Stay AWAKE!, Sofia
As an employee of the Italian embassy told me on one of my first days in Sofia, when you walk in Sofia, you should always look downwards to avoid falling in one of the several holes that "decorate" the local sidewalks, but also upwards to avoid crashing against a street sign. She was right: several weeks later, I did crash against a street sign hanging too low. Luckily, I didn't get hurt because I was wearing a cap.
And I did fail to fall down two or three times...
24 April 04 ... WHAT Dangers ? ? ?
I think a lot of rubbish has been said about Romanians / Bulgarians and people from the Czech Republic in here because ive been to all three countries and had NO trouble from Pickpockets / Gypsy's or anyone else because Ive been hiring English speaking guides (All Female) for years and they are worth their weight in gold.
I hire guides from travel agents or advertise for one the Net , and her job is to help me all day and sort any problems I come up against so think about the following and try it , you wont regret hiring a guide even if your a couple or group.
1 .... You don't get cheated by taxi drivers / shops / restaurants etc because the girl wont let them.
2 ..... if you want to go anywhere ? ? the girl knows how to get there.
3 ..... very few people would mug a tourist who's got a local girl with him .
4 ..... if you want to know about something in a museum .. the girl can translate the description .
5 ..... if any officials ( Metro Inspectors / Police etc ) ask you for anything the girl can understand and answer for you.
6 ..... talking to a local girl all day is a BIG bonus as you get to find out about other peoples culture and country ....and they may learn a little about yours.
7 ..... the girl can read / translate a menu you cant .
8 ..... you can go from the best areas of any City ... to the worst ... without trouble from local people.
How I do it is ... I give the girl some money every morning (usually about $ 50 in local currency) so she pays for all Taxis / Trams / Entrance Tickets / Camera Taxes / Meals / Drinks etc for both of us all day, and at the end of the day she gives me back what she hasn't spent ... and I pay her..... that way she's happy .... Im happy ... and ive NEVER been cheated once.
Dave ( Bristol UK )
Ps I got a great guide called Dessy from Iskra and Stefka at ...BrillTravel.com ...and I also met Vessela and Natalia in Sofia through .. amateur guides.com
This happens more and more rare but don't be surprised if you see people walking with a car radio/player in hand - cars are sometimes force open or the window broken and the player is missing. Also, avoid leaving your personal stuff in your car!
In many European countries Hitch-hiking is forbidden. This does not apply to Bulgaria. However I would recommend that under NO circumstances you try to hitch-hike. There are many kind and nice people on the road who would give you a drive and help you out, but unfortunately there are many who would rob you or abuse you. Hitch-hiking in Bulgaria is EXTREMELY dangerous. My idvice is :
DO NOT HITCH-HIKE!
If you would like to obtain some local currency do NOT go to the exchange buros at the Airport as there are the worst exchange rates. Go down to the center of the city or to a bank. Do not exchange money on the street as you will most likely get tricked and will either get nothing in exchange for your money or fake bills.
Those 'artistis' are found mainly at open market places. Mainly gipsies -- kids, or mothers with kids (the mothers beg or offer to sell, while the kids are going over your pockets). I don't think it is worse than any other similar tourist destination.
If you take public transportation, be careful in the maddening crowds in busses and trams-- sometimes, they can cut the whole bag off and you'll be left only w/ the strip or handle in your hand.
In the last 5 years, we have seen many ATM machines springing up in the city centre. You can make withdrawals w/ your debit/credit cards using your PIN (check for Maestro or similar sign on the back of your card). Although those international withdrawals are subjected to service charge, I still prefer them to changing cash or cashing travellers cheques.
DO NOT EXCHANGE MONEY ON THE STREET!!! You are likely to be approached w/ an offer of favourable exchange rates but you risk to be left w/ a recylced paper bundle in your hands (we call those 'dolls'). If you need to exchange cash, use the exchange bureaus and ALWAYS ASK FOR A RECEIPT ('bordero' in Bg). Count the money in front of the cashier but do not waste too much time (we have had cases in the past where people will be mugged right there in the exchange bureau).
Pickpocketing is the chief danger; violent robbery is rare but does happen--overall Sofia is just as safe as Guliani-era New York. Roads and traffic are dangerous, but no more so than Rome or Paris. The weather is very dry and pollution and dust can be thick, so athsmatics have problems.
See my entry under tourist traps for other problems.
IF YOU HAVE ANY TROUBLE IN SOFIA AND YOUR A BRITISH CITIZEN JUST GO TO THE BRITISH EMBASSY THE BRITISH EMBASSY IS THE BUILDING WITH THE stailess steel columns.
I would advice you to avoide gipsy neighbourhoods because they are very dangerous and awfully dirty.
Stay away from the Mexican food, no matter how much you are tempted. These are enchiladas, and they are not nearly as good as they look.