A journey to the Sounds of the Ages…
After a wonderful time in Romania I flew to
Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. From there I took a taxi to my hotel
and had a delicious dinner at a neighboring restaurant. Besides today’s
traveling I had not done anything at all, but still I felt tired so went
to bed early.
I must have needed my sleep
as I did not wake up until 9:30 the next morning and by the time I had
showered the restaurant had closed for breakfast. Therefor I decided to
go directly to Sofia’s main sight, it’s famous cathedral. During my walk
to there I noticed immediately the much more open atmosphere and wider
streets in Sofia compared to Bucharest.
At Vitosha Boulevard there
was a vivid atmosphere with plenty of shops and restaurants but instead
of being lured to them I continued on as I initially planned.
The Cathedral Sant
Alexander Nevski was an impressive landmark indeed, located on a large
square so it could be admired from all sides. It was completed in 1912
and built as a memorial to the 200.000 Russian soldiers who died in the
Turkish-Russian liberation war from 1877-1878.
There were beautiful
paintings and chandeliers to be admired inside and I did love the
artworks and architecture. I spend quite some time wandering around and
making pictures. Watching the people praying, lighting candles and
spending their thoughts was inspiring as I could see how devoted they
The high dome and
chandelier were impressive to say the least and The numeric frescos
painted on the walls and ceilings were to many to absorb I one time.
As I did not have breakfast
I went to a terrace that overviewed the cathedral where I enjoyed a
lovely brunch. Also now lunch came closer to what I was used to at home
and definitely a smaller portion than I was used to during the last
week. This is something I more than welcomed as I am already dreading
the scales on my return home.
Not far away the Sant
Nikolas Church was located, another beautiful sacred and religious site.
It was much smaller than the cathedral but still beautifully decorated.
And then I wanted to visit
the oldest building in Sofia but somehow I totally lost my tracks as I
walked in the complete wrong direction. Still I was enjoying my walk
through local areas and loved the shops, the small terraces, as well the
flats which clearly originated from the communist time. Somehow they
seemed to be a bit neglected and I felt privileged not to have to live
in one of these housing compounds.
By the time I realized my
mistake My destination was already 3.5 km away, very sad as it turned
out to be very close to the Sant Nikolas Church I visited before. Oh
well, I passed the Eagles bridge again, visited some small parks with
impressive statues commemorating some more war heroes, passed the church
again and….. Arrived at the Rotunda of St George, which was build in
the 4th century. It was in completely surrounded by government buildings
and the Sheraton hotel but looked very peaceful. In front of the church
there were some ruins. Unfortunately once again photography was not
Not much further was
another beautiful cathedral, the Alexander Nevski cathedral and of
course I wanted to see that one as well and admire the beautiful
When I got out of the
cathedral I recognized the Vitosha Boulevard and as I was getting
thirsty I looked for a nice terrace for a well deserved, but not very
Bulgarian ‘Hoegaarden’. It was great to see the world passing by and I
felt a really mellow and relaxed atmosphere.
In the middle of the
pedestrian area a long range of book stalls was located and I did enjoy
watching people browsing through what was offered, looking for something
that appealed to them. I could not resist an ice cream and although I
thought three scopes would be ok I ended up with an ice read much bigger
than anticipated. Still I was able to finish it though. By now it was
almost the end of the afternoon so I returned to the hotel for a much
needed nap. Although all street names were in Cyrillic I had no problem
finding it back again thanks to my phone, the maps application and the
lack of roaming charges in Europe. This makes traveling so much easier!!
My nap lasted over 2 hours
and by the time I woke sun had set. I returned to the Vitosha Boulevard
for a pre dinner drink and to work on my journal. Initially I also
wanted to find a place to eat over there but passing by the restaurant
where I had dinner yesterday I was enthusiastically waved to by the
waitress and as the food was brilliant I decided to return there for
I opted or a full three course dinner and a nice bottle of Bulgarian red, all turned out to be a very good decision.
Next morning after
breakfast I took a taxi back to the airport to pick up my rental car, a
process that went extremely smooth. Not much later I was on the road
towards my first destination, Arbanasi, a sleepy village in central
Bulgaria. The roads were fine and thanks to my Garmin navigation system I
had no problem finding my way and was even able to enjoy the landscape.
