On Monday morning, we made our way back to Plovdiv, eager to explore this ancient city. 😀
Plovdiv: Old Town
The old town of Plovdiv surpassed all my expectations, with beautifully restored Renaissance architecture and comforting modern conveniences. 😀
The Old Town gossip tower. 😛
Plovdiv is famous for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in world, at over 6,000 years old.
The Roman Stadium of Philippopolis dates back to the 2nd century AD, during the reign Emperor Hadrian.This is a replica of the original stadium, which at one point seated over 30,000 rowdy spectators.During the Roman Empire, the space may have been used for glorious gladiator battles or triumphant sporting matches; however, presently the excavated portion is being used for claasical music performances. 🙂The Roman amphitheater of Plovdiv is equally historic and also similarly used for live orchestra concerts. In regards to tourism, the city of Plovdiv is broken into two main sections: The Old Town and The Trap.While The Old Town showcases Plovdiv’s historical architecture and Roman ruins, The Trap area speaks to a younger generation. Winding streets filled with trendy shops and hip cafes are a trap, since you normally can’t leave without spending a little bit of money. 😉
Plovdiv: The Trap
High-end boutiques and funky street art make this town totally fresh and youthful. The Bulgarian version of Mount Rushmore. Hah.Lunch at an artsy cafe.Pork in mushroom sauce, chicken with white cheese, and homemade banana cake.As a side note, Bulgarian customer service is quite bizarre, since items are brought out as they are made, and most items are made-to-order. The first dish was brought out after 40 minutes, and we waited another 45 minutes for the second dish.
Luckily, this laid-back town has put us in no rush to get anywhere, anytime soon. 🙂
Plovdiv is also currently undergoing a makeover, since it was chosen as the 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe. 😀In general, Bulgaria has recently become more tourist friendly with their new organization, the 365 association, which offers free city tours in Plovdiv, Sofia and Varna.
We decided to check out the free Plovdiv walking tour, in hopes of learning historical facts and getting a lay of the land. 🙂
Free Walking Tour
Our guide was an adorable college student who seemed nervous, but did a phenomenal job filling our brains with historical facts.At one point, the guide pointed out that his parents were walking by, and then became super embarrassed as they lingered for a bit, holding hands and staring at their son, obviously beaming with pride. So cute! 😀
I also met a friendly dog on the tour, who quickly bonded with me, and followed me around for the rest of the night. 😀At our halfway point, we visited Thracian ruins atop one of Plovdiv’s seven hills, Nebet Tepe.Bonding time. 🙂After 2.5 hours of walking, we capped off the tour at the breathtaking Church of the Holy Mother of God.The whole gang, along with my new furry friend. 🙂After the tour, we decided to hang out with a few travelers in the hostel common area. 🙂
Wine and German chocolate shared with our new backpacking friends.The perfect end to our night. 🙂
Overall, Bulgaria seemed to satisfy all the needs that Turkey could not. We feasted on copious amounts of pork and other eclectic cuisine, drank unlimited coffee and cheap liquor, all the while, enjoying the relaxed mountain lifestyle. It was the perfect, affordable escape from Istanbul. Just what we needed. 😀
Dollar beers and a delectable salmon dinner.Sassy Bulgarian fashion you couldn’t get away with in Istanbul. 😉
Antique shops galore! International cuisine at Terzo Mondo.
Pasta and fresh carrot juice. 🙂 The owner had been inspired from his world travels throughout Africa and Central America. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, while admiring tribal masks and jamming out to Buena Vista Social Club. 🙂
Another fun fact: Bulgaria may be a member of the European Union, but they use their own currency, the Bulgarian Lev.
Oddly enough, one of my favorite stops in Plovdiv turned out to be a solo market trip I took, slightly off the beaten path. Perusing the local market in Bulgaria gave me a better sense of their local community, as well as, their regional produce. 🙂White beans, purple beets, red peppers and golden butternut squash. Such vibrant colors! 😀 Although the markets here may appear different from those I found in central Mexico, they still offer the same warm and welcoming hospitality. 😀
This welcoming vibe was felt throughout the town, but most notably at our incredible hostel. 😀
Hostel Old Plovdiv went above and beyond by providing free WiFi, complimentary breakfast, super clean bathrooms and even arranged excursions for us during our stay. We slept in a gorgeous 19th century bedroom and lived like queens. All for an affordable 12 euro per night. 😀
Unlimited coffee. 🙂 Tasty and eye-appealing brekkie. 😛 After two days of sightseeing in town, we talked with the hostel reception who recommended a popular day tour to The Wonderful Bridges and Devil’s Throat Cave, top natural attractions in Bulgaria. 😀
The 11-hour tour was 30 euros each, and took us on a journey through the Western Rhodope Mountain Range.We even invited this cool Canadian backpacker with us, who was the perfect travel companion. 🙂
The Rhodope Mountain Range
As a fun fact, one-third of Bulgaria is forested, which made for an incredibly scenic road trip, surrounded by nothing but lush greenery and stunning valley views. 😀Our driver didn’t speak any English, but was very polite to stop as much as we wanted for photo opportunities and bathroom breaks. 🙂Fall is in the air. 🙂Roadside floral honey and handicrafts. Hansel and Gretel’s cabin. Brown bears are native to Bulgaria, but all we spotted was this wood carving in a nearby cave. 🙂 At least I know, if I did spot a brown bear, I’d have the most epic escape ever! 😀On our way to The Wonderful Bridges, we passed Asen’s fortress, a medieval fortress dating back to the 11th century.
The Wonderful Bridges
Finally we made it to Wonderful Bridges, a natural stone formation located in the Karst Valley, 4,700 feet above sea level. The Wonderful Bridges had once been a cave, but due to rushing river waters and a possible earthquake, it had deteriorated into three jaw-dropping arches. The largest arch being 150 feet tall and 130 feet wide.
Mother nature is quite the sculptor. 😀Narrow inlets lined the Wonderful Bridges, as well as, an actual bridge leading across a rushing stream.
For lunch, we stopped in the ski resort town of Pamporovo at an authentic Bulgarian chalet.
The White House restaurant.Warming up by the fire on this damp fall day. 🙂Tending the flames. 😀The menu was in both Bulgarian and English, but the translations made me laugh.
Huge meatballs, fillet spindle, or a plait of chicken? 😛
Meatballs, gravy and mashed potatoes.
Still drooling over this meal! Only $5 too. 🙂From there, we headed to Devil’s Throat Cave, whilst stopping multiple times on the way to capture the stunning countryside, quaint villages, and the striking Trigrad gorge.Trigrad Gorge.
Devil’s Throat Cave
According to Greek mythology, this cave was the location where Orpheus tried to rescue his beloved Euridice from the underworld. This eerie cave is has maintained its mystery, in that nothing carried in by the river ever surfaces from it on the other side.
After a brief visit in this spooky space, we began trekking the over 300 steps out the top. 😀As our last taste of the wilderness, we wandered around the moss-covered cave wall and nearby craft shop. Fun fact: the Bulgarian alphabet use Cyrillic characters. Fortunately these tourist sites provide helpful translations. 🙂
After a long day of hiking in the fresh air, we were absolutely exhausted and made our last drive through the Rhodope mountains, back to Plovdiv.From Plovdiv, we moved onto Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, and the last leg of this beautiful backpacking venture. Stay tuned! 😀