Tram Lines

“The West Side Line”: Tram #11 – Boulevard Nikola Petkov to Ilientsi

#11 info table.

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

No. 1132/217.

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

The West (Zapad / Ovcha Kupel) Bus Station is behind the 345 Supermarket on Tsar Boris III.

buses to Kyustendil, Trun, Blagoevgrad, and Dupnitsa – the gateway to Panichishte and Rila

The Ovcha Kupel Bathhouse, tucked away behind some trees.

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)

These three young professionals were sitting in front of me on the tram. They were going to a conference or something somewhere in Geo Milev and had no idea how to get there.

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

Kaufland’s: Austria’s version of Wal-Mart.

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.

The main promenade of the Ilientsi Wholesale Market.

Up from Kaufland’s, #11 enters the jungle growing under the Nadezhda Overpass, winding through

Plus-size mannequins at Ilientsi!

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.

Vladimir Putin sees you, and you’re not working!

 

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“The Timid Tram”: Tram #4 – Boulevard Nikola Petkov to Orlandovtsi

A card scanner, found on all tram.

The Tsar Boris III tram line running from behind the Palace of Justice all the way out to Knyazhevo is one of Sofia’s original tram lines that has been in constant use for over 100 years. The #5 tram has owned this line historically, running from the new capital of Bulgaria to nearby villages like Krasno Selo, Pavlovo, and of course Knyazhevo, which were later swallowed up by Sofia and made into neighborhoods. If you look at the planned subway scheme, the third line will run underneath Tsar Boris III replicating this exact transit

Are you a psycho? Well if you must ask…psycho for the Soviet Union!

line, though I don’t know if that will be so cost effective since the updated #5 trams are fast and run on independent rails, so it’s kind of the same thing.

Also using this line is the #4 tram, which has only recently been altered to its current route. This is one that I rarely use, so it wasn’t surprising when I couldn’t find the first stop. I didn’t have a map, and I couldn’t remember whether it went all the way to Knyazhevo or not. I took the #11 tram from Krasna Polyana, and got off at the Nikola Petkov Blvd. stop, only to find that #4 wasn’t listed on the info table. I walked down to the next stop where two saucy Roma ladies that worked for the transport company were sitting in a stop shelter. I asked them if the #4 “passed this way,” to which the one with the broom told me it stopped in from of the 6th region Police Station, further into town.

Some kids playing guitar on the tram. And my fat finger.

I knew exactly where this was from when my “wallet was stolen” and my lichna karta was floating around Sofia. Unlike the U.S. and England, where residents aren’t issued state mandated identity cards, all Bulgarians are given lichna kartas which list their address, have a picture, and an identification number. Everyone must have one, and as a foreigner residing in Bulgaria, I have an equivalent. Keeping track of it is also your responsibility. If you “lose it” then you are required to pay a fine of several hundred leva to replace it since you weren’t “protecting state property.” If I lose my driver’s license in the U.S., my primary form of I.D., then I simply pay 20 USD to get a new copy. I remember a few years ago there was a debate about whether the U.S. should issue national I.D. cards, yet skeptics of “big government” have kept this issue at bay. For Bulgarians reading this, remember that the U.S. was founded by people who didn’t trust the English monarchy and aimed to keep government from encroaching into their daily lives. For me, the whole lichna

The Tramkar Factory.

karta business is casual at best; I like to remind my friends that the strict culture around documentation is a relic from the Soviet era, when the devil was in the details and control over documentation was one of the few ways people had any control at all. When Bulgarians do misplace their documentation, they avoid a fine by reporting their I.D. as stolen at the police station in the region where it happened. Whether it fell from my pocket or someone took it from me, I can’t say that I really know, but what I do know is that when I got home from the grocery store last January, it wasn’t in my pocket. I reported it was a possible theft, and later I was told to check in if someone were to turn it in, which they did – of course, without the money that had been in it. Later after going to several offices to figure out who actually had it, it turned up at the immigration office, my whole wallet including the 4-leaf clover that I found 15 years ago wrapped in packaging tape.

The Russian Monument.

So after talking with this nice lady, I began walking back towards Nikola Petkov. Right as I got to that stop, a #4 tram came barreling down the tracks and into the tram turn-around. I felt relived since it was really hot and the police station was at least another 20 minutes down the road. Since there was no info table at the stop, I photographed the card scan showing the line number and time. I boarded No. 917 at 12:49. It seems that all the #4 trams are ones built by Tramkar in the 80’s, though unlike #5, #1, and #12 trams they haven’t been remodeled.

No. 917 started towards town, stopping along the way to pick up two older ladies at the Pavlovo stop who were wearing large backpacks and obviously were returning from some time on Vitosha. “Where does this tram go?” the louder one asked. “I don’t know, let’s call Nora…” the other one said, and proceeded to pull out an old Nokia cell phone that is built like a tank. Say what you will about keeping up appearances using your

The pretty Ministry of Agriculture at Makedonia Square.

smartphone, you could get reception on the moon using one of the dual band Nokia 3000 phones. “This tram goes to Orlandovtsi,” I said, and the quieter one gave me the look of confusion that Bulgarians give me when I’m able to answer one of their questions. Later that day a woman asked where the social security office was. I told her “it’s on Stamboliiski just past Vuzrazhdane Square,” but her husband heard my accent and said “let’s get out of here, he doesn’t know where anything is.” The lady thanked me, and tattled off after her husband.

The new Sofia Central Bus Station.

At Krasno Selo (Pretty Village) some funny teenagers got on with their guitars and started playing. Just after Krasno Selo, the Tramkar factory – Bulgarian owned and built – is on the left. Although they no longer build new cars, they do keep the old ones running. The tram then passes the tall Rodina Hotel, whose owner and manager were recently busted in Greece for trying to smuggle in 170 kilograms of cocaine into Bulgaria. I guess they really want to give their guests a memorable stay. I also appreciate that they’re running a special in which you can get a “daily rest” of three hours in a room for 30 leva. After that is the Russki Pametnik traffic circle, a monument to Alexander II of Russia and Russian culture for their help in liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. Last year the monument got cleaned and the garden redone, which is always nice to see old things being kept up.

