Top 5 Tips for Surviving Sofia

Novinite Insider » DESTINATIONS | December 22, 2006, Friday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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Bulgaria: Top 5 Tips for Surviving Sofia Photo by Yuliana Nikolova (Sofia Photo Agency)

"Traffic in Sofia is a real nightmare!", I told an American teacher of mine at the university some ten years ago. "It's nothing compared to the traffic in Asia!," she fired back. "It's a real adventure there!".

Traffic in the capital may have deteriorated over the last ten years, but it's exactly as an adventure that you should take it (and not only it), if you want to survive the hectic pace and not uncommon chaos here.

Following are our top five tips for surviving Sofia.

By Milena Hristova, Ivelina Puhaleva

1. Off the plane, on the taxi/bus

"Avoid the "Wanna taxi, man?" crowd that assaults you the moment you land at Sofia airport or the central bus (train) station. Go for the cabs, lined up in front of the arrival hall. They will not only not overcharge you, but also treat you as any client should be. The fare to the city should climb no higher than 5 levs from the central train station and 10 levs from the airport. The disadvantage here is that Bulgarian taxi cub drivers are chronically short of change.

Bus 84 shuttles are you other option. Buy a fare ticket in advance from the nearest newspaper stand or public transport booth. Fare tickets are 70 st each, but you'd better go for those "ballots", made up of ten tickets, thus reducing the cost to 60 st each. You may also buy a ticket from the driver of the bus at 80 st. Punch the ticket immediately after you aboard the bus. Punch a separate ticket for each bulky item that you carry. Otherwise, believe or not, you run the risk of being fined! The overcrowded and in-dire-condition busses are not the only disadvantage of this option. Unfortunately, bus 84 would take you to locations not very convenient for hotels.

2. Hitting it on foot

This is the best option for central Sofia, but it has its hazards. In many places there are practically no sidewalks as they have been turned into parking lots. Stray dogs are especially dangerous in the spring when they give birth to their puppies. And last but not least Sofia and its citizens are not a model in cleaning up the urban environment. The littered streets may well make you wonder why the government is not introducing a levy on plastic shopping bags, beer bottles and chewing gums packages. The raised money could be used to fund the cost of cleaning up the capital's garbage-encrusted streets.

3. Driving

According to Bulgarian law seat belts must be worn by all passengers, mobile phones can only be used with 'hands-free' sets, and the legal alcohol limit is 0.5 pro mil. Recent new rules also restrict the wearing of dark sunglasses, high heels or flip flops, as well as forbidding eating and smoking at the wheel, although just how this will be enforced remains to be seen!!!

4. Tipping

It is warmly welcomed and often demanded by the waiting staff in restaurants, bars and cafes. Taxi drivers expect the fare to be rounded up and hairdressers also accept tips. At petrol stations the attendants who fill your tanks and clean your windows will hope for some gratuity. Chambermaids in hotels would also expect a small token of recognition at the end of your stay. Tipping is recognised as a means of expressing one's satisfaction and you are in no way obliged to tip if you feel the service did not merit it.

5. GDF Syndrome

Shrug off the so-called GDF ("God Damn Foreigners") attitude. It is only rarely that you may come across it and in the mildest form possible. If you still can't make it out, remember the poor coverage that Bulgaria lately got in the foreign press and the apocalyptic tales that the local press churned out with regard to the upcoming EU accession!

In 95% of the cases, however, you will hear warm and welcoming words in an endearing form of the English language, Russian, French or German. Bulgarians can overwhelm with hospitality. If you are invited to someone's home, you'd better not go empty handed - if you are invited it is customary to take some flowers or wine or other small gesture. Many Bulgarian families remove their shoes at the door. Of course they will not allow you as their visitor to do this, but if weather conditions are particularly bad you can always pre-empt any embarrassing situation by bringing along a pair of clean shoes to slip on.

Bonne voyage!
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