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socialism

Socialist sights in Sofia

Do you have plans for your next trip? 
Just travelling and sightseeing is not enough and you know it. Travelling is not measured by photos taken, but in moments that you see every time when you close your eyes. Moments that remind you of all places that you have experienced. So, if you are ready for your next trip, here is an idea - a time travel. Imagine a journey to the dark (red) and mysterious time of Socialism. The Cold war is over and The Iron Curtain might have been finally lifted but people on both sides still know very little about each other. If you are curious what was like to live in communist regime, why don’t lift the curtain by visiting Sofia.       
Travelling to Bulgaria and its capital Sofia can turn into one unexpected encounter with cultural and culinary treasures and great nightlife. For those who dare to experience all hidden secrets of the city, it sure can reveal a wealth of history and leave pleasant memories. As well as ancient Roman artifacts and medieval temples, an ordinary sightseeing tour can easily confront the curious tourist with the 45-year Communist heritage that has left its scar on every aspect of life in the country. During the Iron Curtain period many monuments and buildings commemorating communist leaders, partisans and Soviet Union glory and the Red Army supremacy were erected in Sofia. And while the statues of Dimitar Blagoev, Lenin, Marx or Georgi Dimitrov have been removed after 1989, and streets and boulevards bearing their names renamed, there are still plenty of memories left of these historical times.
Let’s start our tour from National Palace of Culture (NDK) – still the largest multifunctional conference and exhibition centre in South-Eastern Europe. Opened in 1981, in celebration of Bulgaria's 1300th anniversary on the suggestion of Lyudmila Zhivkova, daughter of former president of People's Republic of Bulgaria - Todor Zhivkov, the so-called ‘Pantheon of Soc Culture’ still stands proud in the heart of Sofia centre. Built with 10,000 tons of steel (3000 tons more than the Eiffel Tower) and covering area of 123,000 m² on eight floors and three underground levels it surely presents the megalomania of communist leaders back in the day. Urban legends still tell stories about series of secret tunnels below the building where Communist party leaders held their secret meetings and planned their possible evacuation and escape. Despite the fall of the Regime, the main function and look of the building has not changed much since 1989 and is still predominantly used as a concert hall or for exhibitions and trade fairs. Summer time this place is buzzing with locals coming out, families with kids taking a little walk, friends hanging out near the fountains or enthusiasts who are trying their skateboarding skills. There are lots of great places to eat and drink in the nearby streets, so surely NDK is a must-see starting point. 
Continuing our ‘Red’ tour we take the metro to the GM Dimitrov station (the Iztok suburb) in search of the Museum of Socialist Art (7 Lachezar Stanchev str). In case you hesitate if you’re exactly at the right place - the big "Five-pointed star" of the former Party House in Sofia will guide you to the entrance. 
Opened in 2011, the museum spread over an area of 7,500 square metres and is divided into three parts - a park with sculpture installations from the communist period (many of these will stand the test of time ultimately); a gallery of paintings and easel representations; and small underground screening room showing propaganda films. Walking beside all the remains of the era you will get familiar with the idea how Bulgarian state fostered the 'cult of personality'. History is history and it can be enjoyable. And there is a student fee available!
Going back to the centre of the city we continue our Socialist sightseeing with the Monument to the Soviet Army located in King’s Garden near the main building of Sofia University. Its 37-metre main pedestal and supporting bas-reliefs depicts Soviet Army soldiers in battlefield, Bulgarian peasants at work and other similar scenes. Built in 1954 to honor the 10th anniversary of the so-called ‘liberation’ of Bulgaria by the Soviet Army in World War II, the monument’s meaning and future has been the subject of heated debates in the 21 century. In recent years the monument has become a canvas for modern graffiti artists and their anonymous political statements on multiple occasions. Regardless of controversies and vandalism, at the end of the day, the monument is really worth the visit and stroll through the park. 
A nice 15-minute walk away from the Red Army Monument can lead you easily to our next place – Raketa Rakia Bar, a cozy place offering the taste and tease of "old days" but in modern and comfortable style. The design really has captured the socialist realism – from the antique furniture, through the old Bulgarian music and pieces of art we can encounter on the walls. The Bar offers fresh and tasty menu of local cuisine, salads and appetizers for the hungry and tired. You can choose from over 80 varieties of rakia - Bulgarian traditional grape or fruit brandy. Drink it slowly and in small sips between bites of salad or another appetizer as you may be surprised how strong it may turn out!
For all those who still have energy and want to experience more of the Sofia nightlife, just a few minutes away is located Bar Sputnik. Just like Rakia Bar, the place is entirely conceptual and its atmosphere is fully supporting the retro spirit of Eastern Europe. With its red Lada bar, wall of carved carpets and the incredible lighting, Sputnik is a nice place to overcome gravity and more than enjoyable space for good music and creative cocktails. Cheers!
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