This stunning Roman acropolis was constructed during the 2nd century AD.

The Rhodopes give way sharply to featureless Maritsa River Valley, and the human environment changes just as quickly. We have just four minutes to catch the train to Plovdiv-no time for tickets. The express is packed to the gills, and passengers hiss as we drag our bags down the crowded corridors. A conductor who speaks perfect English fines us 10 times the price of tickets ... but doesn't give us tickets!

The taxi from the Plovdiv train station has a meter that spins faster than the speed of light. When it hits 20 lev, we yell "spiram" and walk the rest of the way to old Plovdiv.

We take refuge in a tiny garden restaurant, where a young waiter with an angelic smile helps us find an inexpensive room at a nearby tourist home.

Old Plovdiv is an ancient Thracian settlement that was rebuilt by Phillip II of Macedon in 342 BC. The former "Phillippopolis" has a charming old town, where narrow cobblestone streets tunnel under orieled National Revival homes.

It is, however, dangerously short of donkey dung ...

Our room at the top of a wooden tower of a building, with carved ceilings and a pair of curved stairways on every floor.

We are perfectly positioned between the techno rock blaring from the taverna downstairs, and the mind-numbing chalga from a street party in the lower town. The floor shakes like a tambourine.