Hisar Kapia gate, Plovdiv old town by boxplayer

Hisar Kapia gate, Plovdiv old town

One of the many scenic spots in the old town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

So having set off from Istanbul on the Istanbul-Sofia Express, I dozed very lightly, knowing we were going to be awoken before too long at Turkish border control. But Dave slept relatively deeply, now having a heavy cold.

The train chugged rattlingly for a while but soon settled down to a smooth fast speed.
As expected, we were woken at Kapikule for Turkish border control passport checks.
Rather callously, not only did we have to get off the train, but we had to go under a bleak tunnel onto the next platform and queue for the control box to open. Eventually it did and the officers made relatively short shrift of stamping everyone's passports though they did give the Taiwanese woman next to us a bit of grief.

So wasn't long before we were back in but didn't really sleep much and I kept needing to go to the nasty loo every half hour or so.
The train moved on but stopped barely 20 mins later over the border in Svilengrad. Where we then stayed for what must have been about 2 hours.

So including that first knock for Turkish passport control, we were knocked up a total of 5 times. After border control, a Turkish officer boarded the train checking we'd got off the train and got our stamps, then a Bulgarian officer knocked and visually checked our passports. Then a further check where they took our passports away then had to bring then back again 45 minutes later.

Only after this did the train set off again seemingly a good 1.5 to 2 hours late. So we set the alarm for 7. Then I eventually fell asleep. Woke up at 5 to 7 and checking my phone found we were just outside Plovdiv.

We had barely 10 mins to throw our clothes on, use the filthy loos, pack our stuff in bags and get off the train. Was just getting light as we left the train and struggled down and up through the underpass. Crossed a big main road then found a chemist we could get Lemsip for Dave.

Ambled through very quiet streets - all grandeur of the very faded sort - towards the centre of town. Found one open cafe but decided to go on. Eventually the quiet street opened out onto a big square with a huge art deco-ish building and fountains and then a pedestrianised street with brand name stores.

However it quietened down again as we left the shops and curved uphill towards the road where our hotel was - lots of uneven cobbles, very common in Plovdiv we found.

We found our smart-looking hotel - but it looked very closed - I knew that reception opened about 9 and it was barely 8. We sat on a bench to wait, but a woman eventually came out and let us check in though our rooms weren't ready.

Left our luggage there and went downstairs to the restaurant so I could charge my phone and the woman kindly brought us drinks. Then as we were still there half an hour later a selection of breakfast items, including traditional Bulgarian cheesy rolls and a cheese and meat platter. We tactfully left the meat.

After my phone had charged (though it was still not letting me buy more data), we walked past the mosque to the main square with the impressive Roman stadium remains and into the tourist info office where we spoke to a rather sullen woman. The free sightseeing tour we'd hoped to go on was only at 2 but she recommended instead the audio tour which we decided to take.

Not bad - 25 lev for a 3-hour self-guided walk with 25 stops, 2 headphones so we could share plus a free ticket to some basilica or other. We ended up doing it in 2 stages - 12 stops from 10 till lunchtime and 12 stops from 5.30 till dinner time.

The Roman stadium was very impressive just plonked in the middle of the town centre with cats roaming the marble steps and seats. We were happy to see that Plovdiv has as many stray but well looked after cats as had Instanbul.

Up the hill past our hotel, we came to the Church of the Holy Mother of God - a typical Orthodox church where a baptism was going on as we entered. On past the Roman theatre, which we intended to visit properly tomorrow, and into the old town proper. All sloping winding lanes with huge uneven cobbles and lovely painted houses with overhanging second storeys including the interesting Lamartine House, once visited by the famous French writer.

We were quite high up so got views of the city. Found a huge Academy of Music Dance and Fine Arts next to the theatre and charmingly we could hear music coming from it. And further into the old town another branch of the academy where someone was practising bagpipes.

As we descended one of the endless cobbled streets, we came across a peaceful courtyard which used to be a Muslim dervish monastery but seemed to now be an odd restaurant, very classy looking but with nobody there whenever we passed it.

At the bottom of the hill here, more interesting old buildings including an old pharmacy and as we came out onto a square, plenty of Bulgarian souvenir and craft shops also.

At the fine Orthodox church of St Constantine and Helena, we got nobbled by the 'gardener' (never convinced he was actually) who kept interrupting our audio commentary to tell us stuff and show us interesting things. Thought we'd have to tip him even before he gave us his sob story so we gave him 5 lev.

Decided to break for lunch so wandered into Kapan where there were lots of potentially interesting eateries, but we settled on Veggic, a vegan cafe and sat outside. Had a vegan burger and Dave had a seitan casserole thing.

Cats and kittens were roaming around here too but they spurned our vegan food oddly enough. Entertainingly the dog opposite kept trying to chase them and nearly pulled the table he was tethered too off as he tried to get to them.

Went back to the hotel to check in properly, and got taken to the first floor to a huge airy room, with a massive bed and shower room. Good view over the city, and a nice ambient temperature with windows that opened. Slept for 2 hours before going out for the second half of the audio tour, gradually losing the light.

Back to the old town. Right in the middle was the gossip room - where the who weren't allowed to wander around freely could look out and get all the gossip. Took a quick peek through the grille at the Ethnographic Museum housed in a fine painted wooden house then made our way up the hill to the Nebet Tepe viewpoint. Here lovely views to the surrounding hills and mountains as well as the city. A bit scruffy and unkempt with rubble and what looked like relatively ancient remains just strewn around.

Walked through the Hisar Kapia gate, an atmospheric arch surrounded by more picturesque painted houses and walked down out of the old town to a busy road. At the corner were more Roman remains, the east gate apparently.

The route then went through a very scruffy run-down street with the locals hanging about outside - we wandered if it was possibly refugee housing. At the end of the road we were supposed to pass the Small Basilica but we missed it as we tried to negotiate the housing estates.

A building site we came to turned out to be the Bishop's Basilica currently under renovation but looks promising and an impressive Catholic Church with a statue of Pope John Paul outside.

Ended up with more Roman stuff: a Roman pavement in an underpass under a huge road and the huge Roman forum. Walking back through the pedestrian area, we found Hemingways down a side street. It looked interesting with lots of room. But turned out the only tables for 2 were outside or upstairs in the very hot gallery. So we went upstairs.

It was indeed rather too hot. Had a Bulgarian merlot half bottle. Then a Bulgarian tomato salad with smoky aubergine and creamy stuff, fish tapas for Dave (which should have been the tuna tartare), and crispy trout fillets with mash (mash a bit tepid).The waiters seemed a touch unengaged.

Walked back to the hotel after to pass out.

Cats in Plovdiv old town https://365project.org/boxplayer/extras/2019-10-07

7 October 2019
Plovdiv, Bulgaria
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