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 Plovdiv, Bulgaria: not a tip-up truck but a treasure

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PostSubject: Plovdiv, Bulgaria: not a tip-up truck but a treasure   Tue Apr 05, 2011 4:21 pm

[size=55:5qz03szh]Telegraph

Plovdiv, Bulgaria: not a tip-up truck but a treasure

The sound of an aria from Verdi's Aida filled the sweltering Roman amphitheatre and hung in the hot night air. The audience fanned themselves with their programmes while a new moon edged above a distant mountain range.

As far as romantic settings go it was pretty spectacular. It could have been Verona's outdoor opera season, but rather than Italy, it was Bulgaria: the city of Plovdiv, which holds its own Verdi festival in its second-century auditorium every summer. And the mountains in question were not the Dolomites, but the Rhodopi, which run like an endless green ribbon to the south.

I taught English in Plovdiv for 18 months and came to love it, though when I tried describing this Balkan treasure to friends back home they giggled at the name. One thought it was a Russian tip-up truck.

I was not surprised when I heard that Ryanair had started direct twice-weekly flights from Stansted to Plovdiv. I would urge everyone to visit. For this is bohemian Bulgaria, where art and culture flourish amid Roman ruins and Thracian legends. Where people nod to say no and shake their heads to say yes. Where reticent Bulgaria becomes bold.

Plovdivians refer to themselves as the ailiatsi, or laid-back ones. There is certainly an unhurried confidence about them as they saunter down the mile-long pedestrianised main street, where the rationale for every shop seems to be the adornment of the female form – not that the beautiful women of Plovdiv need much help.

Part of my daily route to work took me along a Roman pavement, its original stones intact. To one side were perfectly preserved mosaics. And every morning a flower-seller propped her sprays on top of a broken ionic column of a long-forgotten pagan temple. With such historical backdrops, locals are justly proud of their heritage.

The main draw is the Old Town, which nestles on top of, and cascades down, three hills. There are Thracian and Greek remains alongside the Roman ones and they in turn lie next to, and beneath, 400 recently restored Revival-style houses, 19th-century wooden-frame constructions built by the emerging class of Bulgarian merchants who eventually saw off the Turks.

I remember remarking to my guide that they resembled Istanbul town houses. She flared: "
These are Bulgarian houses. They are symbolic of our late Renaissance. There is nothing Turkish about them."
I never slipped up over my history again.

The question of the 500-year Turkish domination of Bulgaria is a touchy one. Once, when I was forced to complain about the slow service in a café, the manager apologised and, with a wide grin, blamed it on the fact that Bulgaria had been under the Ottoman yoke for half a millennium.

The architectural stars are the houses of the merchants Balabanov, Hindlian and Georgiadi, now museums open to the public. Inside they are wood-panelled masterpieces, with the bedrooms tending to be downstairs. Every ceiling has its own exquisite carvings. One house has a 150-year-old marble Turkish bath with running hot and cold water;
another a cute musicians' gallery;


Here, too, is the amphitheatre, discovered by accident in the Sixties under a 50ft-high pile of builders' rubble. Now it is the highlight of the city, with fabulous views of the mountains behind the ancient clock tower. It is used for military shows, jazz concerts, plays and opera. Nearby is the music school, where there are frequent performances of Bulgaria's unique brand of spine-tingling folk music. If you are lucky you will also catch the Hora, the traditional Thracian dance.

Art thrives in the city, with galleries and studios tucked down countless alcoves and alleyways. One warning: the streets in the Old Town are an uneven cobbled obstacle course and stout footwear is recommended.

It was at the highest point of the city, under the trees of an outdoor restaurant on steaming hot nights, that my Bulgarian friends and I used to cradle glasses of rakya, the local firewater, waiting for cooler air to come wafting up from the River Maritsa. We ordered mountains of grilled fresh fish and a bottle or two of white wine, knowing we had hours: book a table in Bulgaria and it is yours for the night.

And where to stay? I would recommend the Hebros, a classy boutique hotel. It's another Revival-style house, hushed and luxurious, with attentive staff padding across polished floorboards. I wasn't surprised to hear it had recently been voted Bulgaria's hotel of the year: after a busy day tramping the cobbles, sinking into a feather mattress is the best cure for aching ankles.

