Plovdiv, Bulgaria is a great town about 2 hours east of Sofia; it’s smaller than Sofia, but has so much amazing culture! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Plovdiv State Puppet Theatre. We saw three shows there, ordered our tickets in Bulgarian, and had such a great time. Imagine humans dressed in costumes and this is probably closer than the word “Puppet” but the energy Bulgarians put into this is extraordinary and fun!
Kapana Markets and Crafts Faires
There were things to do every weekend, one of which was the street markets in and around Kapana:
We loved Kapana, also known as “The Trap” because it was used to foil enemy invasions of Plovdiv in the past; it’s easy to get lost amongst its narrow streets. It has a distinct design style, and the posters I saw on my Sunday solo walks illustrate this:
The park at Alyosha Monument and Tsar Simeon gardens
There were two big parks we liked to go to, one was Alyosha Monument. We saw signs on benches one day at the park next to it, which every passerby seemed to be reading with interest. While I still don’t know what they mean, I had a few guesses.
Looking the other direction from this sign on a bench there was a small set of stairs that drew me in. I love how in the Balkans, and also the Baltics, trees are gigantic and full of life after sleeping through a long winter. I don’t know what it is, if it reminds me of childhood or something else, but either way their shade and height inspire me:
We watched Bear Pond transform from empty concrete bowl to babbling brookfed koi pond in about 3 days. What a transformation! On one day we decided to go here before heading to the Police and Vehicle Show (only to realise the show times were 11am AND 6pm, not 11am THROUGH 6am) and the contrast of cultured to bogan was funny. Kapana crafts faires are invite-only and are in high demand by craftspeople from Sofia and the rest of Bulgaria.
As a family we work hard all week and then Friday is a big party. No but seriously Friday is good fun for the kids because it’s their day off and they get to watch videos in the late afternoon. Alice and I work from 5am till 930am and then we go out to explore. On this particular day we went to Morado Bar and Dinner at Tsar Simeon and I got a GlenMorangie Scotch Whisky and Alice something like a margarita. The kids got ice cream, of course.
My how fast the kids grow up and at no time is this more apparent than the beginning of summer when schools finish for the year. Bulgaria has the typical Northern hemisphere schedule of no school between May and early September. After the icecream and drinks we were at Tsar Simeon’s grand central fountain just a few steps away when we saw a large group of young women dressed to the nines. Kinda cool to see some retro 60s vibe happening with some dresses and hairdos:
I consider Plovdiv between rustic and very fashionable, with a lot of history underneath. We walked the entire length of the Plovdiv Old Town many times, and at the northern end were several bridges, this was one that had a bunch of shops enclosed along its entire length. Here’s the view from the Southern side of the bridge:
Philippopolis, the Roman Stadium
Wikipedia says it best: “The Stadium of Trimontium in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is among the largest structures from the time of the Ancient Rome in the Balkan peninsula. The facility, approximately 240 m (790 ft) m long and 50 m wide, could seat up to 30 000 spectators.” What a beautiful place, and it’s right in the centre of the entire Plovdiv Old Town walk.
We had great fun playing on these steps (this kids played, the adults rested and cooled off on the white marble).
The Stadium was buried on purpose to make way in the Middle Ages for a new Plovdiv, but when it was found again in 1923 Plovdiv realised it didn’t have the funds to fully uncover it as it would have to demolish dozens of buildings and city infrastructure. This is why you can find bits of it under the street when you go inside some shops; the H&M store has some it’s uncovered and opened to the public. There is a plan to make the street transparent in places to show more of this amazing structure, but I’m not sure when it will happen.
Some more of the Stadium under another building:
We get very excited by any city that has street art; it means the city cares about art and incorporates it rather than outlawing it. Plovdiv has this creativity in spades so we weren’t surprised to see great street art in the underpasses under major streets and around the Bus and Train stations.
Informational Art in the Tsentralen
Plovdiv Old Town’s southern end, just between our apartment and Old Town itself and just to the east of Tsar Simeon, is the Tsentralen; centre for many activities and entertainment. We cheered on marathon finishers and Alice and I even danced in a traditional Bulgarian dance line, they start as a circle and then spiral inwards as the song continues; many Bulgarian songs are in odd time signatures and fast tempos!
