With 87 pages of in-depth information that is designed for location independent digital nomads as well as savvy adventurers and pensioners who enjoy getting the most out of their travels and experience life on the ground like the people who live there, the Marginal Boundaries Live Like a Local in Sofia, Bulgaria guide gives you everything you need to know to explore and live in the city just like the locals do. From market days to restaurant reviews, local accommodation referrals, tips and tricks on navigating the local culture and lifestyle plus Sofia-specific information that is based on 6 years of traveling to and almost three years of living in the city, you won’t find a better guide to help you settle in to live just like the locals do while you pursue your digital nomad lifestyle. Priced at $15, the Sofia guide is current as of December, 2011 with everything you need to know to start enjoying the digital nomad lifestyle. Click on the image below or the “Buy Now” button to get your copy today.
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The following segment is an excerpt from the Sofia guide. Bear in mind that while the guide is primarily targeted towards people interested in living here on a long-term basis, the information included can benefit you regardless of if you are here for a week or a year, so if you are someone who prides themselves on immersing themselves in the local culture no matter how long they are on the ground, this is the perfect guide for doing so.
There is a certain intoxication that arises from any country that has a history old enough to actually be called ancient. And while most people are familiar to some degree with the ancient Romans, Greeks, Byzantines and Thracians, usually their names conjure up images of the Italian or Greek countrysides, as well as the Mediterranean. The reality is that while those may be the most recognized places within those ancient empire’s borders, there were dozens of countries that made up those once-great empires, not the least of which was Bulgaria. It is a mountainous country made up of thousands of miles of rivers, lakes and forests, the Balkan Mountains and Rhodope Mountains, the Thracian plains and the miles of beaches that make up the coast of the Black Sea. Between the pristine and untouched countryside such as what can be seen at Seven Rila Lakes or the River Mesta as she cuts through the mountains, caverns and peaks, valleys and hidden vineyards, this is a nature lover’s paradise, and it is easy to see why the ancient empires of old chose to include Bulgaria as part of their territory.
Today, Bulgaria is one of the newest members of the European Union, gaining entry into the group in 2008 after a decade of improving the infrastructure and moving beyond the tired old way of doing things back when the country was still part of the communist movement. It is a cosmopolitan city that defines the mixture of Eastern Europe with Western Europe, with a blend of Communist statues and block-style buildings interspersed with 5 star hotels, McDonald’s, 21st century amenities and Western designs at every corner. Underneath it all are thousands of years of history dating back to the days when the Thracians were the kings of this part of the world, long before the Romans ever thought about conquering the region around the Black Sea. And if you take the time to get to know this city you will find an otherworldly charm about her that draws you in, blocking out everything you thought you knew about Eastern Europe and instead giving you the personal tour of what it really means to be part of something that is over 4,000 years old.
At the heart of modern Bulgaria is Sofia, the capital city. It is not necessarily a large city, with around four million residents as of 2011, and only then if you include all of the metro areas surrounding. But it is an incredibly old city, one that is often forgotten as the scores of Western tourists enter the borders of the country only to make their way to the ski slopes of Bansko or the shores of the Black Sea for a summer holiday in the sun. But while her sister cities of Bansko, Varna and Burgas might be more well-known for the thousands of Internet travelers who only know what they find via a cursory search on Google, Sofia is a proud matriarch of Bulgarian society, one that has stood the test of time and still remains to this day as the core of what Bulgaria is and who her people really are.
Centrally located in the Balkans in the western part of Bulgaria at the foot of Vitosha Mountain as she looms over the entire Sofia Valley, Sofia is a metropolitan haven in the heart of a mountainous region. Surrounded by mountain passes that have been central transportation routes for thousands of years connecting the Adriatic Sea and Central Europe with the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea on the eastern borders of the country, to this day the city remains one of the major transportation hubs for Eastern Europe. Boasting an international airport as well as an international train and bus station, Sofia is ideal as a base of operations for the location independent digital nomads of the world, if only because of the simple fact that you can get anywhere you want within Eastern Europe or the Mediterranean within a matter of hours, utilizing one of the main forms of transportation in or out of the country.
