First Port of Call, Varna, Bulgaria

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October 5th 2009
Published: November 16th 2009
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We arrived early in the morning for our fist port of call, Varna, a seaside resort town on the coast of Bulgaria.

After booking our cruise I checked out the website and was fortunate enough after a few e-mails to have a private tour at every port of call with a group of 6 for five of our stops and along with those same 6 part of a group of twenty for two other stops. Oscar (along with Debbie) organized all our stops along with Keith and Debra (from Canada).

Oscar and Debbie (both retired) travel every 6 months and Keith and Debra hand their business over to their kids so they travel at least a month at a time several times a year. While I'm very appreciative of what I have I'm always a little jealous when others get to travel more than we do. Kelly was a little confused on how I had arranged everything and was a little worried but we quickly got to know each other and had a great time. The travel experience of the other four was a definite bonus which we really appreciated.

There was some confusion on exactly when to meet our travel guide Diyan. Several e-mails had gone out to confirm a time went unanswered. The local ladies were setting up their goods for sale along the wall of the road to the port as I walked by looking for a van with a tour guide in it. He soon found us and went back to get his van to pick us up closer to the boat. Oscar had tripped over a low hanging cable and had gone back to the ship to change shirts and we all seem to meet up at the same time.

We rode up the coast about 40 kilometers to the town of Balchik to visit the Balchik Royal Palace made for Queen Marie of Romania who ruled Bulgaria at the time her reign in the early 1900's (1920s?). Tourist season was over and was apparent as we just about had the place to ourselves. The weather was a little cool, both Kelly and I wish we had brought a jacket but wasn't bad on this fine autumn day.

Since Diyan was basically a driver he helped us exchange to the local currency and after we bought our tickets we toured the palace grounds ourselves. There were plenty of signs in English as well as what I guess is Bulgarian using the Cyrillic alphabet describing the local surroundings so we had an idea of what we were looking at as well as some history.

Our next stop was the Aladzha Cave Monastery about 14 km outside of Varna and only a few km from the coast. The Aladzha Monastery is a medieval Orthodox Christian cave monastery carved into the walls of the cliff back in the 12th century and used up till the 18th century AD. Recently built stairs allow easy access to the two levels that I saw. No crowds here again, we seem to have free reign of the place. The catacombs within the complex were closed due to recent rains, I think they were too muddy.

We returned to Varna and visited the Varna Archaeological Museum that contained a large collection of Prehistoric items found in digs within Bulgaria. Many Greek and Roman artifacts were housed here as well. Diyan dropped us off in the center of town where we strolled through the Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral. This area was my first taste of Keith and his "how much" bantering with the locals, in this case was the aggressive taxi drivers - we already had a driver and had no need for a taxi). They were quoting us $10 and the next quoted €10 ($15!) for the short drive to the boat, easy walking distance. Diyan called them the taxi mafia under his breath after picking us up.

Me, Kelly and Kieth opted to get dropped off at the local Roman bath ruins (The Roman Thermae) and the rest were taken back to the boat so we paid our €100 (~€17 per person) and said our good byes to Diyan. There were enough descriptions in English and pictures to get an idea of what the baths looked like. There was a some reconstruction going on here as well. We spent about 30 minutes in the ruins and went back towards the coast. I figured this might be our only chance to actually step into the Black Sea so we took our socks and shoes off and let the cold water run over our feet for a few seconds. We took our time people watching on our way back to the ship where we departed late afternoon.

Link to Kodak Gallery Photos.

Video Balchik Palace Waterfall (YouTube). Click the HD button once video loads for 720 HD.

Video Varna from the Ship.

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