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September 13th 2015
Published: June 8th 2017
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That damn fridge kept waking me up all night long. I looked before I went to bed last night to see whether or not it could be unplugged, but the cabinet it was in was too close to the wall and I couldn't reach the plug. But at least my room wasn't on the third floor, where a contingent of Belgians managed to wake everyone up at 1:30 a.m.

On our drive to Varna, we could see how Sunny Beach — the area visible from the north side of Nesebar — is too built up. There are hotels and big resorts and apartments, apartments, apartments. It's just ugly. There's one absolutely enormous resort that looks like something from Dubai, or Las Vegas. Most of the billboards along the highway are in Russian, trying to entice Russians to buy an apartment there. However, Stefan says, a huge percentage of the buildings were illegally built and don't have proper sewer lines, water lines, and real blueprints. A few are even built directly on the sand. He says they'll almost certainly be torn down in a year or two once the government catches up.

Someone asked about the unfinished and abandoned buildings that seemed to be everywhere. It's likely that for many of the projects the money ran out in the middle of construction. But for others, it may simply be because the summer season runs from May to September, and it's forbidden to have an active building site during the season. So the project will stop in April and restart in October. And some of the projects may be related to money laundering schemes. In fact, says Stefan, 20 to 30 percent of the hotels along the Black Sea are involved in money laundering in some way. These schemes are, naturally, run by the Bulgarian mafia. "Is the Bulgarian mafia like the Italian mafia?" "No," says Stefan, "the Italian mafia at least has some rules!"

Money laundering led to a question about drugs in Bulgaria. Like pretty much everywhere else, Bulgaria does have a problem with heroin and meth. And it turns out that Bulgaria is the biggest producer of meth in Europe, but it's mostly for export. The bigger problem is alcohol addiction, but it's not really seen as serious. Why? The Russians and Poles will drink alcohol straight from the bottle and end up blind drunk. Bulgarians pour their alcohol into glasses and sip. They still get drunk, of course, but it's generally a happier, still-in-control drunk. Personally, I'd say there's also a major cigarette addiction here. Probably the first thing John will tell me when I get home is, "You smell like cigarettes!" There's no smoking in restaurants, etc., but you can't get away from it when you're outside.

We could see Varna from a little distance, and it's quite large and spread out along an east-west line. It's known as the Capital of the Black Sea Coast and is the third largest city in Bulgaria. It's also got the largest port on the Black Sea, for both cargo and people. In addition, the first train tracks in Bulgaria started in Varna in the 1860s.

Our hotel is called the Capitol. It's very centrally located and has a ton of amenities in the bathroom (not to mention the first properly fitted toilet seat of the tour). The wi-fi is free and strong, and I was able to post a blog that wouldn't work in Nesebar. (To be fair, all the wi-fi so far has been free.)

We started our orientation walk shortly after checking in, walking by a cathedral with gold onion domes. We entered a pedestrianized area that was only finished (refurbed) three weeks ago, so we are the first group to see it this year. As it's Sunday, it was also full of Bulgarians out enjoying the sun. Judging by the number of tiny humans in strollers that we saw, there was a mini-baby boom a few months ago.

We walked by the gorgeous "Dramatic Theater" and then went to the archaeological museum. I think this may be my archaeological limit, quite frankly. This museum, however, has something rather amazing: the oldest gold in the world. There are rings and bracelets and necklaces and other ornaments and adornments made of gold that's 2,000 years older than the pyramids. Most of this gold was found at burial sites. In the grave of burial #43, that of a chieftain, were necklaces of semi-precious stones, gold necklaces, gold bracelets, gold buttons, a gold-handled axe, and gold circles that probably formed a headdress. We also saw Roman mosaic floors and Greek tombstones.

One interesting thing we learned is that when a painting shows a boar being chased or killed, the scene is showing an initiation (e.g., a boy becoming a man). If it's a bull that's being hassled, then the scene is something to do with sacrifice. Never knew that.

We were free after the museum, so I walked back to the pedestrian street to go to Trops, a cafeteria-style restaurant. I think nearly all of us ended up there at some point. I had spaghetti bolognese, which wasn't bad, and sat with Peggy and John. They shared a plate of potatoes that were so yellow, I initially thought they were pieces of pineapple, and a seriously large sausage; they said it was like kielbasa. A little orange cat crept up alongside me and meowed; I really wanted to give it something.

After lunch, we walked down to Primorski Park overlooking the sea. Lovely park with lots of families; some of the tiny children were in remote-controlled cars made to look like Porsches or Audis. Slightly older children had slightly bigger cars and could drive on their own. There were dogs lying in the sun (I've seen a few with tagged ears, so I hope that means they've been fixed) and more cats roaming around looking for handouts. People were eating ice creams and smoking cigarettes (not at the same time … at least I don't think
Aslant in VarnaAslant in VarnaAslant in Varna

Varna is hosting some sort of amateur athletics competition in 2017.
so), and there was an old man playing an accordion in the shadow of a pillar. "It's Now or Never" seemed to be his signature tune.

Steps led down to a large yellow building that stretched far in both directions. Fortunately, there was a door that led to a corridor that went out to a bar/restaurant situated right on the beach. There were tons of sunbathers, some wading in the sea, large men in Speedos, and large women in bikinis. Everyone looked happy and relaxed. John and Peggy both went right down to the shore to dip their hands in the water. The tide was coming in pretty fast, and John got his shoes and cuffs drenched. I settled for putting my hand in Black Sea sand. For a few minutes, I watched a man with a metal detector roaming up and down the beach. He got a few hits but nothing came of them.

John and Peggy went off to the Planetarium, and I went to find the supermarket. I had intended to buy toothpaste, but I could only get full-size tubes and they cost an absolute fortune. Instead I got a bottle of water (still can't drink the water here), a bottle of Fanta (only tastes good in Europe), a banitsa (cheesy bread thing), and some crispy things. I decided I didn't feel like doing a dinner this evening, especially as I had that bowl of spaghetti for lunch, so I'll just eat in my room. Maybe I'll watch Bulgarian television! (Luckily, one of the amenities in my bathroom is a "dental kit" containing a toothbrush and a tube of paste, so now I shouldn't run out of toothpaste before our last day.)

One curious thing I've noticed in Bulgaria is that when there's music playing, like in a restaurant or a hotel lobby, it's American or British. I've heard Tina Turner singing "Simply the Best" more times than I can count, and I've heard Beatles song after Beatles song after Beatles song. I haven't heard anything sung in Bulgarian or any other foreign language. In the breakfast room at our Sofia hotel, we ate our muesli and yogurt to a Muzak version of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

Later: I did watch some Bulgarian TV. "Perfect Strangers" dubbed in Bulgarian was too much for my brain to handle.

Additional photos below
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Old man and accordionOld man and accordion
Old man and accordion

Once more aslant.

13th September 2015

What's the Varna 2017 for?

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