Bulgaria day eight
04.06.2019 - 04.07.2019
Last few hours in Plovdiv
Monument of Unification
Today a group of us would be heading back to Sofia, on the first leg of the journey home. I found time after breakfast for a short stroll along the road from the hotel to the Monument of Unification. This commemorates the Unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia in 1885. This event is one of the most important in Bulgaria’s history. After the Russo-Turkish war for the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, the Berlin Peace Treaty of 1878 divided the country into two independent parts. The northern half of the present-day territory was called the Principality of Bulgaria, with its capital in Sofia, while the southern was Eastern Rumelia, with its capital in Plovdiv.
Monument of Unification
The Monument of Unification depicts the Motherland with the laurel wreath of victory in her hands. The wings in flight symbolize the two united parts of Bulgaria. This square, Saedinenie, is the focus for Plovdiv’s celebrations marking unification on 6 September each year.
Monument of Unification in Saedinenie, from the rear and the side
I had no time to visit the nearby Archaeological Museum to see if it had any interesting finds from the Thracian tombs we had seen yesterday – I have since ascertained that it does, so that’s something else to go back to Plovdiv for! I did spot some old stones with inscriptions which were displayed outside the museum, but unfortunately not labelled (not even in Bulgarian) so I have no idea what they are, although the inscriptions looked to me as if they might be in Greek rather than Bulgarian.
Outside the Archaeological Museum
I took a few photos on the way back to the hotel, in and around the small market where locals were selling fruit and vegetables, herbs and flower bouquets.
On the streets of Plovdiv
In the market
The market building
Travelling back to Sofia
We all checked out and got taxis to the station, allowing plenty of time as we knew from our experiences in Sofia that purchasing our tickets might not be straightforward. It wasn’t, as we had to try several ticket windows before finding someone happy to serve us (interestingly this was a woman who had completely ignored me on my first attempt at her window!)
Tickets bought (again, so cheap - only 10.10 leva or less than £5), we used the remaining time to buy refreshments for the journey and take a few photos around the station.
Station clock, and fellow passenger, Plovdiv Station
Our train came in just a couple of minutes late. A very friendly and helpful young man assisted several of us with the steep steps up to the carriage (easy enough unencumbered but a challenge with suitcases!) and we settled into our compartments. I travelled with Co and Ali, while the rest were in the next compartment.
The ride passed quite quickly and uneventfully. I didn’t take so many photos as on the journey out - partly because I had plenty from that previous journey and partly because the weather was quite overcast.
Vakarel railway station, between Plovdiv and Sofia
We arrived in Sofia only a few minutes late and negotiated a reasonable price with a taxi driver - he tried to persuade us to pay 10 euros but was quite easily persuaded to accept 10 leva which, while probably dearer than it should have been, wasn’t too bad between three of us.
Kirsty, Yvonne and I checked into our hotel, Central Point, near the Central Market and the mosque, while the others went back to the COOP. I had chosen this alternative as it seemed good value and would offer an opportunity to stay in a different part of the city. We were welcomed by the young receptionist who was friendly but bizarrely slightly phased at the idea of having to check in three people with separate reservations for separate rooms!
Lobby of the Hotel Central Point
Once in my room I found it to be quite compact but with a large bed. It seemed very fresh and clean in appearance, although I could have done without the faint smell of cigarette smoke lingering in the air (despite this being a non-smoking room). The wet-room bathroom was more stylish than functional, and I was to realise later that it really lived up to its name, as water bubbled up from time to time through the drainage hole, making the floor wet even when I hadn’t recently showered! Other minor inconveniences included not being able to switch any of the lights off from the bed, so I had to do so at the wall switch at bedtime, before making my way across the last couple of feet in the dark!
We didn’t linger long in the hotel but went out for a walk around the neighbourhood. Tucked just north of Tolerance Square and behind the Central Market, it seemed very much a local area, not very touristy.
Near the hotel we passed the Roman Catholic cathedral of St Joseph which, along with the nearby mosque, synagogue and several orthodox churches, gives Tolerance Square its name. At first glance I thought it stood in the middle of a building site, but closer inspection revealed that the stones in front of the cathedral were more of Sofia’s Roman remains. The cathedral meanwhile is very new, having been inaugurated on 21 May 2006. It was built to replace an earlier one on the same site which was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII.
