Today we toured Plovdiv and generally took advantage of our cultural day in what was recently (2 days ago) announced to be the cultural capital of Europe 2019.
It looks like the city responded pretty quickly because there are banners and posters and even statues up all over the place in celebration and our tour guide told us that they are renovating and refurbishing the public spaces as much as possible in preparation. Regardless of any need to renovate, Plovdiv is such a beautiful city. We are staying in the Old Town and are surrounded by Revival homes, museums, and shops selling Bulgarian trinkets. There are columns painted on buildings and frequent evidence of the rules and regulations set by changing regimes over time. One interesting thing in that regard was old churches that had new bell towers because under Ottoman rule, Christian churches were not allowed to have bell towers, so as not to disturb the Muslims when it was time for them to pray. I was pretty struck by the difference between regulations of that time and the U.S., where, even at Rice, most of the prayer spaces are made more for Christians, but that’s kind of an errant thought.
I loved how Plovdiv embraces things that other cities fight, like frequent graffiti, and celebrate street art. There were some beautiful murals and even posters that looked like graffiti that were promoting Plovdiv as the cultural capital of Europe in 2019.
We had some free time in the afternoon and it rained, but we met one of Angie’s cousins, who showed us one of the seven hills. This particular hill had an absolutely beautiful view and apparently Bulgarian high school students traditionally go there after their prom to watch the sun rise. I find the Bulgarian prom tradition fascinating because it seems like something so endemic to the United States so it makes me think a lot about cultural assumptions.
I’m tired now, so I will stop, but we will continue tomorrow with one more day in Plovdiv before our return to Sofia, where I anticipate our service becoming intense in anticipation of the food drive on Saturday.