September 24, 2003
Krassi was a good guide, pointing out spots for photographs and explaining the history of places. You could spend days visiting all the restored 19th-century "House Museums," but Krassi picked out the best for us to visit. In Plovdiv, he is a webpage designer and Internet entrepreneur who yearns to earn enough to buy his travel-agent license. It felt good helping him out. I'm sure there are professional tour guides whose knowledge and store of anecdotes is greater. However, seeing the city with him was like seeing it with a friend.
After a bite to eat in a cafe, we drove about 20 miles south to Bachkovo Monastery. As my travel magazine had described, it was nestled peacefully among forested hills. The brother monks, clad in their black robes and hats, milled in and out of the monastery's church, bowing and praying before the icons and altars. One burly bearded fellow reminded me of Gimli the Dwarf from The Lord of the Rings. I was struck by the expression on his craggy face when he paused in front of the silver-plated icon of the Virgin Mary. It was the smile with which you greet an old friend with whom you share many secret memories. The monastery grounds were gorgeous, with well-tended flowers and trees surrounding the fresco-covered walls of the buildings, which had been rebuilt more than once since its founding in 11th century.
On the way back to Plovdiv, we stopped by the ruins of a hilltop castle and its accompanying church (which, unlike the castle, was still in good shape). The views up the valley towards Bachkovo and down towards Plovdiv were resplendent with green trees, broken by the tawny scar of the granite hillsides. As light faded, we stopped by the Monument to the Soviet army, which sat atop Plovdiv on a commanding hill. Plovdiv's buildings stretched out in ranks beneath us in all directions, like soldiers upon review. Other Eastern European nations have been quick to trash their Soviet-era artifacts and monuments. However, the Bulgarians have a different view of them. The Russians had long been their allies, and their help was instrumental in freeing Bulgaria from Turkish rule.
From journal A Bit of Bulgaria