05.08.2007 - 07.08.2007 28 °C
Almost three months have passed since my last entry. I’m unable to offer a reasonable explanation for this extended period of neglect. I simply lost motivation one day and watched the mounting list of cities to write about grow. At some point the list became too daunting of a task to bother pursuing. That said, I did make a promise to myself that once I was settled in Madrid I would take the time to recapture the moments I failed to write about in the moment, more for my own sake so that years down the road when my memory begins to fade I have some way to recollect my thoughts and feelings from the trip. So, though I can’t explain why this morning I woke up motivated to begin capturing a month’s worth of my memories, from here on there will be a fairly regular effort on my part to complete the incomplete – everything that lies between my time in Sofia and the few days I spent in Athens with my mother. As all of these events have occurred in the past it seems this would be the most appropriate tense for me to use. That said, from here on I promise to avoid – or more so, try to avoid - any time reference that may hint at a three month lag time from the event and the time the entry was logged. For anyone who decides to read what lies ahead – happy reading.
Departing Sofia did wonders for my spirit. It allowed me to finally put the camera fiasco at the monastery behind me and concentrate all my attention on enjoying my time in Bulgaria. Though I enjoyed Sofia, too much of my time in the capital was spent sulking over the loss of my beloved camera and fretting over the cost of a buying a new one. Bulgaria may be the cheapest country I visit, but that label does not extend to electronics. Times like those make me miss the States and, more so, my friends at Amazon.
Outside of stumbling upon some fellow travelers – three Austrians and a Canadian girl with whom I would spend much of the next three days – the short, 2 hour ride to Plovdiv was quite uneventful – and wanting of pretty landscape. Bulgaria’s geography often leaves much to be desired with most transport lines running east-west through two giant plains that run parallel to two enormous mountain ranges that extend almost the entire length of the country. Moving east to west therefore is quick and painless though crossing either of the mountain ranges – as I late found out – is a slow, time-consuming journey, something which is quite common across the Balkans. Mere distances are often deceiving, providing little insight into the true length of a journey and the circuitous route the bus must take through the mountainous landscape.
Plovdiv itself is a great place to visit. It has the feel of a modern and vibrant provincial capital juxtaposed against remnants of some of the most important historical periods in Bulgarian history. The old town sits on a small hill overlooking downtown and feels like one big monument to the national revival era – late 19th century shortly after Bulgaria’s independence. It is a very quaint and colorful setting, with traditional wood homes which give the area a small village feel in spite of the urban surroundings. Hidden among this maze of homes is a well preserved Roman theater facing south with great views of the Rhodope Mountains which loom over the city in the distance. This theater is but one sign of the city’s Thracian roots, though to be fair the remainder is more often than not a bunch of poorly preserved rocks sitting within some long neglected fenced in enclosure than something for which locals can take pride or tourists to visit.
One of my favorite parts of the city (and to be honest, the Balkans in general) was many of the more recent monuments/soviet style sculptures sprinkled throughout the city. In particular, the hill of the liberators was a well worthwhile hike where at the summit one finds two monuments commemorating the pivotal Russian role in driving out the reviled Turks. Though the Russians have their own checkered legacy here in Eastern Europe, Bulgarians seem to direct much of their antagonism toward the five hundred years of Turkish rule which preceded Communism and remain somewhat appreciative of Russian contributions to vanquishing the Ottomans from the region once and for all. No matter how destructive the Russians were, the Ottomans have left a greater scar on the nation’s consciousness and their independence is inextricably linked to them.
Last but not least, Plovdiv turned out to be a fun place to spend a few days because of the people that I met and some of the bars which I visited. The crowd of fellow travelers was diverse and interesting, the people who ran the hostel were fun and engaging, and the Bulgarians I met in town friendly, great hosts. The first night turned out to be somewhat of a wash because of the weather – in more ways than one, I have never seen it rain so hard in my life – and ended up marooned away from the hostel waiting it out with the people I met on the bus. The second night I made the decision to go out against my better judgment and ended up finding my favorite bar of the entire trip to date, this small wood paneled number with no name advertised outside, cheap Bulgarian beer on tap, a friendly relaxed clientele and though the music was a little hard for my tastes, all around great atmosphere. I met a Bulgarian med student who spoke basically no English – his name was Boris – and some fifty year old man who had once lived in Kansas City and wanted to me about my impression of his country and his memories of mine. We stayed out late with these randoms soaking in a great night with some friendly locals, closing down the bar early in the morning and delaying my moving on to Veliko Turnovo deep into the afternoon. That said, if I ever find myself back in Bulgaria which I will hope to be the case someday I made a promise to return to this town, to this bar, to relive some of the great moments I had here because it truly was an interesting place with plenty more to offer in terms of daytrips to the mountains which I failed to take advantage of during my short stay there.