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The five hour drive from Rila to Plovdiv, our next stop (two nights, this time), was broken by a welcome visit to a winery. Not that I was particularly interested in the tour – seen one lot of stainless steel casks and oak barrels, don’t need to see any more – but I was enthusiastic about the tasting. The Bulgarian wine I had been drinking with dinner had certainly been palatable, and I was interested to try some more.

The stop was at the Bessa Valley Wine Cellar, and the wine was supplemented by bread, cheese and sausages. While I found the rose, as usual, too light for my taste, I enjoyed a quite good red blend and a rather better reserve Cab/Syrah, which we got to taste from the barrel, a first for me.

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I was less enthused by the tour hotel in Plovdiv (Dedeman Trimontium Princess). The interesting part of town, the old part, is up a hill at one end of town. We were staying in what looked like a Soviet-era behemoth (albeit renovated, and next to an unusual fountain), at the other end. As with the Sofia hotel, this one was much bigger, and more main-stream, than those I usually choose, and those I expect on a Rick Steves tour. It really seems that he’s left the back door days behind.

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The next morning’s walking tour was my first encounter with what became my biggest problem with this itinerary: a very long morning, pushing lunch unrealistically late, and leaving a short free afternoon. I would have much preferred a shorter tour in the morning, and then another tour in the afternoon. Not only could I not handle a late lunch after an early breakfast, I found my concentration failing after two or three hours. This day we had started at 9:00, and Lyuba was still taking the group round a house museum at 1:00 pm, at which point I abandoned the group in search of lunch.

Since starvation was threatening, I didn’t have long to find somewhere, and nowhere I saw in the old town seemed to be open. Luckily I found a remarkably cheap falafel place down near the hotel, but then didn’t feel inclined to trek back up the hill to visit any more museums. Fortunately we had visited the ethnographic museum as well as one house museum, but most of the morning seemed to have been devoted to walking around, and checking out the decidedly underwhelming Roman theater.

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I spent rather more on ice cream and coffee that afternoon than I had on lunch, and took advantage of the hotel’s wifi to update my blog and check my credit card bills. Not very exciting, but it was raining. Dinner, chicken stuffed with mushrooms at Philopopolus, with a few of the other tour members, was a definite improvement on the afternoon.

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