The drive to Plovdiv was scenic, with the Rhodope Mountains to the southeast on the border with Greece. Igor was quite entertaining. He told me that vast amounts of war matériel disappeared into the mountains after the collapse of the Communist regime in late 1989. He hinted that his father knew where some of the caches were and volunteered that he had gone to the Turkish border during the migrant crisis of 2015 to prevent any refugees from entering Bulgaria. Atavistic hatreds persist in the Balkans. He drove me directly to my hotel and we agreed that he would pick me up after my two nights in Plovdiv to drive me to the Sofia Airport for my flight to Bucharest.

The innkeeper was gracious and showed me to my room, which was large and quiet. I decided to walk through the historic sections of this ancient city with roots in the 6th century BC. It was founded before the Greek Empire and claims that Philip of Macedonia was born there. It’s built on seven hills and was also a major Roman city, with abundant ruins.

Plovdiv also has some very good restaurants and bars for a city its size.

The free tour of Plovdiv delved more into its classical history. We viewed some old Ottoman neighborhoods that retained their unique architectural charm. They ruled Bulgaria for 500 years, conquering it when it was the Byzantine city of Philippopolis, named for King Philip II.

For dinner, I chose the curiously named Hemingway’s! I was one of the first diners and the server asked if I’d mind delaying the mushroom course since the owner was en route with fresh mushrooms from his farm. Speaking of farm to table! The food and ambience were superb.

The restaurant was next door to some Roman ruins.

The next morning I walked up Bunarjik Hill to view the massive Alyosha Soviet War Memorial. There was also a monument to Tsar Alexander III. On the way up I spoke to some young Israelis who were visiting during their military leave. They said that the flights from Tel Aviv to Sofia were cheap so they often travel here. I also spoke to a young German parkour enthusiast who was filming himself doing daredevil stunts.

After visiting Alyosha I headed back to the hotel, checked out and saw Igor waiting for me to take me to the Sofia Airport. Bulgaria is a country worth visiting.

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