Varna (Final Day)

I wish it could be just another beautiful morning here in Varna but it certainly had some blues to it as it was our last morning here! Yes, it did come round incredibly fast! Yes, as ridiculous as it might sound in everyday drudge, I can miss mornings and I am lucky I have a few to in fact. I will miss leaving this bed, walking by the check-in desk knowing there is something there to make me smile – in the air, in a stranger’s face, in the sea breeze… It was all just fine and why did it have to end? I will miss even not enjoying the Bulgarian cheese at breakfast I guess…

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Of course this bright brisk morning was to start off with some swimming and can one ever get enough of that especially knowing that the next day it will be no more… I’d spent 23 years of my life not seeing it and why does it make it even harder to part with it now and carry on with my life without it… Well, because from the moment I laid my eyes on it, the sea was going to be in my life forever – in my dreams, in my mind’s eye. Sea and Varna – I was enjoying this combination as I was again astonished at how safe it felt to be here even for a poor swimmer like myself. The world looked so much more peaceful as we rented an umbrella on the beach as it was high time to become a bit more health-conscious now! I could sneak around from under that umbrella at least till September! Can I just hide here like a Russian bear and can September (the most horrible time of the year) never come at all… Probably, the answer is no but please, can the sea make September and the months to follow a bit more sunny and cheerful? Probably, the answer is yes! To swim, to look, to hear – what a massage to all the senses that keep me alive even though sometimes they all seem so dumb in September and the months to follow… I already know a few typical Bulgarian names as parents keep calling for their kids on the beach, I already know that a man screaming «Царевица, моля» says “Corn, please” and I already have some with me here, the one I bought from this lovely old man with very funny feet as they are the first thing we see from under his stall right across the road from where we had breakfast every morning. It is nice to connect but disconnecting is so hard… It is not goodbye yet and we will be back in the evening of course!

 

After lunch we decided to spend our last afternoon here catching up on what we might have missed during the last week as tourists do. Back at the hotel, I realized I will miss my own tanned reflection in this bathroom mirror and the way the maid used to fold our night gowns as lovely Bulgarian roses every morning so I took a photo!

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We walked by the Maritime Museum in the Sea Garden, which we realized we hadn’t explored too much. Our mission was first to visit The Roman Thermae of Varna which were a bit tricky to find. That was more backyard Varna for us as we were trying to figure out the narrow whirling streets that led us further away from the sea. Yes, of course Bulgaria isn’t a rich country after all…

The largest Roman baths in the Balkans looked like a very remote and intimate place to visit. They were constructed here in the 2nd century AD and of course it brought back a swirling combination of my memories of Rome and the image of Bulgaria I was having in my head. We were the only visitors here on this hot summer afternoon! Yes, connecting with the ancient history could be challenging but as someone who had been to Rome, I just took my time. We are in the biggest ancient building complex here in Bulgaria! And we are there all on our own! The beating down sun might actually assist in taking your mind all the way back when this place was used as it was originally designed to be. A piece of land being able to make us reflect and imagine beyond what we can actually see – that was a bit of Rome for us here in Varna.

The next stop was the Ethnographic Museum of Varna. I chose to visit it instead of the Archaeological Museum which seemed easier to find as I’d never been in this kind of museum before and I was hoping it would offer me an insight into our shared Slavic soul. It was in the building which was a bit hard to spot. It was built in the 2nd half of the 19th century which marked the period of the Bulgarian Renaissance (not to be confused with the one massive and mind-changing movement in Italy). We actually had a bit of trouble getting inside and it was the first time we had had to call a staff member to open the museum for us! It was a nice home-like Slavic experience and I really mean it! I felt like a hopeless intellectual visiting a museum on a hot summer afternoon at the Black Sea! The lady at the ticket office was kind to offer us some fact sheets and our tour began. I was really moved to see some typical scenes of Bulgarian life on display here. People wearing traditional costumes, sewing, fishing, ploughing, getting married – all the little detail depended on which part of the country they came from. It was something inherently coherent for us, i.e. very Slavic. I am not too fond of a rural lifestyle at all but there was something so reassuring and soothing to see it here. Are we really foreigners in Bulgaria… Well, we left still feeling a bit pensive and with a few lovely souvenirs to take back home! Slavic culture is marvellous indeed in its own very home-like way, like the Cyrillic alphabet that we had got accustomed to seeing on a holiday!

It was now time for a bit of a shopping spree as we headed off to the Grand Mall not far from the bus station. It was a nice experience but there was nothing too exciting about it except that we got some more typically Bulgarian things to take back home. What I did appreciate was a Bulgarian yogurt I realized I hadn’t tried yet. The world-famous bacteria lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus was so tasty! My stomach agreed with that as well! The taste of Bulgaria…

It was now time for a proper goodbye swim as the evening was settling in. Gasping for air on a hot day, filling one’s stomach with food after a period of starvation, counting down minutes like a prisoner visited by a loved one, lovers sharing another goodbye kiss after another… That was how I felt towards the sea that evening. I was touching, splashing it with my hands to give them more memory of how it feels till I am lucky enough to feel it again. No, it will never be enough! Opening our drinks on a fence, watching cute dogs being walked and people being so casually happy… A perfect seaside evening that I will pray will have again – happiness is so simple and fine here in Bulgaria!

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It was time for a goodbye night-time meal that we were going to have at our favourite Sea Terrace Restaurant and considered it pure luck that we had managed to find a perfect spot to get a perfect view of the sea at night (you can’t see it properly except the lights reflecting off its peaceful surface but you are safe in the knowledge that it is here and so is your happiness of being here as well). It couldn’t get more perfect than that till we were told by a waiter that they were experiencing a bit of a problem in the kitchen and thus would not be serving any more that night. No! We were really upset that wouldn’t be as perfect as we had pictured it would be… Right, we had to opt for our second most favourite place to enjoy our meal. It was all great anyway and so was the fish and the wine (but not as tasty as the ones we could have had back up at the terrace). More things for us to come back for… We certainly didn’t want the night to end and decided to get our lovely view of the sea at a French restaurant at a cup of steaming coffee and a cheese plate. Cheese and the sea – is there too much happiness? Now let’s add a bit of an aristocratic feel to a Bulgarian summer night!

An exaggerated feeling of self and happiness as we enjoy our last night-time promenade – the lit fountain in the park, people playing dominos, children playing. That was going to be my part of Bulgaria… As well as that armchair-shaped stone structure at the exit from the Sea Garden where I remember sitting knowing that was something to remember thinking about – Bulgaria, summertime and the sea… More and more people-watching till there finally comes time to withdraw and start thinking of getting back on the road back to normal… Back at the hotel, as I was waiting for my sister while my sister was taking a bath, I switched on some local radio and found myself totally bewitched by some tunes that were playing one by one as if a part of some enigmatic mantra with a very sensual Turkish flavour. There was an overdose of some inexplicable magic coming into my ears that night, a sweet Oriental romance. Was that the sentimentalism of my last night or images so badly underrated Bulgarian men that I knew I had to part with among other things… That was one very unexpected taste of the Bulgarian delight that sent unwordly swirls of sensations and thoughts into my last sleep here…

At about 6 a.m. next morning we took a taxi and said goodbye to Varna and the sea which wasn’t seen from here. You are there on the right and here I am saying goodbye… I hope I will see you again… That was the end of our week in the country we never knew we would get to visit and probably never considered foreign enough to visit. Were we Slavic siblings, rivals or just worlds apart? Ironically, as with lots of things that might take a lifetime of thought and experience to comprehend, it is a combination of everything. Of course for me Bulgaria is now more than Kirkorov’s birthplace or a former Soviet Republic that is still struggling to get integrated into the European community… It’s rather something more personal like my first impressions of Varna that changed into something more positive and upbeat and of course and, me being me, it is also the smell of a rose I can feel as a I use my beauty products every night. All I know is that when times get tough, Bulgaria is there to enjoy and try to figure out. You can never come back none the wiser… Yes, you become more personally aware of why financial meltdown gets people out of here as well and it’s really a shame that Bulgaria seems to find itself at a crossroads again but I know for one thing that now that I feel more involved, I will hope that whatever way it goes is a prosperous one. Slavic people can fight back, that’s our path and destiny after all. I would sure come back for a more acute taste of our complex Slavic identity, my language, my alphabet and so much more… and the sea of course! Благодаря ти, България!

