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Published: October 1st 2017
Geo: 42.6622, 27.7075
Because the plan was to be anchored off the port of Nessebur all day, we slept in until, well, 7am, but we didn't order breakfast until 8am. It arrived right on schedule, with a manager as well, who just wanted to check in to make sure that we had been happy with our in-room dining service. We have been, so that was fine. We ate breakfast, watched the pilot arrive, and prepared to go ashore. Then the captain came on the PA to announce that the seas were not good for tendering (despite the lovely weather) … and that the wind was expected to pick up later in the day. So they were considering their options and would let us know soon. Then we saw the pilot leave, and the captain announced that the swells were too much. Instead of anchoring off Nessebur, we would steam south and dock at Burgos, about 20km away. There, a new cruise ship terminal had just been built, and we would be only the second ship to arrive there. They would scramble to arrange all the necessary equipment and personnel (pilot, tugs, immigration, line-handlers, shuttle bus service around the port) so that we would not be delayed too long upon arrival. And, indeed, when we neared Burgos, the pilot zipped out, and we were tugged in, stern-first, into the terminal. A short time after we were docked, we were cleared to go ashore. So, ashore we went (along with hundreds of others). But immigration was very efficient, and the shuttle bus was there, comfortable, and departed shortly after we boarded.
We had spent the time steaming down the coast to research how to get from Burgos to Nessebur, and, indeed, it was very easy. We were accosted by a few taxi drivers, who we dismissed with a wave of the hand, found an ATM, got a few Lev, then found to the bus to Nessebur. Cost: 6 Lev each (about $4). There was only one other passenger from the Prinsendam on the bus when we boarded, but a group of six joined us soon afterwards. Still, it was just the nine of us on the bus to Nessebur. The ride took about 45 minutes but was comfortable. Along the way, we could see construction of many, many new condos along the coast … all advertised in English, so clearly for the UK/continental market. Prices were usually displayed in Euros, not Lev.
The bus dropped us at the center of new Nessebur, which was a 10-15 minute walk to the old town. And a perfectly pleasant walk, as it was a lovely, lovely, warm and clear day. Old town Nessebur used to be an island, but it was connected by an isthmus over 150 years ago (not quite sure when). We crossed the isthmus and found ourselves in the charming, though touristic, town of Nessebur. The ground floor of all the buildings in the main part of town are full of shops selling tourist items, moneychangers, bars, and restaurants. Over half, however, were closed, probably because it was so far after the season had ended. (My favorite money-changer was a guy in black leather jacket, standing next to a silver Mercedes, with a sign saying, "Money exchange. No mafia." Yeah, right.)
We didn't really have a plan, although we knew that there were a number of churches that were worth visiting. In the first church, we were able to buy tickets to five sites for 12 Lev, which was a small savings (but a savings is a savings). The five sites included three churches and two museums. The church of St. XXX was our first stop. It is probably the most covered in murals. Two tour groups were in session, so we listened in. most interesting, we learned that the faces had been scraped off “out of love.” Before the churches were protected, people believed that the paintings of the saints had curative powers. They would scrape off a tiny bit of paint from the face – preferably the eyes – of a saint, then mix it with a liquid and drink it, hoping it would cure them of disease. Over the years, the faces disappeared. Some saints were clearly more popular than others.
In the second church (St. XXXX), they had displayed a series of reproductions of maps from previous centuries that depicted Nessebur. The purpose was to demonstrate how long Nessebur had been in continuous existence, and its importance to the Black Sea region.
Our third stop was the “ethnographic” museum. This museum is situated in an old house, so going in allows one to see the layout and design of the old houses. The lower level was used as barn and storage. The upper level had the living quarters. This house had a few rooms upstairs. Each of the rooms had a small display, most of which talked about the conflict between Greek inhabitants and Bulgarian refugees after Bulgaria lost the Second Balkan War and World War I. They also talked about the main occupations of the inhabitants (fishing and ship-building), and how the Nessebur house was similar to and differed from the typical “Black Sea” house.
From this museum, we wandered around the most eastern part of the island, which had far fewer shops. A few restaurants and bars were open, mostly selling fish. I'm sure the fish is fresh, but I don't want fish for lunch. The very eastern tip of the island is off-limits: there's a radar station there.
Walking back, we visited the third church, which was the smallest and the newest. About half the walls were covered in murals; the other half were blank.
By now, it was after 2:30pm. We decided to try lunch in a restaurant near the entrance to the old city, partially because they offered more than fish, partially because it had a view of the bay, and partially because it took Visa. Lunch was fabulous! I ordered – blindly – a local specialty, which was called something like Kawarma. It was so tasty – a combination of pork, onions, and a tomato-based sauce. I had it with chips; nummers. Paul had a barbeque skewer, which was also very tasty. Lunch was not cheap (not outrageous, but very different from when we were in Bulgaria in 1990), but it was so much better than most of what we've had to eat on the ship.
Our final stop in town was the Archaeological Museum. It had mostly marble tablets (votives) and vases. The best room was downstairs, which had icons. The icons were in the “Nessebur” style, which was not really explained, but appears to center around the cult of the Virgin Mary. Some were very beautiful – to our eyes, they do not vary much from time period to time period, although we did feel that they varied in quality.
From old Nessebur, we decided to walk to “Sunny Beach” … a resort community 1km away. There is a nice seaside path that connects the condos of Sunny Beach to old Nessebur. The beach was deserted (not too surprising, given the time of year), but there were still a number of shops and restaurants working in Sunny Beach. From Sunny Beach, we caught the bus back to Burgos.
It was about 5pm when we arrived at Burgos. We opted to walk through the park for a ways before returning to the ship. The park is extensive, sitting on the cliff tops, and there is a pleasant beach (with one lone swimmer) below. Many people were out and about, enjoying the warm afternoon. At one end, lining the road that parallels the park, are old mansions, most in a state of decay. One is in the process of being redone, and another looks like it might soon be renovated as well. The other entertaining thing we saw: a magpie spotted a cracker on the lawn, but near it was a large, black, feral cat. The magpie landed and took bites of the cracker, looking all the while at the cat. The cat looked vaguely interested in the magpie, but maintained its bowling-ball position, clearly debating whether it needed to attack, just because it could, just for fun, and/or just because the magpie had it coming. But then Paul went to take a photo, and the magpie flew away. The cat glared at Paul. Meanwhile, on another lawn, a skinny white cat was stalking a magpie slowly … but a child scared that bird away. Score: Birds –2, Cats – 0.
We returned to the port and a shuttle was waiting for us. It departed 2 minutes after we got on board; immigration was again quite efficient. We went immediately upstairs to get cranberry juice to enjoy a sundowner. Our view was of the industrial port and the red wafer sun setting through the thick haze of the city. My eyes burned from the smog, and Paul said, “It's very Bladerunner.” So right.
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