We especially loved the messages displayed in the Tsentralen, about some tough subjects like Down Syndrome. How amazing that this sort of information is on public display:
We are travellers at heart and as such we’re loathe to rent cars to travel but instead prefer buses and trains. Bulgaria’s train network is admittedly out of date (Bulgarians I talked to wish it were more modern like those found in Western Europe), but it works well and very efficiently. As long as we checked our tickets in advance and talked to other passengers to make sure we got on the right train, they were never late!
The Plovdiv train station is under renovation and I can’t wait to see it finished. Interesting that the Burgas station is already done? Maybe the funds are starting there and then heading west toward Sofia. In spite of all this, the train station had a certain charm we first fell in love with in Latvia; it might not look like much, and is rough around the edges, but it gets the job done and looks pretty good on a warm summer day:
Easter in Plovdiv
We like to keep the kids entertained, but more importantly we like their lives to have some sort of normalcy and this means observing not only NZ holidays but those in the countries we’re in. Easter happened in Plovdiv and we did our thing, easter egg hunt!
I hope we found all the eggs. 🙂
Old Town had some gems to remind us of its rich past
About two weeks before the great walking tour we took, we had our own wander around and discovered the Hisar Capiya gate; the entrance to Old Town at the top of one of the Seven Hills of Plovdiv. Large and imposing but also simple and utilitarian. I’d have loved to have seen the rest of the wall but sadly most of it was no longer standing.
The streets were in good nick, though, and along the top of the hill there are small parks, fountains and spaces that make you stop every so often:
And then you get to the Philippopolis Theatre! Wow what an amazing structure. It overlooks Plovdiv and the entire valley in which it resides and I can imagine listening to poets in the olden days. Plovdiv has been continuously inhabited for 6000 years, I think the 6th oldest city in the world. You can see why because it uses its geography well and when the weather’s good it’s an inspiring place. This theatre is the reason we came to Plovdiv instead of Sofia or even other Balkan countries. When pushed we choose out of the way places with lots of history:
Together Plovdiv 2019 – Plovdiv to be the Capital of European Culture that year
Our walking tour guide helped us understand how important 2019 will be for Plovdiv as it will be the Capital of European Culture for that year; this honor is bestowed upon one city per year in Europe, and it will cast a bright spotlight on Bulgaria in general.
Some cool little things about Plovdiv
We love funky signs, pet shops, parks and playgrounds in any city. Here’s a few of those things we saw in Plovdiv. I love languages, and learning Cyrillic and Bulgarian at the same time was a challenge, but at the end of two months I was starting to get the hang of it!
This sign in a mall where we did our grocery shopping also had dozens of shops on several floors. At one set of stairs I saw this sign for “Happy Golden”. I just thought it was funny:
The kids love pet stores because they get to be near animals we can’t have with us on the road; namely dogs and cats but also birds sometimes catch their eye. This is “Boulder”, so named by Lennox, and Boulder liked to perform and dance for Lennox anytime he came around. This pet store was right across the street from Tsar Simeon.
In New Zealand there’s a “take one/leave one” book drop system you can find on some streets and park around Auckland and other cities. Plovdiv had its own system and it struck me as a really friendly thing, something that made me love Plovdiv right away.
I’ve mentioned Tsar Simeon about 1000 times in this post and it’s because it was an 8 minute walk from our apartment, but it really was beautiful and as the centre of town is a gathering place for young people and families from all over Plovdiv.
When we first arrived in Plovdiv our host was so gracious and helpful; she told us about the fencing competition and we went along for the finals for the Junior World Championships of fencing and guess what, we got to cheer on the Romanian team! They lost, unfortunately, but the kids especially had so much fun watching and learning about fencing. I didn’t realise how engaging it can be when watched live. I’m wondering if my long arms could have been put to better use with a foil? It’s never too late.
April in Plovdiv – the beginning of spring and it was wonderful and only got better for May.
Latest posts by Nathaniel Flick (see all)
- Bali, our last day here - 29/03/2018
- Bali, Goa Gajah – the Elephant Caves - 27/03/2018
- Bali, Dad’s birthday and more shots around Villa Bhuana Alit - 25/03/2018