If I have to be perfectly honest… I decided to go to Bulgaria pretty much solely to earn bragging rights for ‘daring’ to backpack (solo, no less) in ‘that’ country. Romania was a country I actually wanted to go to, and since Bulgaria was right next to it, I thought, well why not? Maybe if Bulgaria was completely out of the way, I wouldn’t have taken the effort.
What welcomed me there, to my surprise, blew me away.
That’s Katuk salad at Veliko Tarnovo. As usual in Eastern Europe, I ordered a salad and a main course because I thought there’s no way something so cheap can fill me up. So for about €8, I got that humongous thing and about a kg of meat. Dying.
I visited Veliko Tarnovo (1 night), Plovdiv (1 night) and Sofia (expected 2 nights, and ended up staying for 3) and stayed at Hostel Mostel in all three cities (GREAT hostel). As my previous posts probably tell you, I don’t plan in advance. I went to Veliko Tarnovo, and on a whim looked at hostels in Sofia. Turns out everything was full!! The hostel staff recommended Plovdiv as an alternative, so that is where I went next.
And, ohhh, Plovdiv.
Before I began seriously considering a visit to Bulgaria, I had never even heard of Sofia (except on some lists), much less Plovdiv. BUT… Plovdiv happens to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, even older than Athens and Rome. Some reports suggest proof of civilization from as early as 6000 BC.
Now I can’t stop raving about the place. I’ve worn off the ears of most everyone I know 😉 So let me spread the love some more, and let’s take a short, highly un-comprehensive tour of the city that I fell so much in love with.
With so many years under its cobbled stone roads, it is, of course, no surprise that the most basic of digging unearths gems like these…
This is under the road right behind the central Post Office. Presently only the Roman Odeon part is open and is used for plays and stuff. It seats 300 people (remember the 300 bit).
Some guy was digging his backyard for some reason (maybe gardening, maybe hiding a body 😉 KIDDING!!) and he found this. All houses were removed and this ancient Roman theatre emerged. And this happened as recently as the 70s. So apparently it’s a running joke now to not dig at all, otherwise you may just have to move 🙂
This theatre is also used nowadays for concerts and performances. How magical it must be… Sitting in an old, ooolld theatre with the stars above you and music all around. Aaah. I wish I could have experienced this place in the summer. It seats 3000 (remember this 3000 too).
So why did I say remember the 300 and the 3000? Because here comes 30000.
This 30000 seater ancient stadium of Philippopolis is right beneath the main pedestrian street in the old town’s centre. The rubble-y wall you see behind is the actual structure, and the little one in front is a model.
The statue of Miljo (going to talk about him in a second) sat just above the gates you see on the left. Walking from one end to the other (in a leisurely ‘walking tour’ pace) took nearly ten minutes, I would assume.
Miljo was a mentally challenged man who everyone loved, happy go lucky guy that he was. He was also rather gifted with the ladies (and that’s why his right hand is so strategically placed in his pocket). His left hand is up by his ear, so you can whisper your secrets, wishes and hopes to him. Our free walking tour guide, Mariyana (who was absolutely adorable, by the way) told us that most women sit on his lap while taking pictures with the statue. Guess his magic hasn’t faded, eh? 😉
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria (after the capital, Sofia), and the tenth largest in the entire Balkan area.
I reached Plovdiv around 6pm, and since it was quite early (though it was dark), I planned to keep my stuff in the hostel and go for a walk. The hostel was a short walk from the centre, and I was too restless to retire for the night (Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv was a 5 hour bus ride- it’s just over 200kms and logically shouldn’t take longer than 2.5 hours, but I discovered that Bulgarian bus, or minibus, drivers like to take half hour smoking breaks after every hour of driving. I swear I’m not kidding!!).
At 7.30ish pm, the city centre looked like this. Pretty, yes. But in about ten minutes it was absolutely deserted. And then I had to trudge back to the hostel rather unwillingly.
The Plovdiv Free Walking Tour meets at 2pm in the winter (I was there early December), and at 6pm in the summer. I had a lot of time to kill beforehand, because I was out before 10 the next morning, so at the recommendation of a local, I went up the hill to the Alyosha Soviet Army Memorial
(On the way up I got to see this… Gym or playground, I’m not entirely sure).
And this glorious view from the top ❤
The main post office of Plovdiv is a massive structure. About 80% of it is just empty space. The communist leaders liked to make their people feel ‘small and insignificant’. That must have been charming.
Sasha the Sweetheart was a very loved violinist who played at restaurants. One particular time, an annoyed Soviet leader asked him when he was going to leave, and he replied, ‘I will be gone in a minute, but when will you leave?’ Oops.
Sasha was never seen again. Theories abound, some say he became a spy for western Europe, some say he died in a labour camp. The truth? Who knows…
The walk through the oldest parts of town took us through quaint and lovely areas before our tour finally wound up on the top of Nebet Hill. Plovdiv was a city of seven hills (much like Rome), one of which was cut down to build pavements in the city and only a symbolic stump remains. From the top of this hill, we were showed the other 5.
I love this kind of stuff 🙂
And, haha, fun fact… Bulgaria shake their heads for ‘Yes’ and nod for ‘No’. And the world says the Indian head shake is cryptic 😛
By the end of my time in Bulgaria, I was forced to be able to read a little bit of Cyrillic. Unlike its neighbour, Romania, where pretty much all the youth speaks perfect English, very few people in Bulgaria could even communicate in broken English\. Romanian is a Latin language, and so the script is the one we are all familiar with as well. Bulgarian, on the other hand, is closer to Slavic languages. So, all bus signs, all street names were prominently displayed in Cyrillic, and not always in English, and I was forced to pick up a little bit to make my way to the right street in the right city (Imagine getting on to a bus to the opposite end of the country because someone nodded without understanding my question!!!! That could be an adventure that I may have enjoyed in the summer and I reached my surprise destination during daylight. If that had happened to me during this trip when I reached each new city when it was pitch dark, I think I would have just sat on the bus and cried).
Bulgarians are friendly people, even though I always expected a surly, burly lot. What a wrong opinion, or non-opinion, we have of that country. I saw literally NO Indians (just like the rest of Eastern Europe when I was touring last summer), which is rather sad, because I would love for my near and dear ones to see and experience all this beauty!!
Well, I didn’t get to meet Viktor Krum this time, maybe that’s an excuse to go back again 😉 Jokes apart, it’s a gorgeous country with amazing food and amazing people. I would love to go back and take my family with me. Have you been to Bulgaria? Or have you been to any other country by mistake and ended up loving it? This happened to me in Poland too, I’m definitely never going to make assumptions about any place before visiting it now!