Are You Flying to Sofia Aiport (SOF)? A Dogs Airport Review!
Like everything in Bulgaria, the airport in Sofia is a study in contrast. Terminal 1, where we landed, is a simple concrete space with few bells and whistles. And no surprise really when you consider that it was built in the first half of the 20th century opening on 16 September 1937. And yes, it has had many improvements since then and was hugely renovated in 2000 but it still has … a communist feel to it.
What was even more surprising is that we still had to go through customs. That was a heart stopping moment when we disembarked from our Olympic Airways flight from Athens. I did not have paperwork for Bulgaria. And the Bulgarian border guards did not look like a friendly bunch.
The reason it was a surprise?
Bulgaria is now a part of the European Union (EU). For flights from one EU country to the next there isn’t supposed to be any passport or customs control. You are supposed to just go straight on through. Just like you would for …say … flying from one State to another within the United States or one Province to the other within Canada. The EU now has the same thing between member countries. And since we were coming from Athens in Greece – a EU country – we had not expected to see stern customs officers.
The bipeds pulled out their passports and keeping me zipped up in my carrier and at knee level (so as not to draw attention to my presence) they answered all the questions the officer asked. After a hard look into their eyes, the man stamped their passports and waved us past. He never saw me.
*deep shuddering breath*
We have no idea what would have happened had the customs man seen me. We DID have a proper EU form filled out in English and Greek. That is after all when we needed it, since we entered the EU in Athens (or … were supposed to). So we had the form in Greek and English and technically had EU form 998 all ready to go. But with Bulgaria being a new members of the EU, and the form not having any Bulgarian on it … who knows what would have happened! We are just glad we made it past.
Moving right along …
Since we travel light and only ever have carry on, we walked past the hundreds of people at the outdated looking luggage carousels and made our way to the exit sign. Soon we could hear Pepi barking on the other side of the thick, frosted glass doors and we knew our hosts were waiting for us.
After a long and happy greeting with these strangers that were not strangers, we left in a hurry to get away from a silly lady not stopping her kid from aggressing Pepi. (Seriously people? Sometimes you just have to wonder if some folks want a biting incident to happen. Poor Radmila was doing everything she could to stop Pepi from harming this clueless child; including trying to talk to the kid under the mothers indiferent stare … Ugh!).
And maybe because of all that commotion… I did not wait to get to a green space outside of Terminal 1 and just peed on the concrete floor in the parking lot. Not … my proudest moment but … there you have it. And that Dear Reader, is all we saw of Terminal 1.
Terminal 2 on the day of our departure was a totally different story!
Terminal 2 was officially opened on December 27th, 2006. Designed for growth it has a capacity for 2,000 peak hour passengers. And for the first time in Bulgarian history, a terminal with air bridge-equipped gates was built instead of relying on airside busses. Wooohooo! The infrastructure surrounding the building was completed a year later in 2007, with much controversy and overspending and what not. The usual I am told, for Bulgaria. Terminla 2 includes:
- A new dual carriageway road connecting the terminal to the existing airport road,
- Landscaping including an artificial lake and a fountain (all very fancy pants if you ask me),
- Airlines ticketing offices,
- Tourist and car hire desks,
- A post office,
- Retail shops, including Bulgarian wine and spirits,
- Business lounges and,
- Disabled access to different terminal levels and the multi-story car park facilitated via lifts and escalators.
What stuns is how modern it is. The building is really rather pretty; all glass and airy with huge metal pillars. It’s a small airport but it doesn’t feel dinky. There is a grass area right at the entrance of the Airport where canines can relieve themselves before boarding. But sadly, this airport has no indoor potty area. Perhaps this will change in the future.
On the up side, I was allowed to walk on leash pretty much anywhere without anyone batting an eyelash. That is a big “thumbs up”!
For us though, Terminal 2 was where we had to say our teary farewell to our friends and gracious hosts Radmila, Slavcko and Pepi. It was difficult. After spending time with them in Sofia, and then on the black sea coast … after our adventures on the highway and all the hilarious miming and charade like movements in our conversations… how do you say goodbye knowing you have no idea when you will meet face-to-face again? It breaks the heart. So we put on brave but false smiles … and let the escalators take us away and watched them cry a little as they waved their adieu.
Thank the God’s for Skype Dear Reader … it made parting possible wihtou causing a scene.
As for the airport? All and all we couldn’t complain. As much as Terminal 1 shows Bulgaria’s past; Terminal 2 shows its future. It is bright, airy and modern. At least that is the vision. We hope it is so. We really, hope it is so.
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