It was much drier than what I had seen before in Romania.
Gentle hills on both side
of the road, lot of agriculture and some villages. Somehow I got the
idea that Bulgaria is better developed than Romania but after just two
day this could be a misconception. The total distance I had to cover
this day was 253 kilometers and it took me 3 hours and 20 minutes in
total. On arrival I already noticed that Arbanasi was the perfect
example for traditional Bulgarian village life and not a lot was going
on, not that I was bothered as it would be a welcome change to relax a
My hotel was nice and after
checking in I enjoyed a simple lunch in the garden, then it was time to
go for a stroll. My first stop was Chiesa fella Nativita, an old church
that was built in the 15th century and where almost every inch of the
interior was covered in paintings and frescoes. The exterior did not
reveal the beauty of the interior which was simply breathtaking! So
completely different from what I had seen before and so unique.
Officially photography was not allowed but then if they charge you 3
euro’s for entry and there was no security… Yes I was a bad boy
Walking through the village
was a treat by itself, not a lot was going on except several ladies
sitting in the streets who had exposed their merchandise to sell to the
tourists who simply did not seem to have found their way to the village.
Next stop was the
Konstantsalieve House, the home of a former wealthy family which was now
turned into a museum. I must admit I must have been spoiled lately as I
was not very impressed but still it was a good laugh and 5 minutes
after I paid my entry fee I found myself outside again…
The village, as quiet as it
was, was adorable although living here would drive me absolutely nuts. I
continued my stroll to the St. Nicholas Convent but halfway there I
found a terrace with a stunning view so I changed my mind and enjoyed
two glasses of wine instead.
Back at the hotel I went
for an afternoon nap that did do me well. When I woke up I checked trip
advisor and headed to the beat recommended restaurant in the village,
the Arbanaskhi Han Tavern. It had a huge garden and a playground for
children so I selected a table far away from the playground. I looked
over an open grill and judging from the size of the chef the food must
be really good.
The atmosphere was very
relaxing, so quiet compared to Sofia. Simply loved it. I took the
opportunity to zip my beer (No wine available), update my journal and
simply relax. Most funny after was that after a while I saw bottles of
wine being passed on to customers, there you go with the language
barrier. Once my journal was updated I looked through the menu card and
saw that the meat was sold per piece. I selected some pieces from which
the description appealed to me, a grilled pepper salad with goat cheese
and Bulgaria style potatoes. I hoped for the best but if I would be as
lucky as my wine order…
I should not have been
worried as my self assembled mixed grill was absolutely fantastic,
actually one of the best ones I ever tasted. But as usual the portions
were big so I could not finish all. One more beer and completely
satisfied I returned to my hotel for a good sleep.
Next morning when I entered
my next destination into my navigation, Veliko Turnovo, it came as a
big surprise to me it was only a fifteen minute drive, not very good
planning on my side…
Because of the short drive I
was far too early at my hotel but after I enjoyed two cups of coffee my
room was ready. I dropped my luggage and left for a stroll through the
old city. The roads were paved with wonderful cobblestones and I could
even see some craftsmen working on souvenirs to sell. And there was no
lack of souvenirs as it seemed every shop was at least selling a small
collection of them.
I entered one of the larger
churches and was immediately told no photography inside was allowed. I
am still confused on how it is decided where one is allowed to make
pictures and where not. I m getting the feeling it all depends on
randomly on the priest who runs the church. Oh well, so is life.
Continuing my stroll
through the narrow streets I found another lovely church where
photography was allowed for a change. I saw two burning ovens with
cheminees leading to the outside but had no clue what the function of
these ovens were. Some kind of messaging system? For heating they
appeared to be a bit to small.
At most of the houses in
the streets I could see pictures of people who must have passed away, it
was rather bizarre to see but then it was a different culture after
all, another eye opener to me.
I found a nice restaurant
overlooking the valley and the narrow street where my hotel was located
so set down for a glass of Bulgarian white. There I met an interesting
Australian woman so we chatted for a while after which I said goodbye.
