After Melnick we wanted to drive north to Plovdiv. Eveline communicated to us not to go all the way back up the road and then cut over, but to go through the woods. According to her, we would have to go very slow over a very bad road with lots of potholes in it, but then it would be smooth and we could go fast.
We did see potholes, many, many potholes. Some parts of the road seemed like they had been recently bombed. It felt like driving through a maze, because even though the car was a rental, the holes were deep and wide. We never did get to go fast. I think we average 40 miles per hour at best.
It was a scenic drive through the mountains which were covered in low-lying clouds and mist. It rained on and off adding to the eeriness of the woods. We passed through tiny villages and farms all around. Along the way, there were vendors selling homemade products. I wanted to stop and take some photos of them, but I think it’s rude just to do a drive by, so we stopped and bought some things and then took photos of them.
We didn’t arrive in Plovdiv until late afternoon, and then trying to find a place to stay proved somewhat difficult. The guidebook says that Plovdiv is an attractive city and this is true. There are cobbled streets, one-way streets, pedestrian-only streets, and just plain confusing streets. We found a place to stay for the night, parked the car for the night, and spent the rest of the time on foot. Much better.
Additional Reading: Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s Newest Capital of Culture
One of the most surprising and delightful things we encountered in Plovdiv was the antiquities that were located right smack dab in the middle of the pedestrian zone. This may not seem so strange to hear, but when you are crossing the street via an underground tunnel and see an art gallery built around mosaics or a stele from the Roman occupation of the city, or even when you see a full amphitheatre located under the plaza, so that you can peer down at how the city has grown up around these objects, it’s pretty darn cool.
Plovdiv seemed like a rather modern European city with a bit of old-world charm. The central pedestrian area was dotted with fountains and cafes. It was quite pleasant to wander, window shop, and people watch.
Our fun came, though, when we stopped at a bar, near our pension. It was a located on the corner, sort of at an angle to the street. It only had a few customerless tables and some frescoes on the wall. The bar, however, was well-stocked and the bartender was well-muscled. We think we may have wandered into something a little more than just a bar, but we ordered and found out our server’s name was Nikolai.
I asked him what the building was, and to our surprise, it was the Second Congress’ Meeting Hall for the Soviet Democratic Party. The building and frescoes were over 200 years old, and here we were having a beer.
As the evening progressed, Nikolai turned out to be quite the philosopher, and he entertained us with history, religion, and then started pouring us some Bulgarian drinks. He even whipped out a homemade “rakia” that he hadn’t made, but a friend of his had. He told me that rakia is what separated the Bulgarians from the rest of the world. They still made their own liquor. And what did they make it out of? Any type of fruit that was currently being harvested. I’m not much of a drinker, but I got to say, it was vile! No matter, we tried it and have a lot of fun that evening.