out a living by simply begging. By far the greatest concentration of destitute and improverished “Street” people I have witnessed on this trip.

: street lighting beyond the main roads is non-existent which helps harden the feeling of wariness that overcomes you

: although cheap by UK and Australian standards cost of living has risen for sure from that I witnessed in the Balkans.

: there is that hardened steely look in all men over a certain age that is simply cold, empty and emotionless. You don’t see a lot of laughter and banter . In fact make that none. 

: I don’t think I’d want to be here in the depths of winter. In fact make that - I know I don’t want to be here in the depths of winter.

: there’s a proliferation of shops we haven’t seen in the West since the days before internet. Shops selling all manner of goods but seemingly no one in them buying anything.

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