Back at the hotel I checked
my e-mail and got the one that I knew would be coming, the confirmation
of my divorce. Although not unexpected it still hit me so I went down
to the restaurant and had some more wine (perhaps a bottle was a bit too
much). Then it was time for an afternoon nap, a very restless one…
That evening I did not feel
like going out so I stayed in the restaurant of the hotel and ordered
dinner. Although it was fine I was not really appreciative. I finished
my food, finished my wine and then returned to my room for another
Although my night had been
horrible I did not feel that tired in the morning. I decided to leave my
emotions behind and continue enjoying Bulgaria the way it deserved it.
After breakfast I checked out, maneuvered my car out of the garage and
found my way to the main road again.
This time my planning was
much better as my next destination was about 140 km away. I did totally
enjoy my drive which was leading me through a hilly landscape. Lots of
agriculture again but like before the landscape was rather dry.
I arrived at my hotel
around noon and on arrival was immediately blown away by it. Hotel
Nirvana… It looked stunning and only had 7 rooms. They had no room
numbers but colors. Colors that belonged to the chakras. I was in the
green room, dedicated to the heart chakra. A lovingly decorated interior
could seduce me to stay here all day but as yesterday had been rather
mellow I wanted to see things.
As it turned out to be I
really needed my car to see the highlights around Shumen so I programmed
my navigation system once again for the first visit of today, the
Madara Rider. I had some issues finding as no excavation address was
given but made it in the end.
Before getting to the
Madara Rider I had to conquer an amount of steep steps. But there it
was, much smaller than expected but still very special. It was carved
around the year 701 – 718 when Christianity was introduced in Romania.
It looked nice but still I could not help not being very impressed.
I found there was a pathway
on top of the rocks to the remainders of a fortress so decided to
follow the path to be unpleasantly surprised by an almost endless amount
of steps to the top of the rocks.
Sometimes it’s the journey
that counts and not the destination and this time that was definitely
the case. The views were absolutely stunning every time I looked back!
Slowly I made my way up but I had to rest on more than one occasion.
Once I made it to the top I
still had to walk a bit to get to the fort and it came not as a big
surprise there was not a lot left of it. But once again, the views paid
for the effort.
I do not know what was
worse, the effort of going up or being confronted with how steep the
stairs were on my way down. I got totally distracted by the views and
had to take care I was keeping attention on where I was walking.
Tumbling down would make a long fall.
Back down I lovely made my
way to the grottos, only 200 meters away from the Madara Rider carving,
according to a sign… However one could never accuse Bulgarians to be
very accurate as it turned out to be up further. One of the grottos had a
nice fresco and a selection of sacred pictures. A lady was praying so I
tried not to disturb her and went on.
I looked up upon at a big
wall overhanging the small open space where I arrived an on top I could
see the fences where I was standing behind an hour or so ago on my way
to the fortress. Very impressive, so close but such a long way up.
After a bottle of much
needed very cold water I on programmed my navigation system once again
to my next destination, the Fortezza di Veliki Preslav but as no correct
address was given I just went to the village where it was supposed to
be, only it was another 9 kilometers away according to trip advisor. So I
now focused on the map provided by trip advisor and I must admit the
road was absolutely stunning. Loved every moment of it but once I
arrived at my recommended destination… I was in the middle of nowhere.
Not that I was bothered as I
was enjoying ever single moment of my journey. By now it was already
almost 4 o’clock in the afternoon so instead of giving another highlight
another try I decided to return to my hotel for a swim in the pool.
It was a wonderful day, 32
degrees Celsius, far to warm to climb the stairs to the fortress as I
had experienced before but for Bulgarians too cold to open the outdoor
swimming pool. By now I was in such a good mood I could not be
disappointed and headed to the garden to enjoy a nice glass of white and
work on my diary.
Service at the hotel was
immaculate and so I decided to enjoy my dinner in stages. I ordered one
course after the other whilst in the mean time I updated my journal.
It was a lovely evening, very relaxing, unlike the night before which was ruined by circumstances.
Next morning I started with
a wonderful breakfast, packed my car and went on a stroll to a monument
dedicated to 1300 years of Bulgaria. In order to get there there was
however one major task to be completed. One stairway, over a kilometer
long and more than 3000 steps. I do not know who came up with this idea
but it was horrendous. Needles to say I needed several breaks on this
stairway that seems to have no end. But I managed, well, I thought. When
I arrived what I thought was the top there was another final stairway
that led to the actual monument. Fortunately this one was not as long
and almost completely out of breath it took me a while before I could
start enjoying the monument.
