Seaside Dreamland Part II
So, after some insane incidents (including Svetla not being allowed to leave Bulgaria with me last Thursday) I am back in Canada. As the work I have ahead of me presents itself in the form of nightmarish hallucinations of piles of paperwork, endless emails and swirling dollar signs connected to melting credit cards, I am comforted by the Bulgarian attitude: don’t stress, it’s not worth it. So alas, I must keep writing this here blog and not think of it as work, but perhaps an outlet for stress. Ah, I already feel better. Where were we when we left off? After the Mastika brain cell massacre I spent the next few days drinking a lot of bottled water. Svetla, her sister Yoanna (who was traveling to the seaside with us), Svetla’s friend Natalia and myself travelled by taxi one day to the lovely picturesque town of Sozopol (pictured above and to the left)…Sozopol (a Sozopol street is pictured to the right) is a tourist hotspot due to it being an absolutely beautiful little village built on the slopes of a small peninsula jutting out into the Black Sea. We walked around all the shops, cafes, clubs, restaurants and famous old wooden homes (pictured below to the left) and finally stopped at a great restaurant for a huge meal on the terrace. I never did acquire a taste for the fish on Bulgaria’s coast, but a little more time and I’m sure I would have started eagerly gobbling it up like the Bulgarians. So after some delicious wine and several kilos of seafood we headed back to the Gradina campsite for our last night. The next day we got a ride with a friend to Varna – Bulgaria’s second largest city. He drove a bit like a maniac, but we were grateful for the lift and besides he introduced me to a new very cool German band called <a href=”http://www.seeed.info/”>Seeed</a>. Varna is a breezy seaside city with huge walking streets, kilometers of beachside bars, restaurants and cafes, and apparently a high concentration of beautiful Bulgarian women, although this last characteristic didn’t stick out to me as Bulgaria is generally full of beautiful women (the proof of which is evident in my fellow Montreal-transplanted traveller, Svetla). In Varna, we even found a statue of a famous Bulgarian who is apparently related to Svetla.
Pictured to the right is our crew (including the Dutchie who joined us that day) in Sozopol at some Roman ruins.
We decided to spend a night in Varna so we experience some local nightlife and rest up in a bed before renting a car the next day and driving to a more secluded beach where, you guessed it, there were a bunch of Svetla’s friends camped out. The nightlife bit proved to be a bit anti-climatic, with Svetla epitomizing our overall fatigue by falling asleep sitting upright at the seaside bar. This despite the fact that we were in the heart of all the action, with several bars along the boardwalk vying for the acoustic attention of passers-by by blasting music from their open-air establishments. We let Svetla nap for a while then decided to walk back to the space we were renting for the night (what we thought was a whole apartment, was in fact, two rooms in an old lady’s oldschool apartment near the center of Varna, complete with ubiquitous decades-old doilies and portraits of people from the twenties and thirties).
We took a circuitous way back and toured some of Varna’s historical sites, (one of which is pictured at the left, lit up in the night) with Svetla being a good sport considering she was walking with her eyes closed. After a good night’s sleep – even on the bed that swallowed Svetla and I into the lumpy center – we woke up, ate some Western-style brekky and sorted out our car rental business. We got a nice little Renault, I got my Guardian (the only source of world news on print that I now rely on, having given up completely in Canada on The Globe or anything other mainstream print sources for that matter). Natalia drove in the beginning as I preferred to not have my first Bulgarian driving experience in a major city.
So the four of us piled into the tiny car with all our gear and headed up the coast to check out some ancient sites, starting with Kaliakra, (pictured, albeit a little fuzzy, at the right) an ancient fortress built in the second half of the 4th Century, BC, by those industrious Thirisians, who later lost control over the strategic site (Kaliakra is a fortress built along a treacherously steep and high peninsula that extends over 5 kilometers out into the Black Sea) to the Thracian kingdom (a vassal of Rome), who subsequently lost the post to the Barbarians, then the Romans, the Ottomans, and eventually the Bulgarians. It was a glorious cape, nearly 60 meters above the crashing waves of the azure water below. Kaliakra, legend has it, got it’s name from the beautiful Bulgarian woman who joined with 16 other women, braided their hair together and jumped from the towering cape to their deaths, instead of surrendering their bodies and lives to the invading Turks. We added our own little instillation to Kaliakra’s history, when the exciting and quite hilarious event of a bird pooping on Svetla’s head took place inside the small museum (which is actually in a cave where several teeny seabirds nest).
The picture on the right shows the steep cliffs at Kaliakra. In Canada, I noted much to the disinterest of everyone around me, there would be guard rails everywhere, protecting our citizens from the dangers of a perilous death while sight-seeing, the most embarrassing of endings…
From Kaliakra Natalia took us down a long windy road to a hidden bay where there lies not only a mussel farm a kilometer out into the sea, but also a well-known restaurant that serves up the mussels fresh in several different dishes. The mussels were the freshest I’ve ever tasted, and at 5 Lev ($4) for a huge pile of the delectable goodies, they were incredibly cheap. We sat at a wooden table a few meters from the sea and ate mussels, delicious fish soup, and bread. We then drove back up the steep windy road (with me driving) and drove through the twilight to Biala, the little town close to our secret beach destination, where we stocked up on food, wine and water. The challenge then was to take the right road through the grassy hills down to the bay where the beach was, and as it quickly got pitch dark, Natalia and Svetla confessed they had never done the maneuver in the dark. At one point we stopped the car on one of the steep, bumpy dirt roads that dissected the grassy fields, and Svetla and Natalia got out with a flashlight to look around. Yoanna (Svetla’s 17 year-old sister) and I were sitting in the back seat of the car, and when I grabbed the door handle to get out as well she shrieked “NO! Don’t you go too!” and grabbed my arm. She then admitted some regret that the book she had taken on the trip and had been reading was one by Steven King. I agreed that it did feel a bit like we were in a horror movie: left in a little car on a dark, deserted dirt road along steep seaside hills…But luckily Svetla and Natalia spotted light from a fire several kilometers away (and down). Thanks to their intuition we drove through the serpentine roads and found the beach.
The beach (pictured at the left) is nestled in a secluded sandy bay, and a few fires speckled the darkness along the edge of the sea. Clusters of tarps and tents formed tiny little villages in the sand, and we quickly found Svetla’s crew. Thanks to Rico, who found us an extra tent and some gear, we were able to set up and relax by the fire with everyone. Rakia was passed, among other things, and I quickly succumbed to the soothing warmth of cuddling with other bodies next to a crackling fire on a breezy beach. The Rakia quickly caught up with me, however, as I was also coming down with a nasty and persistent cold, and after almost falling in the fire and getting brave enough to speak slurred English to the whole gang, I packed it in.
The photo on the left is a typical self portrait of the two of us: I look miserable even though I’m not, and Svetla looks elated even though she is exactly that.
The next day we woke up in our little dome-oven, heated by the sun, and I climbed out to sea a brilliant beach and crystal-clear water. I walked down to the sea and kept walking straight into it. The sand gives way very steeply to the lapping 28 degree water, and soon you are enveloped in a beautifully blue, warm, wet blanket. Ah, what a beach…