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Published: September 26th 2008
I had planned after Turkey to head East not West, but unfortunately the government of a certain 'Axis of Evil' country decided to ignore my visa application - 2 months no yes / no no! So visa limbo meant I had to turn my travels in another direction - west through Eastern Europe, first stop Bulgaria!
As there are 3 weeks before I have to be back in London it's given me a lot of flexibility to make it up as I go along and so far my plans are changing on a daily basis dependent on what other people recommend and where seems interesting. Did an overnight train from Istanbul to Plovdiv the old capital of Bulgaria as I didn't feel I could quite face another overnight bus this soon after Turkey and I kind of liked the idea of lying down through the night and maybe getting some sleep. It's been a while since I've travelled on my own and while I had fun with the girls I was both excited about setting off on my own and a little apprehensive. The apprehension lasted about 1 minute after I boarded the train as I met Yuri, a South
Korean girl and then Megan, a Canadian. Megan and I were both heading to Plovdiv so within 5 minutes I had a travelling buddy for the next couple of days and with Yuri a face to look out for once I hit Sofia.
The Istanbul - Bulgaria train was comfortable - triple bunks (I scored the top one, not a bonus with my levels of co-ordination) and after a bit of a chat it was off to bed to try and get some sleep before we hit the Bulgarian border. When you are waiting for something sleep never comes easy, so the next 5 hours passed very slowly until the train stopped at 3am in some small outpost of Turkey and everyone had to pile off the train to climb down and cross the tracks to 'check out' of Turkey. As we were a couple of hundred kms north of Istanbul, 3am is not a warm place to be! Having lined up in a cold room and received our stamps it was back to the train for the next phase. Didn't go back to sleep too quickly as we expected to move onto Bulgaria within a shortish time. My
advice to you if ever in the same situation - go back to bed and sleep until someone else comes along. Over the next 3 hours (yep 3) we sat for a while, had the final check from Turkey, sat for more time, moved for about 30 mins then stopped while Bulgarian customs (head in the door ... 'finish') and finally immigration (nice Bulgarians came to us) was complete. There was then another wait as cars were moves/changed and then finally we got on our way and I managed a couple of hours sleep until about 25 mins outside Plovdiv.
First impressions of Plovdiv weren't great as communist architecture seemed to reign, but we made the old city and then went out and looked around. My 2 days in Plovdiv basically consisted of walking around the old town full of beautifully restored houses from the late 1800/early 1900s which are lovely along with experiencing fine Bulgarian food, the odd coffee (Eastern Europe has put me back on coffee) and blessed Bulgarian red wine. It was 2 days of generally just soaking up the atmosphere as admittedly there isn't really that much to do in Plovdiv, but it's a nice
One fun thing was that the day we arrived was the anniversary of Independence from the Turks so it was a holiday in town along with the holiday atmosphere. Didn't seem to impact on things much except the post office was closed and that night there was free concert in the main square by Signal
one of Bulgaria's finest rock acts - they were really good and apparently the show was Signal's
6000th show, so these guys have been around for a short while. The next day I even managed to find their greatest hits cd as a souvenir - Bulgarian rock here we come!
That was basically it for Plovdiv, onto Sofia!
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