 

Golden Sands (Златни-Пясыци) (Day 6)

We were going to spend our sixth day here in Bulgaria on another day trip. This time we were bound for the famous Golden Sands resort. I think everyone with a clear memory of the Soviet era might have an idea of this place being rather glamorous and designed for the privileged few. Since this resort was opened in 1957, it has welcomed lots of VIPs from the former Soviet Union indeed. Even though we didn’t opt to spend our entire holiday here as we would imagine the place would be too dull and touristy for us looking for a more authentic flavour, as people born in the Soviet Union (we had our foreign passports to confirm that), we were curious to see what it was all about and what was really the colour of the sand?

It took us a while to figure out how to get there. The Golden Sands were about 20 km from Varna. Here you have a very comfortable and value-deal option of catching a taxi as it can be just ridiculously cheap! I think we just couldn’t believe getting a taxi could be that cheap so we decided to catch a regular bus instead. It was a bit longer and sweatier ride than we had expected and the views were sometimes dull as we were driving through some very local neighbourhoods. Bulgaria is indeed a country with a distinct rural taste. But they have the sea, which we got very quick glimpses of on our way. As we arrived in the Golden Sands, we didn’t notice anything particularly stunning or fascinating about the resort, but just a deserted small green area. Our first and primary stop here was the Attraction Park “Aquapolis”, one of the largest aquaparks in Eastern Europe! I was really craving to embrace a kid in me and get a full-blown experience of being in a place like that for the first time in my life! The place originally seemed a bit crowded and my sister wasn’t particularly excited to get inside. As with everything concerning travelling, I was praying it would all turn out fine in the end! Before being admitted inside, we were to go through the security check, then get the keys to our locker where we would leave our stuff. As I said, there’s nothing appealing about this, but it just had to be done. As we got it all out of the way and I was struggling to ensure my sister it would be totally fun, I saw annoying lots of children around and that had me wondering if the aquapark was the best option at all or would I have been better off not exploring my childish self in this rather adventurous way? People around looked as if they were really having a good time laughing and letting themselves go as they were using different kinds of facilities available here.

We decided we would take it one thing at a time and started off with the Black hole. As with anything physical, I was feeling a bit insecure as I was frightened I might come across as completely awkward and would not make the best of this beautiful sunny afternoon here right across the road from the Black Sea. But the minute I descended into this pitch-black hole swirled by splashes of water, I let go of all my inhibitions. For an instant, I thought I might have taken a wrong turn and might end up somewhere in the Bulgarian water pipes – I literally had to gasp for breath and getting back out and seeing the daylight I felt I’d just been on one immense adventure confronted both by fear and curiousity! My first thought was how my sister had handled this same black hole as she could get a bit claustrophobic at times. To my astonishment, she was perfectly fine and looked like she really loved it! As with any drug, we found ourselves yearning to go at it again and we did and this time it was a pure adrenaline rush and there seemed a bit more air for my lungs to breathe with as I was squeezing through this tight watery space full of curves! We had to get a little break on our lounge – now we knew how people doing extreme sports getting their kick out of this whole thing, it really gets you hooked! We thought it was too early to move on to more extreme and challenging entertainments that we watched others having a blast with. It was explicably funny for us to listen to a group of Ukrainians next to us and no, it didn’t have to do with current political disputes but purely the language. As people born quite near the Ukrainian border, we grew up listening to a dialect, which was a combination of Russian and Ukrainian and hearing only the second part of this bizarre linguistic craft was a bit hilarious. Again, no offense and no politics!

We took our rings further to experience two river torrents (Wild River and Niagara). Descending the first one, I thought I was actually falling off a cliff right into the pool! There is something primeval and animalistic about this human-made experience! Just me, my fear and water! Wow! The second river torrent was like a walk in the park, very slow and relaxing. I had to constantly check on my sister to make sure she was having a nice time and she did! There seemed to be a bit fewer kids around now and it was so good! We could also swim in the large pool all along the perimeter of the park and even though we felt incredibly dumb trying not to get stuck in our rings and bring minimum disruption to the movement of people around, we were really into it! Both kids and adults in us were exhilarated! Everything around us was nice, modern and clean! Well done, Bulgaria! I felt all of this had just to be part of our first ever seaside holiday as we were just basking in the sun in the pool that was getting deeper and deeper as you went further! As neither of us could swim, we had to get back to where we knew it would be perfectly safe to be. I must have got a massive skin burn by now but I didn’t care! It all seemed part of the fun!

At this point we thought we had mustered our courage to have a go at a more extreme Slalom track where we would have to descend into water at an increasing speed! We saw different reactions of people to it but one thing we thought we knew was that it would be safe even though challenging of course! We had to practise the position we would be instructed to take as we got ready to descend down the track. It was (a tiny bit) scary as I looked down at the whole park from up the track which I think was about 10 meters long! Initially it was fine as I was slowly descending down the track with my arms and legs spread but about halfway through I felt I was going down at a 900 angle and I thought I’d never felt so out of control in my entire life! Everything just flashed before my eyes – the Black Sea at a distance, the people down there (probably watching me and other three people in the adjoining tracks and making judgments of my physical vigour)! With a sudden thump, I was thrown back into the pool! What a bumpy and adrenaline-intensive ride! Was my sister OK? Yes, she had just had as much fun as me! What is it about this feeling of being out of control and not being able to back out once you’ve decided you were up for this? We instantly decided we would want to do it all over again and we did! As equally out of control as I was, I felt I could at least be in control of how I was feeling going down and descending back into water! We did it! Twice! Feeling totally fearless, we decided to have another ride in the black hole this time on the same ring together and it was a perfect blast as we were going through all the curves again screaming at the top of our lungs getting a bunch of fellow Russians behind us totally intimidated! They must have loved it as well as their comments suggested! I wasn’t courageous enough though to face my fear and try the famous Kamikadze that has one descending into water off the astounding 18 meters! Looking back, I wish I had because otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here regretting missing out on what would certainly be a huge adrenaline rush that would have my blood pumping savingly and primevaly through my veins. Well, probably some other time I will be ready to let my life slip out of control for what might seem an eternity just to find myself thrust back into where we all ultimately belong – water!

As we wanted some time on the beach as well, we left the aquapark feeling complete and content to have tried this! We were a bunch of adrenaline-seekers!

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And here it was – the Sea again! It looks pretty much the same here in the Golden Sands but the panorama is a bit different as you can see the entire seafront lined up with rows of diverse hotels and apartment blocks.