Once at Makedonia Square, the tram makes a left onto Hristo Botev Boulevard and heads up towards the

The Rodina Hotel.

train station. This is where the louder lady exited the train. On the way out a man asked her if the tram turned at the train station, to which she replied “I don’t know, I’ve never ridden this tram before.” The man got on anyway. “What? What’d you say?” the man sitting in front of me asked him. “Does this tram turn at the train station?” The man sitting in front of me looked puzzled. “Yes,” I said, “this tram goes all the way to Orlandovtsi.” He then gave me the look of confusion that Bulgarians give me when I’m able to answer one of their questions.

After passing the bus station, #4 turns left onto Kozlodui Street and passes through  a viaduct into the far off neighborhoods of northern Sofia, which are sliced off from the rest of the city buy rail lines and reachable by 1) this viaduct, 2) Chavdar Bridge, and 3) Nadezhda Overpass. This is also a testament to why I never go and rents are a little bit cheaper. The #4 pulled into the tram circle in front of the Central Cemetery at 13:41, three minutes late.

Kozlodui Street.

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“The Boulevard Bulgaria”: Tram #7 – Centralna Gara to Borovo

This is a detail from the building at Pirotska and Hristo Botev. It reminds me of a Diego Rivera mural.

In the past, trams #7 and #1 traveled down the middle of Boulevard Vitosha until the

These women are fabulous.

construction of the metro moved their routes to parallel Boulevard Hristo Botev. Once construction was finished on Maria Luiza, the rails were placed back into the street for lines #18 and #12, though I’ve heard that the city is planning to make all of Vitosha from the Palace of Justice to the Palace of Culture a pedestrian street (as it is now…). Whether or not this will include an active tramway I don’t know.

Trams #1 and #7 are cousins, traveling almost the same route, yet #1 finishes its track in Ivan Vazov and #7 runs the entire length of Boulevard Bulgaria ending in Manastirski Livadi (Monastery Meadow), a new neighborhood of European suburban high-rises. I

Shkembe i Kachamak .

boarded tram No. 819 at 13:37 at the Central Train Station, just at the stop where the new subway will pop out. It was really hot – Bulgaria has been going through a heat wave of 90+ degree temperatures (35+ celsius) for almost two weeks with no end in sight – another extreme weather event paired with the apocalyptic snow last winter and May,

Shkembe chorba. Delicious with garlic!!

when it rained every day for a month. This is just an ever increasing example of the values of using public transport over driving, and especially using electric transport like trams and trolleybuses that are zero emissions and can be fed grid power through solar, wind, hydroelectric, and yes – even nuclear energy sources – which do not contribute to global warming and the altering of weather patterns. I’m absolutely nutty about this issue…

When I got on there were already two KONTROLLA ladies sitting in the back of the tram spying to make sure that all the passengers punched tickets or scanned

Sluntse i Luna Vegetarian.

cards. I was thinking of some questions that I could ask them, but before I corner them, they stood up and exited at Jardin d’Algiers. Next time I guess.

Koh i Noor Indian.

Since I’ve covered the route down Hristo Botev several times in posts for tram #1, tram #6, and tram #3, I want to talk about restaurants. If you’re hungry and looking for a place to go, I have some suggestions. Many of Sofia’s most delicious eateries are located in the square between Slivnitsa, Hristo Botev, Boulevard Vitosha, and Patriarch Evtimy, in which the #7 line runs the entire length. This is the cheaper side of Vitosha, with Hristo Belchev and Angel Kunchev (parallel to Vitosha on the eastern side) having more elegant and expensive places to go.

Maybe you’re interested in Bulgarian food? Well the best thing about Bulgaria is that you can find it everywhere. There are a lot of places in the center that cater to tourists and create an ambiance of Bulgaria of the past; one of these is “Pri Yafata”(corner of Solunska and Tsar Asen). The menu is extensive and the food is good, but you’re going to pay about 25% more in price than you would pay at

5 Corners a.k.a. Pette Kyusheta.

neighborhood bars and restaurants that serve the same food outside of the center. However, one of my favorite places in downtown with national cuisine is “Shkembe & Kachamak”(corner of Kurnigradska and Knyaz Boris I near

The Bulgarian suburbs. What the hell is that pipe for?

J.J. Murphey’s), which is a small snack bar specializing in just two things: shkembe chorba and kachamak. Shkembe chorba is a milky tripe soup that kind of makes me high when I eat it. Bulgarians love this soup, and it’s something that you would eat out rather than at home because it takes so long to prepare. Unfortunately it seems very few people these days have the six hours it takes to boil down a sheep’s intestines. Kachamak  is a pie made from corn mash, butter, and feta cheese, which my adopted grandmother in the village told me is the oldest traditional dish in Bulgarian cuisine.

Moving up Hristo Botev, another great place for lunch is “Sluntse i Luna (Sun and Moon),”a vegetarian restaurant and bakery that is always busy and has a creative menu mixing eastern and Bulgarian ingredients creating that fusion chic that everyone loves these days. It’s easy to miss – it’s on Knyaz Boris I and William Gladstone, in the

Boulevard Bulgaria.

middle of the block towards Parchevich. Knyaz Boris I is one of Sofia’s underrated streets – there are also lots of normal little bars and cafes nearby for a place to stop and get a drink.

Just before tram #7 gets to the 5 corners (Patrirach, Skobelev, Botev, and Praga) it passes Han Aspirouh Street, where “Koh-i-Noor”is located on the left hand side

Tram #7 info table.

between Botev and Tsar Samuil. I’m not an Indian food junkie, but this place is way better and cheaper than the better known “Taj Mahal” near Dondukov. If you’re an American like me, then you probably love eating out; my close friends have written a very informative blog about restaurants in Sofia, called Sofiyam. I recommend giving it a look over.

