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!

 

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!

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!