If you're obliged to spend any amount of time at Sofia's central transport complex, chances are you'll be approached by somebody who furtively flashes you a wad of local cash, which he wishes to exchange for your foreign currency...
These unlicensed money-changers are breaking the law, & so will you be if you enter into a transaction with any, not to mention their rate of exchange is said to be half that a bank will give you...
So, make it clear you're not interested to entertain their dealings, because they can be annoyingly persistent & difficult to discourage, as soon as they understand you're not local...
Sofiya might have a modern, functional new bus station, but just don't expect the coin-operated phones to work, because they're already broken. There are plenty of card-operated machines, but whether they're functional or not, I don't know because I didn't try them. I'm told to buy a phonecard, requires a walk down Maria Luiza boulevard, over Lion Bridge, then left along Boulevard Slivnitsa, towards the Post 0ffice, after which, set back from the road is a small group of shops, including the phone & internet centre. This is supposedly where you can buy Bulfon or Mobika phonecards so as to operate machines in the bus station, if you can still be bothered, after all that effort...
Don´t trust the taxi counters inside the airport. I ordered a taxi from them and they gave me a a taxi with a very fast ticking meter. It said that the fare was .18 Lev/minute in addition to the km rate, but the meter was ticking at a speed of at least .60-.80. My advice is that you keep filming the meter and keep as evidence if you get into trouble.
I think I ended up paying the double, but as it was less than half of what it had cost in my home town I took the loss with a smile
The thing that struck and scared me most in Sofia, more than the broken sidewalks, more than the snow, more than walking in the dark from the tram/metro stop to my flat, was... the huge amount of street dogs!
I had seen an unusual number of street dogs when I went on a class trip to Greece in 2002, but they weren't so numerous compared to those in Sofia.
The first weeks were quite terrible for me: whenever I saw one of those dogs, I stopped, walked backwards, waited for them to go away or changed of direction myself.
I remember that, on my first Sunday in Sofia, I was walking toward or coming from the Catholic cathedral when I saw a dog on my way. I suddenly decided to cross the street and... oh, my!, I had failed to bump into a much bigger dog sleeping under a trash can!
I slowly got used to street dogs and to walking close to them, especially when they were laying on the street or the sidewalk.
But on one of my last Mondays there, as I crossed the street toward the trash bins to throw away my garbage, one of them ran after me and forced me to cross the street backward, without even giving me the time to check if any cars were coming. That was definitely my scariest experience in Sofia!
we were stopped several times within Sofia by the police who checked for documents. We were also pulled over outside the city for speeding (we were going slower than most but we had a bigger car) and were told by the police "I will either take your license away or you can choose something else" not a very subtle hint. We managed to talk ourselves out of that predicament
Sofia streets are amongst the most chaotic and congested I've come across in Europe. Not only that but the drivers are totally reckless and every time you cross a road you are taking your life in your hands. Even when the traffic lights at pedestrian crossings are with you it's always advisable to double check that no-one has tried to beat the light change or that no-one has had brake failure and is unable to stop.
Here's a little video which graphically illustrates this - Streets of Sofia
Scary stuff! So don't even think about jaywalking!
As to thinking about hiring a car to get about...
I hope you won't need his services, but in case you need manual therapy,acupuncture, laser therapy etc see the website below.
I have been his patient and can recommend you his services from first hand experience.
Beside that he is treating our football nationals, aerobics , tennis and other sportsmen .
Well, I am very sorry to tell you there are many homeless dogs and cats in Bulgaria. Poor animals,I love them very much!
This is a danger tip, so I have to appeal to you to be careful when you meet homeless dogs on the street. Some of them are aggressive (well, not each dog, it doesn't happen each day). Just be careful!
Don't be aggressive towards the animals, they're really good and they have no fault they're homeless.
When you decide to cross the street be careful. Bulgarian drivers don't stop in front of zebra each time they see a pedestrian, so you have to wait until you are sure the driver will stop and give you a chance to pass.
This warning is valid for Bulgaria, not only Sofia. The roads here are very bad and dangerous. You have to be very careful if you are a driver and decide to drive a car here. The big holes in the asphalt can make you lose control and even have a car accident. Drive slowly and carefully and be ready for the next hole :)
Be careful with your money, pockets and bags! The thiefs are very good here, you won't even feel them stealing all your documents and money. Don't go out with your important documents and all the money you have! Be careful when you walk and talk to strangers! When you travel in a bus be careful for your bag, money, mobile and documents, keep the bag in front of you, so you can see it.
Downtown Sofia gets VERY seedy after dark. Many of the downtown streets are infested with agressive prostitutes and pimps, along with a large number of North African drug dealers. Be careful. I suggest staying away from Maria Luiza Street at night.
BEWARE!! Drivers in Sofia take themselves for FORMULA 1 heroes , except that they don't have the skills and the cars for it . BE VERY VERY precaucious when on the streets!!! I can't state this enough!! but - check for yourself the following video , that shows the driving maddness in the capital >
Video taken on the central Streets of Sofia
1. If you are going out late at night, be sure to take a taxi. It's safer that way. If you're in a group, you may use public transport, which works until midnight. After 10 pm, however, it's not recommendable. Not just robbers, but stray dogs might be a danger, too. Better to be on the safe side.
2. Whenever you use a taxi, check the fare first. Drivers are required to place a sticker with the price on the front window, so you can see in advance what the fare is. Usual fare is 49st/km, 15 st per minute of waiting (49st is about 25 cents). You can also watch the meter, which will be showing the fare so far.
3. You can call a taxi by phone, which is the safest way to proceed if you're leaving a late-night party. Popular company phones: 91280, 91119
4. Public transportation is a nice option at day, except for the rush hours. At 3 pm. for example, it's a cheap and efficient way to go around. You can nicely take a book or a newspaper to read on the bus. At 6 pm it's damn crowded, except for Sundays, and you do need to watch your belongings.
5. The Sofia Underground is quite new and comfortable, except that it only helps if you're going to Lyulin. new stations will be opened soon, so hopefully it will become more practicable.
6. Traffic is bad, so whenever you want to cross and you see no chance to do it, wait until a few more pedestrians gather, then cross together. There's safety in numbers.
7. Be careful in crowded places, especially around Lion's bridge and the old market.
Sofia is plenty of abandoned dogs. The ones on the picture were resting in the sun aside the National Palace of Culture. I never had any trouble with them because I always had dogs in my home, so I know how to treat them and I have no fear. Just let them in peace, they won't bite you
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