Articles tagged with "bulgaria"

Old Town

Old Town

My guide book didn’t have a map of Plovdiv. It mentioned how impressive the old town was but gave no clue about how to find it. I wandered irritably around town and wondered if I’d have to leave without seeing it, when I suddenly chanced upon a narrow flight of steps which led up a hill. I went up, and found myself in what felt like an entirely different city, far from the concrete and traffic of the new town. Quiet cobbled streets were lined with grand restored buildings.

I found my way to the top of the hill of Nebet Tepe, where the old Byzantine city walls lie in ruins. There were people hanging around here playing music, painting, smoking and chilling in the hot sun. I sat on the walls and looked out over new Plovdiv below. Far to the south I could see the snow-capped Rodopi Mountains, with just a few rising columns of smoke from some city factories interrupting my view.


Plovdiv

Plovdiv

I got a night train back to Bulgaria. There were no fun people to share my compartment with this time, just an angry Hungarian who hadn’t much enjoyed Turkey and thought that more or less everyone had been ripping him off. The border crossing was quicker than it had been in the other direction, and we were more or less on time when we reached Plovdiv at 9am the next day. I met a Swiss girl in the restaurant car who was also going there, and we both got confused when the train stopped at a station in the outskirts of the town. We thought we needed to get off, but there was a very large woman with some very large bags blocking the exit, and the train only stopped for a few seconds. We thought we might not be stopping again until Sofia, but luckily we soon stopped at a much bigger station that was clearly Plovdiv’s main one.

The station was still quite a way from the centre. I walked up Ulitsa Ivan Vazov to the central square, and without any particular aim in mind I walked up the main street, eventually reaching the reedy Maritsa River. I crossed the river but soon realised there was nothing but suburbs up here, so I wandered back into town. I stopped to look at the incredible Roman Amphitheatre, which lay hidden for centuries, right in the city centre, until a landslide exposed it in the 1970s.


Night train to Istanbul

Night train to Istanbul

As the sun was setting I walked north to the train station, to catch the train to Istanbul. At the station there seemed to be an organised scam operating, with people latching onto unsuspecting travellers, saying there were ‘tourist information’ and then demanding money for ‘help’ given. One of them spotted me looking at the departure board and ended up walking with me to the Istanbul platform. I tried to get rid of him but couldn’t, and ended up giving him a couple of leva, worth about 60p, at which he looked pretty offended. I saw another one further down the platform demanding five euros from a group of travellers.

We left Sofia at 7.45pm, and for the first few hours I had a sleeping compartment to myself. At 11pm we reached Dimitrovgrad, and suddenly there was a lot of noise in the corridor. I could hear a lot of American accents, and from what I could gather there was a large group of them all trying to find spare beds. I had two, but I had liked having the compartment to myself and so I was considering quietly locking the door and ignoring them all, but then my conscience got the better of me. I opened the door and asked if anyone was looking for beds.

And I was glad I’d asked because I ended up sharing my compartment with Dorna and Lauren from Iowa. They were part of an orchestra touring south-eastern Europe, and they were fun company. We talked for the next few hours, until we got to the border with Turkey at about 4.30am.

Leaving Bulgaria was easy, but getting into Turkey proved to be more long-winded. At every other border I’ve ever crossed by train, the border officials have walked down the train to stamp passports, but here at Kapikule everyone had to get off and file into a small building, where a couple of guards slowly processed the queue. If it hadn’t been for the crowds of Americans I’m sure we’d have been through within minutes, but as it was we spent almost two hours there. At one point, guards started shouting and blowing whistles, and it turned out that Lauren had almost got everyone deported by taking a photo of the train.

Finally I got my Turkish entry stamp, and we got back on the train. By 8am it was a bright sunny day, and we finally left Kapikule and headed into Turkey. I slept for a while. We finally reached Istanbul at about 1.30pm, five hours late after a journey of just 300 miles.


Sofia

Sofia

I had got back from South America on the first of February, and had spent a relaxing six weeks seeing out the winter at my parent’s house, the first time I’d been at home for that long for about ten years. While I’d been away, I’d spoken to John about possibly going to Turkey in March to see a solar eclipse, and after I was back we decided to go for it. John got flights to Istanbul, but I found some cheaper flights to Sofia, and decided I’d fly there, explore Bulgaria a bit, and then travel overland to Turkey. So I dragged myself out of retirement in County Durham and headed back south. I moved into a new house in Tottenham, and after a couple of days settling in there, it was time to hit the road.

I arrived in Bulgaria on a warm afternoon, and it was good to be back in the world of Cyrillic script, almost four years after my travels through Russia. I found a place to stay and then went out exploring. As night fell I walked along the cracked and crumbling pavements, barely lit by the dim streetlights. Bulgaria was a matter of months away from joining the EU, but it was clearly a poor country by European standards.

The next day I bought a ticket for the night train to Istanbul, and then explored more of Sofia. I walked down the city’s main street, Vitosha, to Yuzhen Park which contained a huge and crumbling monument, apparently commemorating 1300 years since the founding of Bulgaria. I walked on south, past an open air DIY market and the National Palace of Culture, eventually stopping exploring when I found myself amid motorway flyovers and grim-looking suburbs.