Saturday, September 6, 2008

An Afternoon in Plovdiv

Imagine you are driving into a Bulgarian city along a road called "6 September." Suddenly you realize it IS the 6th of September. So began our visit to Bulgaria's second city, Plovdiv, a visit that accidentally and enjoyably took place during the official City Holiday.

A bit of background: though some Plovdivvers are bitter over losing capital status to Sofia when the choice was made in the 19th century, they actually saved their city when they lost the glory of empire. While Sofia was bombed in the 20th Century when it allied itself with Germany, the Plovdiv old town was left completely untouched. So, though Sofia may hold the seat of government, Plovdiv is the prettiest, and draws the most tourists.

Today, renovated and restored to Baroque perfection, about one third of the city center acts as a splendid open air museum. It draws Bulgarian and international tourists alike to stroll its narrow lanes munching cups of wild strawberries from the market, admiring the colorful homes with their carved wooden shutters, stumbling into the Thracian ruins poking up everywhere, and visiting Orthodox churches with wall to wall gold leaf icons lit by skinny slanting candles.

We spent our first couple of hours in the Old Town, then joined the locals on a pedestrian shopping street. Evidence of the pleasant character of Plovdiv and its holiday festivities sprang up everywhere; we saw kids playing in a huge bouncy castle and girls in traditional dress, heard a brass band serenading one and all from the main square and the echoes of a dog show coming from King Simeon park nearby, even discovered a bit of Istanbul – a recently renovated mosque with the same thick carpeting and low chandeliers we had seen so recently in Turkey.

We bought hot salty pistachios and cashews from a half nut / half ice cream stand and enjoyed taking it all in: clapping for the brass band, glimpsing a show dachshund with a glossy red coat as we joined the dog show crowd, examining paintings and jewelry on display in the square.

And then we went home. It was a simple three hour walk, but such a rich one. Old town and new had both offered us many reasons to return another day.

To find out more about Plovdiv and its history, visit:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

even though it's getting late in duluth, my senses are awake to the description of Plovdiv. thx. JM