A Very Full First Day In Plovdiv

It was a pretty good night at the hostel. Other guests were quite noisy until about midnight, then it went quiet. The bed was very comfy and the temperature good thanks to the fan. I didn’t get enough sleep, but it was better than expected and I was surprisingly raring to go this morning.

First order of the day, find breakfast. After wandering for close to an hour here in Plovdiv and my experience in Sofia, I came to the determination that Bulgarians don’t eat breakfast. Oh, you’ll find them drinking teeny cups of coffee and smoking in cafes, but you don’t see anyone actually having a meal. Those who are are having a pastry and coffee to go.

I ended up at a Costa Coffee, which I knew would be expensive, but would at least have a good sized cup of coffee. I went to the cashier and said in Bulgarian, “Please, I would like a not small, not big Americano with very little milk and a croissant with jam.” The lady rang me up, gave me my order, and then said in perfect English, “Have a nice day!” *shakes head*

I passed this sign post near the central post office:

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I am more than the equivalent of a round trip to Maz from Haven away from the East Coast of the US!

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I asked a couple of people today about this mosaic, but no one could tell me what it means. First line is Plovdiv, second line is Leningrad. I think the date is 1980?

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I went back to the hostel and did a bit of work and translation before heading out for a few hours. I decided to check out the history and archaeology museums as they are right by each other. So I headed towards the Maritza River.

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Like Sofia, Plovdiv has pedestrian underpasses for crossing busy boulevards.

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My first ice cream of the day! I was asked how I deal with the heat. Ice cream. Lots of ice cream. I have small portions (sometimes multiple times a day!) and get it in a cup if I can. This is Kit Kat flavour.

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Plovdiv is difficult to get around as it is laid out in what I consider the exact opposite of a grid pattern, so there is a lot of signage in the touristy part of town!

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This is the monument to the unification of Bulgaria, outside the unification museum.
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This says history museum, but that’s really misleading as it’s strictly about the unification of Bulgaria in 1885.

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I was greeted in English and shown where to start, then was left to my own devices. A decent chunk of the museum had good English translations and I spent some time reading quite a bit of the Bulgarian (got in lots of practice with the lower case script). I am definitely picking up some vocabulary.

This appears to be a map of trade routes:

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A bunch of stamps:

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Plovdiv’s original name:

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What I got from this is that it’s about a bank safe:

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Yeppers. 🙂

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Old currency.

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Bicycle produced in France:

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Cultural life in East Rumelia, one of the provinces that would become part of the state of Bulgaria after Unification.

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This newspaper is called Maritsa, just like the river that divides Plovdiv.

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Administrative organization of East Rumelia:

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The establishment of the province of East Rumelia. It lasted seven years until Bulgarians showed they had the potential to manage their own affairs.

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The Congress of Berlin is what split up the original Bulgarian state, in 1878.

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This is the only man who was killed after unification. According to the guide on the walking tour yesterday, he went into a post office to send a missive about unification and the post master, scared of who knows what, chased this man into the street and shot him dead!

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“At the gates of Plovdiv, September 5, 1885.”

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This is a turtle shell. I think it was turned into an ink well.

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Army medical supplies.

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Manifesto for the Bulgarian People: Bulgarians… and that’s as far as I got. 🙂

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Map of the route of the movement of the Bulgarian army from the southern to the western border during the Serbo-Bulgarian War.
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It was only on my way out that I found the English signage explaining the point of the museum!

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And here’s a bit about this gorgeous building:

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This was my first Bulgarian museum and I’m surprised by how much I got out of it! Little did I know what awaited me next door at the Archaeological Museum…

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This museum did not allow photographs, which is unfortunate because it was one of the best museums I’ve ever been to! I went through twice and spent the whole time saying, “WOW!” under my breath. It covers the history of Plovdiv from prehistory to the Middle Ages and is very professionally done with flawless English translations. I made a note on my map of some of the incredible things I saw.

In the prehistory section, I really liked the ancient pottery and tools, which ranged from flint knives to Bronze Age hatchets. The room about the Thracians, a collective of ancient peoples with no written tradition, had ancient giant safety pins that looked rather like modern ones. I immediately envisioned that the Thracians wore some sort of toga-like garment.