St Joseph's RC Cathedral
I found this a good area for some street photography, and no one seemed to be bothered, if indeed they even noticed what I was doing!
Key-cutting service, and an interestingly named shop!
We passed the synagogue but decided not to go inside - a decision we later regretted when we heard about the fascinating visit our friends Colin and Josephine had made and saw their photos. According to Wikipedia this is the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe and the third-largest in Europe. It is one of only two functioning in Bulgaria (the other being in Plovdiv, near where we had stayed at the Hotel Ego). It houses the biggest chandelier in the Balkans, which is rumoured to have been made with gold from Ancient Palestine. As I have no photos of the interior you might like to check out those on the synagogue’s website.
Banya Bashi Mosque
We did however visit the Banya Bashi Mosque, which I had passed when out exploring some days ago but not gone in. It is free to enter, and non-Muslims are welcome if they remove shoes, dress respectfully and (in the case of women) cover their heads. Yvonne and I had gone prepared but in any case there was a basket of scarves by the door for those who needed them.
As we had learned on our city walking tour some days ago, this is the only remaining active mosque of the 70 that were once functioning here in Sofia. It was built in 1576, by the Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan, who also built the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The name means ‘a lot of baths’ and comes from the neighbouring Central Baths – ‘Banya’ is the Bulgarian for bath.
In Banya Bashi Mosque
The interior is light and has some pretty frescoes and delicately coloured stained glass windows, although it of course doesn’t have the bling and impact of the huge mosques we visited in Oman earlier in the year. The dome has a diameter of 15 metres, and this is the only remaining example in Bulgaria of a domed roof on a cubic base, a classic Islamic architectural motif.
The dome of Banya Bashi Mosque
After leaving the mosque we crossed the road to the central market which Yvonne hadn’t had the chance to visit when we were all in Sofia before the weekend in Plovdiv. She and Kirsty wanted to browse the second-hand shop in the basement, but I preferred to stay upstairs taking a few more photos, and a short video of a shop display that rather amused me in its incongruous juxtaposition of items for sale.
In Sofia Central Market
We then walked along a pedestrianised shopping street, Pirotska, providing me with more street photography opportunities.
Street scenes in Sofia
Most of the shops, and shoppers, reflected the less touristy nature of this area, but there was plenty to tempt us in some windows at least. We checked out several shops during our stroll, and had all three made at least one purchase by the time we returned to the hotel! My own choice of souvenir was a pretty bracelet from a shop very near our hotel which, although a little dearer than I had planned to spend, was very good value when compared to prices at home.
Before going back to the hotel we stopped for a beer at a table outside the Einstein restaurant, and found the eponymous gentleman sitting at a desk on the lower floor to welcome us when we went inside to make use of the loos!
Einstein in his restaurant in Sofia!
On the way back to the hotel I spotted some eye-catching street art in a small car park.
Car park street art
When we got back I sorted my photos, rearranged my suitcase ready for tomorrow’s journey home, and admired my purchase!
Final evening in Bulgaria – for now
In the evening we went to a pub in a neighbourhood to the south of the city centre where a VT member who lives in Sofia, Christina, had made reservations for a final get-together.
We sat outside under some lovely old trees, thankful that, although it was cooler than it had been, it was dry, as rain had been forecast.
Yvonne at the Thirsty Dragon
I was a little disappointed that, possibly due to communication challenges (that is, my own almost total lack of Bulgarian!), my trout which I had been assured by the waiter would be ‘filleted’ was full of bones. But the beer was good, the setting pretty and the company excellent, and it was great to be able to drag the VT meeting out for these final few hours.
VT group at the Thirsty Dragon
With Josephine and Co
After dinner more goodbyes were said, the worst part of these meetings, but also many ‘See you next year in Newcastle’s! Kirsty, Yvonne and I took a taxi back to our hotel and I attempted a few night photos before going to bed.
I had really enjoyed my time in Plovdiv, which everyone had rightly told me I would love, and also in Sofia, which many people had told me wrongly would have much less to offer. I have a feeling I will be back in Bulgaria one day! Meanwhile, there were still a few more hours to be squeezed out of the trip tomorrow morning as our flight wasn’t until early afternoon.