And if this monument was
made to impress they succeeded. Massive blocks of concrete were covered
with cubist style Knights, horses and other people in armor. There was
nothing to explain the meaning of the sculptures but guessing by the
name of the monument I assumed they all were historical figures.
Three panels showed more
scenes, beautifully created in a mosaic. I thoroughly enjoyed strolling
around and then I have not even mentioned the stunning views over the
town of Shumen. I could see the fort but decided to leave that as was as
visiting that would require to conquer another stairway and after this
one I decided I had enough for the day.
But I still had to descend,
fortunately that was much easier than going up so when I arrived at the
foot of the stairway I even could hold my breath.
Back at the hotel I grabbed my car and not much later I was on my way to Varna, my next destination for the next three days.
As soon as I left Shumen I found myself on
the highway so I speeded up and drove towards the coast. Just over an
hour later I approached Varna and pretty fast the traffic became far
more hectic, like expected in a major city. I found my hotel rather easy
and as expected it made a very trendy and design impression. After I
checked in I went for a swim at the small pool at the fifth floor,
followed by an afternoon nap.
When I woke up I went for a
stroll to the beach which was about 4 blocks away. I had to cross a big
park, which looked rather nice after which I made it to the beach. What
can I say, a beach but definitely not my style as it was far to crowded
for my taste. Loads of parasols, beach clubs and loud trance music
everywhere. I knew I could have expected this but reality is always
different then ones imagination.
I set down at one of the
clubs for a drink and watched the world go by. It was amusing in a way
but I did wonder whether I made the right decision to book three nights
in Varna as the beach entertainment offered over here was nor
particularly my cup of tea…
There was a nice boulevard
leading into town, with plenty of terraces on each side. Also I
witnessed some kind of demonstration, most likely from football fans.
Although it was very noisy there was enough police surrounding them so I
Back at the hotel I updated
my journal, had another drink at the terrace but as not much was going
on I decided to return to the boulevard and find a place where I could
have something to eat. At one of the places I saw that mussels were
being served so I did not hesitate longer, ordered a nice bottle of
Bulgarian white and a portion of mussels. They were smaller than I was
used to but very tasty indeed. The waiter even convinced me to a piece
of homemade cake as desert which was the perfect ending of a nice day.
The next day was Sunday and
as almost everybody had a day off I decided not to go and do any
sightseeing but make a stroll on the beach. As expected it was crowded
but I did enjoy the atmosphere. One of the disadvantages of traveling on
your own is the uncertainty of leaving your things behind on a public
beach so I decided to skip the swimming. At the end of the beach I made
continued through the sea garden, the large park in front of the beach. I
discovered the naval museum with a big exposition of Warcraft in front
of it but decided not to go inside. Instead I wandered through a quiet
rural area and somehow found my way back to the boulevard where I had a
Some more hours at the
beach watching the world going by and listening the the mindless noise
called trance and enjoying a drink. When the sun was setting I returned
to the park where a lot of activity was going on. There was a group of
traditionally dressed ladies giving a concert, not much further there
was some folk dancing, a young guy playing the piano and even some kind
of hip hop performance. It seemed everything was happening at Sea Garden
on a Sunday night…
Later that evening I
returned back to my hotel. I had already noticed the menu card at the
restaurant was very appealing and I could not imagine leaving Varna
without even having tried. It turned out to have been a very wise
The next morning it was
time to collect my car again and go on a tour to Balchik, a small town
north of Varna. The road was rather nice and at times I had great views
over the Black Sea. My goal for today was the palace and botanical
gardens of Balchik. It used to be the former summer residence of Queen
Maria of Romania and I could easily understand why. Instead of a
traditional palace she had built a collection of houses on a beautiful
compound overlooking the sea.
The gardens themselves were
rather small but nice. It had a big colorful patch of flowers in the
centre and a cactus greenhouse. Compared to the fantastical botanical
garden I visited in Candy, Sri Lanka last year it was not very
impressive, still I did enjoy it though.
After a coffee and some
water at a restaurant I continued my way to the so called stone forest
aside the old Varna-Sofia road. Getting there was an adventure by itself
and a couple of times I got frustrated as I passed it on the highway
and there was no exit present. Anyway, after having passed it twice in
both directions I found the old road and then things were easy. The
stone forest was on both sides of the road and was difficult to miss.