There was a small room about the history of the museum and the building, how both fell into ruin and were restored. This room also had some old coins.

There was a large room about Plovdiv in the classic and hellenistic periods, featuring black on red pottery, ornaments, and weapons. Nothing I’d never seen before, but the first time I’d seen them in their point of origin! Off of that was a tiny room about the coins of Philippopolis. They were tiny! This was the first currency of the region.

And then… what I will remember as the mosaic room, but which is the ancient Philippopolis room. It had lots of other things besides the mosaics, but that’s what I remember best. This is a representation of one that you can see from outside the museum:

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This is a very important piece as it is the first (and only) proof of an ancient synagogue in this region!

The final room, Plovdiv in the Middle Ages, had some belt buckles that look strikingly like modern design.

I highly recommend the Plovdiv archeological museum. I suspect visiting it will be one of the top highlights of my Bulgarian summer!

The restaurant where I wanted to have lunch was right behind the archaeology museum, so I considered that a sign: Restaurant India! For someone who didn’t like Indian food most of her life, I’m making up for lost time!

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Beautiful decor inside. I wanted to eat outside, but there were no tables.

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This is the first menu I’ve seen in Bulgaria that I found to be expensive (reviews support that impression). I just went with a beer, butter chicken, and plain naan. I would have liked rice to go with all that sauce, but just this represented 20BGN with the tip:

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Thankfully, the food was wonderful! I was asked how spicy I wanted my meal and said, “A little.” The chef understood that perfectly and I got just enough heat to make my nose run, but not so much that I couldn’t taste my food. After a couple of months of my cooking, these still exotic flavours really hit the spot! Shame it’s so expensive, but it was a worthwhile treat.

Then, since I was right at the Maritza River, I crossed it using the pedestrian overpass. It was like a sauna in there!

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The Maritza River.

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Starting to think it’s impossible to get a picture of a city in Bulgaria without a McDonald’s being in the way! I thought the house to the left was quite interesting.

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See the RV?

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The archeological museum had inexpensive post cards, so I bought one for Bast. The central post office is right by button plaza, so I headed there to mail the card. What a contrast to my post office experience in Sofia! All the necessary signage was translated (badly, but let’s not quibble) into English so I knew which room to go into and then which wicket. I said to the lady in Bulgarian, “I would like a stamp please.” She looked at my card and said in fluent and bored sounding English, “One lev and 40 coins please.” There’s so much English in Plovdiv! After I got my stamps I went outside to post the card, but was puzzled that there was no mailbox, until I saw this:

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I was pretty sure my post card didn’t warrant priority, so I put it in that “forein countries without priority” slot. Hope it gets there!

I then wandered up the hill back into the Old Town, soaking in the atmosphere of this truly ancient city.

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The cobblestone streets are the worst I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe cars drive on them. This is a good patch!

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This translation amused me.

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My Mexico dresses would not look out of place in Bulgaria!

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Here’s the exterior of that St. Constantinople and Elena church we passed on the tour yesterday:

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More bad cobblestones!

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Our guide had told us to visit the Hindlyan House to get an idea of 19th century Bulgarian architecture.

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I love these narrow passageways. They remind me of Edinburgh.

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The house is behind another one and down a bit:

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The information panel for the house was in Bulgarian, English, German, and French. I can’t speak as to the quality of the Bulgarian and German, but the French had more info than the English! The house was built between 1835 and 1840 and is about 2,000 square feet over two stories. It was restored in 1974, but the exterior paint and frescoes are all original. It is the only  house with a well preserved bathroom that had hot and cold running water.

This was the bathroom!

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The ceilings in all the rooms were works of art:

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This was a fortified storehouse:

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I continued wandering around. So much beauty!

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Remains of Byzantine fortress walls!

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Unfortunately, the ethnographic museum was closed because of renovations. It might be open tomorrow. This is what the exterior looked like:

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Today, there was a lot of demolition going on!

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Here’s the back of that gossip tower from the tour yesterday:

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I went back to Lamartine’s house and ogled:
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I found my way back to the Roman amphiteatre and dropped! The full heat of the day was upon us at this point. I had no idea I could move this slowly, but there I was, just slinking through the streets of Plovdiv’s Old Town and trying not to melt!


