Welcome to Plovdiv, Bulgaria
We arrived in Plovdiv, Bulgaria a little under a week ago. It is a very old city. Not old the way many cities in Europe are old, but rather dating all the way back to 3000-4000 BC. I didn't know there is a thriving competition among city oldness claims, but there is, especially for the title of oldest continuously inhabited.
Plovdiv has been (at least) Thracian, Greek, Roman, Slavic, and partly Ottoman Turk. Among its ancient names are Eumolpias (Thracian), Philippopolis (Greek, named after Philipp II of Macedon), Trimontium (Roman "3 hills"), Pulpudeva (Thracian version of Philippopolis), Plovdiv (Bulgarian first attested in 11th Century), and Filibe (Turkish).
To get here we flew from Prague to London Stansted airport, stayed overnight there, then flew to Plovdiv. Despite the hotel stay we saved $1200+ on airfare compared to flying directly from Prague to Sofia. Also, if we had flown into Sofia we would then have had about a 2 hour drive on to Plovdiv. The extra travel day was not too bad.
We did have unexpected immigration hassle in England at Stansted airport. The immigration officer gave us a hard time (politely) because we've been gone so long from the United States and seem to have set off some alarm of concern in their minds. They were gracious enough to allow us to stay in the U.K. for up to 48 hours, not the usual 6 months accorded to U.S. citizens. But that's all we needed, so it worked out. Bulgarian immigration gave us no trouble.
Our landlord picked us up at the Plovdiv airport with a friend of his who has a minivan. He's very friendly and has lived in England and Australia so speaks English.
Some initial assorted impressions are that, yes, as expected, it is very old here. The streets in the old town have the oldest feel of any we've been on. Whether in good repair or decaying or both in the same area, it's beautiful:
Unlike in Prague where there were lots of dogs kept as pets, there are fewer dogs here but many cats, many of them strays. When they jump out at us from garbage dumpsters as we walk by at night it's startling. :) As promised by defiant drivers, we've seen a horse-drawn cart driving through town.
Sometimes the air is clear and smells wonderful. Sometimes there is coal smoke in the air, which brings back fond memories of other places I've lived where people heated with coal. And it's very quiet at night. In the morning we hear birds chirping outside the window, both wild ones and our neighbors' birds that they keep outside.
The summer is running long this year, and it is often sunny and warm during the day, though it still gets quite cool at night. It has rained once so far and is otherwise fairly dry.
A mere 15-20 meters from our porch is an Orthodox church that is being renovated but is still open for visiting and worship. The church bells ring every day at roughly 8:05, 8:35, and 17:00. Sometimes our neighbors' husky dog howls to sing along.
Probably because we like to keep the windows open, we've all been warmly welcomed by mosquitoes. Just last night I woke up a couple of times to hear the mini-helicopter sounds of one hovering over my ear. We all have some bites, but Mira's got several bites on her face and claims she's now Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
Speaking of windows, we have to watch out not to bump into them in our house, since they open inward. Erin bumped her head and had a bleeding wound there for a little while on Saturday!
I was thoroughly delighted to receive our first mail here, a forwarded magazine addressed to Jacob, and written in Cyrillic handwriting. So now we know that Jacob Jensen in Cyrillic is written Якоб Йенсен:
We're all doing pretty well reading Cyrillic, though we're still too slow to keep up with some of the faster hymns at church. However, it has been surprising to find that the variant of Cyrillic used in handwriting appears everywhere in print now too. I get the impression that this is a fairly recent trend, maybe a shift brought on by the easy accessibility of computer printing and many font choices. It is not well-documented in online Cyrillic alphabet guides and takes some practice to get used to. Compare the script Cyrillic above the Romanized version on the street sign, followed by the standard block printing on the #25 sign on the door. Note especially the Cyrillic т which looks like Latin m in script:
The most jarring are those that look identical to standard Latin lower-case letters but are different. In Bulgarian we see the Russian script used in print all the time, except with the Serbian/Macedonian variant of д that looks like a Latin g, as shown in the Wikipedia chart on Cyrillic alphabet variation. This street sign illustrates that one difference, but also shows the script Cyrillic м which looks nearly identical to the script Cyrillic т:
Here is the box from Bulgarian toothpaste that we bought, which despite the name has nothing to do with homeopathy -- it just doesn't have a bunch of the usual ingredients in it. This illustrates some of the common "script" print we see all the time:
In block Cyrillic that reads:
грейпфрут натурална паста за зъби
без мента и флуорид, без захар
And in Latin transliteration it is:
greypfrut naturalna pasta za zubi
bez menta i fluorid, bez zahar
Which means: grapefruit natural paste for teeth without mint and flouride, without sugar. If you don't know Cyrillic, it probably looks exactly as weird as any other Cyrillic. But for novices like us this tickles or hurts or something, because it almost looks normal but tricks us repeatedly. But it's fun. :)
We live very close to the LDS church here. It's somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes' walk from us:
Yesterday we met members of the Plovdiv branch who were very friendly, and quite a few speak English, which was helpful for us novices with Bulgarian. There was a Europe East Area conference broadcast from Salt Lake City, and I was delighted that it was conducted in Russian by Elder Bruce D. Porter of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy. His biographical details (LDS church bio for Bruce D. Porter, Wikipedia page on Bruce D. Porter) make it clear that he has long experience with Russia, but that doesn't mean he necessarily would be fluent in Russian. He conducted the meeting and spoke for about 15 minutes in Russian. I thought it was really cool. Of course many listeners were hearing it translated in any case, since the area includes many countries and languages. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Twelve presided and spoke. (Earlier this year he created the first stake of the Church in Armenia.) Other speakers were Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer of the 2nd Quorum of the Seventy and Sister Cheryl A. Esplin of the Primary general presidency. It was a good conference.
Saturday afternoon Jacob, Phin, and I walked up to the top of Младежкии хълм (Mladezhkii halm = Youth Hill), the highest of Plovdiv's hills, with nice views all around. There's also an empty swimming pool and a radio tower:
Looking closer at the radio tower building, we saw a "Ham Radio Saves Lives" sticker, so this photo is for you, Dad
In town is this memorial to Saints Cyril and Methodius, the two brothers who were missionaries to the Slavs in the 9th Century. They developed the Glagolitic alphabet, the precursor to Cyrillic:
Yesterday afternoon I went on a leisurely walk with Lillian:
We ended up near the main post office, where lots of people were out and about.
We saw a couple of memorials to the victims of Communism:
Earlier some of us saw a monument set up by the Jewish community of Plovdiv honoring those who saved the Plovdiv Jews in March 1943 from being deported by the Nazis. That story is told in this article. The Orthodox bishop of Plovdiv, Metropolitan Kirill, put his own life on the line. The story of the Jews throughout Bulgaria during World War II is similar, if a little murky. The monument inscriptions are in Hebrew, English, and Bulgarian:
This is a monument to Stefan Stambolov, one of the founding fathers of modern Bulgaria:
This is the "House of Culture", named after Boris Hristov aka Christoff, a Bulgarian opera singer:
There is a Turkish mosque in the old town, which we have visted a few times, during prayers and in between when it was mostly empty:
In the more silly department, there's a photo shop called Foto Pink, with the mascot you would expect if the trademark or copyright people don't notice it:
Here are the younger kids, Erin, and I on our first big grocery shopping trip to Kaufland:
There are lots of interesting things to see walking anywhere in town. Lots of contrasts.
I'll wrap this up by showing this rock wall built onto the bedrock of the mountain itself, an interesting sidewalk to walk along!