The majority of residents in Plovdiv claim that the city was built on seven hills, as shown in their coat-of-arms. However, a local I spent a few hours with today argued that there are actually nine hills around the city. Regardless, one of them was bulldozed to make way for an ugly shopping mall, bringing the total count to either eight or six. Let’s just call it “The City on Several Hills.” There are definitely greater than several by a few.
Did I take the time to say anything about Sofia in my last post? If I even so much as mentioned the name, it was more than enough. I spent two nights there, and didn’t get much of anything out of the city. It didn’t help that the hostel was full, relegating me to their satellite building a block away. I, of course, was not the only one there, but it was nonetheless difficult to make friends and enjoy my stay. After breakfast on the third day I walked 45 minutes to the bus station and bought a ticket for Plovdiv.
As soon as I arrived I liked this city better than Sofia. It’s much smaller, and quite a bit more relaxed. There is a long pedestrian walkway around the city center, with several cafes and restaurants, as well as a massive park. I had emailed the Funky Monkey hostel to book a room, and received confirmation while still on the bus ride there. Upon my arrival I failed to find a way into the building. I found out a few hours later that their electricity was out for a bit, so they didn’t hear me ringing the bell. Not yet knowing this, I was a bit frustrated and walked across to the old town where I found another hostel, the Hikers Hostel. It was a bit…rustic, to say the least. The courtyard was enjoyable and the free breakfast was tasty, but there was little else to be desired. After eating and showering the next morning I trekked across town back to the Funky Monkey, this time with more success.
At 11:00 I joined the free walking tour in starting in Plovdiv City Center. It was a two-hour tour that was enjoyable and informative. We viewed the old Roman Stadium, a mosque and a church, some old city ruins (which I accidentally stumbled upon the night before), the statue of Milo the Crazy, and a part of the city named “the trap.” There are several rumors as to why it has this nickname. Apparently long ago (before most of it burnt down) the streets were much narrower and packed with merchants, making it almost impossible to find your way out once you entered. The other idea is similar, in that once inside it was highly unlikely that you could leave without buying something – whether those were your original intentions or not. Today the streets are much wider and most of the shops are now serving coffee and beer, so there is very little chance of actually being trapped. The local girl I met today offered her personal perspective: she would visit the trap to get coffee with friends, then two hours later they would go to another coffee shop, then another, then another, until they were all closed for the evening. I would like you to consider that maybe that particular part of town should be renamed “Centerville,” as narrated by Rod Serling.
After the walking tour I returned to the hostel to try and rest for a bit, when I received a reply from Yoanna, a native Bulgarian from Couchsurfing. We met up for lunch at Raffy in the center, and after lunch and dessert we hiked up to the Alyosha Monument overlooking the entire city. It’s a giant statue of Soviet soldier with a machine gun. I’m sure there is some cultural reference here, but the real reason I would recommend the hike is to see the view from the top, which is spectacular. After descending we walked around the Trap for a bit, never once getting lost. We then visited a bridge over the Maritsa River that was filled with shops that were mostly closed by this point. I had to return to the hostel by 2200 because apparently that’s when they lock the doors and I forgot to get a key earlier.
So this is where I find myself this evening. Saturday night in Plovdiv and I’m blogging instead of partying. I could go back out for a few drinks, but having not slept much last night I think I’ll call it an early night tonight. I quite enjoy this city, so I’ll most likely spend another night (maybe two) here, before heading to the seaside to catch a last few warm days on the beach. Then it’s off to Romania!