Seaside Dreamland Part I
Where to start? I have been without internet access now for almost a week, so apologies for the delay in this latest travel dispatch. After Svetla and I climbed back down the mountain we spent a couple of days in Sofia seeing some beautiful buildings, some dating back to the time of the Romans. Churches, Halls, Mausoleums, and other incredible sights are found all over this historical city. After some walking around and visiting with some of Svetla’s several hundred friends here, we packed our bags and climbed aboard a bus bound for the Souther seaside. Pictured above is me in my “Gradina Heaven”: beer, beer fridgen, laptop, Dutch tobacco (don’t worry family, it was only a passing fancy while on the beach), books, beach and sun.Pictured at the right are the bricks of sofia, although these aren’t the famous yellow bricks…
We first got to the seaside campsite of Gradina – which is several hundred meters of white sandy beach, caravans stationed for the summer, villages of tents and other make-shift wood and canvas constructions, beach bars, bungalos, and a few restaurants and shops. Svetla’s generous friends Lora and Vasko gave us the keys to their luxury caravan parked about 10 meters from the lapping waves of the Black Sea, so we first found that, and put our things inside. It was a pretty sweet caravan – nice wood finishing, toilet, shower, big bed, electricity – even a portable beer fridge! (which I unfortunately only took advantage of once) This particular campsite was a little too crowded, and there was a little too much drinking going on, so that may be why I ended up with this nasty virus I’m currently hosting.
Days were spent reading, napping, swimming, eating A LOT of feta, tomatoes and cucumbers, drinking, and even a bit of internetting at the beginning (there was WIFI right on the beach, but I quickly decided that I wanted to just put away the laptop for a while, and never took it out again, except to see how much in debt I’ve gone on this little trip). Of course there were parties as well. On the friday night we were lucky enough to join nearly a hundred beach bums in celebrating Svetla’s friend (like I said, there are hundreds) Dino’s annual party that marks his not dying. No kidding, this is a fabulous Bulgarian tradition that I think should be started in Canada: if you have a near-death experience, every year for the rest of your life you must throw a party on that day to celebrate the fact that you lived to throw the party in the first place. In Dino’s case, he was parasailing along the beach and the truck went too fast, collapsing his chute and sending him crashing into the ground from about 12 meters.
He broke nearly every bone in his body, spent a year in hospital, and as a reward has to throw a big ass party in Gradina (where the accident happened) every summer on that day. And what a party it was. There was two bars in the sand and a DJ stand a few meters from the sea, where dance tunes cranked out until 7 AM. While Svetla floated around the crowd seeing old friends (all but maybe three people at the party) I perfected my world-famous “sandance” technique. It basically requires several ounces of beer and liquor, several thousand watts of rhythmic liquid music, and several cubic tonnes of silky smooth sand. You then face the DJ – and thus the sea – lift your arms above your head, tilt back the head, smile like you’ve just had the bowel movement of your life, and begin drilling yourself by way of gyration into the earth. After just three tracks I had already created two massive craters of sand around my two vibrating sunburnt feet.
While I proved that I could shake it like any other Bulgarian bohemian, I didn’t manage to prove I could drink like one. The trick in foreign countries is not to go in guns blazing, in a firey display of bravado and machoism, but maybe to quietly sip and test your way into the new and mysterious libations. Had I taken the second approach then perhaps I would have been spared my quiet, stumbling and pathetic walk into the darkness, along the beach and away from the party to gracefully eject four liters of strange green foam from my lips. Whatever that weird green milky mint thing I happily gulped down was, I will never know, for my guns had blazeth. Thankfully, none of the locals noticed my moment of weakness, and I quietly resumed my spot in my two craters to continue sandancing until the wee hours.
The next day was spent staring at inanimate objects like some of us are prone to do when confronted with a dumptruck of alcoholic hurt in our heads from the night before. I did manage to get down with the whole “nude is ok in europe” thing, but I think that had more to do with my not knowing I was naked or clothed or even walking, than any brazen act of cultural inclusion. Before sleeping at around 9 AM, I recall Svetla asking me why I had been standing naked in a tiny tub of water for ten minutes staring at space. The lesson here: stay away from green drinks unless they are procured from a health store. Thank god no one had the ambition to take out a camera.
The green death experience pales in comparison with my Mastika experience however, and risking sounding like an alcoholic traipsing through paradise, I shall recount what little I know here. The following night some Svetla friends joined us for dinner at a little restaurant off the beach in Gradina. The food, like most Bulgarian fare, was absolutely delicious. I must say though, at the seaside you look like a real freak if you don’t consume at least 14 kilos of fish a day, and I, sadly, could not acquire a taste for the gills of the Black Sea. There fish here is quite different to the Salmon of Canada, and I only found on little species (deep fried and ate whole, heads guts and all) that I took a liking to. So I was eating my standard fries with cheese and chicken dish while everyone gobbled up there fish when I noticed a cute little drink on the table. It was clear, but had magical crystals floating throughout. “What’s that?” I asked. Everyone smiled and promptly ordered me a Mastika with a soda on the side. When I first sipped the thing it was like icy licorice on my lips – “delicious!” Mastika is a little like Ouzo, but better. When served freezing cold it doesn’t taste nearly as strong. If you try it warm, you can tell right away that it just might be used as an alternative fuel source in Formula 1 races. So stupid gluttonous me again, I must of popped back three before we left for a party on the beach. I remember the way there: I felt full of life and love, and even found Svetla and the women’s shower area and waltzed in to tell her how bloody much I loved her. Man, I was on top of the world for some reason! Invicible! A lucid, ecstatic and cultured Canadian in Gradina! Hell yes!
At the party I indulged in a few more Mastikas and some beer for good measure. I remember at one moment looking at my last and final half-full glass of the stuff and saying out loud – “NO!” then angrily setting it down at a table. Something had happened, the dream was over, the entire beach was swirling around my head. People I recognized were coming up to me and grabbing my shoulders, laughing, and saying things to me in a strange garbled language that was probably perfect English. The music felt like air-Mastika and seemed to be making me more drunk. I got into what would be one of several arguments about the garbage on the beach. I asked the attractive blonde – “You won’t pick it up, why are you too good for that?” slipping on my one arm in the sand as I said it. “Yes I am,” I remember her replying. Disgusted, I made some tortured face to her and got up, mumbling to myself about how stupid humans were. That’s the last bit I remember until I woke up. When I came to, I was about 30 meters from the party and apparently had collapsed face down in the sand, as my mouth was full of the stuff. How I got there only the stars know, but I got my crumpled, defeated body up and rinsed out the sand in the sea and began my pathetic search for a chaperone home. Thankfully, Svetla’s friend Natalia obliged, and after much stumbling and indiscernible mumblage, we made it back to the caravan. The next day was the worst hangover of my life: a disjointed symphony of hammers pounded away at the inside of my skull for every waking moment until bed. At some point I went for a swim and decided to “relax” in the shallow lapping waves. Two people woke me up walking by, as I’m sure most reading this know, sleeping in large bodies of water is, well, unhealthy. I capped the day by trying to order food by myself only to be rudely rejected by the waitress. Another hungover foreigner at the Bulgarian seaside was what I’m sure she thought.
Luckily, the next few days were without hangovers and filled with travels to incredible spots along Bulgaria’s coastline, but alas, that is for part II….