There’s not many places you can stand and admire ancient Ottoman ruins, stark Communist monoliths and modern-day architecture all at the same time – but Bulgaria is one of them. I’ve always wanted to explore more of eastern Europe and the country’s history, food and great value for money made it a great place to start this personal quest.
Although I only scratched the surface with a four-night stay, split between the cities of Plovdiv and Sofia, I came away pleased to have learnt so much about this tucked-away country.
And a lot of this new knowledge came from the walking tours I did in each city. Such tours are a great way of getting your bearings in a new destination, especially when time is of the essence.
Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe dating back more than 2,000 years, and has been influenced by various races in that time. Founded by Philip, father of Alexander the Great, it was later occupied by the Romans and more recently invaded by the Goths and then the Huns. The city’s mid-20s temperature in October made the exploring all the more enjoyable.
Sofia also has a long history dating back thousands of years and was known as Serdica during the middle ages. Again, there is evidence of those who have occupied it from the archaeological remains that have been dug up and historic buildings that have been preserved. From ornate religious structures, such as the city’s iconic St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, to the imposing Largo building from the Communist era.
In our present time of division, war and economic downturn it was inspirational to hear the story of how the Bulgarians saved their Jewish population during the Second World War. Although allied to the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, as the holocaust was taking sway, protests by Bulgarians – including those from other religions – meant that plans for the deportation of Jews to the various death camps were delayed and did not happen. It is reported that 48,000 people were saved as a result of this action.
With religion often seeming to be the catalyst for war, hearing a story of such solidarity and compassion was one of the highlights of my trip.