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And back to Lamartine’s house, but not by design!

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Is that perhaps a chimney?

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Another bronze statue, no idea of whom:

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I wish I could come back to see Tosca at the Ancient Theatre before I leave!

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Here’s a map of the tourist part of Plovdiv:

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I headed back to my hostel for a mid-afternoon break, stopping at this fountain right by the hostel to get a cold drink to fortify me for the climb up to my room!

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I cooled off and rested for a bit, writing my post about the walking tour and trying to decide where to go for dinner. I came up with two possibilities. While all of this was happening, it began to rain, which I hoped would cool things down!

Around six, I headed straight up to the Old Town again, right to the summit of Nebet Hill, to check out a Bulgarian restaurant I’d spotted yesterday. It ended up not being that appealing, so I headed to my second choice in The Trap. I have to say that I’m shocked by how little of an effort that climb was, especially since it wasn’t as hot. All my dog hiking is paying off!

My second choice for dinner was the Italian restaurant Maramao.

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I loved the bricks outside of it:

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I was greeted warmly in English and took a seat in their covered courtyard. The menu was in Bulgarian, English, and Italian. I settled on a glass of white wine and a main, but was tempted by one of their appetizers. I asked the server about the main portion size and if he thought it would be too much for an appetizer. He asked what appetizer I had in mind and when I told him, he said he was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be too much for me as the appetizer was quite light. So I ordered it!

Here is my roasted pear with gorgonzola (blue cheese), balsamic vinegar, and walnuts. *drools at the memory* This would have made a good dessert for me!

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I took some pictures of the courtyard while waiting for my main and drinking my crisp cold Bulgarian white wine:

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And here is my main. These are “tordelli,” a type of ravioli, with a ragú sauce that had cinnamon or maybe nutmeg in it. Very good!

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With the tip, my meal was just 3BGN more than lunch,which really shows how expensive my lunch was. Every other time I’ve spent around 20BGN for food, I’ve had a main with an alcoholic beverage and either an appetizer or dessert.

I headed back to the hostel after dinner and was just two blocks away when it started pouring! I was rather glad to have an excuse to call it a night!

Free Plovdiv Walking Tour

I was feeling pretty burnt out by late afternoon yesterday, but really wanted to do the free Plovdiv walking tour straight away from 6PM to 8:30PM as a) it would be cooler than between 11AM and 1:30PM and b) so that my time would be my own on Thursday. I knew about this tour because I did the free tour in Sofia.

My post from yesterday left off just before the tour, but I forgot to mention something. As I headed for the tour, I started to feel a bad headache coming on, a combination of too little sleep and too much heat. There are several pharmacies along the main pedestrian street (Knyaz Alexander) so I decided to try again to find some nurofen (ibuprofen). Every place I’d been to so far had at least some service in English, so I asked the pharmacist if she spoke English and she said no! A little taken aback, I then said, “Nurofen?” and she replied, “Yes! Express?” I figured that had to be the fast acting formula, so I said yes. I examined the box she handed me to make sure it was ibuprofen, which it was. It was about 5CAD for 10 gel tablets, which sounds expensive to me, but I was in pain! I then went to sit by the fountain to scour the informational pamphlet in the box to find the dosage. It was all in Bulgarian, of course, but I could recognise numbers as they are written like ours and also the words “hour” and “day.” So even if I couldn’t understand anything else, I knew I was at the dosage section and that I could take one tablet every six hours, with no more than three tablets per day. So I took one and it worked almost immediately. I was really impressed!

So now, the tour. First off, there is no way I can do justice to everything I heard yesterday. Bulgaria’s history is incredibly long and convoluted and each one of you has a different amount of world history knowledge. I got a lot out of the tour, more than can convey here. I hope you will enjoy the pictures and go do your own research if you want more in depth information. I will say that Plovdiv claims to be the longest continually inhabited city in Europe. That’s contested, but what is not is that Plovdiv is 6,000 years old. I can’t even wrap my brain around that! Plovdiv was built over and around seven hills, but there are only six left, with the seventh one mined for building materials. The city was once known as Philippopolis (city of Phillip) and it is the second largest city in Bulgaria.

