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Published: August 25th 2009
So, it was time to part from the mountains - probably appropriate since our pace of travelling and general movement had become extremely slow. Our next destination was not Varna (like every other backpacker) but Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second city.
We took the train again, preferring perhaps unwisely legroom over the option of an air-conditioned bus. Arriving at Veliko Tarnovo station (after some expert Bulgarian language attempts to the taxi driver) we were rather bemused as to how to obtain a ticket as the woman was shut firmly behind her screen doing her best to ignore us. Luckily though, the people of Veliko Tarnovo are pretty helpful and a young girl came over and did everything for us which was rather nice of her! Again, this train journey involved a change - but it wasn't remote as the previous time, instead a city called Stara Zagora. We were there an hour, experienced the worst coffee of the trip and the scariest toilets ever: they were in the subway section of the station, had no one attending them (just an empty cabin at the entrance), had a flickering electric low level lighting and yellow wall tiles - it was pretty much like a scene out of a horrific mental hospital killer film type thing. Furthermore they were squat toilets (as usual) and absolutely stank. All in all, it was an extremely traumatic experience.
Upon our arrival at Plovdiv, we walked away from the station to catch a taxi and headed to the "Hiker's Hostel". Although the taxi driver wasn't too sure where to go, whenever he got lost, he actually stop the meter which is possibly the most honest taxi driver on the trip so he deserved a tip - we gave him 4 lev in total for the journey (about £2) whereas we heard another backpacker was asked for 15 lev (about £7.50) and had to negotiate down to 5 lev! Being quite late about now, we pretty much made our beds, and headed to the nearest/cheapest restaurant in the lonely planet - conveniently just opposite our hostel! This is a good time to perhaps add a word about Bulgarian restaurant service - in general, all waitresses are sour-faced and PAINFULLY slow, but at least you notice when they are good. Also, just because a dish is labelled starter in the menu, it doesn't mean it will come anywhere near the start of your meal. Plus, dishes arrive as and when they are prepared, its all just a shambles really! Never mind, most of the time the food is pretty delicious.
The next day, we woke up after possibly the worst night's sleep of the trip due to a varied combination of factors:
- the italians who: read their books with ultra bright lights, one of whom had a cough like he might have TB AND the weirdest sound ever heard... sleep groaning/singing - it is just weiiiiiiird - like someone needed an exorcism, quite disturbing really!
- the dog who thought it was a cockeral to bark at dawn
- the gate buzzer for those returning at night
- the dude who crept up to bed reasonably quietly only to then blow his nose SO loudly you wondered why he just didnt come in like an elephant.
Anyway, after reviving ourselves somewhat with coffee and "breakfast" (some bread, cheese and ham laid out on a table), we headed out to do the Plovdiv Lonely Planet Walking Tour. The sights of Plovdiv are pretty compact and mostly of a Roman nature, although this is dubious as its not really presented/maintained and looks like the rubble of a building site half the time. It's a shame really because its obviously a very important place historically. Plus, the pavement is terrible, I don't think even the Bulgarian women who could run marathons in heels could manage to walk around the old town with ease - it is literally a permanent danger. The main site is the Roman Amphitheatre which was only discovered after a freak landslide in the 1970s! However, it had looked a lot bigger on the photo and was kind of an anticlimax in the end... The tour finished in the Hadlian House (Plovdiv is full of these houses which are maintained historically and normally belong to important merchants etc.) and it was rumoured in the book that wine tasting sessions were possible but we believe it was closed 😞
Again, there was much lazing around this afternoon after the tour but the hostel had a nice outdoor social area which made it all the easier and we got chatting with many backpackers as they arrived. In the end, we went out to a recommended restaurant in town with an Australian and American guy. The most shocking thing was discovered - the american guy had never heard of David Beckham, now, i'm not a fan or anything but i was pretty sure he was as famous as Jesus, apparently not... The restaurant was actually packed and all the free outdoor tables appeared to be reserved, until we spoke english to a passing waitress and then suddenly, a table was free which was kind of cool. As usual, great food and we finished off the dinner with some Rakia - although, apparently its an aperatif so that was a bit scandalous of us.
Needless to say, with the Italians checked out, that night's sleep was a lot better! Plus, perhaps there was an added comfort in the knowledge that this was our last night in a hostel, as we had booked a very nice treat for ourselves in Sofia....
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