But there is more to the city than just its ideal location as a transportation hub. The area in the valleys surrounding Vitosha has been populated for over 4,000 years, starting with the Thracians and eventually conquered by the Romans and then the Byzantines and eventually the Ottomans. There are few places in Europe that have as much ancient history as Sofia boasts, and this is a city where you can very literally go from walking through a Roman ruin only to stumble upon a Thracian tomb or some ancient Byzantine monument, all within the same day. For thousands of years Sofia has been one of the bustling cities of Europe, and it was only with the advent of Communism that she finally fell from glory and was submerged in the repression of that anti-technology and anti-advancement era. Up until the end of the 2nd World War when the Communist government took control of the city in 1944, Sofia was every bit as modern as New York, London or any other major metropolis, but once the Stalanistic methods were put into play the city was plunged into darkness. It was only after the abolishment of Communism in 1989 that she re-emerged into the light and, as she stands now, Sofia is on the fast-track to catching up with the rest of the world after nearly half a century of being left behind, and it is this development that makes her such an interesting choice to live like a local as a digital nomad or pensioner.
Since the fall of Communism, Sofia has grown in leaps and bounds, with entire business districts and residential neighborhoods springing up along with skyscrapers and first-class residential districts. However, going hand in hand with this is a rampant expansion that is often chaotic and completely unrestrained, leading to a somewhat confusing mass of streets in some areas of the city. However, even with the explosive growth that has continued unabated since the end of the 20th century, Sofia still retains her proud heritage, and while there is plenty of construction advancing the city every single day of the year, the building of the new is blended together with the preservation of the old, which means the city itself is a tangled mass of ancient ruins blended together with modern infrastructure and design.
Sofia is a fairly green city, with four major parks in the heart of the city that are known as the Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern parks. Nearly all of the streets in the pre-21st century neighborhoods are lined with centuries-old trees, and there are dozens of other parks that are scattered throughout the city, including the Vitosha Nature Park, which is the oldest national park in the Balkans, all of it entirely within the city limits. There are numerous streams that make their way throughout the city, and between the parks and the tree-lined avenues you will be hard-pressed to find a section of the city that doesn’t involve some type of greenery. However, the more modern residential areas lack the greenery of the older sections of the cities, with buildings stacked tight to one another in what is one of the downsides to the rapid expansion; a complete lack of disregard for the natural beauty that has made Sofia such a beautiful city for so many years. And green goes beyond simply nature; Sofia as a city is keenly motivated on keeping her footprint as small as possible, and if you are a recycling fiend you will fit right in, as there are free recycling bins for all types of organics, metals, papers, plastics and beyond lining the streets of the city, all provided free by the government. There’s no such thing as charging you to recycle in Sofia. They want people recycling, so they help provide motivation for the citizens.
Because Sofia is a city with thousands of years of history, there are dozens of ruins as well as churches and monasteries to explore within her borders. You can visit any travel website for Sofia and see some of the major ones listed, ranging from the UNESCO World Heritage Boyana Church to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. But the reality is that there are very literally dozens of ancient structures to explore throughout the city, and not all of them are listed on the Internet. For example, making your way through the Metro tunnels that go beneath the streets across the heart of the city you will find dozens of examples of the ancient architecture that made up ancient Sofia. The city is similar to Rome in that she is built layer upon layer, dating back over the millenia. There are numerous ancient structures beneath the main streets of Sofia, ranging from ancient walls that once defined the borders of the city, to various churches and temples. As of 2008, the city has an ongoing expansion of the Metro underway, and in 2009 they discovered previously unknown ruins down the length of Vitosha and Maria Luiza Boulevard, from the heart of the downtown district all the way to the bus and train station. The current construction efforts have been modified so that the government can preserve the ancient ruins and build the new Metro rails around these ancient ruins, with an expansion planned that will integrate the newly discovered ruins into the infrastructure of the new Metro tunnels and stations. In the near future, you will very literally be able to sip coffee, buy a newspaper, eat at a restaurant or simply sit on a bench and talk with your friends while underground waiting on the next train on the Metro line, all while surrounded by ancient Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman structures.
Beyond the ancient ruins and the history of the city is the fact that Sofia is a modern metropolitan area, no different than any other developed city in the world. There are dozens of major shopping malls such as the Sky City Mall or the Sofia Outlet Center, complete with IMAX theaters and Starbucks and every other Western brand you recognize. The city also boasts some of the best educational centers in Eastern Europe, ranging from the eponymous Sofia University to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, established in 1869. You can find WiFi at every corner, even in the public parks, and while there are certainly remnants of the old days in the sense that some of the trams are a bit rusted out and lack heat in the winter, the city is hard at work improving every aspect of the city, with new roads, new trams and tram lines, the aforementioned Metro expansion, electronic cards for the Metro and trams and buses, recycling containers every 50 meters lining the main avenues of the city and plenty of first-class accommodations and services. Everything you could ever think of or want you can find in Sofia.
