Friday, 28 July 2017

A City to Remember: Sofia in August

Text by Lode Desmet and Albena Shkodrova | Photographs by Lode Desmet   
August in Sofia is somewhat of a ghost month. The usual crowds vanish, and hairy and bearded loners populate the streets. Given up on finding a working barber (Gone swimming. Will reopen on September 1), they wander the streets in search of a restaurant, whose owners mercifully decided not to close their establishment and set off for a remote destination. These are few, to be noted.

But spare your pity for those gone swimming. For if there is a time to see the best of Bulgaria's capital, it is these four weeks, when the summer slowly starts to come to an end, the worst heat is gone and the shortened days begin with fresh, golden mornings in a quiet, green town.

Believe it or not, Bulgaria has one of the greenest capitals in Europe. Planned over an empty plain under Mount Vitosha by Austrian architects at the end of the nineteenth century, Sofia was supposed to have a green ring of parks, surrounding the city centre.

The ring was never fully closed, but a significant part of it materialised, and now it is possible to walk from the very centre, around the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, all the way to the mountain practically without leaving the park.

And in early August this true fortune of the city is overwhelmingly pleasant. Quiet, shady alleys meander under lush green trees, passing by fountains, lakes, and plenty of the shabby but nevertheless pleasant playgrounds, benches, amusement parks and open-air cafés and bars.

Little children and elderly people enjoy the experience together, stretching under the summer sun, milder than July’s but still pleasantly warm.

Even if you don't know what Sofia looked like thirty years ago, as you walk through the South Park, for instance, you may get the feeling that you have been suddenly transferred back to those days. It looks like nothing has changed, except for the people who have grown older.

Together - older and younger - they still do the same things.

Fly kites, for instance, or swerve on the merry-go-round. Those who were toddlers then now stand kissing in the rusty playground where they bruised their knees. Those who stood kissing there now come to warm their worn and weary limbs in the sun - praying for a couple more years of good health.

And this is a face of Sofia that is as true as any others you may see in other parts of the city and during other times of the year. A face to remember, if you try to love this town.

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