Sofia so Good!

Posted by Olly on March 9, 2004, 02:53:17 PM

So after 3 months of waiting for our next European away trip, the excursion to another Eastern European city eventually came round. Despite having 3 months in which to plan this however, perhaps unsurprisingly preparations were left pretty much to the last minute. Having already spent three nights in Ljubliana and four nights in Bucharest, and feeling extremely worse for wear on our return each time, it was decided on a short stay of just two nights in Sofia. Direct flights were booked from Gatwick, and a 5 star hostel was found for the princely sum of £7 a night, with 4 of us in a room.

I arrived at Gatwick around half 4 in the afternoon and found Aidan and Alan in the bar. A couple of pints later and we were joined by Ant, a guy who works tirelessly for the Thames Valley Liverpool Supporters branch. After a few more pints we boarded our 7.30 Bulgarian Air flight with Terri, Jon, Jim Price and a few of the YNWA reds, and settled down to our 3 hour journey. As is the norm in these situations, most of the lads were sitting with their legs crossed during take off, and as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off, a mad rush to the two toilets ensued!

We landed in Sofia at around half midnight, and as all the rest of our wealthy travel companions boarded a coach to escort them to their hotel, we jumped into an “OK” Taxi and requested Jeeves to drive on to Hostel Kervan. The guy got lost half way down a busy dual carriageway, and so as he looked for the address on his map, a small whimper was heard from Alan upfront. We all looked up to see our car head right up the back off a cabbage truck, with Alan looking as though he’d just soiled himself. A quick swerve to the left and all danger was averted, and 10 minutes later we drove up a dark snow covered alleyway, and pulled up outside our hostel. After waking up the owner we dropped off our stuff and give the other Aidan a call to find out where he was. As he was also staying in our room, and having two Aidans would have caused much confusion when drunk, an executive decision was made to rename him Dave. We walked the short distance to the main square and then tried to find our way to a bar called Funky Town. Having no idea where we were going, we asked for directions from two blokes at the Sheraton Hotel. One guy responded by saying that there were no girls there, but if we wanted any then to come back and see him, whilst the other bloke told us he’d drive down the street in his black Merc, and show us the way. So off we walked down the street while Mercedes man beckoned us to follow as he turned off down a side street, jumped out of his car and hopped into a building. By the time we got to this building, the main door was shut, and there was no sign of any bar at all. As we turned around to walk back the other way, our man jumps out the door, and says “Where are you going?” “Where’s this bar mate?” we ask. “This is Fooky Town. You want girls?” Oh Jesus – no mate, we want Funky Town. Funky! Not Fooky. We just want a beer.

After a bit more confusion, the guy explained that the bar we were after was just across the street, and as we wandered in he handed us his business card, and told us to give him a call at any hour of the day or night. We caught up with Dave, Jim and serious Welsh Jon and had a few whiskies and beers to get us in the mood before wandering around a few of Sofia’s late night drinking haunts getting progressively more and more drunk. At one point, desperate to relieve ourselves between pubs, we spied an inviting hedge just outside a large government building. As Aidan (not to be confused with Aidan-Dave) and myself were at bursting point we crept up to the hedge, and just as we were about to water the Sofian vegetation a huge security guard came piling out of building shouting at us. Despite the beer inside us, we took this as a bad sign, and so jumped down the front steps and ran off. Aidan, unfortunately for him, failed to notice the large patch of ice on the pavement, and as he ran down the street his legs were lifted off the floor and started flying around in mid-air cartoon style, just before he landed right on his backside. Cue three lads and a large security guard doubled up in laughter and pointing while he struggled to get up.

