Backpacking Bulgaria: Plovdiv and the Rhodope Mountain Range

On Monday morning, we made our way back to Plovdiv, eager to explore this ancient city. 😀map_plovdiv

Plovdiv: Old Town

The old town of Plovdiv surpassed all my expectations, with beautifully restored Renaissance architecture and comforting modern conveniences. 😀

11223722_10104656583715787_2624443483302135169_oDSC_8588DSC_8590The Old Town gossip tower. 😛
DSC_8596Plovdiv is famous for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in world, at over 6,000 years old.
DSC_8501DSC_8506The Roman Stadium of Philippopolis dates back to the 2nd century AD, during the reign Emperor Hadrian.DSC_8564This is a replica of the original stadium, which at one point seated over 30,000 rowdy spectators.DSC_8568During 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. 🙂DSC_8572The Roman amphitheater of Plovdiv is equally historic and also similarly used for live orchestra concertsDSC_8624In regards to tourism, the city of Plovdiv is broken into two main sections: The Old Town and The Trap.DSC_8573While 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 

DSC_8576DSC_8664High-end boutiques and funky street art make this town totally fresh and youthful.DSC_8585 DSC_8579DSC_8583DSC_8549The Bulgarian version of Mount Rushmore. Hah.DSC_8552DSC_8553Lunch at an artsy cafe.DSC_8513DSC_8508Pork in mushroom sauce, chicken with white cheese, and homemade banana cake.DSC_8509DSC_8510DSC_8511As 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. 🙂
DSC_8703Plovdiv is also currently undergoing a makeover, since it was chosen as the 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe. 😀DSC_8710In 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.
http://www.365association.org/index-en.php

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 

DSC_8545Our guide was an adorable college student who seemed nervous, but did a phenomenal job filling our brains with historical facts.DSC_8559At 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. 😀DSC_8567At our halfway point, we visited Thracian ruins atop one of Plovdiv’s seven hills, Nebet Tepe.DSC_8618Bonding time. 🙂DSC_8606After 2.5 hours of walking, we capped off the tour at the breathtaking Church of the Holy Mother of God.DSC_8627DSC_8633The whole gang, along with my new furry friend. 🙂11850617_1107515062626421_6828485433997449238_oAfter the tour, we decided to hang out with a few travelers in the hostel common area. 🙂
DSC_8639DSC_8642Wine and German chocolate shared with our new backpacking friends.The perfect end to our night. 🙂
DSC_8643Overall, 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.DSC_8712DSC_8714DSC_8715Sassy Bulgarian fashion you couldn’t get away with in Istanbul. 😉
12006449_10104656577792657_3795182142284885406_oAntique shops galore! DSC_8681International cuisine at Terzo Mondo.
DSC_8697Pasta and fresh carrot juice. 🙂 DSC_8698The 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. 🙂
DSC_8692Another fun fact: Bulgaria may be a member of the European Union, but they use their own currency, the Bulgarian Lev.
DSC_8699Oddly 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. 🙂DSC_8670White beans, purple beets, red peppers and golden butternut squash. Such vibrant colors! 😀 DSC_8677DSC_8678Although 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. 😀
10518635_10153339697438768_3800245184987678601_nHostel 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. 😀

http://hosteloldplovdiv.com/

DSC_8498DSC_8488Unlimited coffee. 🙂DSC_8716 Tasty and eye-appealing brekkie. 😛DSC_8718 DSC_8719After 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.map_bulgariaWe even invited this cool Canadian backpacker with us, who was the perfect travel companion. 🙂12036823_10153339694073768_1644179646908905797_n

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. 😀12002405_10104656595132907_612495009510504249_oOur driver didn’t speak any English, but was very polite to stop as much as we wanted for photo opportunities and bathroom breaks. 🙂11838829_10104656589005187_6815732935234061102_oFall is in the air. 🙂DSC_8736Roadside floral honey and handicrafts. 12032787_10104656582019187_7610580268442481898_oDSC_8807DSC_8805Hansel and Gretel’s cabin. IMG_20160226_07563912032690_10104656580023187_9177909410105990565_oBrown bears are native to Bulgaria, but all we spotted was this wood carving in a nearby cave. 🙂 DSC_8928At least I know, if I did spot a brown bear, I’d have the most epic escape ever! 😀DSC_8933On our way to The Wonderful Bridges, we passed Asen’s fortress, a medieval fortress dating back to the 11th century.
DSC_8725

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. DSC_8752DSC_8764The 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.
DSC_8775Mother nature is quite the sculptor. 😀12028771_10104656585068077_7863581286752388529_oNarrow inlets lined the Wonderful Bridges, as well as, an actual bridge leading across a rushing stream.
12032926_10153339696328768_7088120728152698939_n12046794_10153339695893768_6095207620505143914_nFor lunch, we stopped in the ski resort town of Pamporovo at an authentic Bulgarian chalet.

 The White House restaurant.DSC_8809DSC_8810Warming up by the fire on this damp fall day. 🙂DSC_8813Tending the flames. 😀DSC_8815The menu was in both Bulgarian and English, but the translations made me laugh.

Huge meatballs, fillet spindle, or a plait of chicken? 😛
DSC_8820Meatballs, gravy and mashed potatoes.
DSC_8821 Still drooling over this meal! Only $5 too. 🙂DSC_8823From 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.DSC_8827Trigrad Gorge.DSC_8893

Devil’s Throat Cave

DSC_8902 DSC_8837According to Greek mythology, this cave was the location where Orpheus tried to rescue his beloved Euridice from the underworldDSC_8855This eerie cave is has maintained its mystery, in that nothing carried in by the river ever surfaces from it on the other side. :/
DSC_8847DSC_8869After a brief visit in this spooky space, we began trekking the over 300 steps out the top. 😀DSC_8868DSC_8873DSC_8877As our last taste of the wilderness, we wandered around the moss-covered cave wall and nearby craft shop. DSC_8879DSC_8884DSC_8881DSC_8897DSC_8894Fun fact: the Bulgarian alphabet use Cyrillic characters. Fortunately these tourist sites provide helpful translations. 🙂
DSC_8885After 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.DSC_8938From Plovdiv, we moved onto Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, and the last leg of this beautiful backpacking venture. Stay tuned! 😀

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2 thoughts on “Backpacking Bulgaria: Plovdiv and the Rhodope Mountain Range

  1. Wow! Megan,
    Bulgaria really is awesome! I so enjoy your blog, and look for it every week. It was great to experience two this week!! We think of you often, miss you and keep you in our prayers daily! Safe and fantastic travels!!!
    Love Ya, Kim your long lost neighbor☺️

    Like

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