JOIN ME IN AN INTERVIEW WITH KRASEN JELYAZKOV FROM PLOVDIV, BULGARIA!
Krasen is a traveler from Plovdiv. He is a musician, but with strong interest in travel, geography and history. This lead him to many destinations, not only in Bulgaria, but mainly in Asia, such as China, Israel, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and especially the highest areas of China- the Tibetan plateau. Now currently China is his “base camp” for his trips, but he always holds his hometown roots in Plovdiv. You can read a lot about his travel guides and stories on his blog.
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia. Located in the south of Bulgaria, this ancient city is build around seven hills and is famous for its deep rooted history and ancient remains. It’s said to be Bulgaria’s most beautiful city and one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.
In the year (2019), Plovdiv was chosen to be the European Culture Capital. A LOT of events, celebrations and holidays were organised.
What is the best time to visit Plovdiv?
All seasons in Plovdiv are nice. It depends how do you want to travel there and what are you looking for. Talking about weather, in my opinion the best time is April to June. At that time everything is fresh green and still not too hot. April and May are the best months to visit Plovdiv, because it is very lively, green and around that time there are some traditional Bulgarian holidays for the waking up of nature. July and August are good too, but it is too hot sometimes. Winter is not very cold, there is often snow, but not all the time.
If you are looking for special events- September is the best, with many activities in the city, such as the Museum day (when all the museums are free to visit).
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Plovdiv?
I would definitely say buses. Plovdiv has a very good organized and convenient bus connection and the buses come on time and follow a strict schedule. There is a very convenient central bus stop, through which many buses pass, connecting the center with the Railway station (and the hub for the capital Sofia), and most of the other main parts of the city. The ticket is 1 BGN. You just get on the bus, a conductor comes and collects the fee.
Another way of transport is taxi. It is convenient and not so expensive (however, it depends of the taxi company). Usually moving within the central part of Plovdiv costs between 2.5 and 3 BGN.
What are the different modes of transport available from the airport to city?
Plovdiv Airport is small and not too developed yet. There are mostly cabs. There is one marshrutka (number 2) that goes to the airport, but it is not very frequent. Taking a taxi from Plovdiv airport to the center usually costs 6 to 8 BGN.
However, most of the travelers visiting Plovdiv actually come from Sofia (and Sofia Airport). There is no direct transport from Sofia Airport to Plovdiv, but if you go to the main Railway and Bus station in Sofia (they are in one place), there are a lot of buses and trains to Plovdiv. You can get there by bus No.90 or by subway.
Where to get the best exchange rates in Plovdiv?
Usually the best exchange rates can be found in the change offices. The best ones are in the center, near the west side of the Main Street, and south of Sahat tepe. Locals say that the best exchange office is at the Grozdov market. Currently 1 USD = 1,71 BGN and 1 EUR = 1,956 BGN.
You can change money in the banks of course, but it is slower and not always offer the best rate. The best banks in Plovdiv are: UBB (United Bulgarian Bank), Unicredit Bulbank, Raiffeizen Bank and ProCredit Bank.
What are the top three must visit places in your city?
There are many tourist attractions in Plovdiv. If I have to make Top 3, I would write the following:
No. 1. The central part of the Old Town consists of Hisar Kapiya, Ethnographic Museum area and all the old houses of the Revival time (Balabanova, Hindliyan, Nedkovich, Klianti, Hippocrates’s pharmacy, Zlatyu Boyadziev exhibition). The best way to arrive there is on foot, and it is easy accessible from the center for only 10-15 mins walk. You walk from the ancient Roman Stadium and Dzhumaya Mosque and soon enter the tranquility of the Old Town. Turn left and after 5 mins you will arrive to the Old Town’s central square.
You can find there the oldest church of Plovdiv- St.Constantin and Helena. Its first version dated from 337 AD, and now it represents high class of iconographic art.
Next to the church is one of the symbols of Plovdiv- the Medieval arc Hisar Kapiya. It is part of one of the Plovdiv’s fortress walls, and along with the curved narrow street leading to the arc forms a great view for photos. Behind the arc you can see a dozens of beautiful Revival houses and narrow stony streets between them, where time has stopped.
Ethnographic Museum– one of the most beautiful Revival houses of Plovdiv. There you can see a lot of the live of Plovdiv and the area from the last few centuries until now.
Proceeding ahead you arrive at the top of Nebet Tepe hill, where you can see the most ancient remains of Plovdiv, dating back from 1500-2000 BC, along with one of the greatest panorama to the city.
You can also visit few more Revival Museum-houses, from which the most prominent are Hindliyan and Balabanova houses, representing the life of the rich aristocrats of that era.
Most of these houses’ entrance ticket is 5 BGN. And you can also buy a combined ticket for 15 BGN, which includes visiting of 5 sites- you can buy it from the Tourist Information Centers, as well as some of the sites.
