Arriving in Varna
free town walk
Well, we have made it to Varna. Varna is the second or third biggest city in Bulgaria and will give us an idea on city life here.
The bus stop is way out from the centre, and with no map we have no idea where we are. It was a poky little station and a bit worrying in all honesty. Not what you would expect from the big city.
Walking to a main road, we asked for a bit of help catching a bus. No one spoke any English, until one person came up. He was a taxi driver, and when he worked out that we would not take his taxi he told us that information is not free and walked off. This was unexpected and the way he did it left a bit of a sour taste. Still, we managed to catch a bus to the centre, being dropped off at the large orthodox cathedral on what we thought was the main square. A quick peak inside, then to tourist information that we had spotted on the other side of the road. This was not that easy, as Bulgarian drivers are very different to Romanian ones. They actively try to hit you, even when you have a walking light or Zebra crossing. Disconcerting to say the least.
Tourist information was pathetic. They have no ideas on hotels, instead directing us to a tour operator a long way away. They have no idea on what to see in the city. No idea on what is around in the region. No idea on the rest of the country. Worst of all they have no information available to you at all. Considering the size of the city, and that it is probably the first point many people coming in from Romania visit it is very depressing. Getting information was only possible when we asked direct questions that we already knew the answers to. Anna did pick up a flyer for a free walking tour, and we would try to do this later. They did not even mention this to us either.
With the pathetic map they provided us, we tried to make our way to the tour operator that would be able to help us with accommodation. Stopping in at all the hotels we could find along the way. Bulgaria is supposed to be the poorest country in the EU, but the hotels here charge more than Berlin or even Paris!
After finding the right place, we asked them about accommodation. They also were not much help. About $5 cheaper than ones we had already found. So we decided to just walk around. Eventually we did find a place. Over priced, with the beds consisting of two sofas. Not even sofa beds. Just sofas. It was pretty bad, but the only thing we could find within our budget. We should have spent the extra and stayed somewhere nice, but we didn’t.
There were a few hours to kill, so we went for a look around. One thing we were now after was a guide book on Bulgaria, as tourist information seems unreliable. Finding an English bookshop, we stepped in. Run by an Ex-pat that has been here for a few years, we had a good long chat. There was no guide book, but it was still interesting. She also recommended the free tour and agreed with us on tourist info in town. Then it was time to make our way back to the cathedral for the tour.
The tour was led by a woman called Ju, not originally from Varna, but moved here a few years ago. The crowd was not that big, and we set off. Seeing different styles of architecture, with important buildings pointed out. Roman ruins and Turkish ruins underscore the age and importance of the city over time. Apparently the whole town is built upon older towns. Not that different from a lot of places. They are not doing much excavation work on these sites any more, and people are very cautious about reporting anything when building or renovating due to the hold ups this causes.
The one story that stuck with us was in the main walking street. There is a large fenced off area in the middle. Apparently this has been here since 1989.
Straight after communism fell, a company went round raising money from the government and shop owners on the street. The purpose of this was to rejuvenate the area. Basically, they ripped up the pavement and left. Taking all the money with them. While leaving a big hole in the ground. This has been that way now for the last 20 years. The government is planning on fixing it at some stage, but nothing has been done yet, and all the locals see is a new plan being put forth every few years with no action.
The tour took us to the waterfront, where there is a large park stretching over 10 kilometres along the edge of the Black sea. Past fresh water fountains and mineral water fountains that were bubbling up out of the ground, but now turned into drinking places. A lot of people do not like the tap water here, and go to these fountains to fill their water containers every day.
After the tour, we invited Ju out for a drink. Taking us to a nice place, we sampled some of the local beers and Rakia (Pilenka or Twika depending on where you have come from). We also had some help ordering a fine traditional dinner. The best thing so far food wise in this country is the abundance of salads! I know I am a carnivore, but sometimes you just need a salad.
She gave us some great insights into the country, and even gave us a rough outline on what we have to see and do. Needless to say, we ended up staying here for way too long, but hopefully Ju enjoyed the time as much as we did.
If you are ever in Varna. Do the free walking tour!