One of the lads had heard of a club with some extremely attractive bar maids, and so we all jumped into the nearest “OK” taxi. We sped off, safe in the knowledge that in a few minutes more beer would be drunk in the company of lovely ladies. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed our driver put a bottle of something to his mouth as we drove down the road. This guy was drinking a huge bottle of beer. When I asked what he was doing, and if he was allowed to drink and drive, he explained to me that by law he was allowed two beers! I’m fairly sure that this “rule” didn’t encompass drinking 2 huge litre bottles of beer whilst actually driving, but in any case our drunken chauffeur carried on. Driving at excessive speed, cutting people up and driving through red lights was apparently also the norm. At one point, we got to a red light at a road that crossed a busy dual carriageway. Instead of stopping, our driver decided that the best course of action was to edge into the dual carriageway and into the path of the oncoming traffic, and play some sort of crazy car frogger until we reached the other side in comparative safety. With 4 of us all screaming at him, his response, as he turned round driving no hands stylie, was “Do not worry my friends – I am a professional Bulgarian race car driver!”

10 minutes later and we lurched to a stop outside a club called Jim Beams, in the student quarter of the city, just as some of the other lads in our group pulled up as well. We walked in, parked ourselves at the far end of the bar, and within minutes had 4 stunning bar maids at our beck and call for the rest of the evening. Somehow Dave had already met a couple of them, and so we were provided liquid refreshment at the local rate, rather than the inflated tourist rate, and happily spent the next couple of hours getting drunk whilst admiring the view. An hour or so later, I turned round and walked into a huge guy’s legs. Somewhat surprised as to how this was possible, I looked up, and up, and up. Standing over us was this huge 9ft 3 scary looking bloke, trying to get a beer. After a mumbled apology for bumping into him, followed by a small “please don’t hurt me”, we introduced ourselves, and it turned out that this guy was the current European basketball player of the year. After a few minutes of hand shaking, he decided to leave us alone – no doubt our continued staring at this freakish giant unnerved him slightly.

We arrived back at our hostel some time after 6 in the morning, and all passed out in bed, till around midday, when I woke up to find Aidan and Dave laughing at my sleeping attire – apparently waking up to find your mate asleep in a travel eye mask, ear plugs and woolly hat is amusing. I don’t quite get it meself! After a quick shower, some water and a couple of paracetemol each, we wandered off down the street in search of the club shop, using our one and only known Bulgarian word at every opportunity – “Blagodaria!” Having trouble finding the club shop, Dave and myself walked into a ladies fashion shop to ask for directions. Our limited use of Bulgarian and their limited understanding of two hungover English lads caused some confusion, although we were more than happy to stand around patiently especially as a very very attractive young Sofian lady was trying on a tight pair of jeans just in front of us! Ten minutes later we left with big grins on our faces, and eventually found the shop located underneath the main road in a subway. Unfortunately they had run out of scarves, except for a few beautiful silk efforts (!!). As I had been given an order for a few scarves, I toyed with the idea of buying a few Levski Sofia blue and yellow thongs, but thought better of it – not sure the recipients or their partners would have appreciated them!

After all this thirsty work, a beer was needed so off we went down a side street attempting to find a bar and some food. We stumbled across a cheap restaurant serving beer for 30p, and decided that it would be rude to say no. So in we went, ordered 4 beers and a load of food. Pretty much every meal contained cheese, with the two most popular cheeses being yellow cheese and sheep’s cheese – I’m not entirely sure which part of the sheep this cheese comes from, but it was pretty tasty. After ploughing through 12 or so dishes between the four of us, including a very nice chicken and cornflakes combo, as well as pork neck, Jim, Welsh Jon, Roddysul and a Belgian Liverpool fan (Tom) living in Sofia came and found us. Alan amused the locals by showing us all a stretch to do when suffering from shin splints, and a few more rounds of beers were sunk, before we decided to head off somewhere more lively. Just round the corner was the usual Irish bar, and so we popped in for one over-priced beer, mainly due to the fact that the Welsh lads mentioned that the girls behind the bar were stunning. A few songs were sung, before we headed out again, this time with Tom as our guide. A couple of bars later, it was decided to make a move closer to the ground, and so we wandered off to an underground Levski Sofia pub about 200 yards from the national stadium. This bar was brilliant. Loads of Levski fans came over and introduced themselves, raised toasts to us and made us feel very welcome. All the Levski fans we spoke to were proud that Liverpool were playing them and were wishing us the best of luck. Songs were sang, more cheap beer was drunk, and then all of a sudden Roddysul noticed Ron Yeats at the bar! A song for our very own Ron Yeats went up, and then it dawned on us that this bloke was actually the dad of Jim Price, and had been on our plane on the way out. Still, he got a round of applause!