No. 2. The Roman Theater. It is another symbol of Plovdiv. It is located on the southern slope of Taxim Tepe and Dzhambaz Tepe. It is one of the best preserved Roman Theaters in the world, built at the end of 1st century AD. The theater can receive 5000 to 7000 visitors. It has the typical semicircle arranged seats, a stage and remains of Roman style architectural buildings. Now it is actively used for various kinds of events- folklore shows, theatre plays, symphonic concerts and even rock concerts (one of the best rock concerts that Plovdiv people remember was the live show of the gothic metal band Paradise Lost in 2014).
But even if you visit the Roman Theater in other time, when there is no show, it is definitely worth to see it- not only the Theater itself, but also the great panoramic view to the south part of Plovdiv, dominated by Rhodope mountain behind it. The entrance fee is 5 BGN.
No. 3. Kapana quarter. It is a small quarter, located northwest of the Old Town. Its houses are dated from the beginning of 20th century. Passing through many changes during the last 150 years, including fire and turning it into a market place, now it is a place, famous with its think network of small streets. Its name Kapana (which means “The Trap”) is derived from this network- although it is small, but you can easily get lost in the quarter.
Now it is turned into one of the most attractive places of Plovdiv, full of art and nightlife. Most of the streets are pedestrian, with a lot of souvenir shops, cafes, bars and art centers. Some of the best night clubs, such as Petnoto (“The Spot”) and located there. And just walking on its streets is a really pleasure, offering great views for photos.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Plovdiv ?
There are many places for a day trip from Plovdiv. In my opinion best ones are south of the city, in Rhodope mountain. And the best way to explore those places is by renting a car.
Bachkovo monastery and Asenova Krepost (Asen’s fortress). First you head to Asenovgrad- a small and incredibly nice city on the foot of the mountain. Then you enter the deep gorge of Chaya river. When you leave Asenovgrad, turn right on the first road and soon will arrive to Asen’s fortress (23 km from Plovdiv).
Asen’s fortress is located on the high western slope of Chaya gorge. There are remains of ancient fortress on this place. But the best preserved structure is the medieval Church of Holy Mother, build during the King Asen’s reign.
Eight kilometres away from there is the Bachkovo Monastery. It is the second largest monastery of Bulgaria. Build in 14th century, it is a good example of the Orthodox art. But that’s now all. You really must take a walk on the path to Martsiganitsa chalet, especially its lower section. There you can see a medieval ossuary, further ahead- a beautiful waterfall and a lot of picnic meadows beside the mountain creek. Finally you arrive to the Ayazmoto- a small chapel with a baptisterium, hidden in a deep forest. And behind it- the mysterious Hermit’s cave, in the beginning of a deep limestone gorge, all drown in eternal silence…
Chudnite mostove (Wonderful bridges) – If you proceed further south on Chaya river gorge, you can reach a beautiful rock formation, known as “Wonderful bridges”. It is located on one of the west valleys, joining Chaya river, about 75 km from Plovdiv, on 1450 m altitude, hidden in a wild and deep fir-spruce forest. It is a remnant of a prehistorical cave, now turned into a natural bridge and a tunnel. The place is great for hiking and exploring the area deep in Rhodope mountain
Belintash – It is another mysterious place, 45 km southeast from Plovdiv. It is a massive rock, rising between two valleys, with remains of an ancient Thracian cult site. The place is relatively remote, which makes it much more mysterious.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Plovdiv?
It is our national day – 3rd of March. This is the date of the Liberation of the Bulgarian people from Ottoman rule. There are a lot of events.
Other holidays are 6th of September – all the museums are open and free on that day. 22nd of September is also important for Bulgarian people. All of these holidays are at a good time of the year when the weather is very nice – in early Spring and early Autumn – colorful days for Plovdiv.
Where to head for best view of the city?
Plovdiv is famous for its hills. The best view of the city can be found on the top of Nebet Tepe hill, on the northern end of the Old Town. It is also best because of the Ancient fortress on top – it gives a whole new atmosphere of the view. There you can see all the other hills and also Rhodopa mountain, and the buildings of the city, beautifully covered the space between the hills. In the far north Stara Planina is also visible in good weather.
You can also climb to the tops of the other hills: Sahat Tepe, Bunardzhik and Dzhendem Tepe. The views above the city is breathtaking.
But if you are looking just for nice street views- the best ones can be found again in the Old Town and Kapana quarters. Another beautiful street is the famous Plovdiv’s Main Street- a favorite place for walking, not only for the locals, but also for all the tourists visiting the city.
Which is the most happening area in Plovdiv? Would you suggest any bar or restaurant in particular that tourists must try?
