Here I am in Bulgaria on our first warm evening (Monday). I have decided to write this blog entry as I go so that at the end of it all I won’t have to spend forever trying to recall all the fine little details. My girlfriend and I, who I shall from hereon refer to as Samantha, caught a flight from the over-secure queue riddled Gatwick airport via Thompson holidays, to Bourgas airport - a large city on the black sea coast in Bulgaria. From here we travelled by taxi through thunderous downpours to the old old town of Sozopol (610 BC) and its sprawling new town Harmanite.
Language barriers are high over here, I speak a little French and Sam speaks some German. The local tongue seems to be an odd amalgamation of German, French and Russian - most signs occur both in English and Cyrillic alphabets. This meant that showing our driver where the hotel (Hotel Diamanti) was - sans address, with a poor map in low light and he, without his glasses, proved difficult. The labyrinthine cobbled streets seemed alien and the destination far away and hidden. When hope was running thin, out of the dark and from nowhere the large Russian "Diamanti" sign affronted us. And so we are here successfully. The amenities are as standard - beds, shower, satellite TV, air conditioning and a balcony with slight sea view.
After a good nights sleep came the crashing sounds of Saturday morning and the dust bin men rattling over the cobbles with their wheelie bins. The weather was still overcast. We set out on our tour of the town; leading north then west (along the top of Sozopol) past the harbour and naval base. Old boats rusted and ye-olde Russian cars rolled by. Many of the buildings here were half built and the area seemed unsightly in the murky weather - suffice to say this wasn’t the greatest of places to start. We turned left into the centre of town and proceeded past the market stalls selling jewellery, art work and fake Armani for 5lv.
There’s a slight wind at the moment, a boat is chugging past and the Cicadas are singing. The odd glitch sound of a passing bat is common and the light-house on St. Ivan’s is booming. The stars are bright and Sam is attempting a fiendish sudoku with a deterministic fervour on her brow whilst chomping on her pen.
But back to Saturday - our day saw the exploration of central old Sozopol before lunch. Old hanging buildings of wood and panelling aside newer stone houses, similarly overhanging with orange ceramic roof tiles. All the streets are cobbled with a semi circular pattern and they intertwine seemingly at random. The shops give a limited selection of products - there are the cloths and tourist shops alike with bargainous deals, numerous cafes and food outlets - each selling potato crisps, biscuits and alcohol - lots and lots of alcohol. We have in fact not yet located a good source for fresh bread - it seems to be a rarity and we can only find a peculiar rubbery brand.
For lunch we stopped at a horrid food place that can be likened to a British greasy spoons caf’. We had our pizza and chicken for 6.60lv and swiftly returned home. After a nap and a little sort out we headed south and then west towards the first of Sozopol’s two beaches.
We passed the elderly ladies selling lace and home made jam (as mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide) and we came to a rocky outcrop where we could get some good panoramic shots of the new-town and bay. In moving south we came across the finer parts of Sozopol and a little alleyway that took us to a cliff side walk which ran via the city wall. Overlooking the bay the views are gorgeous and the aroma of fresh and trodden fruit from overhanging trees paved the way.
This took us right along to the beach side and past many tiny restaurants that offered a view and the sounds of a crashing sea. The remainder of the day and for a lot of Sunday we explored "Harmanite", or New Sozopol; its cemented hotels, abandoned building works and tiny summer-only shops (gone since September) gave a quaint but characteristic feel to the town.
On the surface it is just an attempt as a tourist sprawl but the obvious distinction between western and east European modern cultures is of some interest where the prosperous and new dwarf the basic and poor. Here we learnt of day trips via a Bulgarian/Russian man too busy running his business to talk to his customers. Sam also met a charming Russian fellow who was happy to have it pointed out that his bag had been left open.
Sunday was overcast again but today the clouds cleared and we awoke to clear skies and a warm sun. Heading into town to catch a minibus day trip to Ropotamo nature reserve and river was our best option. Out friendly driver - a fan of 90s trance music - carried us to the reserve and organized our boat trip with a newly arrived coach party from "Sunny Beach". From here we chugged away at the front of an open-slow moving tourist barge. The guide boasted wolves and wild boars but we saw only wild and rare birds. Herons, Jays and Woodpeckers speckled the riverbanks and many other unnameable ducks and wild fliers graced the route - such as an all blue king fisher variety and large billed brown species. The hill views were astonishing and we were all happy to see the odd random fish fly out of the water.
We came home past a marshland and withdrawn 5 star hotel that looked overly posh and introverted. Lunchtime saw us eat at the "El Grecco" cafe above the bay - a selection of freshly made dips and tuna canapes. The sun was now hot hot hot and the only thing left to do was spend the day at the beach. To the sea we went with towels and beach mat. The bay here is such that you can walk half way out and still have your head above water (which is of course lovely and warm at this time of year). And so the hours were spent finding shells, chasing crabs, scaring fish and watching stray dogs play with the tide and each other.
The GBP-BLG exchange rate is favourable to the strong pound. At the time of writing £1 is the equivalent of 2.7-2.9 levs, depending where you get them from. Herein Bulgaria the face value of money is the same as in England, that is for 1 unit you could expect to purchase a coke or for 5 units a single course. Thus for a "budget" holiday this is great - we can have 3 meals out a day and buy plenty in between.
Our trip to Ropotamo cost us 40lv, only £7.50 each. And here is a good place to talk about the food! Saturday night we ate at "Panorama St. Ivan" that offered an outside sea view of the island opposite our hotel. We opened our banqueting with a shared dish of shrimp, we snapped back their heads and sucked out their innards whilst rolling them in a hoi-sin like sauce or butter. This was accompanied by a sweet house white wine. For the main course Sam ate a shark fillet steak with salad garnish and I had a Wiener Schnitzel - an odd looking but tasty pork dish with potatoes. All this cost us only £7.50 each.
For the same price on Sunday at the famous "Viatarna Melnitsa" (windmill) restaurant we enjoyed a selection of salty fish h’orde oeuvres including Anchovies. For mains we had a swordfish kebap - onion, mushroom, tomato and olive flavoured fry/stew whilst Sam ate a Veal cutlet. For dessert we had a shared ice cream with freshly cooked raspberries - delicious!! For wine we chose the Pomorie chardonnay.
Tonight we ventured to Ksantana - a three tiered custom built house overlooking/hanging the sea. For the staple price of 40lv or £7.50 each we once again ate like kings. Straying away from wine we had a taste of other alcoholic offerings, a Bulgarian beer - Zargorka and a fine chocolate liqueur and whisky cocktail with creme. For starter we had chicken wings and frogs legs before moving onto a Pork fillet and beautifully stewed vegetable mix and a Bulgarian Rabbit casserole. Now it is late and I must sleep so I can carry on with this fine holiday tomorrow