Past 5 corners, the tram turns onto the lower part of Vitosha and continues to Boulevard Bulgaria, where it makes a right. Boulevard Bulgaria was built and expanded sometime in the late 70’s and early 80’s as a way to quickly connect Boyana Residence with the city center. Sofia’s version of an urban expressway, most of the buildings in this part of town have been built in the last 20 years. Borovo and

I love this guy. Apart from being very macho, he is carrying a purse. Unlike America, which culture forbids men to carry purses, Bulgarian men do so shamelessly. I have so much crap to carry around (my camera, phone, notepad, pens, magazines, MP3 player) that a purse is a necessity. In high school I braved it and carried around a “little bag,” which is how I referred to it. It was, in essence, a purse.

this part of Gotse Delchev are very popular with upper middle class families, with most apartment buildings have garages and gated yards. The only problem is that infrastructure hasn’t caught up with the building boom, and in Manastirski Livadi for example, all of the streets are half-paved and muddy from being driven on my construction vehicles.

The only real reason I ever come out this way is to visit the Jumbo store, which has a huge selection of toys and housewares. Nearby is a Billa Supermarket and the unfinished Mall of Bulgaria, which the thought of another suburban mall in Sofia just makes me want to fall asleep from boredom.

The final stop however is really interesting. The tram, which runs down the middle of the highway, enters a tunnel and pops out at a tram circle that is kind of an overgrown hole. It looks like the perfect place to get mugged after dark, which is refreshing in a suburban sea of gated communities and “new construction.” I exited the tram at 14:16, a total travel time of 45 minutes.

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“The Commuter”: Tram #6 – Obelya 2 – Lozenets (but re-routed to Ivan Vazov)

Take the subway, not the tram…

Obelya is really far away from Sofia. If you ever need to go, I would suggest taking the subway

The #6 info table.

north all the way to the last stop and not the tram. The Sofia Metro setup has painted a sense of affluence on to the neighborhood, which like Svoboda, Levski-G, Benkovski, and Gorublyane hold the titles of being the most uninteresting neighborhoods placed the farthest from the city center. In America, commuter suburbs on Eastern Long Island and in New Jersey (around New York) are popular because the offer cheaper housing and more space, while retaining easy access to the city. With the ease of car travel, a majority of Americans actually prefer to live farther away than closer in. And while this sort of village-meets-the-city approach would work well with Bulgarians who love to garden, Obelya is full of the same unpersonalized apartment blocks found everywhere in Sofia.

Tram No. 926 in Obelya.

Tram #6 runs on the northern-most tram line in Sofia, starting way out in Obelya-2 where the city ends and turns into pastureland, skirts the edge of Nadezhda, the “Staten Island” of Sofia, passes through the viaduct labyrinth under the Nadezhda Overpass, and enters the city center scheduled to come to a stop in Lozenets by Yuzhen Park. Construction of the Sofia Subway has altered the line temporarily sending trams in the city to Ivan Vazov. In fact, Tram #1 and Tram #6 are identical right now, with #6 just heading on to Obelya.

I took the subway to Obelya, which was cool because it’s nice to see construction finishing up on the new

Graffiti in the viaduct labyrinth.

blue line, which is above ground on elevated tracks at this section. The Metrostation lets out at a makeshift town center which has several shops including a doner kabob sandwich place. I walked about 15 minutes to the tram loop on the north side of the neighborhood. At the stop were two old Roma ladies in chairs who were talking about tomatoes and their friend’s son, but I was confused why they were there because they obviously weren’t waiting for the tram and weren’t selling anything

If I ever get to be XXXXXXL, let me know…

- yet then again I also like to hang out at transit stops. At this one in particular, there was an old orange bathroom with flowing water and a little hole to squat over if you needed to go. Surprisingly this was not the worst toilet I have seen.

Tram No. 926 arrived, and the driver took a short break before opening the doors and letting me and this other lady on.  At 15:33, the doors closed, and the tram took off. The #6 trams tend to be non-updated Bulgarian Tramkar Trams, most with a front-middle-behind section setup. No. 926 had tinted windows, which is nice because I could photograph people on the street without them seeing me.

From Obelya, the tram runs through the center of Obelya, and then passes through a treeless field and a

The Beryozka Russian Grocery Store on Hristo Botev and Slivnitsa probably have the best selection of Vodkas in Sofia.

new cemetery before hitting Nadezhda. The trip really doesn’t get interesting until the tram enters the series of tunnels under the Nadezhda Overpass, which are walled viaducts covered inch-by-inch in graffiti and overgrown with tropical-looking plants. The whole area looks like a homeless campground, a perfect spot to hold an illegal cockfight during the night or go to the bathroom. I did see one teenage girl riding her bike on the tram rails, which is kind of dangerous if one comes because you could be pinned in, but

Fruity beer in small plastic bottles? Perfect for the alcoholic in the kindergarten…

life is all about risk.

Once popping out near the train station, the tram turns urban and passes down Hristo Botev Boulevard. At the National Palace of Culture, the #6 should enter a tunnel and pass underneath, coming back onto the street at Fritof Nansen, passing the Hilton, the Mall, and the Hotel Heums, turning into Lozenets and ending at Yuzhen Park. Instead, the #6 is using Ivan Vazov as a turn-around and going to Yuzhen Park that way. I exited the tram at 16:28, a total travel time of 55 minutes.

One of the places you can take #6 to is Yuzhen Park’s southern section which has a large tree covered stream running through it, and lots of bike paths. It’s a favorite escape for people who don’t want to deal with the crowds at Borisova Gradina, but don’t feel like going to the mountain. One nice thing

We’re not even frenemies, we’re enemies.

about the parks in Bulgaria, is that people are allowed to drink alcohol in them. One drawback however is all the beer drinking makes people pee everywhere. If you’re planning on opening a business, I suggest a pay toilet in one of the countless parks and squares. The latest fad has been the appearance of fruit beers in

Shumensko Lemon Twist! It’s so HOBO!