One of the selling points for Sofia is that this is one of the major medical centers for Eastern Europe. There are an estimated 181 doctors for every 100,000 people, well above the average for the overall European Union, and Bulgaria is one of the primary destinations for medical tourism in Europe, especially for dentistry. There are a variety of well-known cases that have been documented on the Internet regarding several football teams from the U.K. flying over specifically to Sofia to get their dental work done because the quality is on par with what you can find anywhere else in Western Europe, but at a fraction of the price. Healthcare as a whole is very affordable because it is a universal healthcare system, which means you only have to pay around 15 leva (that is the equivalent of around 10 USD as of December, 2011) per month to access the universal system. It’s still advisable to take out private health insurance so you can visit the private doctors in Sofia, but even the private health insurance only costs a fraction of what you would pay in the United States.
As far as safety goes, Sofia is no different than any other city on the face of the Earth. While the majority of her streets are completely safe and secure, you still want to watch yourself if you are walking down a secluded alley alone in the dark of night. But the tales of you being kidnapped or held for ransom are nothing more than myths propagated by foreign governments, and while there is still a heavy Mafia presence in the city, they aren’t interested in travelers or expats. Instead, they are only concerned with politics and the heavy-hitters in terms of financial wealth. If you are coming into Bulgaria to invest on a multi-million dollar scale than yes, you are going to have to deal with the Mafia at some point, because they are very much tied into the political structure of Bulgaria, despite the European Union’s efforts to root them out. But the murder rate for the country (depending on which expert you talk to) ranges between 4-6/100,000. This is in comparison to the District of Colombia in the United States, which has a murder rate of 31.4/100,00o as of 2010, or New York City, which is 9/100,000. In short, Sofia is a fairly safe modern city that is comparative to Denver, Colorado or New York City.
Bulgaria has what is considered to be the third fastest Internet connectivity in the world. What this boils down to is that if you are a location independent digital nomad who makes a living working online, you are going to be in heaven while living here. Any type of connection you want you will be able to find, and not only is it ridiculously cheap in comparison to what you would pay back in the U.S. or the U.K., but it is lightning fast. WiFi exists in every corner of the city, and connections are so blazing fast that you will never be able to find satisfaction in another country after you have spent some time in Sofia working as a digital entrepreneur. Streaming videos and downloading movies and shows is without a doubt a luxury while living in Sofia, and once you leave Bulgaria you will forever be comparing your Internet speeds and lamenting what you once had.
As far as the cost of living goes, this is one of the primary reasons so many pensioners and location independent digital nomads choose to use Sofia as a base of operations. Living like a local here is one of the best places in Eastern Europe to do so. Not only are you surrounded by first-class amenities and 21st century living conditions, but they are extremely affordable. The government only wants you to be able to provide proof of income above the minimum salary for Bulgarians, which is around $200 per month, or €150. While the exact number varies depending on other criteria (which is explained in detail further on in the guide), the basic rule of thumb is that as long as you have proof of pension or income above $200 per month you can reside in Bulgaria without any issues. As far as visas go, it’s even easier if you are a European Union resident compared to someone from the United States, although that is again something that is explained in more detail in the visa and passport section of the guide.
Bulgaria has some of the freshest produce in the world, it is the birthplace of yogurt, wine has been a staple luxury since the days of the Thracians, and you will never in your life taste a better cheese than sirene, which is a white brine cheese that is either made from goat, sheep or cow’s milk. The tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and garlic from this part of the world are hands down some of the best you will ever taste, and you will never be able to find yogurt like what you can find here. Many people do not realize that Bulgaria was very literally the birthplace of modern yogurt as we know it today, and sirene as well as yogurt are both national foods. But perhaps the best-kept secret of the Bulgarian people is their wines. The Thracian plains have been producing wines for thousands of years, and there is not a large export business to-date, considering they have only recently come to the attention of the world. There are hundreds of variations ranging from local, home-bottled stuff to the large farms and vineyards that make up the inner parts of the country from the western borders all the way through the heartland to the Black Sea on the eastern borders. Since Sofia is the capital city, there are dozens of local markets to choose from, which means you have ready access to her bounties.
All in all, between the ancient history that dates back thousands of years, the centuries of architectural differences and styles, the modern infrastructure, the education system, the universal healthcare system, the numerous forms of transportation, the low cost of living and the beauty of the countryside, Sofia is one of the best choices you can make when looking at a base of operations for your time abroad as a location independent digital nomad. No matter if you are a retired pensioner or a working professional who travels the globe while you work, Sofia, Bulgaria has hundreds of selling points and very few things to detract from her beauty and availability. If you are someone who enjoys a combination of history, beauty, food, wine and modern amenities, Sofia is without a doubt a city that should be in your Top 5 list of best places to live.