Thursday, 27 March 2014

Quick visit to Plovdiv

Taking advantage of the National Holiday of Bulgarian independence we went to Plovdiv, second city in the country and probably the most beautiful of the major towns in Bulgaria.

We get there by hitchhiking. It was the first time in my life I did it, never tried in Spain, and was amazed how normal and how easy people pick hitchhiker on the roads. I think It is a heritage from Communist times when was really hard to get a car. Maria and I were lifted by a gentleman, a computer engineer who was going to Plovdiv to see their parents. He took us exactly where we wanted in the downtown. From here I want to greet him even given that I dont remember his name.

Plovdiv has certain marvels to appreciate. The city is grounded by seven hills that make a great landscape (even when one of the hills was demolished decades ago). Under the modern buildings there are lots of Roman ruins, specially a Roman Circus that only has his round part uncovered and an Amphitheatre. It has also big Old Town with lots of historical places to know.

I personally feel touched by the story of a musician who has a statue in remembrance of his person. He was a well known man who played his violin in the restaurants of the city and was friendly called “Sweetheart” by the citizens. He vanished in 1961 after a dispute with a member of the Communist Party and nobody knows what happened to him, apart from suspicion.

We slept in a hostel in the Old Town that is considered the fourth best hostel in the world in a tourist website list. It worth it. The rooms are superb and the treatment by the personal is very friendly. We have occasion to talk with the owner who explained to us that a family was expelled from the building in the beginning of the Socialist Era and later was the headquarters of Bulgarian architects, fact that helped to preserve the classic style of the house.

The next day we climbed one of the hills, which has the statue of a Red Army on his top visible for a long distance, symbolizing the liberation of the city by the Soviets. When we arrived to the monument it showed to be much bigger than I thought and it was full of people too, despite it was raining by then. They were celebrating the day of Independence. There were entire families with flags, a band of musicians of the army with berets and camouflage uniforms, guys dressed like the warriors who fought against the Turkish. Curiously there was also an old man with a Russian flag. 

All this made me think about the ambivalence of the relationship between Bulgaria and his Slavic “Big Brother”. The army of the Tsar liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman Empire and return it to his traditional culture, but also put the small country under his influence. They were celebrating their independence under a muscular, thought, prototypical Red Army soldier. The same army that prevented Bulgaria to be totally invaded by the Nazis but which was the tool to impose a communist dictatorship to the country. A taste of the contradictions of Eastern Europe I suppose.

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