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Varna and Sofia in wintertime
09.01.2008   bulgarien.dk
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Whilst most Northern European countries don their winter woollies, Bulgarians on the coast and in the ski resorts can often enjoy glorious sunshine and bright blue skies. Winter is a beautiful time of year in Bulgaria. The air is filled with the smell of burning logs as people heat their homes with wood burning stoves, neighbours offer warming glasses of Rakia and jars of pickled produce to one another. In January and February the temperatures can plummet but that does not mean that there is nothing to do.
Those who live near Sofia have the ease of access to the Vitosha Mountain and its fabulous ski runs. The Vitosha slopes are a mere 20 minute ride away and in comparison to other European ski resorts, the prices here are extremely low. Keen skiers may prefer more variety and the slopes of Bulgaria’s international ski resorts, Pamporovo, Borovets and Bansko are only a couple of hours drive away. Sofia also has ice skating rinks at Borisova Garden. The ice here is synthetic so that it will not be affected if the winter weather is mild and one at Angliiska Gradina (English Garden) behind NDK.

Sofia is also a city which lends itself to sightseeing with many ancient Byzantine churches, archaeological treasures, monuments and mineral baths.

Varna does not have any ski slopes nearby to enchant its visitors, but the climate here tends to be more temperate and during a mild winter like that of 2006/7, it is possible to play golf, cycle and hike in the forests.

It is also a beautiful time to take a stroll through the Sea Garden, where you can witness sensational views of the sea and 14 kilometres of beautifully manicured parkland, which follows the coastline.

There are many beautiful gardens and tree-lined pathways and it offers much to occupy its visitors. At one end, opposite the Sports Stadium, there is an impressive statue, the Monument to Fighters against Fascism. This huge, impressive carved stone monument depicting faces of peasant and partisan men and women of Bulgaria looks nobly out to sea.

You can also visit the Nicolaus Copernicus Observatory and Planetarium, the Museum of Natural History, the aquarium or the zoo, which houses amongst many other things, lions, a tiger, bears and a leopard. If you visit around three o’clock, you can watch the animals feeding. There is also a separate and rather unusual reptile house, where you can see a huge crocodile, many snakes and containers full of spiders and other interesting exhibits. The reptile zoo is more of an eccentric’s private collection, than an organised zoo and it is housed in a building which on entry makes you feel like you are walking into someone‘s home.

There are many activities for children to enjoy, including a fun fair with bouncy castles and many rides, frequent play areas and plenty of cafes to occupy weary parents. At the far end of the park, there is a dolphinarium, which has one performance a day throughout winter. It is the only dolphinarium on the Balkan Peninsula. In 1992, a baby dolphin was born in the Dolphinarium demonstrating how much the mammals feel at home in their surroundings.

The main boulevard is the National Revival Alley, which is decorated with bronze statues of prominent Bulgarians. The Cosmonauts' Alley contains trees planted by Yuri Gagarin and other Soviet cosmonauts in the 1960s. The Garden is a national monument of landscape architecture.

From the Park you can walk down to Varna beach, an amazing experience in winter. Just standing so close to the sea and watching the waves crashing against the shore is mesmerising.

Both Sofia and Varna offer an excellent programme of cultural performances throughout winter; live theatre attracts good audiences in both cities as do musical performances by a variety of international artists. There are also a host of museums and art galleries to browse, which run exhibitions year round. Often winter is the ideal time to visit such cultural events because the hot summers leave many people heading for the outdoors in preference to a museum.

Both cities also offer some fantastic opportunities for shopping and dining. Sofia is leading the way in terms of a shopping revolution with many pedestrianised areas with shops selling everything from expensive designer and luxury goods to hand crafted work. In terms of fine dining there is much to entice people with a wide variety of tastes. There are also numerous bars, clubs and cafes available in both cities.

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