Today we left Rila monastery and drove east, through to the city of Plovdiv, a nice sized city with a big university and lot's of Roman ruins. On the way we stopped at a winery in the Bessa Valley for a wine tasting, which everyone enjoyed. The Bulgarian wine is not as good as what I had in Portugal, but still pretty good and very affordable. They have been producing wine here since the times of the ancient Greeks, but modern production is relatively small. It's growing, and some Bulgarian wine is exported to Britain and other parts of Europe, but most is for local consumption.
The hotel we stayed at in Plovdiv was big, blocky, communist era hotel, but had been remodeled and was quite nice. It had 2 swimming pools, one of which was an indoor pool decorated with roman artifacts, and nice, huge outdoor pool. We had a morning walking tour and then the afternoon free. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny and I was looking forward to an afternoon swim after the walk, but Lyuba asked me to go to lunch with her, which ended up taking quite a bit of time. She seems to know everyone, and we stopped at several spots along the way to visit with people she knew, so I didn't get back to the hotel until after 5:00; just enough time for a quick swim before going to dinner with the group.
Plovdiv is a very pleasant city, with a big pedestrian street lined with art nouveau buildings, cafes and restaurants. Like other parts of Bulgaria, you get a feeling they don't see many Americans here, as people will often stop and look at us. Since Plovidiv is a university town, there are a lot of students who speak English, so young people would come up to us saying hi and looking for an opportunity to practice their English. They really seem to like Americans a lot in Bulgaria, Lyuba said that it's partly because the U.S. was the only country to give them aid in the early 90's when they were really struggling.