Five days ago me and Ding Ding arrived in our home for the next three months. My Airbnb Maison33 is on Ulitsa Gladston, a street in a nice and central neighbourhood in Plovdiv. It sits right next to one of the seven hills that the city has been built around. The house is clean, warm and cozy and owner Velina is a great landlady. I unpacked my bags and set up my tea table. I have arrived! Here are my first Plovdiv impressions.
Travel with Ding
The three-day trip from Kunming to Plovdiv was long but overall ok. It really helped that I had broken up the journey with hotel stays in Beijing, Frankfurt and Sofia to rest up inbetween the flights. Before we left I was really worried about how Ding would handle the travel but there was no need. He bounced back quickly and I loved snuggling with him inbetween the flights. One thing I didn’t really expect is how much he helped me with the transition to a new home – he’s been an emotional support animal of sorts.
Moving to Bulgaria was in many ways much easier than moving to China. For one, I took my time to prepare. This time, I’m not dealing with the end of a longterm relationship. I’m not transitioning from a one-year free and easy bicycle trip to a hectic new job in a strange country – I have my online job and also hope to continue my cultural projects in Yunnan. Bulgaria is culturally closer to me too, which makes it much easier to settle in. Still, everything here is different enough to be exciting.
First Plovdiv impressions
It’s quite cold and the sky is grey, but the autumn leaves are beautiful. I quite like feeling the fresh cold air on my face while being wrapped up in my big winter coat. I spend a lot of time in my well-insulated and well-heated apartment to rest up from the journey but I also go for lots of walks in my new neighbourhood. There is a hill right next to my house with lots of walking trails, nice views of the city and a Soviet-style monument at the top. My neighbourhood has cute Bulgarian Revival houses, decorated with yellowing vine leaves. Right in the city centre there are Roman ruins and an Ottoman mosque.
The very first impression however is not something I see but something I feel – I’ve got a tremendous sense of freedom. I no longer need to use a VPN to circumvent online censorship. No longer do I just feel tolerated and at the mercy of the ever changing visa rules of the government. I have an absolute right to be here as a European citizen, to work and to buy property if I want to. I know I am ridiculously privileged with my Dutch passport and it’s not something I will ever take for granted. It’s incredibly unfair that not everyone can live in a safe and well-organized country. Just because they were born in the wrong place, with the wrong passport. Still, I am immensely enjoying the feeling of freedom. I’m starting to realize I have been living under a lot more stress and pressure than I thought.
The next biggest first impression is linguistic. I can kind of read all the signs around me and I’m drinking in all the beautiful cyrillic letters and words. гараж (garazh or garage), ксерокс (xerox or photocopy), фото (photo) – I can read and understand! By the time I left China I could read a fair bit of the characters around me. They were still mostly little blips of understanding in a sea of uncomprehension. I don’t speak a word of Bulgarian yet but being able to read is an amazing feeling. I also really love the vintage typography of many of the signs.
Before I made the jump I thought I would miss Chinese food a lot. And I probably will, once the novelty of great yoghurt, cheese, olives, herring and other tasty umami Balkan delicacies has worn off. For now I’m putting together completely random meals of whatever I have missed eating in the last few years.
So, the first Plovdiv impressions make me feel confident I have made the right choice in moving here. I’m looking forward to seeing friends this weekend and making new connections and discoveries. One thing I’m not looking forward to is the cold winter. But, I am comfortably cocooning – the swimming pool and sauna around the corner will help too. I’m still waiting for all my stuff to arrive from China. I bought some secondhand winter clothes to get me through the next couple of months. All in all I’m calm and happy, I’m feeling quite alright in Plovdiv.