Our tour started in front of the municipality building at button plaza. These seats are supposed to represent buttons. Our guide, Lora, admitted that she had yet to have a group that saw buttons out of these things!

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We then went to one of Plovdiv’s seven hills to look at some commissioned graffiti. You can see that there are a lot of faces, and these are all important figures of Bulgarian history. I was rather amused that the artist claimed to have been inspired by Mount Rushmore.

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Across the street is more commissioned graffiti.

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This is Vanga, Bulgaria’s “Nostradamus.” Apparently, a lot of her predictions have come true and recently the news here proclaimed that she foresaw that Barack Obama would be the last US president…

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We then headed back down to Knyaz Alexander. This staircase is across Knyaz Alexander from the street my hostel is on. This is a statue of local vagrant Miljo (Mil-yo). He was rather well loved figure in Plovdiv, a little deaf and not right in the head, but very funny. I think it says a lot about the character of the city that he was immortalised in bronze. His knees are shiny because local lore is that if you rub them as you whisper a wish in his ear, your wish will come true!

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Interesting spelling. They’ve used the Serbian J for the “y as in yoyo” sound.

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Here’s the mosque again. I asked yesterday if anyone could tell what’s unusual about it and why and I didn’t get any guesses. The answer is that the mosque is not round and does not have a dome. This is because it was built on the ruins of a church.

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This is a miniature representation of the ancient Roman stadium (not to be confused with the theatre!). It was discovered sometime in the 20th century and excavating the whole thing would have been too costly because of all the construction above it. So only the very end (the rounded bit) is excavated.

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Amazing!

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We then went into a neighbourhood called The Trap (Kapana). This used to be an area full of shops, way back in ancient times. The buildings were all appropriated by the government during the socialist era and trying to sort out ownership after 1989 and the fall of Communism was such a mess that many of the buildings were left to ruin. Now, efforts are being made to revitalise the neighbourhood since money is being pumped into Plovdiv as it was named European Capital of Culture for 2019. There are two guesses as to how the neighbourhood got its name. One is that it is very easy to get lost in it. The other is that there were so many shops it was impossible to get out without spending money!

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We then started to climb UP to the old part of the city.

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This is one of two tourist information centres. The building you see on the right is the Ethnographic Museum (more on that later).

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Eastern Gate.

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This is a “gossip tower,” where ladies would gather to watch what was going on in the streets.

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The Ethnographic Museum was highly recommended to us by our guide, but, spoiler, when I went today it was closed because of renovations.

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We went to the top of Nebet Hill to watch part of the sunset and to see some of the other hills. On the left here you can see Clock Tower Hill (all the way to the left are the TV satellites and almost in the middle of the picture is the eponymous clock tower). The other hill was considered a wild place full of snakes. To the right of that is another hill with a giant statue on it.

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Looking across the Maritza River to “new Plovdiv.” My guide told me not to waste my precious time in Plovdiv going over there.

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An interesting hole in the ground. 🙂

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We came back down the hill and passed the church of St. Constantine and Elena. We will return here. 🙂

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I then completely geeked out when we stopped at the house where famed French poet Lamartine stopped for three days on his way back to France from the Orient. He is one of my favourite poets!

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I immediately emailed my mother to share these pictures and this is what she had to say (translated):

“Plovdiv is 2,400KM from Pars, 23 hours by car on highways. Can you imagine the time spent traveling in the olden days? In 1833, we were on boats and horses, on bicycles and some richer countries had trains, never mind all the walking that was done.”

I replied, “We travel fast today, but do we really see anything?”

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Right before the ancient Roman theatre, we stopped in front of this statue. I wish I could remember his name. He was a violinist and irreverent comedian who had no fear of speaking out against the socialist regime. He was made to disappear to a labour camp, where he survived 11 days. His statue is meant to represent all those artists and cultural icons lost to this dark period of Bulgaria’s history. I have to say that I am impressed by how Bulgaria does not shy away from the darker side of its history

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The ancient Roman theatre at last! This venue is still used for concerts. Our guide says that the acoustics are amazing and you can’t even hear the traffic from the boulevard down below when a show is going on!

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I had seen this house from below and was glad to get a closer look at it.

