Plovdiv – A Pleasant Surprise

On Tuesday, I decided to conquer the bus in Bulgaria. It’s not that I haven’t taken busses before; I have. I commuted by bus for a good portion of the time I lived in Minneapolis. But, when traveling, I typically only opt for the bus if there’s no rail option. And, this time, I also had to grapple with Cyrillic letters.

Getting to Plovdiv (Bulgaria’s second-largest city) from Sofia isn’t terribly challenging in itself — options abound: plane, train, bus or something called BlaBla Car, which best I can tell is like a long-distance Uber.

I opted to leave Sofia by bus because various companies departed on the hour versus the train, which departed early morning. Both the busses and trains depart from essentially the same spot, the Central Railway Station and Central Bus Station, which is served by the Metro.

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The bus was full, but I was lucky to get a window seat. And the scenery was lovely. Fields of sunflowers reminiscent of Romania but surrounded by hills covered with evergreen trees.

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Pulling into Plovdiv, my expectations were low. But, I was quickly overwhelmed. I walked a short distance from the South Bus Station to find Tsar Simeon’s Garden, which was created in the 1890s by a Swiss architect. As you can see, the Singing Fountain is stunning.

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After the garden, expected the rest of Plovdiv to be a letdown. But, I was shocked. There are plenty of reasons they city has been named Europe’s 2019 Capital of Culture.

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I highly recommend visiting the city.  It’s definitely worth a day or two (as you’ll see) and there are some amazing day trip options nearby, like the Rila Monastery.

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Another shot from the marvelous Tsar Simeon’s Garden, where I spent a good hour enjoying a beautiful summer day.  After relaxing in the park, I walked up toward the historic part of town, where I found this cool weathervane (?) in one of the many public squares. Check out which American city is listed… how odd? Turns out Columbia, South Carolina is one of Plovdiv’s sister cities. Who knew?!

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Plovdiv has a number of impressive sites of Roman ruins, like this Roman Forum.

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The main pedestrian street in Plovdiv is lined with cafes and shops. It makes for a lovely stroll and great people-watching. Plus, it leads you to many of the city’s most-impressive sites.

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The city has an impressive collection of religious buildings, like this 16th Century stunner, Sveta Marina church, with murals from the Old Testament up in the arches outside.

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The Dzhumaya Mosque isn’t far away, and it is located just above one of the more impressive Roman ruins sites, the ancient stadium of Philipopolis, which is still used as an open-air venue in Plovdiv.

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Bulgarian streets are full of inventive, artsy water fountains, like this goat-shaped one in Plovdiv.

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Cafe culture thrives in Plovdiv, and the side streets were always impressive.

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Of course, a trip to this part of the world isn’t complete without some sweets. Regardless of whether you call it Turkish Delight, Bulgarian delight or lokum, it’s certainly tasty. I’d call this the European version of Pik-a-Mix.

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Sitting high on a hilltop in the city is the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, with amazing views of the surrounding landscape and quite near to the the Ancient Theater ruins.

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Although the Ancient Theater was a pain to find (snuggled in a series of dead-end streets), it was worth the hunt.

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BoundfortheBalkans

American expat. University professor. World traveller. Dog lover. Eating and drinking my way through the Balkans for 7 weeks.

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