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The city, my kind of place

I have a fondness for Sofia after living there for four years. The extremes of the town are evident with horse and cart beside Porsches and Mercedes: the poverty of some areas compared with the rich items for sale on Vitosha Boulevard.

But there is something more than that, a shabby chic: dynamic yet laid back: the colourful contrasts of an eastern European city. The Bulgarian capital is changing as the bulk of EU funds seeps into the city. There is more economic development, more new cars, more evident wealth and higher earnings than anywhere else in the country.

On arrival at the new airport terminal, you would believe you were in any western European destination but the short taxi ride into the centre, reveals row upon row of rundown soviety-style blocks. Hang on in there, you'll be pleasantly surprised again when you arrive in downtown Sofia.

It's an awesome city to both live in and visit. Excellent cafes and restaurants and the grandeur of the wide boulevards, make this an attractive place. This is not a city which hits you between the eyes straight away. It grows on you. Time here is spent walking leisurely, sitting and observing. Again the extremes catch you out, one moment in a narrow cobblestone street, then next in huge squares with massive monuments.

What a mix of everything Sofia offers. The most popular area for most foreigners is that around the 'yellow brick road' - due to the yellow paving stones which make up the roads of this area - and one of the most expensive parts of the city. Then, no visit to Sofia would be complete without a stroll along Vitosha Boulevard, Alabin and Graf Ignatieff. Stuffed full of traffic, people and cafes of the smart and not so smart variety.

Inumerable electric wires cascade from building to building - the Bulgarians want the connection first and don't worry about anything else. Stickers smother lamp posts and even traffic signs announcing concerts and parties in the capital.

Mostly, this is not a fast paced city. I enjoyed the slowness of it, being able to meet with colleagues and friends, spending an inordinate amount of time in cafes doing nothing more than chat and watch the people drift by. Our favourite place for an aperitif before dinner was always Motto, just around from the Radisson Hotel. We never did care much for Chervilo, which was all a bit too much of a fashion victim place. Often we would then take one of the incredibly cheap taxis to eat at Bulgari Restaurant, with authentic Bulgarian food and a wonderful lavish setting in an old house.

Those who are not familiar with the city are likely to miss out on one of the most popular meeting places in the evenings for young people and students. Popa, the priest is a small triangle between Vassil Levski and Graf Ignatiev. The small monument of the last patriarch is there. It's amazing how many people meet up here even during the day. Friends and colleagues alike.

The centre is easily walked from one end to the other - a large capital city, this is not. One of its most impressive features is the wonderful backdrop of Vitosha Mountain. No matter how much time I spend in the capital it always takes my breath away when I turn the corner and see this majestic mountain towering in front of me.

Plenty of old style charm!