Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Romania & Bulgaria has to say about Plovdiv:
With an easy grace, Plovdiv mingles invigorating nightlife among millennia-old ruins. Like Rome, Plovdiv straddles seven hills; but as Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city, it’s far more ancient. It is best loved for its romantic old town, packed with colourful and creaky 19th-century mansions that are now house-museums, galleries and guesthouses.
But cobblestoned lanes and National Revival–era nostalgia are only part of the story. Bulgaria’s cosmopolitan second city has always been hot on the heels of Sofia, and a stint as European Capital of Culture 2019 seems sure to give Plovdiv the edge.
Music and art festivals draw increasing crowds, while renovations in the Kapana artistic quarter and Tsar Simeon Gardens have given the city new confidence. Once an amiable way station between Bulgaria and Greece or Turkey, the city has flowered into a destination in its own right, and one that should be firmly stamped on any itinerary through central Bulgaria.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
By reading other traveller’s comments on the Internet, Anil decided that it was worthwhile to travel in a First Class compartment for our journey to Plovdiv, just a two and half hour trip. The fare was only $40 for two return tickets and it meant that we would be seated in a six-person compartment with a door to the aisle as opposed to an open carriage with three seats on either side of the central aisle.
We had made a reconnaissance visit to the train station to make sure we could find it easily on our day of travel, and we purchased our tickets in advance. We had read that the coaches were comfortable despite the fact that they looked pretty decrepit on the outside. Graffiti is a real scourge here in Sofia, and the railcars are clearly an easy target.
Apparently Sofia has had a metro system for at least twenty years, but the lines and the stations have been updated fairly recently and they are modern and fairly easy to use. There are two main lines that intersect below the heart of the city and then head off to the outer suburbs. One line passes near the Central Railway Station and the other travels all the way to the airport. This makes great sense for both locals and foreign visitors. Near the end of our trip, we found out that a third line is currently under construction.
We arrived a half hour early and took advantage of the extra time to grab something to eat after we learned that there are no food services on the train. When we walked out onto the platform we were surprised to see only three cars on Platform 1, and no engine in sight. We found an empty compartment and claimed our seats, but when our departure time arrived there was still no engine to carry us to Plovdiv.
Ten minutes later, an engine slowly chugged into position, we felt some jolts while it was attached to the waiting carriages, and then with a signal from the conductor, we were on our way. As is usually the case, we rolled past some of the worst scenery Sofia has to offer. Land backing on to rail lines is usually some of the least valuable land available, and such was the case here.
We passed by kilometers of vacant and moldering former factories and warehouses until at last we were out of the city and into the countryside. If one is looking for beautiful scenery, this is not the time of year to travel in Bulgaria, or elsewhere in Eastern Europe for that matter. The crops have all been harvested, the leaves are mostly fallen from the trees and only the occasional evergreen tree gives signs of life to the landscape.
For those reasons, I wasn’t inclined to take any photos out the windows, despite the fact that I could actually open a transom window to take photos without having to worry about glare on the glass, or dirty windows to spoil my view. Instead, I kicked off my shoes and put my stocking-feet up on the seat opposite, and tried to take a wee nap.
At one of the suburban stations, two passengers joined us in our compartment, a middle-aged woman and a young man, each travelling alone. All was quiet for some time, and then they started to converse in Bulgarian. After some time, Anil and I spoke to each other briefly, and when the young man had then discerned that we spoke English, he struck up a conversation with me.
Time passed quickly for the balance of the journey and before we knew it, we were on the outskirts of Plovdiv. The train left about fifteen minutes late, but had made up the time by speeding along on the straight stretches, and we arrived exactly on time. The young man was travelling to a city an hour further down the line so we wished him well, and said our goodbyes.
All was quiet in Plovdiv station, but as soon as we exited out onto the main street in front, we realized that we had arrived during the height of rush hour. We had previously decided that the half-hour walk to our AirBnB apartment would be a good chance to stretch out legs after the train trip. We had arranged to leave our large suitcases with the owner of our AirBnB apartment in Sofia, so we were only travelling with our carry-on rolling cases and our daypacks.
We never like to hire taxis from train stations because they all seen to be notorious for ripping off unsuspecting travellers. There was little to no information about local transit buses in our guidebook, so we carried on by foot. We actually love to walk in new cities, all the better to get the lay of the land, but the sidewalks were in such poor condition that it became a bit of an ordeal. To our surprise, the buses speeding by us on the main thoroughfare were all modern and comfortable-looking. We both felt that we would have to make an effort to learn how to use them, something we’ve managed to do almost everywhere else we’ve travelled in the world.
We were more that delighted with the AirBnB apartment we’d chosen for our six-night stay in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s ‘second-city’. We’d made the decision to come here when we’d read that Plovdiv had been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2019. I can only imagine how busy the city will be next summer, this is a great time to visit before the world comes to explore its charms.