Bulgaria, which is nice, but something we’ve been doing in America for quite some time. However, unlike a fruit lambic, which fruits is part of the brewing process, the Bulgarian fruit beers are all a type of shandy – what happens when you mix beer with lemonade in the summer, the traditional blue-collar cocktail.  My friend Mr. P was disappointed when I told him this. “Well, that’s not really so exciting at all.” In the US, they sell a lot of crappy beer and beer products, but the shandy craze hasn’t set in there like here. First there was Ariana Radler, which I think is still the best tasting, but at 1.8% alcohol, why not just drink a Fanta? Lately I’ve seen Kamenitza Grapefruit, and Kamenitza Lemon, so soft-drinkish looking that I saw a mother giving it to her 4 year old in Sedmochislenitsi Square. In her defense, Boza probably has more alcohol, and it’s like a kid’s drink. My least favorite is Zagorka Fuzion, which is Zagorka beer with white grape juice. It tasted to me what happens when you mix beer and wine. What I suggest, since almost all the Bulgarian beers are light lagers – already perfect for the summertime – is to just put a lime or lemon slice in your beer and enjoy it that way.

Over by the National Palace of Culture.

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“The Downtowner”: Tram #1 – Metrostantsiya Nomer 5 to Kvartal Ivan Vazov

Message! From May 29th until June 27th, the route of tram #1 will be changed – from Blvd. Hristo Botev at the Klokotnitsa Stop, the tram will move itself on Struga Street, Maria Luiza Blvd. (on the route of tram #7), by the Central Train Station, and via H. Botev to Ivan Vazov.

The #1 tram line in Sofia is rather short, beginning at the future Banishora Metrostation

Info Table #1.

(previously unnamed Metrostation Number 5) in front of the Nadezhda Overpass just past the Central Train Station, and ending at an old tram loop in the Ivan Vazov neighborhood. I started my trip at the listed first stop, but when I arrived, there was a message stating that until June 27th, the #1 line would begin at Boulevard Hristo Botev and Maria Luiza, looping around from the northern side of the Jardin d’Algiers past the old Central Bus Station and popping out in front of the New Central Bus Station.

If you’re coming to Sofia as a point of transit, here is some information about the Bus Stations, of which there are two: The Sofia Central Bus Station  is the tall blue building that was built less than 10 years ago. It serves mainly buses going to places in Bulgaria, though there are a few counters with bus companies going to Turkey and Greece. All of the buses running between cities are run by private companies such as Karat-S (Eurolines), Union Ivkoni (Southern Bulgaria), Aleksiev (to the Northwest), Bio-Met (towards Turkey), and etc. You can choose to buy tickets from the company kiosk or you may choose to buy according to destination from the bus station attendants directly to the right as you enter the front door. Do they speak English? My experience has been that they don’t, but be insistent with them and however surly they seem, don’t let them frighten you away.

Jardin d’Algiers.

Between the Central Bus Station and the Central Train Station is the Serdika Bus Station that is listed in a lot

Animal Sculptures.

of guides as the “Traffik Market Bus Station.” Almost all of the buses that come here are international. If traveling to any of the former Yugoslavian countries, tickets can be bought from window 107. This includes Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro. There will probably be a transfer in nearby Nish Serbia, at which you will need to exchange your Bulgarian ticket free of charge for a Serbian one. There is a daily direct bus to Belgrade and one to Skopje through the company Matpu-96, which is who is running the 107 ticket window. Other buses go as far as Spain and Syria, though expect long journeys and several transfers.

But back to the tram. I walked down Maria Luiza to Hristo Botev and climbed aboard tram no. 718 at 14:13, a yellow and blue refurbished Tramkar. The tram starts its journey down Hristo Botev and passes the nicely landscaped Jardin d’Algiers park, which has mature trees and several absolutely charming animal sculptures as well as lots of roses. The park has a reputation for attracting people looking for trouble during the night, but is completely fine during the day. This is usually where the transport conductors get on and check for tickets, but today they were absent. In 30 posts, I have been checked for my ticket only while investigating bus #84, however, I do get checked quite frequently on my way to work in Studenski Grad.

Tram no. 718.

But who did get on the tram at Jardin d’Algiers was my friend and colleague Ms. T., who you may remember from my post about the Malashevtsi Bitaka. Her and her mother were going to the doctor. It’s nice to have someone to talk to while riding, but when I talk in English, I tend to be the center of attention. I showed Ms. T. some new jeans I bought at second hand. In fact if you’re looking for some used clothes, Hristo Botev is

Ms. T. and her mother.

the place. Between Tsar Simeon and the Five Corners, there must be ten different shops, as well as nearby Pirotska Street between Hristo Botev and Opalchenska.

Running parallel to Boulevard Vitosha, akin to Sofia’s Main Street, H. Botev is one of the main north-south boulevards lined with shops and restaurants. I like the Turkish Diner “Aurasia” at Makedonia Square, which serves Turkish cafeteria food and has a bidet in the toilet, as well as Sziget Bar  right on Makedonia Square.

At the Five Corners (where Praga, H. Botev, Skobelev, and Patriarch Evtimy meet), Ms. T. and her mother got off the tram. We’re going to talk about a trip to the Black Sea on Friday.

After this, the tram heads toward the National Palace of Culture, the massive convention center and theater which is full of restaurants and shops and turn right onto Vitosha. Just behind The Palace of Culture (NDK) is the Little Palace of Culture which has a really nice cafe in zala 12, across from the BTV Television Studios. And behind THAT building is the Galaxy Bowling Club, which is the only bowling alley in downtown Sofia.

A lot of older buildings have been preserved along H. Botev.

#1 passes Boulevard Bulgaria and continues down Vitosha into the Ivan Vazov neighborhood.

Look at the size of those balconies!

For those of you who don’t know, Ivan Vazov claims the title of the most famous Bulgarian writer, a revolutionary and romantic who penned the epic novel “Under the Yoke,” describing life for Bulgarians under the Ottoman Empire. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find in English in any of the larger book shops. His house is a small museum at the corner of Rakovski and Ivan Vazov Street (surprise), and he is buried near the St. Sofia Church in downtown. The neighborhood Ivan Vazov is one of the city’s neighborhoods filled with long-time Sofia residents, much like Oborishte, Yavarov, and Lozenets, and being located nearby to both downtown and Yuzhen (Southern) Park is a highly desired place to live.

