After a significantly greater amount of sleep than any of us had had the night before, and a filling breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast with what we called almost-butter (and as you might guess, almost-butter was a generous term), we set off for a new city. Before we left, we consulted the hotel's staff on our plans for the next day and they were so helpful, even calling to arrange the rental car we'd decided to book for the following day. Consulting them saved us 50% on the rental, and gave us peace of mind that renting a car was actually a doable thing. Thanks to Google offline maps and the map that the hotel gave us, we navigated like pros to the bus station.
We passed by the different part of the ruins of Serdica on our walk to the train station. There's a picture of the same five of us in Kassel just 2.5 months ago!
It was really difficult to find information on how to do things in Sofia. We couldn't find anything on the internet about bus times, only that buses left for Plovdiv at the same time every hour. We got to the station at 11:22 in the morning and discovered that the bus left at 11:30, so I'm glad we accidentally timed that correctly!
The the bus took two hours, during which we talked, looked at the beautiful mountains out the window, and snuck in tiny naps.
Plovdiv is very old. It's the sixth oldest continually inhabited city in the world, and has history dating back 5,000 years. Our goal was to find the ruins. We didn't have a long time to spend in Plovdiv because we were planning on getting on the 5pm bus so that we could pick up the rental car a little after 7. So we found a map and walked around.
Many of the buildings in Bulgaria looked similar to this: run down. It's the poorest city in the EU and many buildings were not in good condition.
Something we loved to do in Marburg was eat gelato, but few of us have had it in our cities, so we decided that since it was nice and sunny, that's what we wanted. We meant to be searching for lunch, but this worked too. We planned our next steps from there.
In 2019, Plovdiv will be the European Capital of Culture city. I looked it up, and this means that it will become a hub for that year in hopes that it will bring a burst of life to the city. The European Union designates one city a year.
This sign is for that year, and there were several things around the city that advertised it as well. Because it says "together", it was the perfect photo op. I positioned my camera, set the self timer, and ran to the group. Just before the timer went off, a man ran up and motioned as if he was going to either grab the camera and run or push it off the ledge where I'd placed it. His gesture was a joke, but I'm surprised we're smiling in this picture and not lunging at him. Every one of us had a plan to take him down if he'd indeed touched the camera. And yes, I guess that should also teach us to not set it places where things like that could happen. Worth it?
I have never in my life seen so many cats. There were cats EVERYWHERE in Plovdiv. I didn't see any dogs roaming the streets (we saw lots of Chihuahuas in puffy vests - yes really) but there were cats everywhere we looked. In this picture, four cats ran off when Jaime stopped to say hello and just behind this one on the steps was a mama cat with three more babies. There is no way this city has a rodent problem.
Cat on a hot tin roof! (Can you see it?)
On the main street was a portion of the Ancient Stadium of Philipopolis
This theater was constructed in the first century by Emperor Trajan. It's still used for events today, which I thought was really neat!
All day as we walked around, we said "We need to eat something soon!" and all day, we did not get anything to eat. So we'd passed this Doner place earlier in the day and walked back to it for dinner/lunch right before we walked back to the bus station to catch the 5pm bus to Sofia. It was some of the best any of us have had! It was different from German Doner and I could eat it every day.
I napped for most of the trip home, but woke up at one point to see these fires in a field. They were hard to capture from a moving bus, but I think they were controlled.
Back in Sofia, we walked to the rental car place and picked up our vehicle for the next day: A Mitsubishi Grandis, which is a little minivan with room for seven! Jenna is the only one of us with an International Driver's License, so she drove and Lloyd navigated. Jaime and I got the back row since we're the smallest, and Carson and Jordyn were in the middle row thanks to longer legs. It's the first time any of us have rented a car in Europe and the first time we'd traveled anywhere totally alone. There are always other people on public transportation, or a driver in a taxi, so we enjoyed the freedom of playing music, playing games, talking as loud as we wanted (on buses and trains here you could almost hear a pin drop. People are silent.), and doing a lot of backseat driving. Jenna was a CHAMP for taking on the driving because driving in Eastern Europe is not for the faint of heart and parking was a nightmare.
We found a parking spot with relative ease and then headed out to a cocktail place we'd seen the night before. Our plan the night before to cook Thanksgiving dinner had been moved to this night, but we were once again tired and we'd have needed to make a grocery run and then spend a few hours cooking so we scrapped the idea and had drinks and dessert instead. We'd eaten lunch just a few hours earlier in Plovdiv so more heavy food wasn't big on everyone's list of things to do. We went to The Cocktail Bar (original name) first, where we were easily the least dressed up people. We found a little table though and went around saying what we were most thankful for this Thanksgiving. My drink had the largest ice cube I have ever seen.
We decided to walk somewhere else where we could hopefully sit. Most places were closed or closing, but Made at Home was open and looked very cute. We decided that it was straight out of Pinterest. The ceilings were decoupaged with music sheets and pages from books, there were branches hanging from the ceiling, tables made from old doors and shabby chic touches everywhere. We snagged a couch in the corner and perused the menu.
The dessert case looked delicious, so we ordered dessert instead of dinner or appetizers. I had a salted caramel and dark chocolate torte and Jenna got the same. Jordyn and Lloyd ordered a really tasty chocolate cake and Jaime had a torte with blueberries in it, I believe. A few people ordered the mulled wine and it was the best I've had. Others ordered Rakia, a Bulgarian brandy made from fruit. It was clear and I don't know how it tasted because I was good with my hot chocolate.
The bill arrived in this little ceramic dish and we thought it was so cute. For just about everything, we paid all together in cash and then did the math to figure out what everyone owed. I have so many pictures of receipts on my phone for just this purpose.
We came back and meant to finish Home Alone, but actually we watched YouTube videos and then went to bed because we had an early morning!