Plovdiv: almost mugged!

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Well, that's it. I've started the final section of my diary for this trip entitled 'Europe' which will see me back across the Med to my final destination - the UK. Outside it's pouring rain and I'm back in a land of Cyrillics again - this time Bulgaria - already a world away from the aridity of the Middle East.

I must admit that it has been good to get out of Turkey - it's an expensive place these days (on par with Australia basically) and I must admit I'm enjoying decent beer, coffee and cheese now that I've crossed the border. On the downside, I'm quite sure I was almost mugged on my first day here! Glad I had my wits about me though or I could be black and blue right now. More on that later.

Plovdiv is a major city in Bulgaria on the road from Istanbul to Sofia, its capital. Hilly, leafy and most certainly Communist bloc, it didn't greatly impress me until I found the Old Town and hobbled up one of the gnarliest cobbled streets I've ever seen. Sure I've visited other Old Towns on this trip but this is one of the most ornate, whilst definitely being the most dilapidated. That is not a bad thing, it's a place of great culture and inherent beauty unfortunately left to seed after an era that showed no love for such heritage either.

They call the architecture here 'Revivalist-era' and it dates from the mid 19th century. It's certainly unusual and highly decorative, with various designs painted directly on white, brown, blue or orange outer walls. Wavy gables, protruding turrets, curved bay windows, wooden shutters and a general overhang complete the unique picture.

In the old town a decrepit air hangs in the streets, intensified by decaying buildings, rutted cobblestones, overgrowing foliage and most interestingly, some very austere street murals adorning the sheer side walls of some larger buildings. These are painted in a traditional style made famous by Zahary Zograf (mid 19C) and sometimes feature saints and angels, whilst others depict gory scenes of punishment and torture in the underworld. Probably fair enough considering that this part of the world has had a torrid past.

Within a couple of hours you can see most of the architectural aspects that Plovdiv has to offer and it's time for a beer in the pleasant beer garden above town. Wow - food and beverage is cheap here, a big plus for the backpacker all round!

Wandering down the main street from the old town takes you to the central pedestrian shopping area and newer parts of Plovdiv. There are a variety of Roman ruins about - the best here (and in the country) being the Theatre, but they aren't great so don't come just for them. More interesting is the street art and sculpture around the place if you keep an eye out.

After a walk through a very nice and well utilised park (loved the big bear below), I headed for the hill with the large Monument to the Soviet Army on its peak. That's the one at the extreme right in the first picture. It's quite a steep, rocky and well vegetated hill so when I noticed a couple of dodgy characters hanging about on one of the paths at its base I fortunately made a mental note of it. A minute or so later, about to turn one of the hairpin turns leading to higher ground, I checked behind and yep, one of them was following me. Yikes!

Pressing on as there was other people coming down the hill, I noticed his comrade emerge from a small staircase to my right and staring intently, definitely sizing me up. Continuing on the pedestrians were thinning but the thick bush was not and realising that they could jump me at any minute, drag me into the scrub and help themselves to the camera, excess cash I'd just withdrawn and anything else they were keen on, I decided it was best to retreat before I led them to the top of the hill and left myself with no avenue of escape.

So I turned around, walking quickly back past them and taking the fast route by the stairs down to the safety of street level. Before ducking down the staircase I turned to see them exchange a quick word and then start back down the hill - their quarry gone so further ascent pointless. That was the last I saw of them fortunately, ducking into a bomb shelter restaurant I'd been thinking of having dinner at later on. I don't exactly know whether they would have mugged me in the end but they looked pretty shady so I'm glad I didn't stick around to find out.

More wary now but not about to let the incident tarnish my Bulgarian visit, I headed on the next day for a fresh start. Just one of those things that is more likely to happen if you are travelling alone, that you have to be aware of and avoid where possible. I've probably become a little complacent in the security department so am glad for the wake-up call.

Still, Plovdiv was interesting and very different and I hope the rest of my time here is proves to be likewise.

Next entry -> the early capital at Valiko Tarnovo

Now that's value!

I was toying with the idea of doing an index of cheapest beers in the countries I've visited to develop and crude indicator of travel costs around the traps. Unfortunately I've forgotten the prices of half of them so that is no longer possible, but I have found the best value beer of anywhere I've been - without a doubt.

Can't pronounce the name but at 2 leva ($1 Euro) for 2.5 litres of beer we definitely have a winner. Doesn't taste bad either. That combination means the country probably has a serious drinking problem as well - I shall ask around.
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Neo on

I agree with the previous comment. I am from Bulgaria but have been living in the USA for the past 9 years. I must point out that drinking in Bulgaria and East Europe is more of a cultural thing and people sit down and drink slow all night long while enjoying live music, dancing, etc. On the other hand, drinking in America is all about getting plastered within 30 min. There is almost no social life besides guys trying to hit or grind on girls.

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