Geo: 42.7252, 25.4815
Woke up to rain this morning. Boo.
The breakfast room is very large, has a couple of buffet lines, and was filled with people. I was sitting at a table with Barb and Moody, and Stefan eventually sat down with us. He told us of one time when he had a group from Texas. There was a very large group of Israelis in the breakfast room too, and they proceeded to fill their plates, piling more and more food on. Stefan noticed that one large Texan man in particular was slowly blowing his fuse. He eventually exclaimed, "They've taken the apple right off my plate!" He seethed a little more and then got up and approached the table of Israelis and barked, "You do not take food off of other people's plates! You took something from me, now I'm going to take these two plates right here." And he called his son over, picked up a couple of plates and handed them to him, and then asked the table if they would give him anything else. One man bravely asked why they should give him anything at all. The Texan replied, "I'll give you a few billion reasons why. My
Put a Coke on your Frosted Flakes: it'll be grrrrreat!
government supports you and sends you money, so I'll take whatever I please!" And he turned around and nearly fell over some suitcases that had been set down in the aisle by some Frenchmen. "Move those!" he told the French. They didn't understand (or pretended not to), so Texas took his walking stick and prodded the cases like cattle till they were out of his way. As he took his seat, he exhaled, smiled, and said, "Now I can eat my breakfast!" We hastened to assure Stefan that Texans — especially big Texans with walking sticks — are a completely different breed from the rest of us. Fancy doing any of that! Why even leave home?
Our first stop (it had stopped raining) was at some Roman ruins on the other side of the hotel parking lot. They are the ruins of a forum from the 2nd century AD, when the city was known as Philippopolis, named after the father of Alexander the Great. (The name Plovdiv derives from the name Philip.) Plovdiv is, in fact, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe — older than Athens, older than Rome. The Thracians settled here
long before the Romans, and I believe we'll be learning more about the Thracians tomorrow. We also saw the ruins of a Roman odeon (a small theater) and a library. They know it was a library based on some small bits they found with the names of library users.
Plovdiv has been selected as a European City of Culture for 2019. Money will be given to Plovdiv by the European Council and the national government, which will allow the city to pay artists to come here and perform and work in 2019. I'm hoping they'll use some of that money to fix the sidewalks. They're all made of various sorts of cobblestones, but there are potholes and missing stones everywhere. It's hard to walk with your head up.
We walked into the pedestrianized shopping street, and Stefan stopped to pose with a statue of a seated man with big ears. This was Miljo. Miljo was a town character in the 50s, and he wasn't quite all there. He was apparently quite pleased with his masculinity and is depicted with his hand in his pocket grabbing himself. (Stefan said crotch, and then apologized for his "inappropriate language."😉 He was well known in
Plovdiv for this, and a lady doctor became terribly curious about the rumors. So she invited Miljo to her apartment one night, made him take a shower, slept with him, and then admonished him not to tell anyone about what had happened because it was a secret. He said he wouldn't tell anyone, and she let him go. When he got to the ground level and outside, he turned and hollered up at her window, "Don't worry, Dr. Ivanov: I won't tell anyone what we did!" So Miljo's statue also has his hand cupped to his ear, so he can listen to secrets. (P.S. Dr. Ivanov didn't report on her findings.)
We continued along the pedestrianized zone, looking at lovely 18th century homes that house businesses now. At the end of the zone and beneath the ground level is a section of the Roman stadium. It's in pretty good condition. The Friday Mosque is just across from it and has been there since the 14th or 15th century. (Went into the mosque later: it's bigger and prettier than the mosque in Sofia. I got a ticking off from a man who was sort of standing guard because I noticed a gallery
that said "Women," and I thought that meant it was the only place females could go. I stepped up to it, and I was immediately tsked at by the man and told to come down from there. I'm still not sure if it's because I flat out wasn't supposed to go there or if it was because of my shoes. I tried to mime taking off my shoes, but he just gestured for me to get down.)
We walked up a couple of hills till we came to the fine arts school. Outside the school is a statue of a man holding a violin; his knees are all shiny from having been rubbed by the students for luck. The statue is in memory of "The Cute Guy," a violinist from the area. He played in a band and used to make jokes about the Communist leaders. He was eventually thrown into a labor camp for this and for being a homosexual. He was beaten every day for ten days, when he died. The Reds were a fun bunch of guys, weren't they? So his statue sits outside the arts school so that he can hear the music every day. And he
is, indeed, very dapper and cute.