Although at first sight it
appeared I found myself in a very badly maintained ruin the forest was a
natural phenomenon, like a small desert with stones. It was rather
appealing to walk through for ten minutes or so after which I returned
to my car and made my way back to Varna.
Back at the hotel I passed
my car keys to the bell boy who parked my car in the catacombs of the
hotel whilst I went it for a late lunch. After that it was time for an
afternoon nap and a swim.
Looking at my journal I
noticed I had not written for two days in it so I grabbed my iPad and
headed to a bar for a beer and some editorial work.
Later that evening I
returned to the boulevard for dinner. Looking at my itinerary I realized
I was already two thirds into my trip. In 4 days I would be in Plovdiv
for three concerts at the Roman amphitheater in a row, needless to say I
left the best for last… Marillion !!!
morning the regular shower breakfast and then it was time to hit the
road again. I had enjoyed Varna but somehow I also also realize I would
most, likely never come back. Like in Brazil also over here experienced
busy city beaches are not my thing. Too noisy, too loud and far too many
soon as I left the city centre I followed a nice coastal road with some
good views over the beaches and the sea. At certain places there were
plots filled with massive hotels and watermarks. Glad I was not staying
in one of those either. The trip went very smooth and about 1 1/2 hour I
arrived in Nessebar. What could I say the new part of town was in one
word horrendous. Massive hotels packed upon each other with hardly any
space in between, so glad I was not staying there.
continued my journey to the peninsular where the old town was located
and arriving there was not easy. It was packed with day tourists and the
only place I could find to park was a large parking area outside the
old city so I decided to leave the car there and proceeded to the hotel
on foot. I was welcomed warm heartedly and given an access card which
allowed me to enter the old city by car.
that was easier said then done. I drove over the cobblestone narrow
roads in a pace it would have been easier to leave my car where it was
and pick it up the next day. The town was a labyrinth packed with
people. Sometimes the streets were so narrow I doubted whether I could
get through or not but I did manage after all…
minutes after I entered the city I found myself exactly where I
started, but this time at the exit. U-turn, back through the entrance
and second try. Fortunately the receptionist had given me a map of the
old city and by showing that several time to what I hoped were locals I
made it to the hotel.
dropping the remainder of my luggage at the room I started a stroll
through the city only to be amazed like there was no tomorrow. The place
was so touristy I could hardly believe it. Apparently it was a popular
day trip for those staying in one of the many hotels an new Nessebar.
The amount of tat for sale was simply unbelievable. Large groups were
following their leader like headless chickens.
between all that fuzz it seemed to be difficult to see the Unesco
protected buildings that made Nessebar so famous. Still I wandered
around and enjoyed the place, it was simply a matter of disconnecting
from the crowds.
that afternoon turned to my hotel for a nap and after that returned to a
quiet part of town that I discovered earlier for some well deserved
mojitos. One could really feel the town slowing down now the day people
slowly returned to their resorts. As I liked the place and the view I
decided to stay for dinner and enjoy a relaxing evening.
night for whatever reason I had a very restless sleep. But like usual.
Woke up around 8 in the morning, dozed a bit longer and then went for
breakfast. Getting out of town was remarkably easy as it was still early
and the day tourists had not appeared yet.
was only just over an hours drive to my next destination Sozopol.
Unlike Nessebar it was not on the Unesco list and that made a world of a
difference. Yes there were still some souvenir stalls and groups of
people being led through the cobble stone steers but all was so much
more peaceful. Without question Nessebar originally was a far more
beautiful full town before the commerce took over but atmosphere wise I
did prefer Sozopol.
lunchtime I looked for a nice place with a view over the Black Sea and
enjoyed a slow and extended lunch over there. It was lovely not to do
anything at all but simply enjoy the waves crashing into the rocks far
below me and the seagulls passing by looking for something to eat…
lunch I made another stroll through the city and enjoyed the tranquil
atmosphere. The cobblestone streets, the old houses and the lack of
souvenir stalled that completely ruined Nessebar. I loved the place in
it’s simplicity. After another stroll around I Went for my usual
it was quite a long one, I noticed by now I was getting rather tired
because of all the impressions that were presented to me in a high pace.
