Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, Sofia
Written by Robin Gauldie
The royal boulevard that runs through the heart of Bulgaria’s capital is full of pleasant surprises, according to Sofia native Alexander Shpatov.
My city has never been in the spotlight, and that’s the most interesting thing about it. No matter how cool a spot in any city might seem, going there every day would surely bore you. But for the past seven years I have passed along Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard from Monday to Friday every week, and I’ve grown to like it. Its yellow Viennese cobbles were laid down in honour of a royal wedding in the 19th century, and it’s lined with grand historic buildings.
At the west end of the boulevard, soldiers in fancy 19th-century uniforms stand guard outside the Presidency. I like to take visitors to watch the changing of the guard, then to the National Archaeological Museum, opposite the Presidency, to show them a bit of our country’s past. They are always amazed by the gold and bronze ornaments made by the Thracians who lived here almost 300 years ago, and by the Romans, Byzantines, and Bulgars who followed.
A bit further down the boulevard, the former Royal Palace is a landmark slice of Viennese wedding-cake architecture which now houses the National Gallery and the National Ethnographic Museum; if you’re looking for a souvenir of your visit to Sofia, I recommend the museum’s Centre of Folk Arts and Crafts, where you’ll find authentic Bulgarian rugs, ceramics, silver, and perfumes made from our famous Bulgarian roses.
Opposite the museum, the pastry shop at the art deco restaurant Bulgaria (Tsar Osvoboditel 4) is one of my favourite spots for coffee. We Bulgarians love our sladkarnizi (pastry shops), and the chocolate cake here is renowned, an ultimate sugar hit.
On a summer’s day or evening I like to meet friends for a cool drink in the Krystal Garden, which is a couple of blocks further down the boulevard. This small park is my favourite spot – it’s a traditional rendezvous for writers, artists, poets, and playwrights, and at the back of the garden is the best bookshop in Sofia, Bulgarski Knizhitsi. It’s a cosy, family-run place with the largest collection of Bulgarian books in town.
Thirty-year-old Alexander Shpatov lives in Sofia. He is a screenwriter, literary event organiser, and the author of four collections of short stories, most of which are set in his native city. His latest book #livefromsofia, published by Colibri, is available on Amazon and as an ebook.