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We finished our tour at a church where we learned a bit about the reunification of Bulgaria in the 19th century. More on that later as I went to the reunification history museum today.

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From this church, it was a very short walk back down to Knyaz Alexander. I was famished, but also exhausted so I just wanted something quick and maybe an ice cream. Earlier, I’d spotted a donair place across from the sushi restaurant, so I headed there. I ordered a small donair on “Arabic bread” for a mere 2BGN. The cashier asked me if I wanted tomato and I made a motion that everyone I’ve made it to has thus far understood to be, “Give me everything.” My sandwich was really good! Just the right size, with lots of seasoned chicken, fresh veggies, and the right amount of garlic sauce. Yum! I then got a strawberry gelato for the two block walk back to the hostel.

My first few hours in Plovdiv were very positive. I’d read many times that Plovdiv is more tourist friendly than is Sofia and has more to recommend it. I tried to go to both cities with as open a mind as I could, but I have to say that I agree with those critiques… Plovdiv just felt more welcoming. More in my next post!

Maluk Izvor to Plovdiv

I was really starting to wonder if I was ever going to make it away this week. I really need to do a blog post about the reality of “being able to work from anywhere.” But I managed to wrap up most of my work last night and only had to do a small job this morning. I woke up around 6:30 and, really, I just wanted to go back to sleep, but I had to get up if I wanted to do that job and still be on the road before noon. One good thing about being up that early was that it was my turn to roust the dogs after all the times they’ve woken me up, bwa ha ha.

We got back by 7:30 and then I did the unusual thing of going right to work without having my coffee first. You can’t really sip a drink and transcribe effectively at the same time, but that’s what I did. I was bringing the computer with me and it’s the first thing that needs to be packed into my bag, so I couldn’t get anything else done until the work was sent off.

I was finally done around 9:00 and got to work packing and tidying up the house. I wanted to leave with just my little backpack and my purse, so it was quite an effort to whittle down my things to just what would fit in those two bags. I’ll have a lot of hand laundry to do while I’m on the go and will be glad to see the washing machine on Tuesday!

I knew there were a couple of buses leaving Yablanitsa around 11:00 and that the next ones weren’t till just past 2:00. Max offered to take me into Yablanitsa, so I asked him to leave around 10:30 and he obliged. We got into “Yab” as a bus was pulling away. The direction it was going, Max thought it might be going to Sofia. I bolted out of the car and a lady on the sidewalk yelled to me, “To Sofia?!” and I replied yes. She flagged the bus down for me. WOW. So that got me on the road to Sofia at 10:45.

We took a different route in than I’m used to and it was slower even if we had the same number of stops. So we didn’t get to Sofia until 12:15. I had a look at the electronic board and saw that there was a Vitosha company bus to Plovdiv leaving at 12:30 from sector six. Talk about good timing! I used the bathroom and then went to look for the Vitosha kiosk so I could buy my ticket. As it turned out, it was the first one as I came out of the bathroom. Easy! But only because I could read Cyrillic. Otherwise, I’d probably still be in Sofia… My ticket was 14BGN. I grabbed a croissant for a snack and headed for the bus.

There, a man looked at my ticket and mumbled something as he pointed to my croissant. I think he was telling me no food on the bus. I couldn’t get him to say anything clearer and I knew I had a few minutes, so I hurriedly ate it and then he let me on…

The ride to Plovdiv was surprising. I expected a lot of “civilisation’ between the two cities, but no. How can there be so much space in such a small country?!

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We pulled into Plovdiv at 2:30, so the ride was exactly four hours door-to-door from home, as I’d been told it would be. By car, though, Plovdiv is only two hours away.

It was only 1.5KM to my hostel from the bus station, and most of that was through a park, so I decided to walk. My phone did a good job of getting me there.

I passed Plovidiv’s “Singing Fountains.” Not quite as impressive as those at the Bellagio, but the air coming off the water was wonderfully cool. Keep reading for visual proof of how hot it was…

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I made it to the hostel I’d booked at for a mere 15CAD per night. The reviews for it were mixed, but most agreed that the bathroom was unacceptable. They didn’t have any payment information for me, so I decided to check it out and if it was bad, I’d go to the next one on my list, for 22CAD per night (both prices for a private room with a shared bath). Well, the first hostel was gross, so I went around the corner to the next one, which was brand new. Worth the extra 20CAD!