Fortunately by now I had learned to listen to my body and knew when
things are enough and go for a break.
that day I returned to the old part of Sozopol and found another great
place overlooking the sea for a drink and dinner. I wanted to update my
journal but did not get far as I met a nice English women and we ended
up in a vivid conversation.
morning it was raining a bit but in spite of that I drove to Radavino
Castle. I was already warned about its extravagance but still could not
stop laughing when I saw it. Everything was over the top and as kitsch
one could think about. The decorations, the garden and the wine cellar,
there was nothing tasty or classy that would describe the place but
still I thought it was fun to see. Because of the rain I only did a
short tour around the castle but I do not think I would have stayed much
again I found myself on the road on my way to Kazanlak in the very
centre of Bulgaria. The roads were leading through mountains on either
side and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Because I mainly drove on a
highway I made good progress and 2 1/2 hours after departure I had
already checked in at my hotel. Across the road I found a nice
restaurant and after lunch I was on my way again towards the Buzludzha
monument. Although I got to the right direction finding it was not as
easy with all road signs being in Cyrillic. As I did not have the
correct address my navigation system was rather useless as well.
getting in the right direction first I visited a beautiful church in a
small city called Pliska. The church was completely built by volunteers
and one could already see it’s golden domes from far away as the sun was
reflecting on them.
found out I drove a bit to far so backtracked a bit and this time found
the proper junction towards a badly maintained and very windy road that
led to the monument.
Buzludzha document was built by the local communist party and is now an
epic exploration of Bulgaria’s communist past. The road leading to it
offers a beautiful landscapes through the forest and villages far below.
found a parking space where I left my car behind and climbed the narrow
and steep path up to the monument. It was a rather exhausting climb so I
had to rest for a couple of times. But I was glad I took the effort as
when I arrived at the abandoned monument it’s impact could not have been
It looked like a giant ufo on top of a hill with a large column and the unmissable communist star on it. When Bulgaria became democratic most of the building was wrecked and now no more of it’s once majestic interior is left. It is a ruin covered with lots of graffiti. An empty symbol of a regime that once ruled the country.
it is strictly forbidden to go inside and all former entrances are now
heavily secured people were still inside . I did manage to find the
entrance but then decided against going inside on my own as it was a
rather dangerous and tricky adventure.
way downhill to the car was much easier going than going up to the
monument and not much later I was already on my way back to Kazanlak.
Once there I made a short stroll through the rather unappealing city
centre and in the evening found a place for a nice bite to eat.
was time for the final drive to Plovdiv, the main reason for my trip.
It was only a 105 km drive which was leading through a beautiful
landscape. Temperatures might still be very pleasant but the leaves on
the trees were already changing their colors. A beautiful tapestry of
green, yellow, reds and Browns covered the hills as the leaves had not
fallen of their branches yet.
in Plovdiv I had some issues finding a parking spot but I did manage to
get one outside the old town. I decided to leave it there for a day and
make my way on foot into the old town. It was ether difficult to
maneuver my suitcase over the uneven cobbled steep streets and the 1.4
km walk took me quite some time. On my way to the guesthouse though I
saw a big billboard
at the hostel I could not have received a better welcome. Signs were
everywhere personally welcoming guests by their name. By coincidence I
found out that Hristina and Alex, who I knew through the Marillion
Facebook group were also staying here.
checking in I headed towards the amphitheater which was a leisure
stroll away. There I witnessed the sound check of the Devin Townsend
Project in full flow and enjoyed it from a terrace next to the theatre
whilst zipping a well deserved beer. I met some other people who were
going to the concert and it did not take long it was going to be an
international event. People were coming from everywhere and there was a
real vibe. It was also the first time I had goosebumps overlooking the
theatre and hearing the sound heck. Superb!
in the afternoon I met Hristina and Alex again and the three of us went
out for an early dinner. Unfortunately that was about the time we
started to hear the first rumors the Manfred Mann gig had been cancelled
(Apparently there were only 390 tickets sold due to bad promotion and
too high prices for local standards). The Facebook group for the
Marillion event was buzzing and quite some people were disappointed as
well. But then something beautiful happened. Ivan Linkov, Valia Koleva, George ‘Duke’ Radushev and Zlatina
‘Titi’ Radusheva, four Bulgarian hardcore Marillion fans (and lovely
people indeed) started to organize a party for Marillion fans instead of
the now cancelled Manfred Man gig… But they only had 24 hours to
organize everything… Would that be enough for a successful evening? We
would find out…
5 o’clock we returned to the theatre where I picked up my ticket and we
mingled with the crowd again. The atmosphere was great and everybody
was ready for a great evening. At 6 o’clock the gates opened and we
found a perfect spot to watch the gig.