In my opinion, the most happening area is Kapana quarter. Restaurant Pavaj is very loved by the locals and tourists. Terzo mondo has a very interesting international cuisine. For late night drinks I would recommend bar No sense, which is where the locals love to dance to all types of music. Other interesting place for adventurous people is bar The Nylon which is the oldest bar in Kapana (maybe also in Plovdiv) and has its own atmosphere. Other famous bars are Cat and Mouse, and Central Perk, where the TV serial “Friends” were shot.
Is your city a vegetarian friendly city?
Yes, there are some restaurants, offering only vegetarian food. And even the normal restaurant have a lot of meals without meat, such as salad, or potato-cheese. There is a very good vegetarian restaurant at the Grozdov market called Veggic. There is another Veggic that can be found in the Kapana quarter (Zlatarska str.)
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Plovdiv?
Most loved local food is a difficult question. Basically, Plovdiv is full of places, where you can eat a rich variety of meals. We, Plovdiv people and all Bulgarian people eat a lot of food which is typically Western, but among it we especially like: cheese (white cheese is called “sirene” and yellow cheese is called “kashkaval”), yoghurt, pepper jam, called “lyutenitsa”, traditional sausage, called “lukanka”, our favorite salad, made of tomatoes, cucumbers, some onion or other ingredients, mixed with cheese and olive, called “shopska salata”.
We like to eat sweet things too. Beside the normal sweet snacks, which you can eat in most of the countries in the world, we like some special sweets, called “lokum”, with Turkish origin. They can be found in Kapana quarter and also around Dzhumaya Mosque.
There are also some typical meals that we especially love too:
Musaka: a meal made by potatoes, eggs cover and some taste adds. It is especially nice to eat with yoghurt. You can try it in many restaurants, such as Dayana (one of the famous restaurants in Plovdiv, located south of Sahat Tepe hill), as well as many others
Shkembe chorba: it is a special local soup, made by pig’s belly (called “shkembe”). It is usually consumed with garlic and some spice. Not everybody would like it, but it is worth to try. You can find it mainly in winter (it is a traditional winter meal) in many restaurants, and in summer usually only in Dayana, as well as in Soup Bar (in Victor Yugo str. 27).
Banitsa: it is a favourite Bulgarian breakfast- a pastry made mostly with cheese. You can find it in many street stalls, especially near the bus stops.
Pancake “Katma”: a large and thick pancake, usually filled with cheese, ham, or something sweet: fruit jam or chocolate. There are few places in Plovdiv, where you can try it as a street food, such as the Central subway and in the Main Street.
Ice cream: There are few confectioneries, offering excellent ice cream of many types: chocolate, yoghurt, fruits, cafe taste, and many more. The confectioneries are located mainly on the Main Street.
Duner: It is a favorite fast food with Arabic and Turkish origin. It is made by a thin bread, filled with grilled on a spit chicken or beef, and some salad and sauce inside too. You can find it in many places, from which the best are on the Main Street (in the beginning of a west side small street, leading to Sahat Tepe), Halite Mall (on the Main Street, north of Dzhumaya Square, and especially Alladin- near Saedinenie Square.
Where to head for shopping in Plovdiv? Which is the local craft or souvenir in your city?
A favorite place for shopping in Plovdiv is the Main Street. There are plenty of shops on this street. Some of them are just normal shops for clothes and shoes, but others are really special. For example you can find a shop with Indian traditional clothes. Or shop for Halloween attributes. Or some non-standard pieces of art.
For those who like malls- there are a few malls in Plovdiv, offering everything what a normal mall (type Walmart) can offer- shops, food quarters and a big supermarket. The main are: Mall Plovdiv, Markovo Tepe and Plaza Mall. They are not located in the center, but there is a good transport leading to them.
For those, who love buying souvenirs, the best place is the Old Town. There are many Bulgarian traditional craft souvenir shops, mostly along the main route from Dzhumaya Square to the Central Old town square. You can find a lot of wood carved art gifts, other art gifts, made from metal, stone or cloth. Some of them are just cheap tourist souvenirs, but others are real masterpieces. And among them you can easily find the Bulgarian traditional specialty- the Bulgarian rose oil products- rose water, rose soaps, rose creams and pure rose oil.
How difficult it is to travel in your city without knowing the local language?
It is easy. Basically most of the young people can speak English. The older people usually can speak some Russian. And you can find also some people who can speak other most popular European languages: Spanish, German, Italian and French.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Plovdiv?
Opoznai.bg is a very useful app (there is also a website) and it has not only Plovdiv, but also the whole country.
visitPlovdiv.com is a good website that gives information, plovdiv2019.eu gives a lot of information for the upcoming Capital of culture events. You can also find a complete guide on Plovdiv on my blog.
For food you can download and use Takeaway and Foodpanda. There are no local apps for transport, but if you want to use a taxi, just call on their number. The best taxi companies are with phone numbers 032-6665, 032-9199, 032-6155 and 032-6140.
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