The final stop of this trip was Sofia, Bulgaria.
I had booked the Sofia Hotel Balkan, a Luxury Collection Hotel under Starwood for my entire stay as I was concerned about safety.
It is a grand hotel which is part of the President’s Palace Complex, with most of the central sights of the city only a short walk away, and frequently host foreign diplomats to the city.
The hotel was going for 4000 starwood points per night when I booked it, but currently is at 7000 points per night after a devaluation.
This would mean it was about $91USD per night, while the usual nightly rate of the hotel was at about 120euros.
I had booked each night separately, and that worked out well this time as the rate of the first night dropped to 78euros, I cancelled the redemption and made a prepaid booking.
Reaching the airport, I considered taking the metro as the Hotel Balkans was next to the Serdika stop, but I finally decided on a taxi as it was late. Looking around, my friend and I saw a taxi counter and walked towards it. We were stopped by a man offering his services right in front of the counter but brushed him off after a brief exchange.
Asking the lady at the counter if he was legit, the woman replied loud enough to be heard 10 metres away, “HE’S A CHEAT!”
Touting right in front of the official counter.
Immediately I got reminded of my bad experience in Bucharest.
The ride was uneventful and the driver was really friendly and attempted to give a brief introduction of the city as we drove through it.
Stepping into the hotel, I got transported back to the 1980s. It does feel that old.
A grand chandelier looms over the lobby with a floral display on a heavy table and a lone harp curiously standing beside the lift to the spa and gym.
As a SPG platinum, I was upgraded to a Junior Suite.
There is a lot of empty space in the hotel. The sitting area outside the lifts, the wide corridors and the waiting area outside the ballrooms.
The hotel was rather dusty, but I’m not sure if it was due to the age or the partial renovation that was going on.
The Junior Suite was much bigger than full suites I have seen in other European hotels. It has a large sitting area and even a walk-in wardrobe!
The toilet was a little small relative to the size of the suite.
The bath amenities were a brand, Le Chemin, that I was not familiar with and I didn’t like it very much either.
Settling in for the night was not great as I found the room temperature hard to control and my sleep quality was poor.
Breakfast was served at the restaurant at the lobby, and the place was recently renovated.
The quality was comparable to many of the better hotels that I have been to and I was glad to have a good meal to start the day with.
After my breakfast on the first day, I went to the front desk to ask if I could change my room as I was unhappy with the air-conditioning.
I was given another room to try but it was just the same. I have no idea what was wrong.
One of the interesting contraption was a taxi caller at the front desk. I have no idea how it works, but it rings when a taxi arrives. Maybe it’s GPS. Or maybe it is just manually activated.
The lift to the gym was in fact a time machine.
During my stay, I noticed a group of men loitering in the lobby and realized that they were bodyguards after a while.
I googled if someone important was visiting and an important person from Qatar was indeed arriving and there were no rooms available on that particular day.
Thankfully, I would have left Sofia by then.
While checking out, I saw the hotel changing the flowers in the lobby and setting up more security in preparation.
The hotel is really nice, although old.
I think until the air-conditioning is fixed it would be hard for me to considering returning. I really had a hard time sleeping.
Moreover, I do not wish to be stared at by a group of bodyguards each time I enter the hotel as diplomats tend to stay at this hotel due to its location.
However, I may return to Sofia. The city is really affordable, and the worst thing that happened to me was being accosted by prostitutes on the street. People were very friendly and many even posed for me when they saw me taking pictures!
Happy and Healthy Travels!