May 4th to May 10th 2005
Two weeks ago, I went to Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria. I was invited to give lectures at the University of Plovdiv.
When I arrived at the Sofia airport, I was not too surprised as to how small and run down it was, but it really looked like a throwback to the Communist times. I took a taxi from there to the bus station (8 Leva or about $3.75) and then the bus to Plovdiv (2 hour ride). I am used to the travels between airports and city centers being less than attractive. Coming from the Budapest airport to the city is not a good impression either. However, I thought that as the bus made its way through the city to leave, I would see some sights of note. All that I saw were old run down buildings in block style without any decoration to distinguish them from one another. Everything looked drab to me. The few statues I noticed looked like the Communist statues that Budapest has since relegated to Statue Park.
Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria was not much different. There were little oasis patches of interest, though. There is one area that they uncovered an ancient Roman amphitheater in tact. One of the Bulgarian professors told me when she was a girl, it was just a hill. Now this entire section of the city is restricted digging. No matter where they dig, they find Roman treasures or ruins. There were some interesting restored buildings in this area, but few.
All of the restaurants I was brought to were amazingly attractive once off of the street, but you would never know from the outside or the neighborhoods. I was also taken to the second largest monastery in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, I did not write down the name. It was lovely and very interesting, but very small compared to others I have seen. Lining the road up to the monastery entrance were stalls selling pottery, jams, jellies, and honey. I bought a beautiful 4 gallon sized dutch oven type pot, a large platter, and four bowls all hand painted with a gorgeous design for $16.00. A cooking lesson was included. The dutch oven has been used at least 6 times since returning and it was a great investment.
I had to return to Sofia for two days for a conference and although I was cloistered at a university, the bit of city that I saw around my hotel in the center, was nothing to cheer about. The university was fantastic and well equipped, which was an anomaly. It also has a wonderful restaurant on the campus, since there was nothing else within walking distance.
I had to take taxis everywhere when I was not traveling from city to city with the exception of the monastery, where I was toured by a professor. Taxis are cheap. Trips ranged from 75 cents to $2.00.
My hotel in Plovdiv (Saint Petersburg, formerly the Lenin) was newly remodeled and was far above the 3 star rating it held. My room was huge with a sofa, tables and chairs. They have a huge water ‘playground’ outside, though the pools were not filled yet. Breakfast was a tremendous buffet each morning. The staff was fantastic and accommodating. My hotel in Sofia was less pleasant, but clean.
I have since talked to others who have been in Bulgaria. I heard of one person who was a Fulbrighter who spent a year in Sofia and loved it. Many others thought it was drab and depressing. I understand there are other parts of Bulgaria that are magnificent. At this point, I am only interested in returning for professional reasons or to buy more pottery. : )