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It took us a while to figure out where the main street was as what we saw around us was more like a deserted area rather than a popular sea resort. We were hungry at that point and didn’t walk around for too long before we chose somewhere to have a meal. There was plenty of choice of course and as this area was a bit out of the way of the sea, it was reasonably priced contrary to what we had expected here. Now we could see scores of visitors dressed in swimwear languishly basking and walking. We were happy we didn’t get much of that back in Varna. The waiter spoke good Russian and wondered if Bulgaria really seemed like a foreign country to us. What I noticed was no hostility at all towards Russians here. It felt it was more about what we shared rather than what drifted us apart. Yes, there is no denying we might have been feeling less of foreigners here than groups of Germans at the tables next to us. There was an onion soup, an immense portion of small fish (still nothing can beat that one we had in the Sea Terrace Restaurant in Varna) and a bottled cocktail we don’t get back home which was just spot-on on that saultry late afternoon. You just can’t care much about calories here and fortunately, the price tag won’t prevent you from that! After a very substantial meal and people-watching, we got down to the beach. Yes, there was a lot of going on at the seafront cafes filled with a more international crowd mainly made up of students. Some Germans were singing their hearts away to the national anthem. The vibe was very upbeat – just like I had been imagining. We did find a spot on the beach (we’d never had to worry about that in Varna). Yes, now the sand – I don’t know whether it was my imagination that coloured it a subtle shade of gold for me or there was some rationale to this purely romantic name that of course was meant to boost visitors’ numbers. The sea felt a bit warmer and I knew I would stay in there because I might get chilly if I got in and out as it was already a late afternoon. It is Bulgaria – a lot of fancy hotels with lots of swimwear drying in the balconies, lounges lining up the coast and the replica of the Eiffel Tower in the distance which is a seafront café, someone flying a kite, skydiving… I don’t think I would have loved to spend my entire holiday here but it just had to be seen and experienced. We made our way back to the bus stop about two hours later. There was a never-ending line of stalls selling pretty much everything and yes, there seemed to be nothing more to the Golden Sands than that. We decided to get stocked up on some fruit to eat back in Varna because they looked just amazing and that would be the first time we could try watermelons that summer! And of course a few bottles of that cocktail! It was a while until our bus arrived and before it did, we had to be persistent with a taxi-driver who was really pushy trying to offer us a ride back to Varna in combination of English and Russian. About and hour later we got back to Varna after seeing some more dull landscapes which differed from a fancier seafront property. I was thinking Bulgaria was doing fine trying to make a living of what the nature had to offer.

Back at the hotel, we did help ourselves to what we had got in the Golden Sands and that first try of a watermelon was nice! Now it was time to get dressed up for a night-time promenade – it feels amazing to get dressed up for something other than work and nurture my feminine side that makes it so appealing to see and to be seen (against the backdrop of the sea). Slivnitsa Street and the whole area around it was buzzing as the night approached. I think at this point it became so familiar and came alive with the memories already made and cherished that I hated to think the next night would be our last one here… We decided to check out a fish restaurant overlooking the sea that we were planning on visiting. There was some understanding with serving the food as only about forty minutes later did my sister find out from the apologetic waiter that her meal “isn’t good” so she would have to order something else. Well, it was nice we could laugh about it and fellow Russians kept the vibe alive singing all very familiar songs at a karaoke bar across the road. There was also a certain bohemian feel to the evening as I was watching a group of people at the next table. It is a very vivid and diverse combination of everybody and everything that makes up our travel memories… There was more people-watching right across the loud music clubs and bars that I admit I felt like joining for a while (I was still not too old I guess but probably old enough to think it was a part of me that wanted to nurture my adolescent self). We saw a crowd queuing up to get into a club and it was truly a beauty show as the girls there were so elegantly and alluringly dressed (something for us to learn!) At a disco bar we would walk by every night we saw a group of beautiful couples dancing and it was another feeling and it was incredibly romantic to watch them speak a very enigmatic language of dance! It’s one language I will never learn to speak but would it be too sappy and romantic if I say that sometimes what you would dismiss as overly romantic and cinematographic could be real right in front of your eyes… When a movement can speak volumes… Right across the road I saw a dance of a slightly different nature as there was a young black guy dressed immaculately and genuinely smiling as he was just having fun to some club music playing. I will never forget his wonderful smile, a mint suit and dance – for me it epitomized the feeling of being at a sea resort on a lovely summer night and feeling and being young! We would often remember that guy and he had his lesson to teach us that night as well… More people-watching to wrap up the night, coffee on a bench overlooking the hotel watching a girl desperately trying to get all the men walking by (there did seem only men walking by) to check out a bar that was just next to our hotel. Poor Bulgarian men, there are just too many of them… It wasn’t a good night for two guys looking absolutely horrified as they exited the bar a little while later but it was certainly for us! Good night and no goodbyes yet!

Балчик (Balchik)

Our fifth morning in Varna went just fine. We felt like at that point of our trip we wanted to explore a bit outside the city and decided we would check out Balchik (Балчик), which is about 50 km North of Varna, just close to the Romanian border. What is interesting about this particular place is that there is the Residence of Queen Mary of Edinburgh, the wife of the Romanian King Ferdinard I, and surrounding it there is a very large botanical garden. We were curious to see what it was about the views there that fascinated those royals so much. Originally we were planning to go there with a tour agency and actually found this agency in the familiar Boris I Boulevard but after a few considerations decided we could tour this town on our own using the public transport. I wish we had decided to earlier in the day so that we would have had more time to spend in Balchik. Getting to Varna’s bus station (Автогара) wasn’t difficult and of course the buses they use have a certain Soviet feel to them even though they are cleaner and a bit more modern. There was nothing impressive about the bus station building but nor was there anything threatening or merely offputting unlike back home. We got our tickets fast and about 15 minutes later were on the bus to Balchik. It is really nice to be able to have these routine experiences in a new country. I can’t say our ride was particularly scenic because I noticed that a lot of houses on our way needed some renovation and actually it was the Black Sea that somehow helped some money coming in because quite a few people invest in property here. Whenever I got a glimpse of the Black Sea, I got really excited! I never lost touch of where I was! Overall the whole relief of this part of the country, which I assumed would be more mountainous, in fact really resembled the one back home. We got a view of the famous Albena and St.Elena and Konstantin resorts which are a little way off Varna and we knew all along this kind of places wouldn’t be good for us as there wouldn’t be much to do there. They didn’t look particularly exciting from what we’d seen anyway.

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About an hour later we found ourselves in Balchik that came across as a very queit little place. We seemed like the only tourists here! We checked out the bus schedule and realized we only had a few hours here till the last bus back to Varna departed. We checked out the souvenir shop (it’s a must for me to get something to take back home from wherever I travel). We found out that the Palace is a 30-minute walk and we weren’t really excited about that on that hot afternoon. The area wasn’t much marked but we found our way around.

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The sea, the sea! It was all around! I knew that would be the reason enough for me to love this place! In Varna you need to walk to the beach to see the sea but here it’s just everywhere, all the life gravitates around the sea! It felt as if I was walking along the Black Sea which was flirting with me dizzying glittering against the clear blue sky.

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Standing on a pier here I felt I was just in the middle of the pure grey blue water (does it even really have one?) and no, I didn’t feel like jumping like those forty Bulgarian girls did off the Kaliakra Cape during the Ottoman rule because they were desperate not to give in to the Turks (well, you get all kinds of influences here). I was sorry we wouldn’t have time to get there and enjoy a spectacular view from this legendary place. It might give us something to come back for some day though… It was a really beautiful and scenic walk with the Black Sea on the left and snow-white hills of Balchik on the right!

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Of course I took advantage of the view and posed for some photos! The sea does look good on me and scientists argue that we all tend to look a bit more alluring when we are around something/someone we are attracted to! Just waves and waves of happy vibes were everywhere in the air!

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There weren’t crowds of people around and as we kept walking, I felt a bit jealous of people who owned all this property lining up the coast. Beautiful housing and beautiful cars is something I should probably be advised against looking at ever because as I am perfectly aware I might well never have either of these, they make me feel slightly uneasy and chagrined… And of course we could see the Palace in the distance – so here we were! Well, it didn’t look imposing at all, just a “quiet nest” as it is sometimes referred to but I wouldn’t certainly fail to see the appeal of living up there. On our way here we were cordially invited by some restaurant owners to come have late lunch at their place because, well, here it is the same way there and back!

