Varna, Bulgaria 2014

I am in this luxury boutique hotel in Varna.

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On my first day here I walked a good few hours in the summer heat. There is a huge cemetery that occupies a whole city block. The entrance is directly opposite the entrance to the biggest mall. Dead on the left, living on the right. Move along now.

Having visited the shrine of the living I decided to pay my respects to a load of people I never knew. I go through the archway and strike off to the far corner to exit on the main drag. Every headstone has a photo or an etching of the deceased on it. I nod my head as I pass and check the dates. A lot of these people lived through various occupations by various countries and saw massive changes. Some of which seemed bad at the time but better in hindsight. Poor sods.

Eventually I reach the far corner only to see a very tall iron fence complete with spikes. I am not seeing a gateway. Long story short, I follow two dodgy looking men who are striding purposefully towards said fence. At some long defunct point amongst the overgrown shrubbery they climb over the fence by crabbing sideways up and over the spiky top and the reverse to get down. So I follow them except I am wearing open sandals to their boots. At the top there is a kind of hop and jump over the spikes while looking down. At that moment I realised that I should have just walked back the way I came.

I jump down the last few feet and am back in the land of the living. I don’t understand why there is a fence round three sides. What’s the problem here? Do the dead need to be contained in Varna? Or is it that you have to be certain you want to leave?

I get back to the hotel and my feet feel funny. I have a nice sized blister on the soles of both feet. Ha ha serves me right.

Later that night I put on multiple pairs of socks, tie my shoes tight and gingerly step out. I walk a few streets and it seems OK. But I don’t push my luck and go back to the hotel.

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Breakfast is included in the room rate. I have eggs and bacon, coffee, toast and jam then go for a walk. It is hot. I make for the seafront by a higgledy piggeldy route which takes me through many different quarters. The overall sense is one of decayed Mediterranean splendour. Narrow roads jam packed with parked cars, broken footpaths, mangy cats and dogs and cheerful locals.

I think I said this about Prague, lots of women here still dress like women. Summer dresses are everywhere. Older women dress quite glamorously in a way that I could never imagine at home. I read this morning that there are more beautiful women in Varna than anywhere else in Bulgaria. I can believe that. But not in an American/advertising way. There seems to be a place for older women here, they haven’t learned to disappear like at home.

I manage to find the beach and it looks inviting. By now it is really hot and I eye the water longingly. No togs though so that will have to wait. I’m walking in the shadows and shade to keep cool. All the signs are in Cyrillic so I haven’t a clue what buildings I am passing. They all look like museums or institutions.

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Suddenly I see one word that I recognise. Aquarium. I’ve been to a few in my time, they are cool, dark places, just what I need. It costs four Levas to get in which seems a lot to me, you can get two large glasses of beer for that in a cafe. But it’s only four dollars when all is said and done.

It is cool and dark, or more precisely dim and dingy. And full of kids, a couple of school parties. I see big tanks with tiny fish and small tanks with big fish and a few big tanks with big fish.
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Overall it feels like something the Russians forgot to take with them.

Further along I come across some private beaches. I am not sure how it works but they are separated by fences or walls from any public beach. I walked into one and there are loungers and cushions arranged under large umbrellas. Lots of tanned people, obviously no fear of the sun here. Topless women were laying around and it all seemed quite casual. I looked at the water for a bit then left. As I passed other private beaches some seemed more up market than others. I spent quite a lot of time looking at the sea today but I failed to imagine it as an ocean knowing that it is contained.

Directly across from the hotel is a cathedral that could pass for a Turkish mosque.
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The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin. Inside it is huge with painted ceilings and walls.
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The place is very empty, mainly old women with scarves on their heads. Just inside the door is what must be an Orthodox priest. As people (old women) enter he says a prayer with them.

I’m sure I saw a Tardis in the corner
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I keep getting dirty looks, either there was an entry fee and I sneaked in without paying or it’s my loud shirt. Either way I’m not going to heaven with this lot. I’m not familiar with the terminology of church architecture but at the front is a big wall of carved wooden panels inset with doors.
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While I am staring at this one of the doors opens and a man in overalls appears with an iron in his hand. He gets down on his knees and starts to iron the carpet. I am not making this up.

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I’ve been trying to lose weight while I am here but instead I just seem to get bigger. I’ve been trying to subsist on breakfast and one light meal at night. I usually eat a shopska salad which is cucumber and tomatoes cut into largish chunks with goats fetta crumbled over it. It comes heaped on a plate about nine inches by six inches. Tonight I made the mistake of asking if they had anything sweet. I got deep fried bananas in batter covered in honey. It was so disgusting I could have had another helping. Oh well it keeps their economy afloat. Shopska salad, fried bananas, espresso coffee, $8.70 the lot.

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I keep seeing old men wearing great beach shirts. I never see those shirts in the shops though. I was wandering around thinking that these old guys had taste. Slowly I have come to see that this is not the case. It’s just what old men wear. Shame

It is very hot, about 28 degrees. I am walking past the Opera and there is a fountain outside. A young man walks to the fountain and strips off to his undies, gets in the fountain and commences to wash himself, soap and all. No one takes any notice and neither does he. He may as well have been in his own bathroom, assuming that he had one, which obviously he didn’t.

All over the city where I walk there are coffee vending machines. Nescafe is a big deal here, you see the name everywhere. None of these machines seems armoured or toughened and yet they remain unmolested. A couple of times I have seen old ladies putting coins in.

Real estate agents have glass fronted display cabinets outside their offices. I haven’t seen a broken one yet.

Today I crossed a very small street near the corner, just as I was in the middle of the road a car came round the corner really fast and I had to run sharpish. The car stopped and the driver wound down his window and apologised.

I come across a big park and it has a kind of promenade through the middle. There is a gypsy standing there and everyone gives him a wide berth. He is holding a small radio thing in his hands and you can just hear some music. Then he starts to sing. His voice goes right through me.

 

 

The promenade is bordered by large trees providing shade over the benches that line it. As I am strolling along I pass a bench occupied by two old ladies. Just as I pass one of them makes a comment, obviously about me and they giggle, even though I don’t understand the language I can tell it is a dirty comment. I turn to look at them and they giggle even more. One of them says something but I don’t know what, so I blow her a kiss, at this they almost wet themselves. Neither of them would have been under 75.