Bulgaria is a total surprise. Usually the flip side of going to “cheap countries” is encountering an unbearable poverty but to us the Bulgarians seemed well off. We judge the country’s well-being by the quality of its roads, the cars and the amount of people eating and drinking out. The food is very Mediterranean: lots of fresh salads, grilled fish and meats and is relatively cheap.
Our first stop in Bulgaria was Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria. We arrived on a night train from Istanbul which was pretty much a sleepless night. At 3 am we had to disembark the train to go to the Turkish passport control station. This was the first time that we actually had to get off the train while going thru a border. Usually the border officers come up to the train to check the passports. Bulgarian border officers did board the train and checked our documents in our compartment but the whole thing took about 2 hours. It was a shame we couldn’t sleep because our compartment was very comfortable: had A/C, TV and our own sink. It had ample storage space and looked like a miniature hotel room.
When we arrived to Plovdiv train station at 6.30 am it didn’t look very welcoming. The station was pretty much abandoned: there was no transportation information whatsoever and no ATM machine to get local money. We started to drag our luggage towards the hotel but soon we saw several ATM machines got some money and took a taxi to the town center to our hotel. After we saw the lovely historical center we perked up and Plovdiv became cute and quant.
Our hotel Dafi, was well located in the “fun part” of the city center area called Kapana. It’s the center of the night life with numerous cafes bars and restaurants, just what we like. The hotel itself is pretty basic but the staff is welcoming and accommodating. They gave us a room at 7 am without waiting for check in time and we collapsed on the bed and fell asleep for couple of hours.
We couldn’t afford to sleep for too long, dragged ourselves from the bed and rushed to take the free walking tour at 11 am. The tour was excellent; our guide Ilya, a law student, was knowledgeable and gave lots of useful info regarding Plovdiv specifically and Bulgaria in general. After the tour we did the usual “housekeeping” we need to do on the first day in each country. Got a local sim card, checked out events, visited the tourist information center and did some planning. Unlike some other countries and cities, in Plovdiv it was easy and accessible.
Luckily for us, there was an Opera Festival at the time and we got tickets for Don Quixote performed at the real Roman Amphitheater. I was very excited because I saw several Don Quixote ballets but never the opera because for some reason it’s rarely performed. To our surprise the “opera” turned out to be a ballet?! (This was Opera festival…must be lost in translation). But never mind, the ballet was superb and the setting under the starts in perfect weather was magnificent.
After the ballet we had some wine in a cute wine bar close to the hotel and left for Sofia the next morning.