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!
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.
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!