A Day In Old Nessebar

I did a lot of research about the “Bulgarian Riviera” and got heaps of testimonials. I wanted a quiet seaside holiday, but it quickly became apparent that that’s not really feasible. The entire coast is developed and there are many resorts. It’s basically like my worst Mexican nightmare. The only village that really stuck out was Old Nessebar because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many people I spoke to, including a few who have had a few weeks to know me, said that the Bulgarian Black Sea coast’s atmosphere would not be to my liking, but if I simply had to have a taste of the Black Sea, then at least Nessebar would give me something substantial to enjoy. So that’s how and why I ended up here and why I will be happy to leave the coast tomorrow morning.

It was a fairly good night in Nessebar. The room was stuffy and I eventually got up to open the balcony door after things quieted down a tad, then slept very well. I was tired and in no hurry to go anywhere this morning. Breakfast was served between eight and ten and I didn’t go down till well past nine, and with very low expectations.

Well, my day got off to a great start! When I read I would be served Bulgarian fried bread, I had a vision of a cold greasy commercial pastry and certainly didn’t expect cooked to order little pillows of doughy delight! They reminded me a lot of bannock. With them, I was given a slab of sirene cheese and two different types of jam. The salty and sweet combination was wonderful! My meal also came with an orange drink that was cold and refreshing as well as two small cups of excellent coffee to which the server had added just the right amount of milk. To round everything off, I had about a half dozen slices of crisp watermelon! Needless to say, I was stuffed when I got back to my room to pack for my day. I am so pleased with my stay at this hotel and still can’t believe it was only 95CAD for two nights!

I was going to take a bus to Old Nessebar, 3KM away, but by the time I got to the main road, there was a nice breeze and I didn’t see any need for a ride. It was pleasant, albeit boring, stroll to the entrance to Old Nessebar:

I’ve seen mobile libraries before, but never a mobile bookstore!

Old Nessebar is a peninsula. The way it is built up, I could see water on two sides of it.

Its famous windmill:

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I’m not sure if that’s a real bird because it was still there at the end of the day!

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I was surprised there is this much parking in Old Nessebar, but I would not have wanted to drive there!

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I took two shots of this sign in rapid succession. Notice what’s changed?

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I’ve seen a lot of transliterations of the name НЕСЕБъР. The ъ sounds appears to be problematic, as I’ve seen the same issue with Malak Izvor, where transliterators cannot decide whether ъ should be an A or U. Since ъ is meant to be the U as in turn sign, I favour that and would translate the name as Nessebur, with two Ses being necessary to convey the correct sound in English. But Nessebar and Nesebar are the  most common transliterations I’ve seen.

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Western fortress walls.

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They mean salon, but I love the idea of a place where I can get beer and ice cream! 🙂

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Beautiful map outside the history museum.

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Nessebar “world heritage.”

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What kind of museum? Oh, the history of Nessebar.

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I opted to pay 20BGN for access to five churches and seven museums. Spoiler: that’s the way to do it. Every attraction is really small (most can be done in at most five minutes), but still well worth seeing so you save a lot going that route. They give you a map with a route to all the sites and you collect a stamp at each one.

So this first museum was about the history of Nessebar. Lots of wonderful artifacts!

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I did a double take when I saw this ring because I have similar one in silver that I bought in Mexico!

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We were not allowed to take a picture of this room full of icons, but I got this shot before I saw the sign!

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Map of Nessebar when it was still known as Mesambriya.

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This prehistoric pottery shows abstract thought that is very advanced for the time:

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Document certifying Nessebar as a UNESCO world heritage site. “Placement on this list honours the exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural good so that it may be protected for the benefit of humanity.”

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Here’s my map of Nessebar showing the route to all the sites. You get a lesser quality copy to collect stamps on.

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This is old Nessebar, all tiny cobblestone alleys and homes with stone foundations and wood upper floors.

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Duck!

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St. Stephen Church:

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Can anyone explain what the heck happened with this photo?!

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I went inside and was bowled over by the unexpected frescoes!

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I thought that was it, but then I saw a door that was a little ajar, so I cracked it open and realised there was more to see!

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I may get thrashed for this, but this rivaled St. Paul’s in the beauty of its decorations!

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This church was built in the 11th century and later reconstructed. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

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Next stop was Christ Pantocator Church. Nessebar has a record number of churches. I’m pretty sure the last time I visited so many churches in such a short span of time and distance was in Tuktoyaktuk! Spoiler: the churches in Nessebar were all unique and I never got a moment of “Okay, that’s enough churches for one day”!