 

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We got tickets to see the rose garden of the palace and its interior. Well, now it came again – the floral symbol of Bulgaria! You could see a never-ending line of roses of various colours here – yes, and they were there overlooking the sea! The Balchik Botanical Garden can even be rivalled by one in Monaco! It was really spectacular and somewhat “girly” to tour this place! Smell and touch, smell and touch! It felt that lots of people all over Bulgaria have contributed to keeping this place running and blooming so gracefully and delicately. Every rose was marked with a sign but of course I remembered none of the names. Red ones were the most fabulous for me (I was definitely turning into a red lover here). I think one can spend the entire day in this floral paradise… Smelling and touching!

But we didn’t have too much time to spend here before the last bus back to Varna was due to arrive so we went straight to the Palace. There was nothing extraordinary inside it except for the view of the Black Sea through one of the little windows. The last stop was The Royal Wine Cellar. The famous “Snow Wine” is produced here. Grapes used for producing this wine are only harvested in early winter when the first snow comes and hence the name. They also produced one of fig and raspberry. We were generously offered to try all three by a very friendly Russian-speaking owner. I still feel the sensation on my lips after I’d had a bit of The Snow Wine. It felt so amazing on my lips and in my mouth, as if it was the wine I’d been waiting all my life to try! The wines we’d had here so far were mostly dry and that wasn’t totally to my taste but that one was just meant to be tried! What a beautiful taste and feeling! Take life easily and slowly and sip on a beautiful wine… I wish my idea of happiness was just that in my everyday life that I’d completely left behind. Of course I couldn’t resist getting all three of these wines to take back home! Just when things don’t feel right, they would help me to regain my feeling of happiness!

 

All we had time for is a meal before we went back to our “home” 50 km away. It was a very lush meal at a restaurant overlooking the sea where the waiter was ready to show off his skills in a number of languages including Romanian (yes, we were not far from it after all). Another helping of tarator (summer soup), lovely fish and a tiramisu – life is certainly beautiful even if you weren’t born into royalty! A walk back to the bus station seemed quicker and well, it was one very quiet and deserted bus station that brought us back to the 1990s!

We seemed the only people here and for a while we had trouble finding the ticket office! We did find the lady who was working there and she spoke some Russian, which was nice. It was interesting that a town with a palace could have a Soviet-nostalgia bus station! As we were sitting there waiting for our bus, we heard a tune by a famous patriotic Russian band “Lyube” playing on this lady’s phone and that set us off laughing but we had to keep our feelings in check! Do Bulgarians have a fondness of the Russian patriotic songs? It felt as if we heard the subtle noise of rye here in the Black Sea all of a sudden… As I got my last glimpse of a typical Balchik backyard right across the road from the station, I thought of Greece, which was also not infinitely far away… About an hour later we got back to the centre of Varna whose outskirts did look a bit intimidating again and had to remind ourselves that we have the sea here! We had to use the public transport to get to our hotel and had a little misunderstanding while paying the fare and that got my sister grumpy again. Well, I guess that’s a part of travelling and learning, even here in a Slavic country, with the Cyrillic alphabet…

We spent the evening swimming a bit, walking more along the central Varna, watching some very talented street performers and trying a new restaurant. It was just wonderful and very crowded! I knew I shouldn’t probably have been enjoying some fish and wine from New Zealand (it couldn’t compare with the one I’d just had in Balchik) at around midnight but that was what we deserved and felt like doing – let’s just live and take life slowly! Cheers to life and the Black Sea!

Varna. Day 4

Добро утро, Варна! Good morning, seagulls behind our window! It’s a beautiful new day but it looks a bit cloudy again. Another breakfast across the road and a group clearly consisting of two English people at the next table! That should be interesting to hear! There had already been a bit of Englishness in our stay in Varna as during our first two mornings here there was an English man trying to gap the linguistic bridges by trying to explain that he didn’t like the breakfast they served (by saying and gesturing“Breakfast – no!”) but cared for an English breakfast instead. The first morning he had to be content with nothing more than a beer and a cigarette but during our walk around this area the next day I spotted his face in the crowd (how did I?) and what really caught my eye is his smile as he was eating what looked like an omelette! He’d found his piece of home here in Varna after all, bless him! One of these English people was busy making an impression of the Cockney accent (typical of the South London). Ah dear, how I love my job! I don’t think they had any idea I would be doing a bit of eavesdropping there! A few moments later I saw another English man listening to this linguistic performance and this younger guy was quite charming and even smiled back at me when he saw me smiling at him faintly! Such a small but beautiful thing to happen to me during breakfast! Why can’t breakfasts in Russia be like this… Bulgaria did seem more international to me that morning!

Well, it looked like we had to proceed with more walking that morning as it was pretty cloudy. Yes, even at the sea you can’t swim as much as you please! Another visit to the Rose of Bulgaria shop and then all the way to the Varna Cathedral which we thought we would take this chance to tour this time. As I previously said, there is nothing imposing or breathtaking about Bulgaria’s second largest cathedral opened in 1886. We walked down the underground passing to find ourselves right at the entrance. It looked like quite an old building as if constantly washed over by the sea. There were some flowers around. Of course we got inside what was the first Orthodox cathedral we’d ever seen outside our country. What I find genuinely hypocritical about cathedrals is that the moment you step inside, they beg you to donate here or there. I got an icon for Mum and that was my donation. Now we could get inside. Compared to a few Catholic churches and cathedrals I’d seen so far, there was nothing in particular about the interior of the Varna Cathedral, nor was it oppressing or dull as I would expect with it being Orthodox. I love taking in all the large and small details of cathedrals, I see the spirituality in the human grasp of architecture and its capacity to evoke something beyond what we feel inside us in our daily lives. We stayed here for a while just listening to a sermon and looking around to rest a gaze upon the eyes of the saints on the walls and admire the human painting prowess. Of course there was Cyril and Methodius who invented the Cyrillic alphabet to be originally used here in Bulgaria. Thank you for granting me this part of the linguistic me that I am proud of! I wish I had known I would be that when I was a kid struggling through this alphabet!

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After a few more reflections on our Slavic heritage, we left the cathedral and walked around this area some more. There wasn’t so much to see around here and we crossed the road back to Boris I Boulevard. We checked out a fruit market on our way. It was small and reminded me of one we used to have in my hometown in the 90s. Everything here looked so tasty! We got some blueberries and peaches to take with us to the beach later that day. Another casual stroll through the main shopping street in my Bulgarian shoes that I think got me a few looks from strangers walking by or was that my white dress (I hope there was nothing wrong with me anyway). Seeing and being seen is an essential part of travelling. Who knows – someone might have remembered a girl in a white dress and red shoes carrying a bag of fruit on that particular day… Now it was time for lunch at that same place with home-made Bulgarian food with more tasty chicken in cream and some soft drinks and a few Russians sitting at the table next to us. They were lucky a lot of people speak Russian here.

On our way back to “our” street, we got some Bulgarian corn (царевица – almost like a queen). You can get it in a variety of sources in a glass. Back at the hotel, we took advantage of the fertile Bulgarian agriculture and helped ourselves to the corn and fruit! After a little break, we went back to Slivnitsa Street and decided to grab some coffee at a Costa coffee shop just around the corner. It was another taste of Britain for the day as it is a British coffeehouse. While looking for a seat to get a nice view of the street, I noticed some men giving me a few looks (well, is there something really wrong with the dress or the shoes or am I just too Russian to simply enjoy it?). Anyway, it was a beautiful view and that whole experience seemed a bit Parisian I guess. Watching people go out and about from up this little terrace sipping on an immense cup of coffee and eating my amazing chocolate muffin… Nice! And seeing and be seen of course… There is a bit of everything that Varna can offer you.

