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Published: September 30th 2017
Plovdiv's Main Pedestrian Street ...
... ul. Knyaz Aleksandar, which for whatever reason, reminded me somewhat of Copenhagen's Stroget.
Geo: 41.95, 24.8667
Plovdiv is cool - beautiful architecture and neat little ruins in the old town, lively pedestrian zone always buzzing with people, museums and art galleries for those that are so inclined, nicely-located cafes all over the place ... but ... it's kind of missing something. Many Bulgarians say that it's the best that their country has to offer, but while I like it, I'm not digging it enough to spend all of today here, after having seen the highlights yesterday.
Don't get me wrong - there were a few sites I wanted to check out today, such as the Historical Museum chronicling the 1876 uprising against the Ottomans, the Museum of History that details the 1885 unification of Bulgaria, and the Wine from Bulgaria Museum & Oenology collection. The latter wasn't intriguing so much for the information it can provide, but for the tastings of some more fabulous Bulgarian wine - 10 leva for three, or 40 leva for ten, if you can handle it!
But ... having seen an amazing photo of the nearby Bachkovo Monastery in the guidebook and been advised by Nickolina of the Hotel Panorama that it was a must-see, that was the plan for today. Getting
Perfect Start to a Day in Plovdiv ...
... with some cappuccino and some people watching. Today's cappuccino was decent, better than yesterday's, but still not top-notch. The Balkan sun is STRONG, always making it feel significantly hotter than what the temperature would indicate. Walking along you can feel your flesh slowly roasting and even sitting under shade, you can still feel the heat radiating off the pavement.
there wasn't an easy task, even though maps indicated the bus station being only a short distance from the train station - just walk along the main road away from the station and hang a right, correct? Wrong! I kept walking, and walking, and walking ... until I finally stopped and asked a local, who incorrectly told me to cross the street and go a bit farther.
Finally backtracking to the train station, I discovered that access to this particular bus station (one of two in Plovdiv's centre) was only possible through an underground passageway. If only the map indicated this ...
After missing a couple of buses (luckily there are many to Bachkovo), finally made my way on to one and was off. Ended up sitting next to this guy from California, three months into living in a little town in the Rodopi mountains for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps. Very interesting guy to chat with - his first two choices were the South Pacific and Mozambique, the latter being mostly because learning Portuguese might prove to be valuable down the road. Eastern Europe wasn't even on his radar and he only accepted because of the long
Lunch In Bachkovo, Attempt #3 ...
... the first spot was at a beautiful courtyard, covered in trees and at the foot of a waterfall. But the staff was quite unfriendly and I sat there, waiting, and waiting, and waiting ... until I went to another place, where I continued to wait. Sigh ... finally, I ended up here on the third try, where the service was brisk and friendly.
and difficult application process - turning down Bulgaria would have been a lot of wasted effort, as there would be no other option. So of course, the last place he wanted to go ends up being a place he absolutely loves.
Part of the deal with the Peace Corps is that he gets paid for his work exactly as a local would, which isn't a whole lot in Bulgaria, especially in a small village up in the mountains. Something going for him is that the town he teaches for is also paying for his housing and the Peace Corps are paying for his utilities, so in the end he's pocketing significantly more than the average Bulgarian English teacher. There's also the opportunity to do a bit of travel in Bulgaria for other assignments, from where he is returning - he was able to squeeze in some time along the northern Black Sea Coast in Varna and Shabla. Because he was heading up there for the Peace Corps, they covered his transportation costs to and from, but he was responsible for any costs incurred above and beyond his mandate. It's unfortunate that Bachkovo is only an hour from Plovdiv, as it
Troubles Ordering Off a Cyrillic Menu ...
... and the waitress didn't speak much English. Luckily, I know three Bulgarian culinary terms - shopska, parlenka, and kebapche!
really would have been nice to continue the conversation and further pick his brain on the inner workings of the Peace Corps.
Finally - Bachkovo! Nice little place, neat monastery ... not much time is required to actually see it, and it's actually a fair bit of effort to get to and from, despite it being only about 30 km away. It's also apparently quite the life-endangering experience, as the Peace Corps volunteer told me that car and bus accidents are very common up in the Rodopi mountains - luckily for me, Bachkovo isn't that far up! Probably the best part about Bachkovo is that it's quite a bit cooler than Plovdiv, especially after a one-hour ride in the sauna mini-bus, which only had two windows that could open, located at the very front. Apparently folks from smaller towns have an aversion to opening windows, thinking that it makes you sick. Sounds very Chinese, if you ask me ...
The ride back to Plovdiv was great not only because it was board a bus that actually had windows and used them, but because the scenery was stunning, passing through beautifully-green forest and along some streams. Reminded me of a bus ride
Skipped the Kebapche ...
.. and stuck with some bread and a huge shopska salad. Decent, but a tad too much cheese. The waitress was the cutest little kid, doing her best to speak probably all the English she knew. The bill was for about 4.60 leva and I purposely left her 5.50 as a small tip - she took one look at the amount and proceeded to give me 0.50 leva back until I waved it away in a gesture saying "It's for you." The big smile on her face was what can make Eastern Europe great - she didn't expect a penny as a tip, and her gratefulness was obvious - something you don't always find in other more touristed countries.
through Bosnia and Herzegovina last year ... I'd say that ride was nicer, but am still quite lucky that today's was a close second.
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