Following our tradition of trying to visit the World Rowing Championships every year, 2018 found us in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. After spending a total of six years living in Europe we've visited most European countries, but Bulgaria was not one of them. So with some excitement we left the kids with the grandparents and embarked on a basically a long weekend in Bulgaria. One heck of a commute from the States...
We ended up with three full days in country. We spent our first day in the capital, Sofia, before venturing to Plovdiv for the rowing championships. The rowing events take place over an entire week, and we typically just go for the finals that are held on Saturday and Sunday. This year was no different. The rowing course was excellent, but the spectator facilities, parking and signage were a bit lacking compared to previous events.
All in all we're glad we went, and we hope you enjoy our photo journal from the trip.
Click Here for all of the high resolution photos from the trip.
After finding a place to park our car, we had a nice walk around the central part of Sofia. Our first stop was one of the main squares where they've excavated sections of the ancient city of Serdica. Serdica served as the seat of power for Constantine the Great until he moved his headquarters to the Bosporus - renaming the city there Constantinople.
In the pictures above are the Party House and excavations from ancient Serdica.
The main purpose of the square is a subway station. But also around the Serdica square is a statue to the city's patron Saint Sofia and the Church of St Petka of the Saddlers.
Just up from Serdica Square is the Palace of Justice (left) and the Saint Nedelya Cathedral (right). What's interesting about the cathedral is that it was blown up in 1925 by the Communists in an attempt to kill the king. The current church was rebuilt between 1927 and 1933.
The Rotunda of Saint George dates back to the 4th century (during the time of the emperors Galerius and Constantine the Great), and is the best preserved structure from the ancient period in the city.
On our way to a short coffee break, we strolled past the President's Palace (left photo). We missed the changing of the guard. Then after coffee we strolled through the large Sofia City Garden park.
Churches are everywhere, and generally, photography is prohibited inside. On our way to the city's most famous church we briefly stopped by the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker. The Russian Orthodox church also has the remains of Saint Archbishop Seraphim in it's crypt. Again, no photos.
On the city's prominent hill sits Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. The Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral is the primary tourist attraction in the city. The huge cathedral covers 34,100 sq ft and was completed in 1912. I paid the fee to take photos in this cathedral, but I didn't have the right lens so none of them really turned out well. You can see them in the full resolution gallery here. In the crypt is a cool icon museum.
Across the road from the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral is the Church of Saint Sofia. Aside from the lions adorning the grounds, there is a very interesting excavation underneath the church that you can tour (fee for taking pics). Pieces from the archeological dig date bag to 4th century Serdica. The current structure is believed to be the fifth on the site and was completed during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the middle of the 6th century (527-565).
We walked around a bit more, had a good lunch at Rolling Dogs, before heading down the main pedestrian shopping street - Vitosha Boulevard. After a full day in Sofia, we hopped back in our car and drove to Plovdiv for the night.
Your mom loves a big weiner!
We stayed at the Family Hotel at Renaissance Square, which was a lovely place run by a lovely family. Very nice, centrally located next to the old town and reasonably priced.
The word is out that Plovdiv is a cool town. It was named European Capital of Culture for 2019.
Plovdiv, like Sofia, is built on an ancient Roman city - Philippopolis. The centerpiece of the Roman history is a spectacularly preserved amphitheater that's still in use today.
There are two main parts of the city center - the ancient/old section and the more modern pedestrian/shopping street.
The main pedestrian street, Kapitan Raycho Street, is full of modern shops, gelato cafes and restaurants. It stretches a couple kilometers from the Maritsa River to the central post office. Running under most of the street is the huge Stadium of Philippopolis. Only portions of it can be seen, but archeologists believe it's mostly intact since whenever they do excavate, well preserved portions are found.
At the end of the pedestrian street and near the post office was a wonderful street food fair. We ate there two of the three nights. The BBQ was legit. The last night in town we ate at Smokini, which was also wonderful though you need reservations.
On our second day in Plovdiv we walked around the old historical part of town. This part of town has numerous private museums with each delving into different topics. The Ethnographic Museum (right) is highly recommended. Each museum is in a private house with admission charges. It was hot and we were tired so we mostly just strolled through the cobbled streets looking at the beautiful architecture.
Plovdiv is nestled amongst a number of hills, and the old town is built on top of one of them. At the highest point is the old Nebet Tepe fortress ruins where you can get a nice overview of the city. Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
Weddings appear to be big business in Bulgaria. Everywhere we went there were couples with photographers in tow snapping pictures. This was one of the more tame groups we saw.
We took a little side trip one day up into the mountains near Plovdiv. Our first stop was to Assen's Fortress. It was a bit warm outside so that means we must climb a bunch of stairs. The view was worth it.
The fortress itself is mostly in ruins, but the Church of the Holy Mother of God is largely intact and restored. The complex was built to protect the entry/exit to this part of the mountain valley.
The ultimate destination for our drive up the mountain alley was the Bachkovo Monastery. The Eastern Orthodox monastery was established in 1083 and after some lootings and re-buildings, the current complex dates from the 15th century.
The Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary dominates the courtyard as you enter. No pictures inside the beautiful cathedral, but the dedication candles were located outside.
Through the wooden passageway was another large courtyard that contained the Church of the Archangels.
Top tip: the GPS takes you right into the street vendor melee. Go one street further before turning left and you enter the parking lot directly and avoid the tight vendor area.
The vendor section was about half a kilometer and dense. In case you were worried, Erynn bought some pottery.
We had pretty good seats in the grandstand.
The facilities were quite good though had seen a bit of wear and tear. All in all the experience was quite good and we'd go back if there ever was an event held in Plovdiv again. And next time we'd know where to park.
What also made the event nice was the US squad did quite well. The highlight was the US Women's 8+ taking their rightful place back atop the podium!
And right beneath our seats was the BBC broadcasting area. At one point 14 Olympic medals were standing there between Mathew Pinsent, Kath Grainger and Steve Redgrave. Not too shabby!
© 2018 Doug Rathburn