During our May 2011 adventure we decided to continue from Belgrade to Istanbul, and as Bulgaria is on the route we decided to take the overnight train from Belgrade to Sophia, which turned out to be an endurance test, as the train didn't have sleeping accommodation, we travelled in a compartment with some scruffy men, although we had booked our own compartment, the reserved seats had not materialised.
So after a sleepless night we arrived into Sophia station at about 8.45. As we got off the train, several men offered their "help", and took us to a coffee bar, but then insisted a tip of 2Lev wasn't enough. So after that we didn't accept any help offered to us. We found the station grey and unwelcoming, and so we decided to travel onto Plovdiv, and in about 2 hrs we had arrived into a station which was more welcoming, there were plenty of places to buy drinks and food and no-one pestering us.
Our first priority was to have a drink (beer) and then to find somewhere for the night. Almost opposite the station was the Trakia Hotel, but we could only stay for one night as the following weekend there was a festival and as we found out later all places were fully booked.
After a brief (and much needed) sleep and shower we started to explore Plovdiv, which we found very pleasant as the streets from Trakia to Stefan Stambolov Square were tree lined, here we stopped for a drink in one of the pavement cafes, before moving into the old town, a hilly part of Plovdiv complete with Ottoman style houses, Orthodox churches, museums, souvenir shops and art galleries.
We found an interesting Bulgarian restaurant, where we had our dinner (local beer and Bulgarian chicken and vegetables (served in ceramic bowls)).
We returned to our hotel at about 10pm. The following day we had more time to explore this interesting area
On Friday 13th May, we had enjoyed the much needed sleep at the Trakia Hotel, and after checking out we needed to sort out a ticket reservation for the train to Istanbul. Fortunately there is a ticket issuing office opposite the railway station, where the staff speak English, and are more helpful than those at the railway station.
Back at Trakia we had a breakfast at the hotel balcony restaurant of omelette, chips, coffee and beer, and then we continued our exploring of the Old town. Mira from Virtual Tourist, had sent me a walking tour guide, which we used to explore Plovdiv.
Hinsilijan House, Djamaja Square, and Saborna Street. We visited an art gallery where the artists was present and had some very interesting paintings on view.
As the weather had turned out to be very warm, we spent the afternoon outside the Arena bar, which overlooks the Roman Amphitheatre.
We returned to the station and had some coffee and a roll at the station cafe and then waited for the train to Istanbul, which arrived at the station some 40 minutes late. We met an American (Saraja) and had an interesting conversation. We settled into our sleeping compartment and had supper and read.