Sunday, September 5, 2010

In Search of the Contessa

Just before they returned to Israel after four years of living and working in Sofia, friends of ours mentioned having just eaten for the first time at an excellent, quite unknown restaurant in the city known as the Contessa.

I could not find any information about this restaurant online or in the Sofia guidebooks we had, and the only clue regarding its location was a remark our friend said, stating that it was "in the yard near the Jewish school."

With Jodie already in Israel, I decided to devote my time on Saturday to locating the Contessa restaurant. First I had to find out where the Jewish school was.

A quick Internet search reminded me of something I had read a few months ago. On March 25th, anti-Semitic graffiti was daubed on the walls of the Dimcho Debelyanov School, which according to the news item is known as the Jewish School.

The Dimcho Debelyanov School is listed in the Schools Guide of Bulgaria as being a secondary school in Sofia. Its address was also given = Pirotska Street 78.

The website of the Dimcho Develyanov School shows that it is funded by the World ORT Educational Charity and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, a philanthropy that seeks to revitalize Jewish identity through educational and cultural intiatives that reach out to all Jews.

In its page devoted to Bulgaria, the projects of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Sofia are listed:

** The Lauder Jewish Elementary & High School

** The Lauder-ORT Science and Technology Center at the Jewish School

I now had an address for the Jewish School of Sofia, and I located the street on a map, running parallel to Ezarkh Yosef Street where the Sofia Synagogue is located.

I walked from our home to the center of Sofia, which at my pace took exactly 30 minutes. Crossing through the Metro passageway I found Pirotska Street and began walking down it. For part of its length, Pirotska Street is a pedestrian zone, with clothing and shoes shops.

At 76 Pirotska Street I came across a church and a big park. A wedding was taking place at the church, and the bride and groom were getting their pictures taken outside. I continued on to the next block and found the school itself. As it was a Saturday, the building was closed, protected from the street by an iron fence.

I walked around the block and returned to the park near the church, as this would definitely fit with my friend's hint that the restaurant was "in the yard near the Jewish school." The first thing I came across in the park was a small coffeeshop, which certainly wasn't the restaurant I was seeking. I continued through the park towards the street and heard noise coming from a low wooden structure, half hidden under the trees.

A sign, not visible until one walked up close, showed that this indeed was the Contessa. Inside there was a noisy party, with all the spaces filled and tables covered with a selection of food. I didn't have a chance to eat at the Contessa this time, but now I know where it's located.

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