May 20, 2008

Varna, Bulgaria

Most of the time you can predict the type of place you are planning to visit and what energy requirements will be needed to sufficiently explore it. I knew Olympos, Turkey would provide rest time before landing in Istanbul which would be many days of power walking on limited sleep. But when I added a spontaneous detour to Bulgaria with my new Australian friend from the Turkish yacht trip, I had no idea what to expect. Renee had done the prior research and was disappointingly about to scrap it from her itinerary when she casually said, “and it’s only a ten hour bus ride from Istanbul”. For most people that would seem like a long journey anywhere being as it took me about the same time to fly from the United States all the way to Egypt, but after a few months on the road and a collection of countries under the belt your sense of time becomes distorted and my reply became, “Oh, it’s only ten hours? well, in that case, sure I’ll go to Bulgaria with you!” And so we hatched the plan to meet up in Istanbul five days later to catch the overnight bus to Varna.
We landed in this small port city on the black Sea coast and got a taxi to a well reviewed hostel about ten kilometers outside of town situated in the quiet residential neighborhood of Zvezditsa which is tucked away in the peaceful countryside. Walking into Gregory’s Backpacker Hostel felt like taking an old friend up on an open invitation to come relax and spend time at their summer chalet and after clocking similar traveling itineraries, Renee and I immediately threw down our bags and harmoniously agreed to start doing absolutely nothing. We both didn’t realize the degree of our exhaustion and when such a splendid rest stop was laid out before us we jumped at the opportunity to have not much else on the agenda but sitting on the back patio, reading and writing, while watching neighbors tend to their gardens or “shooing” away Webster, the house cat, while eating a homemade lunch of bread, tuna, cheese and olives bought at the local market.
I was inspired by the industrial landscape I saw the previous morning when getting off the bus and I decided to set my alarm for 4:45 a.m and take the only available mode of transport, a bicycle, into town to photograph the shipyard. Riding downhill through the beautiful Bulgarian countryside at sunrise was one of those moments when all the pain and sadness I ever experienced in life melted away and for the next half hour it was replaced by complete bliss. I took my photographs and rode into the city where I was immediately itching to get back to the country retreat so I smartly avoided the uphill journey and boarded the local bus with the bicycle. I don’t seem to have much luck on buses because the driver, a bit annoyed with my transportation being hauled by his transportation, kept stopping the bus on random stretches of road, signaling for me to get off. But I knew I didn’t break any ticket machines like in Syria and had paid the full fare so, this time, I was standing my ground and there wasn’t much other than possibly spontaneous combustion that was going to get me off that bus.
Renee and I spent the afternoon in town walking the streets looking at the unimpressive architecture, visiting the impressive Archaeology Museum and Orthodox church and topping it off with some cocktails at a South Beach style beach club prime for people watching. It was refreshing to get to a coast that is still fairly untouched by mass commercialization and even though we were a bit before the official season it had a pleasant local feel. We were happily back at the compound by early evening enjoying some local Bulgarian beer with the fellow guests and the entertaining hostel owner and even though our intentions were to leave the next day I think we both knew we had one more day of relishing the art of doing nothing.

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