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Plovdiv, Bulgaria's 2nd City, a 2019 European Capital of Culture

Plov-what, now? Chances are you've never heard of this city of just over 345,000 (greater metro area 675,000) in south-central Bulgaria, two hours from capital Sofia. But in the  29 years since this country's from a particularly hardline, isolationist Communist country, Europe's oldest continuously inhabited city has reinvented itself for the 21st century, the allures of its picturesque old town and ancient Roman amphitheater these days balanced by vibrant nightlife, cultural ferment, and a parade of exciting festivals and events throughout the year.

Built, like Rome, on seven hills, astride the Maritsa River through the Thracian Plain, the origins of Пловдив stretch back to the first Neolithic settlements of the 6th millennium BCE, and in the millennia since has undergone numerous incarnations. Once known by the Greek name Philippopolis (after Alexander the Great's dad Philip of Macedon, who conqueres the area in 342), it was first part of the kingdom of Thrace and then absorbed by empires including the Roman, the Byzantine, the Ottoman, and the Bulgarian (681–1018 and 1185–1396), before Bulgaria finally became a principality in 1878 - leading to a further tumultuous evolution culminating in its current status as a capitalist parliamentary democracy and member of the European Union and NATO. All of that has bequeathed a tremendous amount of history, it goes without saying, and visitors reap the benefit. And all that history and culture also clinched Plovdiv's selection as one of 2019's two European Capitals of Culture... keep reading

6 Top Winter Resorts of the USA's Rocky Mountains

Speaking to my fellow Europeans, if you’ve gone skiing or snowboarding on the Continent but not yet in North America, you’re in for a real treat. Welcome to an unexpected world in which everyone seems to be intent upon you having a good time. Take ski school for example - in Europe, some still have the attitude “You are here to learn first, have fun second.” Whilst in North America it’s the other way around.

For this is a world where “standing in line” (queuing) has been raised to a virtual art form, with a polite alternate interweaving of lift lines and a special one for singles. No chair ever goes up empty. In fact you might even be scolded if you leave a chair going up with an unoccupied seat. Regimented? A bit, but everything moves swiftly and efficiently because of it.

There are more rules and regulations here, too, with piste police in evidence on many of the runs, and umpteen signs warning you not to leave the prepared trails. Ducking under the ropes can easily lead to a court appearance and even jail. There are rules for (not) drinking and skiing/snowboarding. Speeding through a designated slow area is strictly taboo, and could cost you your lift ticket.

On the plus side, the level of service on the mountain in Rockies resorts is amazing. Although conditions in the Alps are improving, surly staff are not uncommon.

Unlike Europe, the whole ski area and the resort, most of the hotels, ski schools, childcare and even restaurants are usually operated by a single company. There’s a co-ordinated effort to keep the customer happy.

And though many of these resorts are relatively small compared to Europe, size doesn’t seem to matter when there’s so little queuing and the trails are so perfectly groomed. Then there are the little touches than enhance the holiday experience, such as free tissues and lift maps supplied at nearly all lift stations, and “mountain hosts” who show you around the trails – again, free of charge.

Without further ado, here are my pick of six of the best resorts in the USA Rockies... keep reading


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