We spent the evening at the beach and I did take a little dip but the water was getting a bit cold at that time. Of course we had the fruit there with us and the Bulgarian beer Каменица, which I am afraid was the worse beer I’d ever tried. Камень means “a stone” and I could feel this stone lingering in my stomach a few hours after drinking this. But everything apart from a little digestion problem was nice. You just have to love the sea! I felt we were becoming a unit now… That night after getting lost a little the night before we decided to stay here a bit after dark and found a lounge at one of the bars at the coast. More coffee now to counteract the beer and… just enjoy! Is this that simple to recreate a movie-like moment? A lounge, some serene music and the sea… There was a guy who sounded Irish who wouldn’t stop talking. I felt sorry for him because the girl he was sitting with didn’t care much to respond. Who in the right mind would refuse some English practice? Ah dear, I love my job! And I love to love it here by the sea!

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This time we did find a safe way out of the Sea Garden and could properly enjoy all that people-watching… Seeing and being seen. More people-watching on the bench across the road from the hotel and seeing the waiter from the Sea Terrace Restaurant going back from work after midnight, they don’t rush, they just live somehow… It is time for a day trip the next day. Лека нощ!

Varna. Day 3

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Another beautiful morning just by the Black Sea with some seagulls making appearance again right behind our window! I wouldn’t mind having them with me so much more in my life! It looked as a perfect day for swimming! At last! I wanted to think of it as a part of some celestial conspiracy that I hadn’t been able to give the sea all of my attention during the first two days because if I had, I’m not sure that the previous days would have happened as they turned out to. Yes, there is not enough sea in my life for sure! We all have that one thing we want more of in our daily lives. Deep down we are not entirely sure whether actually having it would benefit our lives as much as we think it would but the thought of wanting to having it is sublime in itself! It was time to grab my swimming suit and live, forget about all body confidence issues and everything – the sea will take me as I am!

Another breakfast that consisted of totally the same food accompanied by more people-watching. It was so nice to watch people on their way through the sea garden down to the sea. A holiday vibe is so contagious and happiness seems so easy to reach – just grab your swimming suit, sun protection and umbrella and go to the sea – you are set to enjoy life! We’d better be done with the breakfast! Ok, now we are on our way as well! This is what we originally had come here for! The sea! It’s there glistening in the lazy sunlight! It all seems so elaborate first – walking to the beach, finding a nice place to get settled there, changing into your swimming suit… It’s all until you feel your feet stepping on the hot sand and then… you feel the sea against your skin. There’s something so intimate and sensual about this, as if going back somewhere you belong or finally reaching this place where your feeling of happiness is secure… It’s a funny thing that I can’t swim so yes, I have to be on alert and that somehow keeps me from making the most of my time with the sea and I can’t let it take control. I do this funny thing I do, which is to lick my skin to make sure the water is really salty. Yes, it certainly is! Isn’t that something I was yearning to do as I was struggling to get through what is just a typical day of my life… Now I had my prize! I’m here in the Black Sea in Bulgaria! Who would have thought it would happen!

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Of course as you are in the sea doing whatever you feel comfortable doing, you can’t help noticing the people around you because we are all sharing the same happiness of being here! It’s interesting to watch them experiencing this happiness in different ways. Just lounging in the sun doing quite nothing embracing your laziness but feeling so quintessentially alive! Luckily, there were almost no Russian people there (we can spot each other especially when it’s another lady sizing you up – a very Russian and annoying thing to do). I can alternate  being in the sea, pensively sitting by it, listening to it, looking at it fascinated by how it has this power to draw us all – to where we belong, to where we want to be.

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Someone who thinks of the sea as of just a place to cool off on a sultry summer day is going to hate me for all of my sappy sentiments. Yes, seeing life through my lenses might seem like that and trust me, it’s not always easy for me either… Now Varna was all about the sea and what was outside it didn’t matter so much. We felt like recharging a few hours later because there is this kind of vague fatigue that being at the sea gives you. Maybe we should take happiness slowly. It was so liberating and a bit cheeky to be walking back through the Sea Garden feeling the wetness of my swimming costume against my skin that felt as if there was a bomb of molecules of sultry warmth that was waiting to go off and leave me with a feeling of being pleased. Not even caring to zip my shoes completely and hearing its laces hitting the ground as I walk…

We were back and everything was still there – the Festival and Congress Hall on the right, Одесос Hotel (reminding me of the Ukrainian seaside city of Odessa that shared some of its past with Varna) on the left. It wasn’t too posh or chic but it was fine – such a great way to feel about life, it’s just there at this moment being lived and enjoyed! We went back to the hotel to regain the sense of a more ordinary life and I was stunned when I saw myself in the mirror with this sultry suntan the afternoon at the seaside had given me! I had no regrets at all and the impact it might have on my skin was the last thing on my mind!Sometimes in life you just have to let go of whatever you feel keeps you in control…

What followed was a lovely late lunch at this same place where we had it on our first day here. This turned out to be a Spanish restaurant called Bodega. Why would I ever have thought it was Greek… Anyway, I was sitting there sipping on my amazing Spannish wine making travelling plans for the future. There is this zest for life that travellling gives you…  Here comes my paella – so delicious! And for my sister something she calls the best fish she’d ever tried! Big cheers to Bulgaria, Spain, Greece and wherever we were hoping to have our zest for life fuelled again… It might have not been a typical Bulgarian experience because that got me thinking that in this battle for which comes closer to a more civilized lifestyle, Bulgaria was the unanimous winner for me that afternoon. Then I heard a group of girls having a conversation in English. None of them seemed to speak it as their native language but the things they said were so emotionally charged and mature… I was thinking of my students back home and where our education is going… You never know where these thoughts are going to hit you but that’s when you start having your life in perspective in a way you can’t back home. I also felt jealous of these girls – they are sitting here in this country, which doesn’t seem home to any of them, having their lives ahead of them, travelling the world and connecting through the bridge English had built for them…

We walked around the central squire a bit more and ended up spending the evening doing a bit more swimming and then watching the sea as it started feeling a bit too cold (it has a more sensual edge when it does and you want every little minute with it). We couldn’t help heading to the same Sea Terrace restaurant for a late-evening dinner. This fish and wine… We must have had too much of the latter or it was just a part of some other conspiracy, but we ended up getting a bit lost on our way out of the sea garden that was again bustling with life staying true to its upbeat nature… We took one wrong turn and ended up somewhere that didn’t seem like anything we’d seen. The winding paths in the park… Again and again – was it that big? What I saw further ahead of me was not the coloured Asparuhov Bridge that I wanted to see but the dome of what looked like a stadium. My sister’s reaction to the Pantheon Monument commemorating the fascism victims as she was spitting the curses at me blaming me for us getting here was priceless. It was something like “Look, so what the hell is that?” Now I can laugh about it but at the time I felt a mixture of confusion and guilt (to the monument). I wasn’t really alarmed, I knew we had to keep walking to the left and that seemed like the only way back out of here. The park was almost deserted and those few people we asked weren’t really able to help. I wasn’t alarmed by that either (just a tiny bit probably) and kept walking listening to the mighty Russian swear words. I was even fine if we had to stay out here till the sun went up but I doubted we would. After what seemed an eternity of walking through a dimly lit part of the park, we found ourselves in what looked like the part of Boris I Boulevard we hadn’t visited yet. Now we were fine but why are curses still on for me? Well, whatever. It’s funny that the waiters of the restaurants lining up the street weren’t able to tell us exactly how far we were from Slivnitsa Street… As I saw the huge building of Cherno More Hotel, I knew we were there. My sister was feeling all anxious as if she had just escaped death… Am I going to be like this as well in a few years? All the things she says to me at times like those always leave me feeling frustrated but I know I would soon get on top of them somehow. For me, it was an experience and I knew I would be writing about it and I am! The stray dog (but microchipped as all of the dogs in the area were) was a source of solace and comfort for my sister that night as she was hugging it so tightly that the elderly man that we saw hanging out here previously playing a harmonica was standing there struck at the level of connection they both had! His posture was just priceless! Am I still too young to understand all of that… Anyway, I just had to let all those feeling sink in and go to bed wait till we would laugh about it tomorrow. The sea is still there!

