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Published: September 12th 2010
From Istanbul I got a bus to neighbouring Bulgaria, which meant that after 17 months I was officially back in Europe and politically too - Bulgaria, unlike Turkey is a fully fledged member of the European Union.
Fellow travellers had told me that Bulgaria was ‘okay’, ‘alright’, ‘shit’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘alright, avoid Sofia’ and ‘watch your bags’. Posts on travel forums like the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree had headings such as ‘Bulgaria - avoid, avoid, avoid!’
. However as hard-boiled traveller Paul Theroux tells us, “all travel is a lesson in self-preservation” and I imagined Bulgaria to not be too different to everywhere else I’d been and I had prevailed so far. Besides I needed live music and was going there for that. I’d fallen upon the Spirit of Burgas music festival which was featuring dance pioneers and fellow Englanders The Prodigy
along with the likes of critically acclaimed groups such as UNKLE, Gorillaz, DJ Shadow and a bunch of other peeps. Maybe the festival would contribute to another nightmare story of Bulgaria or maybe it would be a piece of piss and be unworthy of any kind of travel blog.
Through the Bulgarian border where the coach was scanned in a garage and
passports collected by border officers on the coach and after six hours I’m in the coastal town of Burgas. When I got dropped off in the town I thought I’d be able to hear or see the festival (it would commence in a couple of hours time) but I didn’t and there was no map as part of my print outs so I stumbled around the town for an hour melting in the heat and changing my Euros into Bulgarian Lek
I eventually found the festival entrance; it had been literally on the corner from where the bus had dropped me off - but I had made the simply mistake of walking in the wrong direction. But there was more back and forth between gates and ticket offices until I got a wrist band and was sent on through to the site. To my surprise the camping was actually on the beach and looked out onto the Black Sea; by this time there were only maybe a dozen or so tents erected so I shifted it across the sandy wastes to the port’s wall and its slither of shade. I cleared away the bothersome thorn bushes and erected the
throwaway tent that I’d bought in Istanbul. I then went for a well-deserved refreshing dip in the warm waters of the Black Sea.
When I got back to the tent I found that my immediate neighbours were two blokes from England. We had a quick chin wag and decided to go into town for a couple of drinks; we sat outside drinking the local beer in tall German-style tumblers.
Coincidentally we all happened to be aged 30 and ‘Chri’s was only a day older than me. Unfortunately as has happened on this trip the English contingent has let me down. This time, Chris - despite his birth, education, upbringing, English accent and UK hip hop Djery insisted on being ‘from Ireland’ and not Woking where he was really from. It was ironic that we both shared Irish parentage and whereas I’m proud and happy to accept the country where I was ‘made’ as home he’d decided on being a ‘plastic paddy’. The games we play, eh?
No matter. I sort of enjoyed being in the company of some Brits at last; the shared values (cheap beer) and banter (cheap beer) and as we were all the same
age we were musically in sync with each other. 4 beers or so later and night time descended - walking back to the festival site the music was in full flow, we got the beers in (Becks on tap) and went to a few of the stages - yawny vocal jazz, Bulgarian rock etc. Chris made a phone call and went missing, then he went to queue up for more beer in a horribly chaotic bar so I was left with his mate who was knackered and wanted to lay down on the dry ground - so I went I left them to it.
On the main stage that night was The Prodigy, who were o.k. - older and podgier but still managed to jump around like berserks and I suppose that was what I had come to see, although I don’t like any of their new stuff, which sounds about as edgy as Debenhams. I liked the fact the festival and its stages were essentially on the beach and that there was sand between my feet. I didn’t go mental after the Prodigy, I was too paranoid about having my tent stolen and put up for ransom by
Bulgarian mafia types or perhaps jumping into the sea and er, drowing. Early night was had and a nice long sleep. The next morning I had to listen to a load of wank about how ‘impressed’ Chris was with over-the-hill Prodigy going through the motions. I’d given up on the English lot by this time and so I didn’t hang about for them to decide if they wanted to fraternise with me or not (they didn’t seem to be enthused about anything other than their own company) so I walked into town forage for breakfast (it’s not really a meal here). The rest of the day was spent swimming, reading on the beach, at Costa coffee in town (yes) and waiting for the first music to start off on the main stage at 7pm.
UNKLE along with James Lavelle had wicked visuals but didn’t really get me excited with the live UNKLE sound. DJ Shadow was impressive however, hidden inside a hovering white globe which crazy images were beemed onto in sync with the beats - I was simply mesmerised (and a bit pissed). I went to the Dutch DJ stage - which was a celebration of Dutch house music and stuff and danced my little socks off to random house funky house. I didn’t realise how hard it was to dance in the sand - an effort that really puts people off actually participating. It was then that I decided to leave the festival a day early; I’d had my fill of live music and sand and Grand Master Flash plus a Gorillaz DJ set didn’t really appeal to me to stay another day.
So the next morning I went for another swim, packed up my stuff, and to the surprise of the English ‘couple’ got ready to shift it out of there. I left the tent and the rolling mats for them to share between them and walked onwards to the train and bus station.
For some reason that Sunday morning I couldn’t get on a bus to the capital Sofia, all the bus services were already fully booked and none of the cross-looking women behind the counters spoke English or wanted to help. I recruited a young girl who spoke English to help me but even she was at a loss to explain why there were no seats available on any buses - and as for no help - ‘this is Bulgaria - this is what they are like’ - a bleak but honest assessment.
Push came to shove and I walked to the train station nearby and luckily there were seats on the 2.30pm train to Sofia - I’d have a wait of about 3 hours but at least I would be on my way. In the meantime I sat with a bottle of beer and free wi-fi in one of the un-air conditioned cafes in the station.
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