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!

Author: Olga

An English teacher and translator, a keen traveller

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