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This church had a bonus exhibit of cartography featuring Nessebar. On this map, its name in red signifies it was a port of importance.

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So many maps! I went through twice and would have returned to my favourite ones a third time, but the church was tiny and getting crowded.

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There were a lot of taxis outside. The prices are insane! In Sofia, a reputable taxi charges only about 0.75BGN per km!

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Next up, St. John the Baptist Church:

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It was built at the end of the 10th century and is one of the best preserved medieval monuments in Nessebar.

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There was an informational plaque on the floor and nothing around it. I had to really squint to see this image on the wall. This is the only photo I retouched for today so that you could all see this ghost of an image from the 14th century!

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Next stop, St. Spas Church:

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I loved the stonework outside of this one:

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Inside, so many beautiful frescoes!

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I was ready for ice cream after this church, especially since it had a shady place to sit. The pimply teen who took my order ignored my request for a small cone and gave me a HUGE one. Holy smokes, almost 4BGN worth of gelato! I was torn between seeing it as a gift from the universe and refusing it. The money wasn’t the issue here, but the calories! One thing I love about buying ice cream in Bulgaria is that they sell it by weight so you can order just a few bites and no one thinks you’re weird for doing it. This is how I can eat ice cream several times a day — I really only have the equivalent of one cone. This was the first time I’d seen cookies ‘n cream since I got here, so I decided to go with door number one and consider the huge treat a gift from the universe. 🙂

I then came across the ruins of St. Sophia Church (free to tour):

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The dark side of Old Nessebar is that it is a tourist trap, just one store selling tchotchkes after another. There were some articles of genuine quality (like lace), but, really, it was mostly junk. The sellers were adamant no photos of their wares be taken and so it was often hard to get a shot of a nice building or alley. At least, the vendors were not aggressive!

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I forgot to make a note of the name of this church. Its museum was not included in my pass.

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On to St. Paraskeva Church. Loved the exterior archways on this one:

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This was another church with a bonus exhibit. I should add that there was a lot of English in Nessebar, most of it very good. This whole area is to the Brits what parts of Mexico are to Canadians, so you can’t get away from English. The best rated restaurant in Old Nessebar is an English pub serving only English food!

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The colour and detail of these murals were exquisite.

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I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to realise what these pokey things are for!

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The torment of St. George in prison. OUCH.

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There was a hole in the floor with coins in it:

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St. Todor church was not open:

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I have to say that I was tempted by some of the breezy dresses for sale! But the point of this picture was the second floor. So pretty!

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My final stop was the Ethnographic Museum.

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This exhibit was about the town’s history from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. A lot has changed, but not the recreational uses of the area!

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This plaque had the first major typo I’d seen all day, leaving rather than living. I was really impressed by the effort made to get decent translations!

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See, just like today! 🙂

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The building itself was also interesting. I loved the ceilings.

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There are about 80 preserved “Black Sea style” houses left in Nessebar that date back to the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. The major difference with inland houses is that the second floor of these homes do not have a large open veranda because of the strong winds coming off the water.

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This dress looks very risqué despite the centre panel!

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The population of the town was once overwhelmingly Greek, but the two Balkan wars and the First World War changed that.

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Craft magazine from the beginning of the 20th century:

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Embroidered lampshade with layers of muslin. Not my taste!

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Wedding album:

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A very favourable report of bustling Nessebar in 1786:

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Fifty years later, a contrasting report:

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More about the changing ethnic composition of Nessebar:

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That blanket looks rather similar to what you’d find in Mexico!

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Traditional Bulgarian clothes:

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A very low table and stools:

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Stairs down out of the museum:

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Exterior of the museum from the courtyard:

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I then wandered aimlessly, trying to orientate myself.

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Ruins of the Basilica “Virgin Merciful” (Eleusa):

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I should have ended my day in Old Nessebar here and gone back to the hotel for a swim. But I was stuck on the idea of having a seafood or fish lunch. I went to TripAdvisor to get a few restaurant reviews and then tried several ones, but could not get service, whether I waited at the entrance to the restaurant or sat down at a table (and in both cases, asked for service). Reminded me of my experience in Sofia. One person even yelled at me for perusing their menu, which was displayed on a stand outside the restaurant! This did give me an idea of prices for seafood, and it was high, like 35CAD for a whole grilled octopus or over 100CAD for a lobster!

