Almost all of the trams in Sofia make an appearance in the city center, except for #19 and #11. They are also the last two lines that I have to write about to have written posts on all of Sofia’s tramvai routes. Both of these lines follow the same basic route; they begin in Knyazhevo and head north through western Sofia, #19 ending at the Sofia North Railway Station and #11 going all the way to Ilientsi. The majority of the #11
trams are second-hand cars made in Germany and painted grey and red. The Elektrotransport company bought them in 2010 and immediately put them into service. Apart from being three seats wide, the cars seem to run with a lead car/follow car combo. There are a few Tramkars running on this line that have yet to be updated and are in need of repair.
My friend Mr. P and I decided to use this opportunity to go to the Ilientsi Bazar and buy cheap things from Asia. We started our trip where the Ring Road (Boulevard Nikola Petkov) meets Boulevard Tsar Boris III. We boarded tram No. 1132 (follow car No. 217) at 14:02. From here the tram runs alongside Tsar Boris until it turns left onto Boulevard Ovcha Kupel, on the same corner where Sofia’s West Bus Station (a.k.a. Avtogara Ovcha Kupel, Avtogara Zapad) sends buses running to smaller towns and villages in Bulgaria’s Southwest. From here are regular
buses to Kyustendil, Trun, Blagoevgrad, and Dupnitsa – the gateway to Panichishte and Rila
Mountain. Sofia’s Central Bus Station also has bus service to some of these places, but if you’re going off the beaten path, it might be best to check the bus timetables at www.avtogari.info which lists (maybe at 95% accuracy) all buses going everywhere in Bulgaria. This isn’t an official site, yet it is an invaluable tool when timetables at regional stations aren’t posted, surly ladies behind windows can’t speak English, and bus drivers are too busy smoking to answer your questions.
Past the bus station, #11 then passes the Slavia Sports Complex, which boasts a football field, an indoor ice rink (not open to the public), and an equestrian base. More information can be found here: Slavia and here: Riding Base.
Translated as “Sheep’s Font” – font meaning something like a baptismal font – Ovcha Kupel was originally and independent village outside of Sofia and (along with it’s neighbors Knyazhevo and Gorna Banya)
populated by Sofians who would come to bathe in the mineral water in municipal bath houses. As the motto goes – Sofia grows but doesn’t age – eventually these villages were swallowed by an ever growing capital. Knyazhevo and Gorna Banya were spared ‘modernization’ from large apartment blocks and retain their single family houses, but flatter Ovcha Kupel was partitioned into several neighborhoods filled with panelki. Until the 80′s the Ovcha Kupel Bathhouse was an elegant and relaxing retreat, but as the government collapsed (along with it government services) the bath houses in this part of Sofia failed to be privatized and lay in disrepair. You
can see the O.K. baths just past the Slavia stadium and imagine how they might have looked 50 years ago.
Coming out from Ovcha Kupel, the tram enters an industrial zone along Boulevard N. Mushanov that formerly housed the Balkankar Automotive Factory that for a few years made cars for the English Company ‘Rover.’ While many of the Warsaw Pact countries made cars, Bulgaria made Chavdar buses which can still be seen tattling along country roads in the provinces. The only cars currently manufactured here in Bulgaria are made by Chinese car maker Great Wall, which has its factory in Gabrovo.
The next points of interest are the Krasna Polyana Tram Depot, followed by the Krasna Polyana Pazar, which is overshadowed by the massive Rasadnika Block No. 87. The tram merges onto Boulevard Vuskresenie, winds down to Konstantin Velichkov, and bears to the left. From here the tram is in it’s most urban setting, riding down West Sofia’s major north-south thoroughfare, crossing over Stamboliiski, passing the subway station, and turning right where Velichkov meets Skopie Street at the Kaufland’s Hypermarket and the castle-like Sofia Central Prison. Kaufland’s is nice because of the variety and prices; if coming from abroad without camping supplies, you can buy most necessities (not the highest quality, but certainly functional) such as sleeping bags, tents, camping stoves, sleeping mats, etc.
Up from Kaufland’s, #11 enters the jungle growing under the Nadezhda Overpass, winding through
viaducts until it pops out in Nadezhda, soon to have its own branch of the Sofia Metro opening next month. Alas, Nadezhda is tram #6′s land, and #11 keeps its northerly route drifting past derelict industrial buildings. Eventually the tram passes the large Ilientsi Wholesale Market (stock bazar) which used to be the only place to buy imported goods. My friend Mr. Petkov reminisced about coming to Sofia specifically to buy school clothes at Ilientsi, and my friend Rumiana once told me this was THE place to buy Levi’s jeans in the 1990s. These days, Sofia’s multiplying malls have wounded Ilientsi which was remodeled a bit too late and looks to be struggling to catch up to its past glory. “This place looks completely different,” Mr. P remarked. “And look at how high the prices are…”
Past the bazar, the trams wanders into Ilientsi proper, which being one of Sofia’s farthest-out suburbs has nothing to offer but a collection of sleepy houses and an expanse of pasture land running off into the nearby Balkan Mountains. We exited the tram at 15:01, and then immediately got back on to return home.