Plovdiv (© Eric Nathan/Robert Harding)
Q: When did you last travel to Plovdiv and why were you there?
I last went to Plovdiv in 2000. I was there on holiday. My friend Simon and I went to Bulgaria for the Koprivshtitsa folk music festival. He went for the music, but I was really there for the kebabs. My wife refuses to go with me now because she is so sick of our Bulgarian holiday anecdotes.
Q: Why do you love the location?
For me, the magic of Plovdiv, and indeed of Bulgaria generally, is that it feels so natural and unselfconscious. The old town is beautifully preserved, but it doesn’t feel manicured or touristy. It feels a little bit like a backwater, which means that it’s relatively untouched by mass tourism, but in terms of historical sights and sheer atmosphere, it’s just as nice as somewhere in say, Croatia.
Q: What top 3 sights would you recommend people visit while they are there, and why?
Well, the Old Town has to be top of the list, because you really do feel as if you’ve wandered back into the last years of the Ottoman Empire. And the fantastically preserved Roman theatre, obviously. And as number three I would recommend a day trip to the Bachkovo Monastery, which is fantastically atmospheric.
Q: During what period of its history would you most wanted to have visited Plovdiv and why?
If nothing else, I think I’d give the Communist years a miss. It would have been fun to have seen the city in the 1880s and 1890s, when it had just rejoined an independent Bulgaria and the National Revival architecture was in its heyday.
Q: Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?
I have a weird interest in the Eastern European borderlands, so perhaps some sort of road trip from the former East Prussia down through Poland and western Ukraine to the Black Sea would be great. Crumbling 19th-century architecture and tower blocks and derelict villages and unshaven men lurking vaguely near railway lines, that sort of thing. Perhaps more excitingly, though, I’ve always wanted to go to Peru: Cuzco, Machu Picchu, the usual drill.
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Dominic Sandbrook recently presented Tomorrow’s Worlds: The Unearthly History of Science Fiction on BBC Two
You can read Dominic’s feature on Plovdiv in the March 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine – on sale from 26 February