Before heading south to Plovdiv I've spent a little less than 24 hours in Sofia. It was relentlessly hot, and to a large extent everything was as I remembered it. Lots of shabby houses still standing around, several new glass and steel buildings int he outskirts, and building sites everywhere which gives a sense of a constant work in process.
Besides from the better looking park in front of NDK, two things impressed me, though. One was the boom of small stores/bars/restaurant with a dedicatedly alternative and green image. The second thing was that it seemed everyone has bought a bike since I was last around.
This post is the first on my holiday blog maladets! - freewheeling. Stay updated with it, if you want to read more like this.
(Picture grabbed from the Among the Birds blog) (c) 2010 Zona Urbana
There are a lot of cool places to go nowadays for those living in, or staying in Sofia. A bunch of alternative water holes present themselves on this lovely cartooned map of Sofia. A must for anyone who wants to visit the best of Sofia. This kind of places, the common ground between them might be a shared clientèle, and shared values like alternative life style, small scale and environmental thinking. It is vegetarian restaurants, bio-shops, and craft stores producing jewelery form recycled material.
As a Swede, it is not without envy that I watch such places appearing one more and more street corners. In my home town, Lund, the development seems to be the opposite - small stores are rapidly pushed out of market by big retail chains and the shopping malls outside the city. It is curious how the numerous malls in Sofia has not yet managed to destroy this market for small scale commercial activities.
Two reasons are obvious - more and more young Bulgarians have developed a taste for this kind of things, and also some money to pay restaurant bills with. And due to the still rough state of many buildings in central Sofia, rents are still far from what they are in Western Europe, even in a place like Lund, which makes it easier to make money on small businesses. If I was a Sofia politician, I would think a lot about how to improve buildings in the center, without raising rents too much. Too many cities have made their centers tidy but boring. Sofia still has a chance to avoid that.
So for the bikes. When I was living in Sofia, some people did bike, but they were very rare. It was perfectly possible to go an entire day without seeing a single bike. Now, bikers are still a minority, they are a very visible minority. In almost every crossing you would see one biker navigating between cars.
Which is probably one clue why so many people do it. Biking is green, cheap and fashionable as in Western Europe, but except for that it seems to be the absolutely fastest way to move through central Sofia. Cars are usually stuck in two lines, buses and trams as well, but a daring biker find his way in between. A Swedish biker probably wouldn't, let's say that the bicyclists in Sofia bike pretty much as the drivers drive.
I look forward to coming back to this city twice a year for the rest of my life, and this is the kind of things I hope to see more of. Which reminds me of my everyday life back home... it is definitely time for me to buy a new bike.