The city used to be called Philippopolis, after Philip II, who ruled this Thracian kingdom in the fourth century BC. His rather camp statue, in which it looks as if he is handing out Toblerone, dominates Jumiya Square. Next to it is the recently restored mosque, splendid in hues of steely blue.

For dinner, head for the folklore restaurant Veselo Selo (Happy Village). Here you can sample Bulgarian cuisine to the accompaniment of national song and dance. I once joined 30 others there for a birthday party. We sat at a trestle table, and were soon surrounded by plates of shopska (Bulgaria's signature salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and grated white cheese) and huge earthenware pots of stew, roasted peppers and bowls of yogurt.

Mavrud, the hearty red wine the host ordered, is believed to be the indigenous Thracian wine Homer refers to in The Iliad. After a few glasses, even I felt confident enough to join in the singing and dancing.

Plovdiv offers what must be the world's oddest location for an internet café. While sitting at a computer terminal, a user can look down on the Roman stadium, where lions once roared.

And in addition to its cultural heritage, it has a rich ethnic mixture, a result of a long policy of opening its doors to refugees, not least to the Armenians, of whom there is still a substantial number.

You can meet them at the Erevan restaurant, which doubles as a club for exiles. Popular dishes are mantu (stuffed pastry and chicken), keshkek (a meat-porridge dish) and mass pancake (chicken breasts, mushrooms, picked cucumber and herbs). Pride of place must go to the dessert anush abur, which is grain, dried fruit and rosewater.

My Bulgarian teacher's boyfriend once said to me: "
I bet your friends in England don't know where Plovdiv is. Tell them to come. They can help us discover our past. Orpheus was a Thracian, and so was Spartacus. Maybe that's why we're a bit rebellious."


"
So why do they shake their heads for yes and nod for no?"
I ventured.

"
Originally we wanted to confuse our oppressors,"
he said. "
Now we just carry on for the hell of it."

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PostSubject: Re: Plovdiv, Bulgaria: not a tip-up truck but a treasure   Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:47 pm

Plovdiv is a lovely city and well worth visiting. we have spent time there in the past and enjoyed every minute. The last bit here I think could well be true having asked my neighbour he agrees that the only reason for it is to confuse the oppressors many years a go, and today they just carry it on for the fun of it? is this true? I'm not so sure
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PostSubject: Re: Plovdiv, Bulgaria: not a tip-up truck but a treasure   Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:33 am

[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] wrote:
Plovdiv is a lovely city and well worth visiting.

I agree Gimp. Plovdiv is a really nice place and if you haven't had a chance to visit, it's well worth it.
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PostSubject: Re: Plovdiv, Bulgaria: not a tip-up truck but a treasure   Wed Apr 06, 2011 4:53 pm

s

We will have to visit this area at some time g Sound wonderful.

Oddy s

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PostSubject: Re: Plovdiv, Bulgaria: not a tip-up truck but a treasure   Fri Oct 05, 2012 9:21 am

[size=55:a8h7ywwb]The National

This article is aimed at those living in Turkey.

My kind of place: compact and old-world charms of Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Why Plovdiv?

Bulgaria's second city, Plovdiv has a sophistication outsiders might not readily associate with the Balkans. Settled by Thracian tribes some 7,000 years ago, Plovdiv has a tremendous range of historical remnants, arts, culture and night-life for such a relatively small place.

The mishmash of cultures attesting to its rich past include a grand Ottoman mosque adjoining a subterranean Roman stadium, with smart shopping, relaxed café's art galleries and historic churches all within a few minutes' walk.

Plovdiv is a hassle-free destination because it is easily explored on foot. Its network of central pedestrian streets and squares are ever-expanding, while the cobblestone lanes and traditional, restored homes of the elevated Old Town add to this subtle refinement.

A quirk of history perhaps "
saved"
Plovdiv. After the Russian-Turkish War of 1877, much of Bulgaria was liberated but southern areas, including Plovdiv, were returned to the Ottomans. Although Bulgaria would recover these lands, the capital had already been chosen: Sofia. While that city grew haphazardly, Plovdiv was relatively untouched, free to maintain its old-world charms and likeable character.

Plovdiv also makes a great base for a spa break in any one of the hotels that make use of the rejuvenating mineral waters of the forested Rodopi Mountains to the south, or for touring the Valley of Roses to the north - a place where Thracian antiquities have been found and one of the world's most important producers of rose oil.