Right before the end of Vitosha and almost in the front of the main entrance to Yuzhen Park, the tram bears to the right and two stops later ends at the Pazar Ivan Vazov. I exited the tram at 14:43, a total travel time of 30 minutes.

Downtown Sofia has a lot of “Klek Shops” (literally Squat Shops) that sell beer and candy and other quick items at the sidewalk level. I guess rent for a basement store is less. These ladies are famous.

Boulevard Vitosha, the “Main Street” of Sofia.

The 12th Hall Cafe in Little NDK.

Yuzhen Park.

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“The Lyulin Local”: Tram #8 – Lyulin 5 to Sudebna Palata

Info table.

You know it’s hot when Bulgarians open the window. I’m from what I would consider a “hot” place – hot being

In the worker’s paradise, you had a lot of money, but there was nothing to buy. Now there is so much to buy, but no one has any money.

that there are large swaths of time during the summer when the Southern United States becomes unbearable. Even at midnight, Kentucky in July can be 35 degrees c. with high humidity. And while Bulgaria has its hot moments, I find that I generally have a much higher tolerance for the weather than those around me. I hadn’t really thought that this past week was so hot, but I saw one lady in the park acting if she was going to pass out from “тази жега.” One of the strangest things about Bulgarians to me are their sensitivity and fear of hot and cold. Because I teach small children, I witness first hand how Bulgarian mothers smother their children in undershirts and jackets and continually change sweaty shirts throughout the day.  If you’re riding on a train, be advised that there may be a sharp-mouthed old lady ready to argue with you about the draft. On more than one occasion, people serving me have offered to “warm up” my Coca Cola. It doesn’t really bother me, though at times I do miss ice cubes in my drinks. The way that Bulgarians feel about Bulgarian yoghurt and rakia is how Americans feel about ice cubes, air conditioning, and sitting in a strong breeze. I often like to remind my friends that if these temperature superstitions were true, then everyone in the U.S. would be dead.

It truly is the Bronx of Sofia.

The vast majority of Sofia’s transport doesn’t have air conditioning. In the winter, it’s rare to find a bus without a heater, but some of the trams will be just as cold on the inside as out (see post for tram #3). The newer subway cars have air conditioning, though it’s a crap shoot whether it’ll be working. Generally, I’m ambivalent about air conditioning, especially in Bulgaria since to me it feels very dry and gets cool at night. The only time that it becomes a problem is when you’re on an inter-city bus that was made with sealed windows in the 1980’s.

In Zapaden Park, in a tree.

One time in Serbia I went from Belgrade to Negotin and for real passed out from it being so hot. You know it’s hot when the Serbian grandmother on the bus pushes out the emergency exit in the ceiling.

On this hot day I decided to ride tram #8 which begins in Lyulin and ends at the Sudebna Palata (Palace of Justice.) For those of you who aren’t familiar, Lyulin  is Sofia’s massive western suburb built to be the socialist worker’s paradise. Like most things under the socialist system, everything was centralized and state owned. When it was completed, Lyulin consisted of 10 microregions (creatively named 1-10) of identitcal apartment blocks and a central neighborhood that was placed in the middle like an axis of a wheel. Here is where the open air market and a park were built. When explaining to other Americans what Sofia is like, I sometimes compare it to New York City – Nadezhda is like Staten Island because its such a hassle to get to, the area between Tsar Boris III and Tsarigradsko Shose is like Brooklyn because that’s where everyone wants to live, the Most Chavdar takes you to the equivalent of New Jersey, and Lyulin is the Bronx.

The bridge in Z.P.  crossing the Suhodolska River, often full of garbage.

While I was waiting for the tram at the lollipop loop in Lyulin 5, a car pulled up and a lady with a nice smile rolled down her window and asked me where the Lyulin Beach was. I am often flattered by people who ask me directions because that means they think I’m Bulgarian which means I’m doing a good job of blending in. I told her that the pool was in Lyulin Center across from the pazar and that she should take a left on the next main street. Altogether, she was less surprised to see that I was a foreigner as the two nationalist teenagers who last year asked me

The park in winter.

for directions the Vasil Levski monument.

I boarded tram No. 2012 at 13:44, an orange and white single car Tatra Tram. The line begins by skirting the western edge of Lyulin before turning left onto Pancho Vladigerov Street running between Lyulins 5 and 6, and then 4 and the Center. It passes the large but run-of-the-mill open air market, a newly built church, and the Lyulin Beach Swimming complex, which gets really crowded when it’s hot out. The tram then leaves the roadway and turns southeast on train rails parallel to Boulevard Tsaritsa Ioanna, named for the last Queen of Bulgaria (daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and wife to Boris the III). The tram passes lots of newer apartment buildings which look odd in contrast to their maze of unpaved dirt streets, and several large stores. Just before leaving Lyulin, the tram re-enters the middle of Tsaritsa Ioanna, and goes through the tunnel underneath Zapaden Park.

Barack Obama Street, in Lyulin.

Zapaden Park (West Park)is one of Sofia’s often forgotten getaways; accessible to the city center via metro (Zapaden Park stop, entrance to the park is behind the Labarint Furniture Store) the park is the city’s largest after Borisova Gradina, but unlike B.G., which is always abuzz with people walking over its threadbare trails, Zapaden Park is quiet and overgrown. The tunnel separates the park into two sections; an eastern part bordering Boulevard Slivnitsa that has paved paths, flower gardens, and until a decade ago a large Ferris wheel – and a western part that is forested with pine and deciduous trees, along with patches of

Tram No. 2012, in Lyulin.

white birch. I personally live right across the street from the park, and it’s the reason why I moved where I did. I go into the park at least once a week.  My neighbors sometimes tell me that the park is dangerous, and I do know that Z.P. has a bad reputation because it butts up against the notorious Roma neighborhood of Fakulteta, though from experience the only connection between the two is an occasional teenager grazing his horse. Other people graze in the park as well – on the weekdays shepherds bring their goats from the village of Suhodol to graze, and I noticed this winter haphazard harvesting of trees for use in wood burning stoves, which is a pity. This is contained to just a few areas however, and for those people who can’t get away to Vitosha, the park is a nice escape for a long walk or a picnic.