I finally found a spot with a view and service, but pretty much got robbed blind for a whole small grilled fish (delicious, I do have to say) with a beer, sliced tomato and slice cucumber. It was by far my most expensive meal in Bulgaria. I wish I’d listened to my instincts and not pressed on to have lunch in Old Nessebar. 🙁

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(no picture of my lunch because it had eyes and I know some of you have sensitive constitutions! *g*)

I wandered some more and found this lump of a gem!

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Lovely door into a restaurant:

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Back to the western fortress walls:

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There was a low street full of shops right by the entrance to Old Nessebar, so I decided to check it out before heading back. This building was interesting:

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That was it for my day in Old Nessebar. Half of it was really good, the other half reminded me to avoid Gringo Mexico. 🙂 I still wasn’t exhausted, so I decided to walk back to the hotel. En route, I passed this sign that made me wonder why the YA sound letter Я was backwards! You know you’ve been in Bulgaria a while when… In my defense, the rest of the sign is in Bulgarian. This was my laugh for the day. And, yes, I actually Googled, “SOYAK” before going waitaminute…

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I missed this sign this morning, announcing a protected natural site of sandy dunes. Notice the yellow writing, which is Russian. So similar to Bulgarian, yet so different!

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I came in and was no longer in the mood for a swim when I saw how crowded the beach was. Introvert burnout was imminent after all the crowds today! Instead, I had a long cool shower, then sat on my balcony to enjoy a breeze. Aaaaaah.

I thought I’d get his blog post out before dinner, but WordPress was being stupid. I gave up around 6:30 (I’d come in near five) to get dinner. There are a few restaurants behind the hotel and with the pizza last night being so cheap, I figured they’d all be like that and picked the Hawaii Grill for its extensive menu, which included Chinese food (which seemed very popular). I went through the menu a few times and was surprised that the most appealing thing was… spaghetti with cheese, broccoli, and chicken. I’ve really been in broccoli withdrawal! It was one of the cheapest mains on the menu at 6.20BGN, so I assumed it would be very skimpy. My lunch had been very light and felt a million years away, so I asked if I could add a kebapche to my order, knowing that was the cheapest way to get some solid extra protein. The lovely server said that of course I could do that. Well, my pasta wound up being very substantial! What amazing value compared to my lunch! Even with a “small” (I’d hate to see their large) beer and a generous tip, my supper cost me all of… 8.74CAD. Here’s my Old Nessebar tip for you: eat in New Nessebar. 😀

It’s been a lovely weekend on the coast, especially the hotel, and I am very happy with the quality of the historical sites I saw in Old Nessebar. I have no desire to see anything else on the coast (had been toying with going to Sozopol), so I’m heading back inland tomorrow and thinking of spending the night in Veliko Tarnovo. I’ll make a final decision over breakfast. There are a few sites near Ruse on the Romanian border that I’d like to see en route, but I can’t imagine leaving early enough tomorrow to manage all of that.

A Second Very Full Day in Plovdiv

It was a very late night yesterday, yet again. One of my clients had an “all hands needed on deck” express job and the pay compared to the effort I’d have to put out was such that it was extremely worth powering through and doing my share even though I was exhausted. But, thankfully, I had a good night’s sleep. I was up too early to even think about going out to look for coffee, so I did a bit more work for the client. Fridays are pay day with them, so after two slow weeks, I was keen to pad my current invoice with small jobs that would only take 15 or 30 minutes of work and not feel like a huge effort. Eventually, though, I couldn’t ignore my growling stomach, so I dressed and headed out.

I did some research last night about Bulgarians and breakfast and it confirmed my impressions, so I conceded that I wasn’t going to do any better than a plain croissant and a tiny coffee at the bakery right next to my hotel (they didn’t have food yesterday). It was a meagre meal, but I have to confess I like the excuse to eat croissants! 🙂

I then headed towards the Maritsa River to visit the Regional Natural History Museum. En route, I passed this truly remarkable map showing all the points of interest in Plovdiv, right down to public washrooms.

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Research told me the natural history museum was under heavy renovation and there was barely anything to see, but for 4BGN, it was worth assuaging my curiosity. After walking through a construction site and being led to a smelly basement with a few fish tanks, I really wondered why they didn’t just close down as, really, the “museum” wasn’t worth a detour. And then, I saw that there were a couple more rooms I could visit and one had snakes! I enjoyed watching a couple of boas, hurried past the tarantula tanks, and spent a few minutes ogling a chameleon. Its eyes were really neat, reminiscent of a camera lens. I also got to see a bearded dragon.

I then went to an upstairs room to see a working beehive, fossils, and some mounted butterflies. No photography was allowed in the museum, but I couldn’t resist sneaking a pic of these giant lobsters!

