Monday, April 12, 2010

Хасково (Haskovo)

To be honest, I had no interest in spending any time in Хасково (Haskovo), a feeling which had been reinforced as we made our way into town and past one depressing communist-era apartment block after another. I was in Haskovo only because there was a daily bus from there to my intended destination, Маджарово (Madzharovo). As the bus rolled into the station, I was feeling pretty good. A typical Monday involved teaching and lesson planning. But this wasn’t a typical Monday. It was spring break. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and the bus to Madzharovo didn’t leave until 4:00. That left plenty of time to buy my ticket, stretch my legs, and maybe even enjoy a cold beer. But there was a problem. The one and only daily bus from Haskovo to Madzharovo had long since departed. It left daily at 2:30, not 4:00. The next bus to Madzharovo didn’t leave for another twenty three hours.

I called my contact in Madzharovo. I explained my situation, and he told me he would call back in fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes later, one of my contact’s colleagues called. I was in luck. Another colleague who lived in Haskovo was willing and able to drive us to Madzharovo. They would be ready to go in a couple hours and would call me back when they were ready. In the meantime, I was free to explore Haskovo.

My initial thoughts regarding Haskovo couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s no utopia, but it’s anything but the ugly and depressing place I thought it to be. With a laid-back vibe, manicured gardens, and a modern, pedestrianized center with a surprising number of shops and cafés, Haskovo is actually a rather pleasant place to be stuck for a couple hours. I suspect deeper digging might reveal a far less sunny side of Haskovo. I also wonder how the investment in and renovation of the city center will ultimately pan out. But, in the absence of such scrutiny and foresight, Haskovo is a quite agreeable and enjoyable town.

Only two of the town’s original seven mosques remain. One of them, Eski Mosque is the oldest in the Balkans. The minaret of Eski Mosque is in the background here.

The investment in Haskovo's modern, pedestrianized center gives the town a much different feel than many Bulgarian towns, whose city centers seem to be dying.

Among other things, Haskovo boasts the world’s tallest monument to the Virgin Mary. The thirty two meter high statue, which was dedicated in 2003, can be found on the Hill of Youth on the edge of the city center.

A view of town from the Hill of Youth.

Haskovo celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 1985. To mark the occasion, this monstrosity was erected.

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