This couple had been sitting in front of me on the tram. I was very impressed with how clean and white their clothes were and his very Steve Perry hair. He was a gentleman and gave up his seat to a lady with a young child. These people are fabulous.

After exiting the tunnel, the tram turns off of the street again and runs along the eastern edge of the Zapaden Park neighborhood and on to Stamboliiski Boulevard at Vardar Boulevard. The tram rides through the Ilinden and Razsadnika Neighborhoods before crossing into the Center at Konstantin Velichkov. Here the tram passes the Dimiter Petkov Fruit Market, the “Great

Sudebna Palata – The Palace of Justice.

Wall of China” (an enormous apartment block), and the Mall of Sofia. At Vuzrazhdane Square, the tram turns right on to Hristo Botev Boulevard and then left again at Makedonia Square, famous among visitors because of the popular Hostel Mostel guest house next to the bank. Once on Alabin Street, the tram pulls in behind the Palace of Justice and loops around to start its way back to Lyulin.

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“The Uptowner”: Tram Line #22 – Krasna Polyana to Avtogara Iztok

#22 Info Table.

The #22 line is probably my favorite tram line in all of Sofia. Not only does it pass by my neighborhood and

Sofia Public Housing.

a lot of my favorite places, but it is one of the lines (#23 being the other) that runs the older Deuwag trams made in Dusseldorf, West Germany in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In contrast to the boxy Tramkar and Tatra designs, the Deuwags have rounded fronts and recall an era in design that focused more on style than on performance.

The #22 begins its route in the western Sofia neighborhood of Krasna Polyana (Pretty Meadow), which although at one time may have been pastoral, these days it’s made up of the same Soviet-style apartment buildings that are found all over Sofia. The first stop at the Krasna Polyana Tram Depot is not too far from where Sofia has hidden its public housing (to be fair, from the 50’s until the 1990’s ALL housing was state owned and built by one government-owned construction company), in which residents live in around 15 pre-fabricated two-storey apartment buildings encircling a Center for Social Care. Walking by, I talked with several of the residents who expressed immense dissatisfaction with their living conditions and invited me to take several pictures. And while the conditions are derelict, it’s not unlike neglected state subsidized housing in most other places.

Where did you come from? Oh, the DDR…

I boarded tram No. 4205 at 15:07, an orange Deuwag tram with a lead-car and follow-car combo. The tram

No. 4205 turns onto Vuskresenie in Krasna Polyana.

leaves the depot and runs along Blvd. Nikola Mushanov until it turns into Blvd. Vuskresenie (Ressurection) at Blvd. Vardar. From here the trams makes a stop in front of the small but busy Krasna Polyana Pazar and then continues down Vuskresenie until it makes a left onto Blvd. Konstantin Velichkov, named for а 19th century Bulgarian writer. The trams makes a stop at the K. Velichkov Metrostation before making a right onto Pirotska Street.

The tree lined Pirotska Street was at one time Sofia’s major western highway leading to Yugoslavia via Pirot (hence the name), but these days traffic has been diverted to Todor Alexandrov and Slivnitsa Blvds., which has allowed the street to retain it’s cobble-stoned surface and old-timey feel. There are many stores that line the street between Velichkov and Hristo Botev, though the vast majority are furniture stores or second-hand clothing stores. The best part is that most of these shops are local businesses, void of chain stores like DM, Billa, and Picadilly, which now seems to be opening on every corner. Several big apartment blocks have been built near the Dimiter Petkov

#22 stops right in front of the Central Marketplace. The synagogue is in the background.

Pazar, excitingly named “Zone B-18,” but the majority of the buildings are Balkan two-storeys with corner balconies and plaster detailing. The tram crosses Hristo Botev and makes a stop at the entrance of the Zhenski Pazar. It then zig zags onto parallel Exarch Iosef Street, as Pirotska becomes pedestrian-only to Maria Luiza Blvd.

Once on Exarch, the tram passes several very important places, the first being Liu’s Chinese

Sometimes passengers leave their punched tickets in the trams. It’s just begging someone to come along and take a free ride!

Groceries and Gifts, located on Tsar Samuil between Pirotska and Exarch, which has one of the largest selection of Asian foods in Sofia. If you’re looking for rice paper for spring rolls, hot sauce, wasabi, rice vinegar, sesame oil, or seaweed anything, you’ll be able to find it here for much cheaper than the gourmet stores like Picadilly or Carrefour. After that the tram passes the Sofia Synagogue, the city’s only working Jewish Temple, and a major historical landmark since it has survived

The Banya Bashi Mosque and it’s pencilesque minaret.

Nazi occupation, allied bombing, and socialist indifference. Although the majority of Bulgaria’s Jews survived the Second World War (a source of pride for many Bulgarians), almost all of them emigrated to Israel in the 40’s and 50’s. Today’s active congregation in the city is made up largely of elderly people and numbers one or two thousand, though I did see that the synagogue has recently opened a kindergarten. The building itself was built in 1905-1909 from designs by architect Friedrich Gruenanger who based his plan on the great Sephardic Synagogue in Vienna that was destroyed in WWII. Gruenanger also designed the still-standing Turkish Ambassador’s Residence behind Sofia University and the former Chinese Embassy just

During the first half of the 20th Century, Dondukov was the center of Cinema activity. Located at Dondukov and Krakra, the Balkan Cinema Factory is a left over of this bygone era.

up from the SU Metrostation.

