Steeped in a Rich History; Shannon Newley Discovers the Wonders of Bulgaria during Her Recent European Travel Odyssey

Article excerpt

THINGS are off to a rocky start in Bulgaria.

First, there's an hour delay while the car rental place tries to find and replace the lost paperwork for our car.

Then there's driving on the other side of the road and trying to find a park in the middle of the country's busy capital, Sofia.

We arrive at our hotel, only to be told our reservation doesn't exist.

This is a major problem. With the Deaflympics being hosted in Sofia, there's not a spare bed in the city.

It's 10pm. We call around other towns. Luckily there's a bed for us in a hostel in Plovdiv. The hour-and-a-half journey is nerve-wracking.

The speed limit is 130kmh and, while the roads are new, driving that fast on the wrong side of the road is unnerving.

Why Bulgaria? It was the question on everyone's lips when it was put forward as my travel destination.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to book a holiday that began with the Google search "where is the cheapest place to visit in Europe?" Answer: Bulgaria.

Beyond that I discovered its rich history with ancient Roman ruins, mountains, lakes, beaches and a culture influenced by communism and surrounding countries including Serbia, Turkey and Greece. Plovdiv is the gateway to Turkey - a popular stop-off for travellers to and from Istanbul. While many stop briefly in the 6000-year-old city, few spend enough time to appreciate everything it has to offer.

A couple of hours' drive in any direction can take you through small villages where the streets are lined with fruit sellers, patios are adorned with roofs of grapevines, and donkeys and carts are still a popular mode of transport. …