Thursday in Plovdiv and Friday off to Trigrad and the Western Rhodope Mts.

Wow the last few days have been fantastic and busy!

Thursday was my last full day in Plovdiv. I grabbed a light breakfast of yoghurt, fruit and granola at a health food store I had noticed in the main part of the walking district. Then I took an excellent free walking tour for 1.5 hours that took us around the Kapana (arts/restaurant/pedestrian) district, and then into the Old Town. The guide was a young law school student and self-proclaimed history buff with excellent English. Lots of interesting factoids including that evidence of neolithic habitation was found at the peak of one of the hills, in the Old Town. That district has an amazing number of gorgeous historical buildings, along with crusader construction and a Roman road with remains of a city gate. We ended at the impressive semi-cicrular Roman Theatre (as opposed to the amphitheatre I had already seen in Kapana). The guide said amphitheaters, like the Colliseum, are always round or oblong. I then continued on my own for another hour, took loads of pictures of the colorful buildings, and toured the ethnographic museum. The guide got $7 tips from many of the 20-odd participants, making it a pretty lucrative “volunteer” job! It was interesting but some of the explanations were suspect – presented from a Christian / nationalistic perspective and I got the sense that they would benefit from a careful scientific / academic review. I didn’t go into any of the old churches or other exhibitions due to time constraints and my limited patience. I really prefer walking and exploring to long explanations. At three o’clock I returned to Kapana to meet our dear friend and dance teacher Iliana Bozhanova. It was so great seeing her and hearing about each other’s lives. We sat in an air-conditioned cafe (90 degrees out!) and had “melba” and frappe’s. Between us it was a four-ice-cream hang! Iliana had already helped me plan the remaining part of my trip and she gave me a few more hints before heading back on the bus to start her work of teaching and choreographing dance for 120 kids of various ages in the cultural center. I finished the evening at a chamber music concert featuring various classical and contemporary composers and pieces by varying ensembles of piano, flute, violin, cello, and two-handed piano. The piano was a new fancy Bosendorfer C-280 which had travelled from Vienna for the occation. The piano minder and tuner/voicer was a tall Austrian we had previously met when he visited the Rose Valley Workshop I was at!

OK whew… on to Friday. Retrieved my car from its overnight spot in the central district and figured out how to pay for parking nearby while I loaded my luggage and waited for the hostess to check out. Meanwhile took out breakfast of coffee, fresh OK, fresh banitsa, and a super fresh and delish jelly donut from a well known old donut (piroshki) shop around the corner from my Airbnb. Had a slight snafu meeting the hostess so did some yoga and played gadulka but then I was off to my adventure in the Rhodope mountains….

The trip up into the mountains from Plovdiv was impressive! Very winding and beautiful with numerous small rockfalls. After passing a turnoff for Studenets (appears in one of the songs I know), I decided to follow my exploring instinct to see a small village, so I turned off towards the village of Zornitsa (also the name of a band that our friend Henry was/is in). It was a good decision. Passed some locals logging by the side of the road, and emerged from the pine forest into high meadows and a picturesque village. After taking some pix I returned to the journey somewhat concerned to arrive and be able to find my guest house in Trigrad so I didn’t stop at the Bachko monastery or in Shiroka Luka, though the latter has many historical houses and a famous music school. The roadside vendors at each tourist stop were pretty much what you would expect in any country. Here in addition to the normal refrigerator magnets and chotchkes they also sell herbs for tea, home made honey, roasted nuts, etc. I got to the turn-off for Trigrad at about 1pm and decided to first visit nearby Yagodinska cave since it was expected to get really busy / crowded on Saturday. Wow the road to Yagodin is super narrow and goes through a river gorge with numerous overhangs and small rockfalls. Most of the tourists I ran into were Bulgarian but waiting for the cave tour to start a bunch of Israelis showed up. Met a German couple who were hiking on the way to Trigrad. This cave is something like 12 km and we walked over 1km and saw a great variety of stalactites, stalagmites, and stalagtons (? that’s what they are called in Bulgarian when connected both top and bottom). They are white colored and there is some running water but not a lot. One of the highlights are “pearls” – small balls formed I believe by chunks of calcium carbonate that are tumbled and polished by water that drips over them as they sit in a shallow pool. Ended up chatting with the tour guide (it was only in Bulgarian) and discovering that she is also a fan of old / traditional folk songs. Turned down multiple offers to take a jeep ride up to the “Eagle’s Eye” overlook. Finally headed back out to the road to Trigrad. Drove through another gorge with hydropower and irrigation dams, finally reaching Trigrad. The signs to guest house Zora were clear, eventually following a dirt track up a short hill to the place. It is beautiful in a sort of alpine style, and the location / scenery is really gorgeous. Looking out on steep alpine fields and down on the small town with mosque/minaret and church, and small river running through it. The host couple speaks only Bulgarian and we had some funny moments as she was trying to communicate with me using Google translate set to input in GREEK instead of Bulgarian lol. Daniela and Anton. They weren’t super friendly but still OK. I got in a nice long walk through town across the river and part way up the mountain on the other side before coming back for dinner. Met a very friendly family from Varna and had a nice long talk with the husband named Martin Kolev who is now my friend on LinkedIn.

I guess I’ll put today’s adventure in a new post….