In Sofia, there is a place where you can see a representative sample of modern-day Bulgarian society in just about a couple of square miles and in less than a few hours. This is the National Palace of Culture, or NDK. On its vast square, teenagers skateboard and flirt, elderly people have coffee with friends and mothers stroll with their children, while buskers and icecream sellers vie for customers. In the evening, people heading for some festival or concert at the NDK's Hall 1 flock in front of the main entrance. It has about a dozen doors, but typically just one is open. The bars around are packed, and those who can afford it head for the luxury restaurant on the top floor.
It Grows, but It Does Not Age, reads Sofia's motto, but when you check what the Bulgarian capital looked like a century ago, you could be excused for thinking that It Changes, Yet It Stays the Same might have been a more appropriate slogan for the city's coat of arms.
The people of Sofia love to point to a peculiarity of their city. Many of the most prominent sites and monuments in the Bulgarian capital are dedicated to or bear the names of Russians. The most obvious examples are the nation's principal cathedral, St Alexandr Nevskiy, and the horseback statue of Emperor Alexandr II in front of the parliament. The yellow-brick paved boulevard, which is one of the most prominent features of Sofia, is named after the same man, Tsar Osvoboditel, or King Liberator and, on its way to the Largo, it passes by the picturesque Russian Church.
Here is a secret: while Vagabond was in its development stage, it was going to be a magazine solely about Sofia. We changed our minds, eventually, but Bulgaria's capital has remained a permanent fixture on the pages of the magazine. We have covered extensively its restaurant and night scene, but the articles we cherish the most are the ones devoted to its many hidden gems.