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I think the museum will be incredible when the renovations are complete, but, for now, I suggest you skip it.

A man at the tourist info centre had told me yesterday that if I liked the archaeology museum, I just had to visit Trakart. He wouldn’t tell me why and suggested strongly that I go in cold! So that was my next stop this morning, but I took my time getting there, just enjoying the sights of Plovdiv. I liked this street a lot.

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I passed this statue of a family. Do you see what’s on the tree stump in the foreground?

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Like Sofia and London, Plovdiv utilises barriers to discourage people from crossing busy streets at places other than crosswalks or underpasses.

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I was curious about this obviously Jewish monument.

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I got shivers when I read this. Remember that Bulgaria saved all its Jews during the Holocaust!

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There are coffee vending machines all over Plovdiv and Sofia. People actually use them, even this disgusting looking one! I don’t get it, even with the price of 0.40BGN per cup. I guess I should try it one day!

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Nice mosaic on what appeared to be an abandoned building.

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Isn’t this smart? Folks coming into Plovdiv can see where there is parking available. Downtown is extremely car unfriendly so it would be a relief to me to know where to go to drop my wheels.

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I knew exactly where Trakart is because it’s really near my hostel and I opted to get there through the tunnel under the Old Town. It was neat to see familiar sites from below.

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Crossing the tunnel on foot sucked. It was loud, echoey, and smelly. 🙂 I emerged and noticed this interesting church:

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Trakart is located in the underpass below Tsar Boris at Patriarh Evtimiy.

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I got a shiver as I read this, beginning to understand why the tourist info guy had sent me here!

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I paid the 5BGN entry fee. The lady apologised and said that they were out of English programs, but they had French and German. French worked! 😀

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And so, this is Trakart. Mosaics from an ancient house excavated in situ! I spent so much time ogling everything and went around multiple times to make sense of the space and match up what the guide said with what I was seeing. Thank you, thank you, thank you Mr. Tourist Info Guy!

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This is the entrance floor. That broken bit in the middle would have been a fresh water fountain.

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On the walls are mosaics from other sites.

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This space dates from the time of the transition of apostolic Christianity to the official Christianity of Emperor Constantine the Great! Above the fountain is text that says, “Welcome. Have a happy and peaceful stay.” Unlike other buildings of the era, this one did not have heating.

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I liked how they showed that we could walk on the glass.

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The swastika is a truly ancient symbol.

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Part of the original lead sewer system.

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Besides the mosaic, you can see Proto-Thrace artifacts dating from prehistory (4-3,000 years BC):

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The venue also has a stage.

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Trakart was absolutely amazing. Please give the tourist info centre guy a raise!

I got an ice cream after and then headed back to the hostel to do a bit more work. It was not even 11:30 by the time I got there! By 12:30, I was ready for lunch and really wanted a burger. Research didn’t come up with a definitive place to get one, so I decided to head back to Happy Grill, where I had sushi my first night, to see if they had a burger on their menu. If not, worst case, I’d have sushi again. 😉

Well, they had a burger… with bacon. Cheese. Fried onions. And… honey mustard sauce. Dang was it good! Even the fries were yummy! Only 9.50CAD with the tip, including a small beer. Amusing moment: me opening that red packet expecting ketchup and being disappointed by the moist towelette!

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I then had to walk off my heavy lunch. It had been positively cool this morning and still wasn’t too bad, so I decided to climb the Clock Tower and Liberator Hills. First stop, Clock Tower Hill (Sahat Tepe or Danov Tepe).

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I made a new friend!

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Looking towards the Unknown Russian Soldier.

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This little guy was so affectionate!

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Looking towards Nebet Hill in Old Town, which I climbed my first night.

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Graffiti made this fountain scary!

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I headed down to go find the evangelical church before going to the next hill and took some time to enjoy the Roman stadium again:

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It was getting hot by this point and I was tired, so I couldn’t decide what I wanted more, a fresh pressed grapefruit juice or a coffee. I came to a halt when I passed this sign: coffee and juice (including grapefruit!) for 3.50BGN! Now I understand why I see so many Bulgarians with both juice and coffee in front of them. This must be a common pairing for them.

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The restaurants in Plovdiv are so much less intimidating than those in Sofia. I just plonked myself down at a free table and a server came immediately with a menu. I pointed to the sign and confirmed that I just wanted coffee and grapefruit juice. She returned momentarily with this:

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The juice really hit the spot. Yum! I prefer coffee with a bit of milk, but they know how to make espresso here, so I can enjoy it black (no sugar!). The little rolled up piece of paper was kind of like a fortune cookie, but with what I assume is a proverb:

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Ooookay. LOL

I meandered through some residential streets and was amused by this sign posted on several gates, announcing that work was going to be done. Love the picture!

