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Kamen Panayotov – Buzludzha and Plovdiv

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KamenKamen is a dear friend of mine and has been a partner of Traventuria from the creation of the company. Kamen has years of experience as a passionate tour guide and now has his own tourist agency named PLOVDIV TRIPS (https://www.plovdivtrips.com), which is offering private tours from Plovdiv – the second biggest town in Bulgaria. Kamen is not only doing sightseeing tours but hiking trips as well.

The Buzludzha Monument (The Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party) is in ruins. It is a building that raises polar opinions in the Bulgarian society. What is your opinion? Should this interesting architectural structure be reconstructed or left to the natural elements to destroy it completely?

Buzludzha is something really special and it must be restored and preserved as soon as possible before nature and uncivilized people destroy it completely. It is a big shame that after 30 years now the Bulgarian state can’t do anything to save that unique monument. In my opinion, this is a must see place in Bulgaria that is unique in the world. You can’t see anything like that anywhere around the world. A young Bulgarian architect Dora Ivanova (https://www.buzludzha-monument.com/#welcome) is trying to raise funds to restore the monument but this is mission impossible for the moment. I’ve been in touch with her and a few years ago she had the idea/project to make out of Buzludzha a modern museum of Bulgarian history in 3 levels – each one devoted to a different period of the Bulgarian history. I had a discussion with her and I told her that the best would be if the monument is being restored as close as possible to the original building without any changes of both the exterior and interior. She agreed with me but added that according to her the Bulgarian society wasn’t still ready to accept it as it used to be because of the bad memories that many Bulgarians still have from the communist past of the country. I’m quite positive that the best way to follow is to reconstruct Buzludzha exactly as it was looking when it was built with all the colourful mosaics of Bulgarian and international communist leaders etc. And I think that from an investment point of view Buzludzha can be a really good and profitable business project as once restored properly and marketed well it will bring for sure thousands of tourists from all over the world. The potential is huge, unfortunately, underestimated.

When for the last time have you entered the monument? Is it closed for visitors at the moment due to being dangerous?

I entered this spectacular structure for the last time in 2017. It is closed for visitors at the moment and it has been like that for many years but people have always found their way to sneak in. For many years the local authorities have been trying to close all the possible entrances but curious and adventurous visitors have always found new ways to get it. There are many signs informing visitors that it is dangerous and strictly forbidden to get inside. At some point, there were even CCTV cameras that are not operational anymore. Since the spring of 2018 there is live security up there and entering the building is finally impossible. The game of cat and mouse is over ;).

There is a great interest among tourists to visit the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party. What impresses most the people who you have taken there?

The interest is huge and foreigners are really strongly impressed, especially the ones coming from countries that never had communism. All is unique up there: the flying saucer shape of the building, the pylon with the 2 red “bleeding” stars, the smart graffiti on the walls and of course this sweeping panorama all around. The peak where Buzludzha is located (they had to blow up and level off the mountain top for the foundations) is very panoramic and being on the Central Balkan Range ridge one can enjoy some lovely views over both South and North Bulgaria. I’ll tell you about something little in size that impressed me personally a lot. Inside Buzludzha on the second level, there is a circular outer corridor. Most of the white floor tiles are destroyed. Once I’ve noticed on one of them an inscription with a black permanent marker left by Will Salas on 2.9.2015 saying: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist”. The last 2 times I was inside this tile was missing. Probably someone liked that quotation and took the tile with him/her.

Taking the trip to the Buzludzha Monument is worth doing even only for the fantastic sight from there, but do you take the tourists to other tourist attractions that are nearby?

Yes, this monument can be well combined together with a few other tourist sites like Shipka Monument of Freedom located again on the ridge of the Balkan Range, the Russian Shipka Memorial Church at the foothill of the mountain and Goliama Kosmatka Thracian temple/tomb. If there is enough time one can explore more of the tombs in the Valley of the Thracian Kings (3-4 of them), Kazanlak with the Rose Museum and the local historical museum which is also interesting.

Is there a communist monument in Plovdiv that you like to take the tourists to? My favourite is Alyosha.

Alyosha is one of the symbols of Plovdiv and me personally I like it. And I think the big majority of the Plovdiv citizens like it too. Normally I do not take tourists there as it requires some extra walking. The monument of the unknown Soviet soldier from World War 2 – Alyosha is situated on top of the second highest hill of Plovdiv and it takes about 15 min. uphill walk to reach it. On my walking tour of Plovdiv I show my guests from a distance Alyosha and I always recommend them to walk the extra mile as the 360-degree panorama from the top is the best in Plovdiv. The monument itself is interesting too.

As you have a tourist agency in Plovdiv, do you see an increased interest from tourists for 2019 that you can associate to the town being a European Cultural Capital?

There is an increase but not a big one. We have never had more early bookings from one year for the following one as this year. But at the moment the number of bookings for January and February is lower than last year. I hope that the season will be stronger with the coming of spring and the warmer weather. According to the Bulgarian Minister of Tourism the increase of the tourism industry in Plovdiv because of “Plovdiv 2019” will be at least 10 % which is not as good as the municipality expected a few years ago. At that time they were talking about 3-4 times more foreign visitors. This is a total illusion. In my opinion, the growth will be between 10 and 20 % compared to last year, not more.

What events will take place in Plovdiv in 2019 will you be attending? Which ones can you recommend to foreign tourists?

Long ago I’ve purchased tickets for a very big band from Australia called “Dead Can Dance”. They are the pioneers in their genre which covers the following styles: neoclassical dark wave; world; art rock; avant-garde; gothic rock. Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry from “Dead Can Dance” come for the first time in Bulgaria and they will perform at the local Ancient (Roman) Theatre which is about 2000 years old. I’m sure it will be a great show! I totally recommend it to the fans of that type of music.

The program of “Plovdiv 2019” is really big and diverse with about 500 events. The program one can find on the official website: https://plovdiv2019.eu/en

Here are a few pictures taken by Kamen from Buzludzha.

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