Next door to the synagogue is the Central Hali, or old covered marketplace. Remodeled in the

The Serdika Mineral Springs. (That’s me…)

early 2000’s, the marketplace is similar to the old covered market in Budapest, selling grocery items and souvenirs. There is a food court on the upper level as well as some free but seedy public toilets. I suggest using the free toilets in the Central Department Store across the way. Across from the Central Hali is the Banya Bashii Mosque, one of two working mosques in Sofia, but undoubtedly the oldest. Many of Sofia’s religious buildings were built on the places of former Roman religious buildings, and as each wave of religion passed over the city they were converted to fit the beliefs at the time. Haiga Sofia, near Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, was built in the 500’s A.D., but lived half of its life as a mosque until it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 19th century and leaving it abandoned until it was restored upon Bulgaria’s independence. The Sedmochislenitsi Church was built as a mosque and turned into a prison and then a church, while Sveti Georgi Rotunda was church-mosque-church. Sofia’s former Central Mosque became the BAN Archaeological Museum. All of this transformation is remarkable in the fact that Banya Bashii was built in 1576 and hasn’t been changed at all.

Built on top of the extensive Serdika Mineral Springs, the mosque is backed by the defunct Sofia Municipal Bath House, which may open as something sometime soon, but nobody seems to know what. You can still drink from the springs which are to the left of the bath

At Dondukov and Budapeshta Streets, they’ve unearthed a Roman Amphitheater and posted this nice little bit of information. If you enlarge the picture, you can read all about Sofia history, which has been translated surprisingly better than anything I have seen posted around town.

house and popular with elderly Sofians (like my neighbor) who believe the water helps their arthritis. I sometimes see homeless people washing their hair in the springs (it’s the perfect temperature), but as I have no hair, I won’t be trying this.

After the springs, #22 goes past an unearthed section of the old city wall, which was built and torn down

Tram #22’s last stop in Suha Reka.

several times. It turns right and curves around to Blvd. Dondukov, which is one of East Sofia’s main shopping streets. It turns right Zaimov Park (Krakra Street), and then again left and runs down Sakuzov Street the entire length of Zaimov Park to Blvd. Madrid. I really like this neighborhood of tidy shops and old houses. After Madrid, #22 passes through a viaduct and pops out onto Botevgradsko Shose, which from here on out is Soviet-town. Botevgradsko Shose is the major highway leading to the Hemus Motorway and up towards the northern part of Bulgaria. The final stop is the Iztok/Poduyane (East) Bus Station, which serves the towns and villages to the north of Sofia. I exited the tram at 16:07, a total travel time of exactly one hour.

Inside the BAN Archaeological Museum housed in the former Sofia Central Mosque on the “Night of the Museums,” a night when museums all over Europe are free to patrons.

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The Antique Tram – Zapaden Park to Ploshtadt Zhurnalist

An oldie but a goodie…

I left my house on Saturday with the intentions of buying some tomatoes at the pazar. This needed to be a quick trip because I had a bowling game to get to later in the evening, so I walked over to the #10 tram circle on Stamboliiski to go to Dimiter Petkov. However, imagine my surprise when waiting just for me was one of Sofia’s antique trams!

The antique trams are used for specialty occasions like Christmas and high school proms,

They don’t make signs like that any more.

however, this time the tram is running in promotion of the “European Cinema Days” film festival, currently showing films from around the E.U. at the National Palace of Culture from May 9th to the 19th, in commemoration  of Bulgaria’s five year anniversary in the European Union. More info can be found here.

The tram however is running every week day from 2-5 pm running from Zapaden Park to Ploshtadt Zhurnalist, and on the weekends from 6-8 pm, with all passengers riding for free! Unfortunately I couldn’t ride the whole line because of the tomatoes, but you sure can!

Can you make it out?

The tram consists of a lead car, built sometime in the 1920’s I think, and a follow car that dates from 1901. The signs are littered with additional letters that were removed after the Second World War from Bulgarian grammar, so I know that it’s pre-war at least. I checked for some information on the Urban Mobility Website, and while they give a very in-depth factual knowledge of transport, it mentions nothing about the antique tram. There was an informational poster in the rear tram, however it was partially covered with a speaker and I couldn’t understand all the information. The staff working on the tram however were very helpful and were able to answer all of my questions. One of the conductors even let me ride in the rear carriage that was “closed to passengers.”

There’s nothing more I love than an antique tram. With so many trams today looking so ultra modern, I

Plans for the tram.

appreciate the style that wood paneling and curtains bring. With more people looking to get places faster and with cars, antique trams remind us about how thrilled people were 100 years ago to even have a tram so they would have to walk through streets covered in horse dropping and mud. They are also documented as successful tourist draws in places like Istanbul and San Francisco,  the latter running probably the last running streetcar from my home town of Lousiville, Kentucky. Louisville shut her trams down in the 1940’s to replace them with buses, which is a shame. This is one of the biggest mishaps from giving a corporation like GM too much control in municipal affairs. Let’s hope Sofia has no plans for this.

Built to last…

 

 

 

 

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“The Sunday Shopper”: Tram Line #12 – Ploshtadt Zhurnalist to Kvartal Ilientsi

#12 Info Table.

It’s St. George’s Day, and I’m not going to eat lamb. Instead I decided to use this beautiful day to ride tram

Tram No. 722.

line #12, one of the longer tram lines that runs from Ploshtadt Zhurnalist (Journalist Square) to the Ilientsi neighborhood in far north Sofia. If visiting Sofia, this is one of the better sight-seeing routes between Journalist and the Train Station hitting all the major sights in town. This is going to be a rather long post, so I as always appreciate your dedicated readership.

I boarded tram #12, car No. 722 at Ploshtadt Zhurnalist at 15:53, on Sunday, May 6th, also St. George’s Day, the national holiday for the Bulgarian Army. The #12 trams are blue and yellow Tramkars, built in the 1980’s but remodeled sometime in the 2000’s. The neighborhood around Journalist – Lozenets – is Sofia’s uptown neighborhood, very popular with young professionals. Right around the square is an organic supermarket, cafe, a bakery, and a butcher’s shop. Trams #10 and #18 (see posts) also pass here.

The first sight of any interest is the Roman Wall Market (Rimska Stana Pazar), which is a line of fruit and vegetable stalls that are set before an unexplained section of ancient wall. I feel that such a well preserved Roman artifact would at least have an info table; I remember reading while doing research for my book that the wall isn’t Roman, but Old Bulgarian or even Ottoman, but that still makes it really old. After the wall pazar, the tram passes the Vasil Levski Stadium Metrostation as it turns onto Graf Ignatiev Street.

