When I first arrive in a new city, I do everything but what a pragmatist would do. I avoid travel guide books, maps and pre-reading. I like to get lost in the labyrinth. I used to carry maps, but they always receive more damage from an over packed clutch bag than from any navigational purpose.
There are little streets I’ll adjourn into so as to pass the things I find beautiful (Ulitsa Solunska for her trees, the book market). Promenades are extended a few hundred metres, just to see a structure I feel an affinity to (Ekzarh Josif for the beautiful synagogue, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre or anything in the yellow paves area).
The only other things that will pull me directionally are food items- the Neo-Byzantine Central Market Hall (that looks more like a train station) for it’s brilliant olive shop; a cute Euro style bakery near the end of Vitosha, with the best quiches I’ve ever had (creamy and buttery pastry, fragrant and just the right size to fit in both hand and belly), the gelati cafe with its bright and tart passionfruit scoops that send me giddy (I’ll walk 800 metres past maybe 10 icecream vendors, just to get that), my bread store that I always lose- is it on Knyazh Boris or Tsar Asen??? I still don’t know, but I’d fly from Melbourne for their ancient grainy sourdoughs and after a few weeks, I’ve found my favourite cherry vendors, I’m uncovering who has the best rosovi (pink) tomatoes- almost the size of my head- in the market….
It’s more exciting to navigate by delicacies than coordinates.
“A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.”
If Sofia were a symphony I can’t decide what is playing. But at the moment I think I hear strains of the most beautiful plump olives sourced from Greece, the tones of robust and gluttonous tomatoes grown in rich Bulgarian soil and definitely the bell song of bright vivid cherries.