Here is the outside. From what I’ve read about European “guest houses” or hostels, this is fairly typical in that the hostel is just one floor of the building. I wasn’t sure I was at the right place and the gentleman in the white shirt that you can just barely see asked me, “Hotel?” and when I said yes, he pointed upwards.

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The entrance was rather off-putting! When I came in tonight, it was pitch dark and I had to use my iPhone flashlight!

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At the end of the corridor, you turn right to get to these stairs:

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And then, you follow the instructions on the steps. They amused me! Read the steps from the bottom of the photos up.

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So the top step in this photo says, “Keep…”

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And that continues with, “Walking. You are are awesome.” LOL

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After three flights, I finally got the first sign telling me that I was, indeed at the right place!

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There was a fresh paint job here.

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This is what greeted me at the top of the building (fourth floor). Reception area ahead of me, bathrooms to the left, my room (I would soon learn) to the right.

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Kitchen to the right of the entrance (behind my room). I really appreciate the cold water!

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Ladies Italian-style shower room. I was surprised that the vanity and toilet barely get wet after a shower. The hostel provided shower shoes! I had my own, but I do use them outside, so theirs are preferable since the bottoms aren’t dirty.

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My room is marked staff…

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It is tiny.

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But satisfactorily appointed for my needs. I like the big wardrobe.

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The door makes me think of the floors in the new part of C&C’s house!

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View from my dormer:

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There was a good breeze coming from the window and a fan so the room was not as hot as one would expect.

 

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I wanted to go exploring, but was shocked by how inappropriately dressed I was for the weather — in a tee-shirt and long skirt! My clothes felt so heavy and sticky and I wished I had a light sundress. And then, I remembered I had one! I’d packed my Chrysalis cardi in case of cool weather. It was time to try it out in dress mode! Yes, ladies, I will do a proper post about this item. I’m getting close to being ready for that. 🙂 This is the cardi styled as a “Grecian tunic.”

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Can you hear my sigh of relief at getting into something so light and breezy?! It looks pretty cute with my Ipanemas, too!

It was almost four at this point. I scrapped my plans for a late lunch and decided to have an early dinner, then get a snack after my walking tour.

The hostel is right off the main street. Here I am at one end of that near the Roman stadium (not to be confused with the Roman theatre). I will have more details and pictures when I do my post on the walking tour.

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The largest mosque in Plovdiv. Can you tell what is so odd about it? If so, can you explain why that is? The palm trees are NOT native to Bulgaria. 🙂

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I passed three thermometres that put the temperature at 46C. 115. OMG.

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Tunnel under the Roman theatre…

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Neat house at the top of the hill (I’ll have a better shot of it in my next post!).

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Right outside my hostel… I am going to check it out. 😀

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One really annoying thing about the drive to Plovdiv was that every few kilometres, there was a giant billboard announcing the “Happy Grill” restaurant chain’s sushi menu! We passed at least six! So you can imagine what I wanted for my late lunch! There are tons of Happy Grills all over Bulgaria, so I wasn’t surprised when I found one two blocks from my hostel. I got prompt and excellent service in English and asked for a big beer! The sushi menu was interesting (I particularly liked the idea of the Mexican roll featuring cheddar), but promising. I ordered two rolls (one with mango and shrimp, the other more traditional with just raw fish (tuna, salmon, sea bass), seaweed, and rice) for a total of eight pieces and they were really good! Add in the ginger and the soy sauce and this was better sushi than I’ve had in Mexico. I would not hesitate to eat sushi at another Happy Grill. But it wasn’t quite enough and I debated whether to order another roll or dessert. The suggestion that I try the Oreo cheesecake did me in. So I had that with an espresso. 🙂

I went back to the hostel to change into my walking sandals and to double check the start point for the walking tour, which was just past the Happy Grill restaurant. I got there around 5:45, with the tour starting at 6:00.

This is Button Plaza (you’ll learn why tomorrow) and is a very popular meeting place for locals.

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Behind it is the municipality building (town hall).

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As I waited for our guide, I spotted Atlas on a rooftop.

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That’s it for tonight. It’s crazy late!