We all love snow in the city on the first day after it falls, while the air is still crisp and pristine white covers the dusty streets, the cars, the leafless trees. However, after its first day in Sofia, snow becomes just another urban annoyance. The compacted ice on the pavements. The impassable streets. The grey, yellow and black hues the snow assumes from the dirty city air. Not. Enjoyable. At. All.
Straight streets intersecting at right angles: Stara Zagora, a southern Bulgarian city of 150,000, is the only one of its type in Bulgaria. It is the result of a tragedy and a necessity. In the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War, Stara Zagora was razed to the ground after a vicious battle. Rebuilding began in 1878 according to a plan by an Austro-Hungarian architect.
"Today I went to see that sort of an island with the ruins, but it was closed. I read that it used to be a school for fishermen," a British friend says, incredulously. She sips her white wine, which we are enjoying in the best of Sozopol's restaurants, on the rocky shore of the old town, and adds: "Being a fisherman is not something you are taught in school, it is a trade that generally runs in the family."
Traditional villages, Thracian rock shrines and natural phenomena are the most common off-the-beaten-rack experiences in Bulgaria, but when you take the small road from the OMV petrol station at the 68th kilometre on the Hemus motorway near Osikovitsa village, you are heading for a surprise.
Three major rivers flow through southern Bulgaria: the Maritsa, the Arda, and the Tundzha. Springing from the most prominent Bulgarian mountain ranges, they carve, wind and splash their way though ravines and canyons and across plains, passing by cities ancient and new, before they finally join together just after the border with Turkey and flow south until they reach the Aegean.