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!

 

Author: Olga

An English teacher and translator, a keen traveller

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