With just a few days in Bulgaria, I wouldn’t be able to stray very far – so I pulled out my trusty Lonely Planet and scanned for quick day trips within a few hours of the capital.
The choice was easy enough.
“Bulgaria’s most appealing city, Plovdiv has it all – Roman walls and theatre seats spilling out under walkways and aside hills, and a compact, cobbled 19th-century revival-era district with open-air cafés frequented by the city’s students. Bulgarians love it, some foreigners give it a shrug after a day, but any Bulgarian site in the hunt for ‘country’s best’ must reckon with The Plov.”
I was surprised to read that, with over 7,000 years of inhabitants, Plovdiv is actually one of the most ancient cities in all of Europe. Man, and I thought Sofia had history!
Plovdiv’s oldest ruins, a Thracian settlement dating from 5000 BC, sit on a spot that by itself has been occupied by Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, and Turks – atop a 200m hill right in the center of town.
Today, evidence of Plovdiv’s history is everywhere – from its 2nd century Roman amphitheater to the once-huge stadium that’s still being excavating from beneath the main pedestrian mall.
And even without all its history and ruins, I must say that modern-day Plovdiv – like Sofia – is an incredibly pleasant city. A great place to whip out my SLR for my first full day of free-roaming tourism since Bakhchysaray.
I spent about five hours wandering in all, and honestly, it felt like every turn I took had a new wonder to offer.
First up was a bustling, youthful walking promenade loaded with street cafes and coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants, etc.
Following it along, I soon came to the main square housing the Roman stadium excavation project, right beneath the towering statue of Philip II of Macedon (1st photo, above).
From here, turning off the promenade led me to a beautiful cobbled hilltop area JUST like Montmatre in Paris,
with overlooks of the city and old but intricate homes that are works of art in and of themselves.
I personally found this area to be by far the most enjoyable, probably because I’ve seen so many Roman ruins in my life that they’ve all started to look the same 😛
Once I’d wandered and photo’ed to my heart’s content, I left the regular tourist trail and explored a bit farther afield,
But ultimately had to turn back. Unfortunately, despite how much I was enjoying my surroundings, I was having an unexplained but severe allergy to something that day, causing me to sneeze almost nonstop.
So once I’d gone through two entire boxes of tissue blowing my nose, it got too frustrating to handle and I just called it quits.
Very annoying, but I guess sometimes “them’s the breaks.” I retraced my steps back through the old town district, stuffed my pockets full of McDonald’s napkins, and caught a bus back to Sofia.
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place on October 5th, 2011.