When I travel, I often stay in residential areas - they provide a glimpse into people’s everyday life. It’s fun to have coffee at the neighborhood joint and buy groceries at the corner shop. And this week in Sofia, I get to stay in my old stomping grounds, the Iztok district. I have lived in something like five different apartments in this area through college and during the early part of my career when I still lived in Bulgaria. I would recommend giving this area a try if you are not too set on staying in downtown Sofia.
One of the beautiful things about staying here is that when I have to go downtown, I can walk there. It does take about an hour (since I often stop to take photos) but the walk takes you through the entire Borisova Gradina - Sofia’s rival of Central Park. Translated as Boris’s Garden, the park is the oldest in Sofia. Its construction began in 1884 and it’s named after one of Bulgaria’s last tzars. The park is the work of three different famous gardeners who built on each other’s work over time - a Swiss, a French, and eventually a Bulgarian.
Lavanda Restaurant almost tries to remain a secret. The address takes you to a house with a garden-bar in front and you have to know - or ask someone, as I did - to discover that you need to walk around the back, take the stairs to the second floor and walk through a barely marked door to enter the gourmand’s dream that is Lavanda. I was lucky enough to get one of the three tables on the small terrace so my meal took place under the shade of old trees and was served with the view of a colorful little courtyard with slightly disheveled flowerpots and lounging cats.
I started with tarator - a cold yogurt and chopped cucumbers soup that is a Bulgarian summer staple. Lavanda’s version was made with cashews instead of the typical walnuts and the light, tangy taste was a perfect foray into my lunch. Next came a most wonderful sea bream frittata - not too fluffy and not too dense, with flavorful morsels of fish and perfectly salty olives. All was washed down with a glass of crisp Bulgarian rose from the Villa Bassareya winery. After I showed rare, if appropriate restraint and skipped desert, the bill was presented with three fluffy, ethereal lavender meringues that melted into my mouth with just a tiny bit of chewiness at the end. A fun fact for you - I bet you didn't know that Bulgaria is the world's largest producer of lavender oil! Who knew?!
Good food, good wine, and good art easily go together. Next, my walk took me to the Red House, whose full name is The Red House Centre for Culture and Debate. It supports and promotes independent and sometimes obscure art, as well as political, social and cultural discussions and select educational initiatives. In the early afternoon hours I had all three floors to myself. The main exhibit on view was Self-portrait of Photography by Kalina Brailsford - a contemporary photographer and lecturer at New Bulgarian University.
The interactive project included plaques, covered in wax, that visitors were encouraged to carve their own message on - and guess who promptly and proudly etched EAK (as in Entrpreneurship of All Kinds®, my US alma mater’s signature concept that dictates that we can all be entrepeneurs!).