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Here’s the evangelical church, worth the effort made to find it!

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Wonder what those are. They are related to parking.

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The road here was in bad condition.

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I finally got to the Liberator Hill, Bunardzhik. It’s off of my tourist map and all the street signage around there is only in Cyrillic!

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There are two choices to get up to the statue. You can follow a meandering path with a gentle rising slope around the mountain or go straight up using stairs. I started with the stairs until I realised that the path would take me to the same place. No problem climbing a tall hill with a gentle slope, but it’s a lot of effort to lift your legs to climb stairs!

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I stopped partway to enjoy the view:

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Notice that gold and blue dome?

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My tour guide mentioned that after the Monument to Communism was vandalised in Sofia and the soldiers painted to look like superheroes, some very enterprising folks enveloped the unknown Russian soldier with a red cape. What a feat!

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Looking towards the clock tower.

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I headed back down, partially using the stairs.

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It had gotten increasingly hot as I climbed and I’d used up all my water. So I was really glad to find this fountain. Tap water is generally excellent in Bulgaria!

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The crest of Plovdiv and its motto: Ancient and…

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eternal.

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This informational sign in English was surrounded by thorns!!! There was no way to get close enough to read it. 🙁

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I passed this car as I headed home. The Bulgarian counterpart to El pollo loco?

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I came in and did another small job before starting on this post. I got a call as I was doing that — a rental car company with a car for me at a price I was willing to pay for a week of freedom on wheels! I have mixed feelings about that in that like many of the smaller car rental companies in Bulgaria, they only take the deposit in cash. So I have no protection if something happens to the car or if they say something happened to the car (my credit card has a car rental insurance policy). I know, I know, I’m a worry wart but 300BGN is a lot of money. The only reason I agreed is that any of the larger international companies had prices that were at least twice what the little companies charge, so even if my deposit is stolen, I’ll still be ahead. We shall see… I’m still not sure yet what sort of route I’m taking to the Black Sea, but I suspect I will not be there tomorrow and rather arrive on Sunday. Working out my itinerary will be tonight’s project!

By 6:30, I was famished, so I headed out to Gusto, which is in front of the Happy Bar. I’d checked out the menu today and it had something I hadn’t seen since I got to Bulgaria, so it was on my mind all afternoon!

Behold broccoli! Oh, I’ve missed you ssoooooooo much! 😀 With it is a chicken breast and a blue cheese cream sauce. Yes, I had blue cheese yesterday. Hey, I haven’t had blue cheese in ages either. 🙂 One thing I knew about more traditional Bulgarian restaurants is that you don’t get any sides with your meal (which is why prices seem so low). The mashed potatoes were inexpensive and would be a good vehicle for sopping up the sauce, so I went with that.

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It was sooooo good. I haven’t had a bad meal in Plovdiv yet! I cannot believe the prices I’m paying. I would not be able to afford meals like these in Western Europe or in Canada:

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I gave a 2BGN tip, so that came out to 13.30CAD, and it includes wine! Contessa, notice the price for the wine glass, 2.66CAD. Then, you have my potatoes and finally the chicken and broccoli. I still had a bit of room after and wasn’t ready to go in, so I grabbed an ice cream (cherry cheesecake!) and went for a walk towards the stadium. I passed a store that sells Ipanema sandals! Love mine. What a great buy they were!

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There was an event going on at the stadium, the DroneUp IFF, and they had cushions out for the spectators.

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A drone.

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The crowd was a bit rowdy for my taste, so I headed back to the hostel, where I settled up my bill. I’m expected to pick up the car around 10:15 and I didn’t want to have to chase down the host in the morning. My total was 90BGN (68.40CAD) for the three nights. Great deal! I am going to reconsider my stance on hostels. I wouldn’t want to be in a huge one sharing a crappy bathroom with 50 billion other women, but it hasn’t been an issue in a small place like this and they are fastidious about cleaning. Of course, I’m past the dorm room scenario and would only stay in places with my own room.

Well, I’m off to figure out where I’m going tomorrow. I am so stupidly nervous about having the car that like when I RV, I want to know where I’m parking it tomorrow night before I go anywhere and I want the route to that parking spot mapped out! 🙂

I’ve had a wonderful time in Plovdiv. An evening and two days here has been just the right amount of time.

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!