Sunday, 2 September 2007

Behind the Iron Curtain

I have wanted to visit Eastern Europe ever since reading I am David aged about 11. There is something about the history of Eastern Europe that is so dark yet facinating - War, Cold War, Communism and Capitalism, and all in a space of 50 years. After we decided to visit Turkey, I managed to convince Tane to spend some time in Bulgaria as well. Given that beer only costs about $1, coupled with the fact that we do not know a single person that has been to Bulgaria, he was convinced.

Mmmmm. Dollar beer .... We didn't realise that beer would be the only thing on the menu that we understood. Everything in Bulgaria is written in Cyrillic (as in, looks like backward letters), and few people speak English.

We have been in the city of Plovdiv for a couple of days now, and it is facinating. This morning we found ourselves in a part of town where donkey drawn carts were overtaken by Ladas on streets bordered by housing estates probably built about the time Khrushchev was waving his shoe around at the UN. The wide roads, though, are a more sinister reminder of Plovdiv's history as they were built to allow Soviet tanks to amble around easily.
While wandering around the suburbs, Plovdiv gave the impression of being a bleak and miserable place. Tourist infrastructure is non-existent, many of the locals look like they ritually suck lemons as a hobby, and two of the nice Bulgarians we met were insistent on giving us their phone numbers in case we get in trouble with the police. Or gypsies.

Our impression of Bulgaria changed, though, as soon as we found Plovdiv's old town. It turned out that this is a lovely place after all, and that Tane and I are just two idiot tourists for spontaneously going somewhere that hasn't made it onto the beaten track yet with no map and no clue how to pronounce even the Bulgarian word for 'hello'. Apparently, it is Здравей. Maybe you will have more luck than us.

Tane in the old part of town

We also discovered the definite benefit of going somewhere that only has a handful of tourists - we got to explore some fabulous places while completely alone. Especially when we found Plovdiv's Roman ampitheatre.

Me on the stage

In the stands

Tane pretending to be an ancient Roman actor. Although neither of us could actually think of any ancient Roman plays to mock act.

So, while I would not recommend Bulgaria to someone who values being understood and who is unwilling to play a game of lucky dip when ordering meals, it is a facinating place to visit. I look forward to seeing more of Bulgaria and the rest of Eastern Europe to see how this corner of what used to be well behind the Iron Curtain compares.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

france also has large roads for military purposes - they're too wide to build a barracade across and they're straight to be able to fire a cannon down. Gives another thought to the champs elysées!