Serendipity Saves the Day in Bulgaria

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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.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Nowhere to hide.

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.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Cool. But not a 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.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

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.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
I would have even jumped into this.

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.

Aqua Land

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.

Aqua Land

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?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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12 Comments on “Serendipity Saves the Day in Bulgaria

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  1. Hi there! It’s great that in the end of the day you found exactly what you were looking for and that you enjoyed the warm summer we have in Bulgaria. I’m glad you got to discover that we truly do have everything here. It’s just a matter of time to find out about all the opportunities around, or as in your case – a local to point them out for you. If you’re ever coming back to Bulgaria, please feel welcome to drop me a line. As local, and a traveler myself, I’ll be happy to list all the must-see sites of Bulgaria (and the Balkan region). I can also hook you up on a great rent-a-car deal if you a willing to go for a road trip, as this is really the best way to explore around.

    […] normal things with them. Like the day a tour guide in Bulgaria invited me and two friends to a water park with him and his girlfriend, gave us a ride, and even paid for us to get […]

    […] Veliko Tarnovo and spend four nights there, working solidly the whole time. Yes, it was July, and I had been warned about Bulgaria’s searing summer heat from my friend Amanda, but wouldn’t heading into the mountains keep things at a reasonable […]

    awww sounds like a great time! bet your travel buddies were glad you put a foot down to no sight seeing! so lucky that you got the local experience.

      Yes, at the end of the day we were all really happy that we hadn’t gone sightseeing or just hung around the hotel. We definitely would have missed out!

    “We spent the afternoon soaking up the sun, cooling off in the pool, and slipping down the water slides…” sounds as the perfect end of the story.

    I will re-read this post in December 🙂

      It definitely was the perfect end – to the story, and to our time in Bulgaria!

    Oh, wonderful! There’s nothing better than having a local friend when you’re visiting a new country. We had an incredibly serendipitous experience the first time we visited Belgium. We didn’t have very specific plans for what we would do there, but a reader commented about visiting a town called De Haan. We looked it up, and went. There, we made friends with a family, and they invited us to come back and stay in their beach house. They have turned out to be good friends, and we even recently went back to attend their wedding! I keep wondering what would have happened if that person never left that comment on my blog…
    Here’s the first part of the story:

      Aww, what a cool story! That’s great that you still stay in touch and that the friendship has only grown!

    Absolutely Perfect! No such thing as coincidence.

      Well, this certainly wasn’t coincidence! It turned out to be an awesome day; a great end to Bulgaria.

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