two hours we had to wait before the gig started did not take long as we
were chatting with the people around us. The stage was massive and a
lot of seats onstage were reserved for the Plovdiv Symphonic Orchestra
that joined for the first set of the gig.
then it started, and OMG what a special gig it was. Unfortunately the
orchestra could not be heard very well in the mix but for sure it will
sound completely different on the Blu-Ray of the gig that was recorded
that evening. Still an amazing high energy performance that took quite a
while. The first set was a on request set after which there was a 25
minute break when the stage was changed in layout.
the second set we were treated on an integral performance of Ocean
Machine, including the original bassist (seated on a chair due to health
issues). It was a tremendous performance which I did enjoy a lot. Over
three hours of music… At the end all three of us were rather chilly
though so we returned to the guesthouse for a good night sleep.
morning Hristina, Alex and myself had breakfast after which I checked
out and went to the other guesthouse I had booked for the last two
nights. After I checked in over there I returned to my car and drove it
through the narrow streets of the old city as I was offered a free
I wandered through town again to do some sightseeing. It was clear the
city was divided in two parts, the old part where the amphitheater was
located, and the new part for the shopping centers and where people
lived. Right now I decided to focus on the old part, which was the most
attractive after all.
went to the place where the wine-tasting was supposed to be held but
was greeted by an unfriendly receptionist who only spoke Bulgarian. Also
the ticket-boot from Eventim, that was located on the main shopping
boulevard, did not provide useful information so I left things as they
I returned to the bar next to the amphitheater for a coffee and update
my journal. Temperatures had dropped considerably so after a while I
returned to my guesthouse to pick up my jacket.
now plans from my Bulgarian friends were already taking shape and they
had booked a sports bar outside the center of Plovdiv for a family
gathering. There were already 40-50 people interested so it was arranged
we would meet later that day in front of the Roman Stadium in Plovdiv
and take taxis to the sports bar. A Buffet with Bulgarian specialities
was also arranged and it seemed that Ivan, Valia, George and Zlatina
indeed had achieved the impossible and actually were able to arrange a
full blown party within 24 hours. Once again prove of the magic that
only occurs within the Marillion family and the ultimate sign of
Bulgarian hospitality. Yes it was a shame I would not see Manfred Mann
live but now I was looking forward to something that without doubt was
even more special.
made another stroll over the cobbled roads of old Plovdiv towards the
new centre. There I met Ronald and Diana, a Dutch couple, I already knew
from facebook and we decided to go for a beer. We also met Ron, another
Marillion fan and together we spent a nice afternoon, full of
expectations for what was ahead.
that afternoon I returned to my hostel for a short nap. On the way
there I met a very familiar face… We had a short chat and then I said
goodbye to Steven Rothery, guitarist from Marillion, as without doubt he
had a very busy agenda. Still I asked him whether he would be at the
party that evening to which he vaguely answered with a big mile on his
face: “One never knows what happens in Plovdiv…“.
my nap I went to the Roman Stadium where I met the first Marillion
fans. Some people I already knew but most of them were new. Not that
that mattered as people from the Marillion family never remain strangers
for long… People from all over Europe. Bulgaria, Netherlands,
Germany, United Kingdom, but one from Australia as well (Alex). There
was a positive vibe and a good buzz and everybody was looking forward to
a very special evening.
were quite some taxis arranged to transport all of us to the bar and in
each of the taxi’s a Bulgarian speaking person was present and language
problems were avoided.
turned out to be a fantastic evening. One of us, Mike Stead was
“secretly” celebrating his birthdays but those things do not stay secret
for long so we all sang a birthday song and a birthday cake was
presented to a visibly touched Mick.