The Cute Guy also looks toward a Roman theater built by Trajan in the 2nd century AD. The theater wasn't discovered till the 1970s and it's in spectacularly good condition. It's still used today for concerts because, as the Romans built it between two hills, the acoustics are extremely good. The theater fell into disuse after a century or so and over time was covered under layers of dirt and hidden. In fact, in the 5th century, a city wall was built such that the theater ended up being outside the wall. No one ever suspected that anything important would be outside the wall.
A particular feature of 18th-century Bulgarian houses is that they were often built in a symmetrical style. We saw one from the outside (the LaMartine house, named for a French poet who had to stay there for a few months recovering from a fever and who then wrote a poem lauding the Bulgarians' kindness and hospitality) and went into another that now houses the ethnographic museum. There's something really satisfying about being inside the symmetry although, weirdly, it's also slightly disorienting.
The church of Sts. Constantine and Helena was built over a medieval
church in the 1830s. The inside is covered with icons, including an ancient one dedicated to the two saints and a recent one (within the last three years) dedicated to a group of early Christian martyrs. The iconostasis shows scenes from Genesis, particularly Adam and Eve.
The House of Hindlyan is another symmetrical house once owned by a very wealthy Armenian merchant, so wealthy, in fact, that he had his own Turkish-style bath put in on the second floor. He had three wives — all of whom died in suspicious circumstances — and he traveled all over the place. In fact, "Hindlyan" is not his surname: it comes from the fact that he used to travel in India. Frescos on the walls depict places that he traveled to, including, Stefan said, one place that didn't really exist but that was mentioned in the Bible. Could we find it and guess what it was? I found it and guessed correctly: the Tower of Babel. I win!
There were two outer buildings at the House of Hindlyan: one that was used for storage of his gold (and which had a painting of the main house over the door, in case the house was ever
burned down) and the other housed the kitchen and the servants. The servants' house was quite pretty.
We were free after that, and a group of us went in search of lunch. We tried one place that Stefan had recommended but it was closed for lunch today. We tried another place recommended by Stefan but it was booked for a large group. So we tried a third place recommended by Stefan; success! A Russian restaurant named for Peter I, it was very fancy inside: all crimson and gold and sparkling silver lights. Our waiter never once smiled and was more than a little forbidding, so I didn't have the guts to take a picture of the interior. I had a Coke (ice cold and in a glass bottle!) and Odessa chicken (read: fried chicken tenders). Both were good and, more appealingly, very inexpensive. Found out that Marcie (who lives on Camano Island) grew up in Ballard and used to get groceries at Fort Lawton when Ray was in Vietnam.
After lunch, I walked back to the stadium ruins with Rosemary (properly pronounced "rowz-m'ree"😉, Margaret (who calls me Tereezer), and Rob (who tends to call me Miss MacDonald) but decided against going to
I'm really here!
At the Roman theater.
the film about the ruins because it turned out to be some sort of 3-D recreation thing. Walked with Rosemary down the pedestrian area to the Catholic church. Very dim inside, but interesting painting of Mary and Child, where Jesus actually looks like a happy little baby instead of a homunculus. Also found a statue of St. Teresa, so I was happy. (I can't remember if I mentioned that since the first group get-together we've learned that Margaret is from South Africa and England, and Rob is Australian; they both live in Canada.)
Rosemary went on to another museum to look at mosaics, and I went back to the hotel so I could wash out a few things and rest a bit. Went out later to get a sandwich for dinner, running into several tour members a few different times.
Stefan. He looks like what would happen if Austin Powers and Dr. Evil had a baby. He speaks English fluently (he's been studying it since he was four years old), but he occasionally uses the wrong word or phrase. Two things he especially likes to say but doesn't use correctly are "nevertheless" and "on the other hand." But the really funny thing
is that he ends many, many sentences with "et cetera, et cetera," except he seems to be saying "et ceptera, et ceptera." As Lora pointed out at dinner last night, it makes him sound like Yul Brynner in "The King and I."
We're off to the Black Sea tomorrow, where it will probably be raining and humidity is at 71 percent!
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