A comfortable bed

Plovdiv's boutique accommodation scene includes the Hotel Renaissance ([You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
00 359 32 266 966). A double room costs from 135 Bulgarian leva (Dh327) per night, including taxes. On the Old Town's southern edge, it is a two-minute walk from the shopping streets and has cosy rooms recreating 19th-century Bulgarian National Revival décor, with painted floral motifs and period furniture - plus an Arabic-language property document from 1878. Business travellers seeking the usual amenities and an indoor pool should head to north-side Novotel ([You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
00 359 32 934 444;
from 144 leva [Dh349).

Find your feet

Stroll the shop-lined pedestrian mall, Knyaz Aleksandar, which is lined with local and international designer clothing brands, as well as handcrafted jewellery.

Continue down to take in the sights of the Roman stadium and Dzhumaya Mosque. Built in the 15th century, the latter is one of the Balkans' biggest and oldest.

The Roman stadium has been increasingly restored, with its semicircular marble rows accessible through underground passages.

In the Old Town, on Ulitsa Saborna, an eclectic blend of attractions emerge, including art galleries, café's, a Roman amphitheatre, Orthodox churches and the 7,000-year-old remains of the Thracian fortifications, Nebet Tepe, offering striking views. Wear sturdy shoes - the Old Town's steep cobblestone streets can be uneven.

Meet the locals

Bulgarians are kind and will go out of their way to help lost tourists. In the warmer months, everyone is out on the pedestrian mall to eat, drink, and see and be seen. Cultural events during the summer include open-air concerts at the Roman Amphitheatre, such as the Verdi Festival of Opera each June. You'll rub shoulders with many local art lovers near the end of September, when the Night of the Galleries offers free admission and late opening at all art galleries.

Book a table

Plovdiv cuisine combines the Balkan tradition of skara (grilled meats) and Turkish-influenced specialities such as meatball (kofte) soup, borek (a kind of flaky cheese pie), savoury aubergine dishes, and desserts such as sweet cherry preserves and baklava. A meal for two at a decent restaurant will cost about 80 leva (Dh194) but you can spend as little as a few leva on borek or doner kebap.

The scattered Old Town eateries offer good ambience, while the central pedestrian area is buzzing with quick eats, coffees and desserts, such as at the time-honoured Café Dreams on Stambolov Ploshtad (Square).

The garden restaurant of the upscale Hebros Hotel (K Stoilov 51) is more pricey, but known for its fusion of Bulgarian cuisine with international flavours. Try grilled foie gras with sliced apple (29 leva) followed by traditional homemade meat balls (kebabche) in tomato with pickled cucumbers (19 leva)

Shopper's paradise

Every big city offers name-brand designer goods. In Plovdiv, shop instead for the city's unique artworks. Since an arts community developed in the 1960s, Plovdiv artists have produced acclaimed works unparalleled in the region. Works are for sale at most galleries.

The Philipopolis Art Gallery (Saborna 29) houses works by early masters such as Vladimir Dimitrov. The nearby Zlatyu Boyadjiev House (Saborna 18) also exhibits paintings by this great 20th-century artist, while Atanas Krastev House (Dr Chomakov 5a) exhibits the work of Krastev and hosts special events.

Definitely visit the Permanent Exhibition of Dimitar Kirov (Kiril Nektariev 17), housed in an ornate mansion towards the Old Town's southern side. It features the extraordinarily vivid abstracts, portraits and mosaics of the legendary Kirov, who died in 2008. These works will only appreciate in value and represent great shopping opportunities for savvy travellers.

What to avoid

Plovdiv is very safe and you're unlikely to run into trouble, though beggars can be a minor nuisance.

Don't miss

About 30km south of Plovdiv, Bachkovo monastery is Bulgaria's second-largest, with 11th-century Byzantine origins. Its Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa (1604) houses frescoes by the 19th-century Zahari Zograf (considered Bulgaria's greatest iconographer). A large placard here outlines hiking routes in the forests.

Go there

Turkish Airlines ([You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]) flies to Sofia from Abu Dhabi via Istanbul in seven hours from €370 return, including taxes. Plovdiv is on the Sofia-Istanbul railway line and there are frequent trains from Sofia, as well as buses. A taxi from Sofia station costs about 200 leva

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