having met Steven Rothery earlier that day I already suspected he would
be present at the party and I was not disappointed. A really nice guy
who was genuinely having a good time, and who took time to speak with
everybody present. At one point I quickly went to see him whilst he was
in a discussion with other people and asked whether I could offer him a
single malt whisky (I knew these is his favorite drink). Not much later
he joined us at our table for a toast, a chat and the mandatory
an evening, what a crowd and what a fabulous drink… That evening Ivan
introduced me to mastika, the Bulgarian version of Ouzo. I loved it a
lot so I had plenty of them. What I did not realize is how strong it was
so at the end of the evening I was rather ehh drunk… Oh well, it was a
holiday after all, and in spite of the mastika it was an evening I will
morning I had a much needed sleep-in and after a splendid breakfast
wondered around Plovdiv. It was wonderful to see many Marillion T-shirts
in the crowd. It was like an announcement of the magic that was to
happen later that evening.
was a beautiful day again but somehow I did not feel like sightseeing
anymore. My mind was already set to the event that had triggered my
journey to Romania and Bulgaria. Marillion performing live at the
ancient Roman Amphitheater in Plovdiv… It all seemed to be a bit
surreal but it was really happening…
most members of the family members had platinum tickets (Another
wonderful achievement of George ‘Duke’ Radushev) we were granted access
30 minutes before general admission and assigned seets on the first
three rows center stage. The best seats in the theater… It was another
surreal thing to an event I knew was going to be so extraordinary
special, even more so than ordinary Marillion gigs. The gig was still
another two hours away but in the mean time all of us enjoyed this very
special atmosphere with a small group of dedicated people lucky enough
to have this special treat.
seemed to last ages before the theater was filling up and shortly I was
afraid Marillion would have to perform before a half empty theater.
Hristina however told me this was normal at Bulgarian gigs as no one
seems to be in a rush. And there was no reason to be worried as before
the gig started the theater was full and an exciting buzz filled the
At 8 o’clock sharp we
could hear bees humming and there will not have been many people in the
audience not knowing this was the beginning of El Dorado, the opening
track of Marillion’s latest album F.E.A.R. The next two and a half hours
or so I was on a different planet. That happens during most of the
Marillion gigs intend as they are always such an expression of emotion
and feelings. It is difficult to explain what this band means to me so I
am not even going to try. Fact is that once again I was enjoying the
music that I loved most, surrounded by people who understood perfectly
what it means, in an ancient place where 2000 years ago the Romans would
have had no clue that a rock band would be treating fans from all over
in a place they once founded with completely different ideas. But now,
the 24th of September 2017, the Ancient Roman Amphitheater in Plovdiv
was a magic place… We come together…
Early, far to early for my
liking an end came to the concert. But did it really happen? Was I
there? What an experience! After the concert a group of us still went to
a restaurant for a late meal and discussing the gig. One thing all of
us had in common, this almost unnatural smile on our faces. What a
brilliant gig at a very special location.
Next day I had
difficulties with the fact it all was over. It’s been a long time I had
been looking forward to this whole trip but now it was time to go home
again. Expectations turned into memories, sweet memories. I picked up
Hristina and Alex and together we drove to Sofia. That evening we had
one final dinner, together with Ron, Ronald and Dianne. One final dinner
with people who were brought together because of music.
One more sleep and it was
all over. At the airport I met Ron, Ronald and Dianne again as we were
booked on the same flight to Eindhoven.. A short bus and train ride
later I was home.
It had not been the first
time Marillion triggered a trip. Numerous time I had flown to the UK for
a series of gig and I still remember mu journey for cruise to the Edge
in 2014. But every time my trips were completely dedicated to the
concerts after which I returned home immediately. This was the first
time Marillion inspired a full holiday for me to two countries which
normally I would most likely not have visited in a while.
But what a surprise it had
been. I can only say I thoroughly enjoyed my journey to two of the
oldest civilizations in Europe. As I had no idea on what to expect I
went there with an open mind. Both neighboring countries were
significantly different and each of them had it’s unique charms. I had a
wonderful three and a half week which once again showed me you do not
need to travel far to have a wonderful trip. I wonder which my next
European adventure will lead me to but first my eyes are focused on the
east again for two trips in 2018…
Note: The live pictures on
this page from the Devin Townsend Project gig are not mine. I found
them on several resources at the internet. The brilliant Marillion
pictures are shot by Ron Kraaijkamp, a friend and member of the
Marillion family, who kindly allowed me to use his pictures. Also the
pictures from The Marillion family gathering are from his hand.