Varna. Day 2

It is amazing to wake up to seagulls making weird sounds outside your window and knowing that right there to the left you have the Black Sea even if you can’t see it from up here! The only thing is that it’s a bit cloudy… We were to have breakfast at the same café where we had it the day before when we had just arrived. It was a bit confusing because the staff didn’t seem to speak any English (I guess Russian neither) and we didn’t know we would only need to have to wait to be served. I asked for some cheese (yes, I am a huge cheese lover) and heard something that would break an English teacher’s heart, which went like this “How many cheese?”. Well, this person should have been happy he wasn’t in my class! I have to say that the famous Bulgarian brined cheese didn’t taste too nice and to me didn’t seem like cheese at all. It was just unpleasantly salty. The coffee was average but what made for a beautiful experience was being able to watch different people walking by and noticing that older Bulgarians do look similar to their Russian counterparts and younger people look more European. That was a nice soft duvet with equally soft pillows and of the course on the right – the Sea Garden and the Black Sea! Slivnitsa Street would accumulate lots of memories of our time here in Varna… As it was still cloudy, we decided we would do something I said I had to do on a seaside holiday, which was exploring the city as if there was no sea here. Of course it would be challenging because being the seaside capital of Bulgaria, Varna had a lot to do with the sea but discovering was what we opted to do.

Bulgarian roses have to be one of the largest tourist magnets here. No, you wouldn’t see roses in the streets of Varna but you can smell them in the air! Especially in the air as moist as it was on our first morning here. Roses are beautiful flowers and I might seem a bit old-fashioned when I say that women should be given them as a manifestation of affection. There is so much to choose from to suit any lady because they come in different colours and even shapes. I don’t believe it when someone tells me they don’t like to be given flowers. Yes, I might be typically Russian when I also say that roses feel a little more confidence-boosting when they are given by a man but even if you buy them for yourself, they are nice! We must love ourselves at the end of the day! Varna hadn’t struck me as incredibly romantic (for the moment it seemed just nice) so this wasn’t this aspect of these flowers that they explored but as a country, which is largely agricultural and rural, Bulgaria managed to become the leader of the rose-growing industry and actually about 85% of the world’s rose oil is produced here. Not so romantic especially given that statistically speaking, one needs about four tons of roses to produce a kilo of rose oil! Yes, so many roses could have made ladies happy… But they still do in the shape of beautifully-smelling products such as soap, shower gel, rose water, creams, perfume, etc. That was the smell that brought us to a “Rose of Bulgaria” shop just across the corner in Boris I Boulevard, a pedestrianized shopping street of Varna. It felt as if we were in the Rose Valley itself! All these products were reasonably priced! We would find ourselves dropping in this shop quite often while here in Varna.

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Now we were walking further along this street and yes, that was when I was starting to realize there were things to explore in the fellow Slavic country as well. All these houses looking you straight in the face. Of course there wasn’t an imposing pomp about them that you are very likely to see in central or Western Europe. There was something intimate or even overlooked in this street which to me seemed to have a little Turkish feel as well. The pinkish building of the Drama Theatre seemed quite typical of other Bulgarian theatres I’d seen in photos. An Art Nouveau mansion, St.Nicholas seamen’s church (yes, we can’t forget about the sea) and nothing reminding of the Soviet era in fact! As the street was lined with shops, we decided to check out one as a pair of shoes in the shop window really caught my eye! Yes, red was becoming my favourite colour. I ended up getting two pairs of red shoes and a bag to match! Yes, I now believe that these things are amazing memories of a trip just as much so as souvenirs. What else boosts a woman’s confidence more than a bit of a shopping spree? Yes, I came out of this shop feeling a bit happier to be alive (not that I wasn’t already even though I was in a seaside city covered with clouds).

 

Having walked a bit further down the street, we found ourselves right in front of Varna’s iconic sight – the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Mother in St. Cyril and St. Methodius (names very familiar to all Slavs as they were the ones who started the Cyrillic alphabet, the alphabet of our Russians’ and Bulgarians’ hearts). To a Slavic person from an Orthodox country, there was nothing surprising about this church, apart from the palm trees surrounding it. We decided we would explore it more a bit later but decided to rest in front of a monument to Tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria who restored the Bulgarian empire in the 12th century. There is certainly a lot we Slavs have in common because by merely having a look at this monument, I remembered about stories telling the tales of the Slavic tsars and their conquests. I was happy we were probably the last generation that was read books to and then read them themselves! It’s so great that apart from our suitcases, we bring all of this luggage in our heads along with us on our trips. You never know where your mind is going to take you on a trip!

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It was quite a dull and cloudy afternoon and we decided to have some lunch and go back to Boris I Boulevard where there was a cosy café with home-made Bulgarian food. Yes, we might not savour the process of eating food like they do in Italy, for example, but we love to make sure we serve plenty! That is a very Slaviс thing! We had something similar to what we call «окрошка» (summer soup) and Bulgarians call it таратор (tarator). We wouldn’t have to explain to them what it is we eat a lot during summer! We also had some chicken in cream (also a lot like back home). It was nice to be sitting here with a view of the St.Nicholas seamen’s church watching some construction work nearby.

We got hold of our first Balkan souvenirs on the way back to the hotel and I particularly enjoyed seeing the national costumes, similar to Russian ones but with a little local touch (which is so subtle that you actually need to be physically in a country to properly feel). It was still cloudy and there was even some rain. No swimming today again, I guess. Right, so that should be a day of exploring the streets of Varna without the sea getting all our attention. We first got back to the Cathedral in search of a post-office for me to post some postcards back to Russia. I think it’s such a beautiful tradition to follow to share a piece of your happiness and whatever other complex emotions you might be having at the moment! That was when we got a taste of the shared Soviet past. The building seemed quite old and the service was slow – very familiar! Now we were in the administrative area of Varna with a big building saying «Община Варна» (The Varna Administration). Yes, it was a bit strange knowing that technically we were in another country but we could read the signs! I would never find out what they seem like to most people in the world! It’s like a little secret we were let into just on the right of birth! There were some fountains and palm trees here in front of the administrative building. Yes, the streets looked rather dull it being a cloudy day and had no charm that is there regardless of the weather. We saw a little protestation right there but had no idea what brought the protestors here. An Evangelic church in the corner…

We did eventually got back to the sea in the late afternoon and it started raining really heavily! We were able to get almost the same seat we had the evening before and we didn’t really care that the rainwater came dripping all over the table driven by the wind. We really didn’t mind that unlike an elderly couple that had to change their table. For us it was part of the beauty I guess to see the sea during a storm. Sitting there with an endless grey mass in front of you dancing along to every gust of wind! It’s something that has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime! If you love someone, you have to see them in all kinds of different states and yes, the sea can be like that as well! Beautiful wine again, a nice fish salad and divine fish that we didn’t know we had ordered both as a snack along with fries and as an individual dish! Now when you say fish, that’s the fish I think about! Really amazing fried Bulgarian fish, really small and absolutely mouth-watering! This taste and smell will haunt us forever! Who says that TV travel shows are a cheap alternative to actual travelling is stupid!