About half seven we headed out of the bar and up to the ground, a large imposing looking place. Having not seen too many other reds around, and with the numbers who’d been at Bucharest or Ljubliana, we didn’t expect there to be that many reds in the ground, so it was good to see 1200 or so of our fans there. Levski obviously sold out for their fans, but more surprisingly was a line of about 100 CSKA Sofia fans who had got tickets in the area next to us, all wearing Liverpool scarves and chanting for us. Truly incredible. Unfortunately the Levski stewards would not allow the hanging of any banners, and so most of them were draped on the empty seats – not sure how visible they were on the TV. Met up with Danny, Matty Steer and Gaz who’d flown over that day, along with the rabble from our flight, and took our places on the seats. There is no need to go over the game, save for the fact that Stevie Finnan was getting a fair bit of abuse in the second half, and that a lot of people were stunned when Didi scored a header from a corner. Dave managed to catch only one of our 4 goals due to a combination of being too drunk, falling off his seat and chatting to various people instead of watching the game. The one goal he did see was a cracker from Mickey Owen. As the ball hit the net Dave jumped up and punched the air in celebration only to smack Alan in the face with such force that his contact lens fell out. For the rest of the first half Alan couldn’t see anything apart from a very blurry image of a green pitch (apparently this had nothing do with the drink consumed previously), and so at half time he decided that enough was enough and left to make his way back to our hostel. This obviously took some time, as he couldn’t see straight, and resulted in him walking straight into a tree and cutting his head. The next time we saw him was 5 hours later, vision restored and admiring a view of beautiful rears once again.

Once the game had ended victoriously for us, we headed back into town. On the way to a bar, we walked past a gay pub at which straight talking Welsh Jon exclaims “Jesus! There can’t be any gays in Bulgaria. Not with all this fanny around!” Priceless mate! We popped back into the Levski bar to offer our condolences, shake a few hands and have a bevy, and then Belgian / Bulgarian Tom showed us round a few more cheap Sofian drinking haunts. Another drunken night ended some 6 hours later with 8 of us all sat admiring more of the amazing Sofian women, before struggling home and passing out again.

The next morning, Dave and I woke up bright and early, left the other two asleep and went out for a much needed lunch of chicken with cornflakes and beer. A couple of hours later, we packed up and the four of us jumped in another “OK” Taxi to the airport. Unfortunately this driver was physically unable to drive over 30 miles per hour, and so with time pressing Alan decided that it was necessary to make a number of plane noises and arm movements, coupled with the noise of a fast car and steering wheel movements to indicate that the guy should speed up. This did not work! As a result we arrived at the airport a little later than check in time to find that the airline had kindly given our seats away. Cue, an hour of stress for the Bulgarian Air lady as she rushed around trying to find an alternative flight for us, while we spent the remainder of our Bulgarian levs in the airport bar. Two hours later and the weary travellers board an Austrian Airlines flight to Heathrow via Vienna, and start the journey home.

This was a cracking trip, one of the best we’ve had. The Sofian people were extremely welcoming and very friendly, the beer was very cheap, the food was interesting, and the women were amazing. Thank you Sofia.

And so now it’s on to the next round, and a trip to Marseilles beckons, the home of the former corrupt European Cup Winners. See some of you there.

© Olly 2004

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