This baker mime was very entertaining.

It was at this stop that one of my favorite local crazy ladies got on. Dressed in very colorful stained clothing,

The Roman (or Bulgarian or Turkish) Wall Market.

every time I see her she is carrying a suitcase and smells like she could use a bath, but this time, riding a crowded tram in hot weather with everyone’s arms lifted up, I didn’t seem to notice. The one thing that Americans seem to bemoan about Europe  is the lack of underarm deodorant, though generally I find that most people smell just fine. Besides, I think this says more about the American obsession for cleanliness and order; I’m certainly not going to apologize to anyone about the way I smell after working a 10 hour day and riding a hot stuffy subway car home for an hour.  And neither does this crazy woman need to; I’m sure whatever she’s doing that she’s having a worse day than me. What I do know is that there is a dead American in her suitcase, or at least that is what she yelled at all the passengers three months ago on bus #94 (there isn’t a post), after no one would lend a hand to help her up into the bus. At the time I considered letteing her know that she shouldn’t be carrying around the corpse of one of my countrymen in her luggage, but my friend cautioned me against it. This time she was much more composed, but I wasn’t in the mood to ask her any questions.

The Church of the Holy Sedmochislenitsi, a.k.a. the Black Mosque.

Graf Ignatiev is one of two main shopping streets in the city, the other being Boulevard Vitosha, though I don’t think Vitosha is as charming. At 6th of September Street is the 14th

The Slaveikovs sitting at the book market.

century church of the Sedmochislenitsi (the seven great holy Slavic men, including Kyril and Methodii) which was built as a mosque, used as a jail and a warehouse, and later around 1900 remodeled into a church. The square facing the church is always buzzing with people on their lunch breaks or a nice place to sit and drink a beer. Regretfully, there is no toilet here.

After the tram crosses Rakovski, #12 passes Slaveikov Square, which is where you’ll find the open air book market and the Sofia City Library, which I visit quite often. Foreigners may get library cards, but depending on whether you’re a resident or who’s working, the fee will be different. I paid a 15 leva deposit and had to provide a picture. The card is valid for one year. The best thing about the library card is then I get to use the American Corner Library which subscribes to all my favorite magazines. The American Corner is run by special funding from the U.S. Embassy.

At the top of Slaveikov, across from the Carrefour is one of my favorite fast food places – “Pizza Pekarna Graf,” which has a variety of

Uh oh, here comes tram #12 from the cardboard model city I made for my students!

banitsas and meat burek which is more popular in Serbia. Around the corner is Sofiiska Banitsa, which is now making leek banitsa until it goes out of

Pizza Pekarna Graf

season. Past Gharibaldi Square is the restaurant “Confetti,” which serves Italian food and ice cream. Last summer they offered orange chili chocolate gelatto which was phenomenal, but I see they haven’t made any this year. The #12 line then turns onto Alabin Street for about a hundred meters before turning right onto Maria Luisa Boulevard, a recent route change due to the repair of Maria Luisa now that the construction on the subway is winding down (previously #12 had been on an alternate route using Hristo Botev Boulevard). Right here is the dead center of the city with the Palace of Justice (building with the lions), Sveta Nedelya Church (Holy Sunday), the Serdika Metrostation, the giant statue of Sveta Sofia, the President’s Office, the mosque, the synagogue, the bath house, The Central Universal Department Store, Sveta Petka Samardjiiska Church,  the Covered Central Market, and my favorite, the 1700 year-old Rotunda of St. George, a Roman era church and the oldest standing building in the city. Past all of these sites, the tram

The Sveta Sofia Statue.

rolls down Maria Luisa Boulevard, which although is a continuation of Vitosha Boulevard is much more seedy. After the Lion’s Bridge, the tram heads to the Central Bus Station and Train Station, which will soon be serviced by a metrostation on

The St. George’s Rotunda, hidden away behind the Hotel Balkan Sheraton.

the blue line.

From here, #12 gets less scenic and more industrial. It goes to the end of Maria Luisa and then enters a series of viaducts that take it under the Nadezhda Overpass. The jungle-like surroundings apparently act as a buffer zone between some residential areas to the northwest and industrial areas to the east, but must be a magnet for homeless people if the amount of discarded clothing tells me anything. After exiting the viaducts and jungle, the tram is back into what is a seemingly normal neighborhood – Tolstoi to be exact – which will also soon be served by the new metro line.

North of Tolstoi the tram enters industrial territory, riding a busy street lined with warehouses and factories. Sopharma Pharmaceuticals is here as is a branch of the Ministry of Finance and Hyundai.  As the buildings thin out, the tram makes a stop at the Ilientsi Pazar, which may be the largest retail market in the country. At least it feels that way. The Stock Market Ilientsi acts like a wholesale market for smaller business, offering cheaper prices for good bought in bulk, though anyone can shop here. You can really buy anything, from toys to

The Sofia Train Station is not a circus. At least most of the time.

shoes, kitchen wares, and clothes. Many of the merchants are Asian – Turkish and Chinese,

The Ilientsi Pazar.

which is probably where a lot of these goods are imported from. The few things I have bought here over the years were really quite reasonable, and worth a trip if you’re looking to buy a lot of things at once. There is also another Carrefour on site, which seems out of place, but they do have a large selection of Asian foods.

After this, tram #12 drifts off into what seems like no man’s land with worn houses to the left and an empty field to the right. It comes to rest at a tram circle at the Ilientsi Bus Station, which services city buses #25, #26, #27, and #29, all of which go to satellite villages nearby, as well as tram #11. I exited the tram at 16:37, a total travel time from end to end at 44 minutes. Do not attempt to walk back to the city center.

Last Stop – No man’s land!

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Tram Line #15 – Knyazhevo to Zaharna Fabrika

If you see a tram #15, you’ve warped into the past.

 

Tram #15 no longer exists. It combined parts of tram #11 and tram #3.

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