It was time for another evening walk (still in our light jackets) and the weather was improving a bit. What is it about a Bulgarian night that takes lots of handsome Bulgarians out? It’s still a mystery to me! There were lots of people lounging in bars, clubs but the whole scene seemed quite peaceful and great for people-watching. There was inspiration in the air again and you don’t have too get rowdy to have a good time being out at night! More midnight people-watching just across the road from the hotel. What the central Varna certainly seemed to be was perfectly safe! Good night and let’s dream of some swimming for the next day!

Слънчева България (Sunny Bulgaria) Introduction and Day 1

As amazing and uplifting as travelling can be and as many beautiful and spiritually enriching things as it is capable of generating, it certainly needs something purely material to make it possible, i.e. money. If it wasn’t for this fact that let’s just say has to be accepted, we might have never ended up going to Bulgaria. I’m aware of it possibly sounding too harsh and probably dismissing the capacity of this whole land,  like any other in the entire world, to generate what I said above. In a way I guess I can say I should be grateful to this restraining power of money that presented me with a chance to discover where I might have never gone at all if that power for me at that point hadn’t been fairly strong.

What we originally wanted was to get away in the first place and it was a sea coast where we felt like being empowered, enchanted, fascinated (the list goes on). To hear, to see, to feel in a totally new way. I religiously and thus in a way compulsively believe in an entrancing power of the seaside to revitalize and yes, to empower. I think we all need some sea in our lives just like we need revitalization. What seemed genuinely unfair to me was that I hadn’t had a proper seaside holiday ever in my life! I had a quick peek at the Meditarrenean and what it did was to make me want revitalization that I felt so painfully short of back then even worse. The power of money and the power of my desire to feel a more lingering touch of the sea on my skin both thrown into the equation… Is there any feasible solution to this one? I’m really happy we were able to find it and yes, that was Bulgaria.

What do we actually know about this country? As akin as it naturally seems to us, all we know is that the now Russian famous singer Filip Kirkorov comes from Bulgaria and that we have a type of pepper here that we call “Bulgarian”. That doesn’t sound too much, does it? That does seem harsh to this land after all. I think it felt just wrong to me to go to the country that yes, doesn’t really seem too foreign to us here without researching a bit on its history also to see if what we thought we had in common is really there or if there is more that drives us apart. I honestly had no doubts that it would be so much more than just like a former communist state (what I don’t understand is whether we take pride in the fact or do we feel relieved by feeling we had so many fellows in misery?) It had its long and turbulent history, and communism is one of its relatively new chapters which understandably resonates with us the most. All in all, what I expected to be exposed to was a bizarre mixture of Orthodox, Turkish influences (I would not have learned that about the Ottoman rule) and communist flavours, which we know for a fact are not easily dissolvable. I started feeling a little bit patronizing but also somehow affectionate to this land like I would to a younger sibling I never had. I felt a bit responsible for this newer chapter in the history of the country that never really had a chance to stand on its own driven by the ambition of others just to be pushed to the background when needed. That was the feeling I was getting of Bulgaria back home. It was becoming interesting indeed to see if that feeling would transform into something different as we go there in pursuit of a seaside holiday that we could not afford to spend too much on. Yes, that was all about money in the beginning but I guess in a way its restraining power can turn out to be empowering as well. Well, when it comes to travelling anyway, because it’s where that something that we religiously and compulsively believe in might become a religion on its own or… be thrown out of the window to be transformed into another religion or merely disappear. So is Bulgaria almost like a home (a Slavic sibling to be respected and cared about in time of need) or is it actually capable of standing on its own and not as Slavic as we (like to) think? We knew we had to go and find out. Yes, doing that in the seaside capital of Bulgaria would add a revitalizing touch to this endeavour. Varna, here we come!

Getting to Moscow and navigating our way through the Domodedovo airport went really smoothly and this time the whole excitement of getting on the plane wasn’t as intense as it was the first time round. I think one can actually get used to being able to get from A to B really quickly by lending a pair of metal wings. It was just fine, the way something you feel comfortable doing is supposed to feel. It was a pretty short fly and here we were! Of course the first thing you see when you arrive in a new country is an airport. The one in Varna didn’t strike me as foreign at all because guess what retained the feeling of home for me? The Cyrillic alphabet! If our native language is the language of our heart, this alphabet for me should be the alphabet of my heart, the one engraved on it forever. It’s not that I was longing for home but it was a very interesting feeling to explore when you are somewhere new but at the same time there is that huge chunk of home that is just there. I was looking to experiencing that. I shouldn’t have but I was surprised to hear the customer officer speaking Russian to me asking me how long I was going to be here for. I said both “неделю” (for a week) and “семь дней” (for seven days). Well, linguists are horrible on holiday, aren’t there? Using this short encounter to explore the differences between Russian and Bulgarian words and ponder them shortly afterwards was what I did anyway… The signs are everywhere and… I could actually read them all! That was a funny feeling indeed! They looked and read really welcoming and got me ready to embrace the Bulgarian hospitality in the hot Bulgarian sun!

The reason why we chose to go to Варна (Varna) instead of more popular seaside resorts like  Златни пясыци (Golden Sands) was that the last thing we wanted was to be surrounded by packs of fellow travellers especially those from our own country who, just like us, might have come here driven by the power of money (or rather not too much of it). Varna seemed like a perfect option for us as rather than being a tourist-oriented resort, it was just a city where there happened to be the sea. I am not particulaswbrly a fan of spending days on end just basking in the sun and swimming in the sea which seems like the only things you can do in a typical seaside resort. We want more authenticity to give us more of a taste of local life. So this is how we ended up going to Varna.

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When we exited the airport, we couldn’t actually see the Black Sea yet but we could somehow feel it. I don’t really know whether it was our imagination or there was something quite tangible in the air. We got on the bus which was supposed to take us to the city centre. We had a bit of a difficulty trying to say where exactly we were going (what about this Cyrillic alphabet?). Well, this is when we should remember to distinguish between letters and sounds. This certainly brings out a language teacher in me because I often find myself having to explain the difference between the two to my students. Russian and Bulgarian sounds didn’t seem like siblings at all, more like stepsiblings I should believe… As we drove further into the suburbs, I was really shocked and remembered some people warning me that Varna might seem like an average Russian city in the 1990s. Well, I’m sorry to say that now but at the moment it certainly felt like one. I was starting to relate to Filip Kirkorov and understood why he decided to get out of here. The streets seem really dull and I was doubting whether I was still treating Bulgaria as a sibling that I thought my visit could rescue. It certainly needed help but was I the one to give it? That feeling was so striking because that had been the first time I actually had it while travelling. Of course disappointment is something that you have to deal with whatever you do but it felt like something really major. Did we really make a mistake by choosing to come here?

