It was simply too hot in Plovdiv.
Forget about walking around — even just standing in the afternoon sun in Bulgaria's second-largest city was enough to make you sweat buckets. And in the shade? Well, it didn't really offer any relief.
After surviving a 3-hour walking tour of the city the day before (during which I whined quite a bit and legitimately almost passed out twice because I was so overheated and dehydrated), I informed my tour mates that by no circumstances was I going to be doing any sightseeing on our last day in Bulgaria.
“I'm going swimming,” I told them.
Never mind that I had no idea where one could swim in Plovdiv. I just knew that I needed a break from the oppressive heat of the Eastern European summer — and I wanted that break to take place in a nice pool.
After doing some quick Google searches and consulting my In Your Pocket guide for the city, I discovered that the Sankt Peterburg hotel had an “Aquapark” that non-guests of the hotel could pay about $4 USD to enjoy. It had 5 different pools, swim-up bars, water slides, and even a pirate ship. It sounded like Heaven. Better yet, it was within walking distance from our hotel.
I informer Arthur, Luke, Elizabeth, and our guide Marta of my plan, inviting them all to join if they felt so inclined. Arthur and Luke (clearly in awe of my awesome Internet researching skillz) told me they'd come along.
The Aquapark Quest
The next day around noon we all set off for the Aquapark, a spring in our sweaty steps as we made our way across town.
But when we arrived at the hotel, the spring vanished immediately: the Aquapark was closed for renovations.
Desperate for a body of water to jump into ASAP, we went inside the hotel to ask whether there was anywhere else around with a pool we could pay to use. The answer? We could head to the Best Western and pay 25 Euro each to use their pool.
Devastation. That's the only word to describe our reaction as we longingly looked out over the bone-dry Aquapark.
Dejected, we headed back outside, with me deciding that I'd just go back to our hotel and wallow in a cold shower all afternoon.
And that's when Serendipity, friend of all travelers, stepped in to save the day.
As we left the hotel and approached the barricaded entrance to the Aquapark, we noticed Dilan, our local walking tour guide from the day before, headed in our direction. He recognized us at the same time, and waved us over. It turns out he and his girlfriend were planning to go to the Aquapark that day, too.
We had to deliver the bad news that it was closed.
Unphased by this, Dilan simply said, “Oh, well we can go to the other one.”
The Other One
It turns out there IS another cheap place to swim in Plovdiv — it's called Aqua Land, and is the only water park outside of Bulgaria's Black Sea resorts.
You can't walk there from downtown Plovdiv, however. But luckily for us, Dilan was willing to give us all a ride. We chatted with his girlfriend while he went to get his car, and within an hour we were all standing in front of Aqua Land.
For just over $5 USD, we were given full run of the water park for the entire day. With a couple of pools, some really cool water slides, free inner tubes, and even a wave pool, this place was exactly the sort of haven we'd been searching for.
We spent the afternoon soaking up the sun, cooling off in the pool, and slipping down the water slides, all while getting to know Dilan and Stefanie. They both have traveled extensively themselves, and gave us a unique perspective on life in Bulgaria that we would have never gotten otherwise.
In fact, Aqua Land itself gave us a glimpse into a side of “local” Bulgaria that we hadn't seen yet, as we were essentially the only foreigners there.
At the end of the afternoon, after Dilan dropped the three of us back at our hotel, I couldn't shake the warm fuzzy feeling that had been developing all day (and no, it wasn't just from the heat).
Travel can be downright frustrating at times. But all it takes is one little stroke of luck or serendipity, and a bad mood can dissolve into a great one.
Clearly, we were meant to go swimming that day. And the fact that we got to enjoy it with two travel-loving locals was just icing on the cake.
Do YOU have any stories of serendipity influencing your travels?