We somehow managed to get off at the bus stop we needed and that part of the city did felt a bit nicer. It was about 9 a.m. and there weren’t many people walking by. We found our hotel quite fast. The ladies at the reception were quite nice and yes, we could speak Russian with them, which I was surprised to find comforting because as a linguist, I find it very fascinating to watch people speak my language and the way they use because it gives me a feel of how native speakers of English feel about me when I speak English. Unfortunately we weren’t able to check in before 2 p.m. and had to leave our bags and walk around in the meantime. My sister was getting grumpy and I know she would hate me for bringing that up again and again and even though I know I can get like that as well, sometimes it really drives me crazy. Maybe that’s a part of having a strong personality but my weaker personality just falls a victim to it time and time again. She wasn’t happy at all and given that  initial impression of Varna, I felt my own agitation escalating as well. I thought we needed some coffee to recharge after the night we’d spent at the airport. Well, to be honest, a morning coffee makes no difference to how I would be feeling throughtout the day but I know my sister thinks it does for her so I pretended I needed it as well. There were a few cafes just across the road from our hotel and we checked out one. The service wasn’t too fast and I think deep down inside I even blamed the waiter for seeming a bit reluctant to serve us (it totally felt like home) and not even remotely handsome (that felt even more like home). Filip Kirkorov was so right to leave… I decided to try the Bulgarian specialty – the Shopska salad which consists of a lot of vegetables and brine cheese. It was quite nice actually, but my sister wouldn’t want to have any. I was trying to be optimistic and thinking about this pedestrianized area of Varna as a place where we will try to be happy in the following seven days. “Just give it a chance!’, I thought. One negative experience didn’t have to ruin it all for us. There was one beautiful thing on the right, just a short walk through  Приморският парк (Sea Garden) and that was… the Black Sea. Yes, we have a part of it in Russia and as a Russian, I was supposed to have seen it at least once but I hadn’t. This is why when I see the sea, it is like reuniting with the love I was supposed to met but never did. This is why I can’t get enough when I finally do… The sea, the sea! I just hate it when my sister sees a kid in me but I had to exaggerate a bit on my enthusiasm for her to stop ruining it for her and me of course. The Sea Garden felt deserted at that hour. Here we are! The sea, the sea! I don’t think I actually care what sea exactly that is, I just love it, in all its shapes and colours – isn’t that an unconditional love? We got a glimpse of the beach. Yes, it wasn’t too fancy but you get what you pay for. The times are tough, they really are… At least that was our first seaside holiday and we don’t have much to compare it with. “Look, the sea!” We went up some stairs and I could see it properly! My happiness for the week to come! Of course I can’t feel completely pleased when I see my sister being that unhappy and saying that we should have chosen a shorter holiday somewhere nicer instead. I felt I could agree with her on that because she’s the one who is the wiser of us two and I don’t dare question that but on the other hand, I couldn’t be as understanding as I was supposed to towards my older sibling because I had the sea around me! How could one possibly complain in a setting like this? We don’t even have time to be unhappy here! Yes, the park had a certain Soviet-era feel to it and everything about it did and yes, people seemed more like those we have at home and we don’t like that even though we are inevitably one of them anyway. I just started to take photos of random things in the hope that they would become just something for us to smile about some time later.

It was time to get some lunch and I was praying it would be a satisfactory experience for my sister. Yes, our breakfast had proved to be a bit tougher on our pockets than we expected it would here but we needed to look around more anyway. We came back to the same central street which was getting busier around that time. To me it looked and seemed like a Greek restaurant and yes, we were not too far from Greece. For the first course we were served what seemed a quite unusual but a great way to cool off – a melon soup! It tasted actually nice and seemed a very fine appetizer! Some nice vegetable rice and wine! Wine can do it all, it was divine! That wasn’t probably a typical Bulgarian experience but I hope it wasn’t the reason why I loved it!

Now that we’d had a look at where our lives would be gravitating around the following seven days, it was about time to go back to our hotel. The room we had looked really nice and spacious. I was ready to hit the beach just after I’d got changed but my sister wasn’t. It was getting cloudy and I was hating it but what can you do about it? I was trying to be optimistic and I guess it should be a crime not to be while on holiday. I was itching to leave the hotel room as soon as possible! Hey, there should be no rain because I’m finally here at the seaside! A while later, after experiencing a few problems with the door that I had to go down to the reception desk to ask to fix on my sister’s request who wasn’t happy with the post-Soviet service. I was happy the lady at the reception desk could understand my Russian (it’s hard to control what you are saying in your native language and how much of it is actually understood by foreigners). There turned out to be nothing wrong with the door!

Now that we had settled in in our new home, it was time to properly look around. It started feeling nicer in fact. The beach area with palms, lounges and music playing. It was just fine now.

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And now, here it goes! The Black Sea! The sand! I can now come down to say a big hello! This is where you forget everything except that you are alive and you are happy and you have the whole week to be so! As it had just been raining, almost no one was swimming and the beach wasn’t crowded. I phoned our parents just to let hear the sound of… the sea! Just to let them know we are certainly happy! It’s amazing how a quite short flight can take you to where you know are! It wasn’t an ecstatic feeling, it was just a very serene and relieving feeling to be here and to hear…

 

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There is a dog to boost my sister’s happiness and I was happy it came along (whatever or whoever to keep her happy).

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Of course I can’t help noticing a quite fine Bulgarian man in his boat at the sea (well, he actually looks better than Kirkorov!).

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We could sit here till the evening starting settling in.

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On the left we noticed a very nice-looking café, which was a two-storeyed building just there on the sand overlooking the sea! It was getting busy and we didn’t expect to get a seat, but we did! Wow! I thought you had to be a movie star to find yourself somewhere up like this! It felt as if we were on the upper deck of a ship gliding across the sea when in fact we were motionless. We deserved it, and so does every human whose live is inevitably constituted of a large amount of routine that sometimes makes us lose touch with what we are.

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Let’s just forget everything and pronounce a toast (but let’s not forget what my job is and try to figure out what language the people seated at the next table are speaking – probably Romanian)! It was just beautiful – a tasty wine, good English spoken by the staff… Can you actually get tired of drinking wine and watching the sea as the sun is going down ..? The meal was just amazing and seemed more typically Bulgarian now! The prices were actually fine as well especially for a place with a view like this!

Now it is time to go back to the hotel for a bit, text our parents to say we are in bed (at 9 p.m.!) and check out the nightlife and do some people-watching. There’s certainly a part of me that tells me I still hadn’t experienced too much nightlife when I was probably supposed to… I expected it would be a loud chaotic night as it could be at a seaside town but it wasn’t really. Now I can see and hear the people of Bulgaria! Yes, women here made me question again what I now tend to dismiss as a stereotype which says Russian women are the most beautiful… There should be something to it because somehow I always feel uglier than I normally do on a holiday. Beautiful dresses with a very subtle Turkish touch and very feminine. What we are not good at is looking feminine, beautiful and reasonably confident. The reason for it is probably because we don’t have such men! They weren’t bad at all! No, quite nice actually! Well, I was still feeling about Bulgaria as a younger Slavic sibling and siblings share because sharing is caring. Did it forget about the big Slavic sibling? That might be someone working in an all-female environment in a city heavily overpopulated with women in a country with a dramatic disproportion of men and women, but I do think women need men, just like poets need muses, to make us feel a bit better about life and ourselves with us being able to be in control how far (or anywhere at all) we are ready to let these feelings take us. It might be a feministic view, not very typical of Russia. I’m not 100% Russian when it comes to men, I’m afraid. The only issue with Bulgarian men was that just like us, Russian women (here I guess I am totally Russian), they don’t come across confident as if they don’t realize they could actually be good muses (probably this is why they walk in crowds of four or more…) I felt sorry for me, just like I would for a younger sibling… A beautiful night, our first one here in Bulgaria in this sea garden which was now having some of its fountains lit and it was all very busy even though it was midnight – children playing, couples walking… Yes, I’m not the one loving to be out at night… Just sitting on a bench hearing conflicting sounds of music coming out of bars and clubs. More people-watching just across the road from the hotel and more crowds of men. Now Bulgaria is sharing inspiration and I can get used to that. The first night at the hotel – a magic feeling of spending a night somewhere new knowing that this somewhere new has the sea for you to wake up to in the morning. We are humans, we deserve that!