Burgas, Bulgaria – July 8, 2015

Despite the attractions of Srem (we could easily park off there for the rest of the summer), there’s still no excuse for failing to explore other parts of Bulgaria. On that principle we headed for Burgas, a popular resort town on the Black Sea coast and the main regional centre in this part of the country.

It’s also Bulgaria’s fourth-largest city, with a population of about 360,000, but getting around is remarkably easy. We quickly found our recommended hotel – the Gran Via – only to be told “Sorry, we’re full.” Booking might have been a sensible precaution, but that’s not in the spirit of free-fall tourism.

The Luxor, a couple of blocks away, was suggested as an alternative and there we struck lucky. Free valet parking, even.  Not just a customer service but an essential aid to strangers who don’t know their way around. The parking lot is at the back door and reached through a labyrinth of alleys and side-streets.

Local knowledge is essential so the porter/parking attendant does the driving, keeping the keys so cars can be shuffled around as visitors come and go. Double-rooms were going for 80 lev a night (about 40 euros or 80 dirhams if you’ve forgotten the exchange rate already).

HRH decided to lash out and upgrade to a studio – all of 10 lev more – to avoid any traffic noise. She generously offered to forgo breakfast (5 lev) so that would halve the added expenditure. I thought of asking how much extra it would cost to avoid her snoring, but for once discretion won out over valour.

The studio proved spacious and well-appointed, with choice of large double-bed or slightly smaller version and free wifi as part of the package. Hint here for hotel chains in the Middle East and UK where such high-tech new gadgetry often incurs a ridiculous extra charge.

Solid and liquid sustenance was sorely needed after the afternoon drive from Srem in our hired SEAT Ibiza, a name which is not lived up to. I can’t speak for the Ibiza part, never been there, but its seats must the most uncomfortable since Henry Ford stopped installing wooden saddles. There are several levers for multiple position adjustment but I’ve yet to find a combination that doesn’t induce instant backache.

Relief was not far away, in the form of the Golden Fish restaurant (that’s the translated name) round the corner from the Luxor. Being right by the shore, and trusting in the name of the establishment, seafood seemed a good option. And so it proved.

I chose mussels in a sauce of wine, onion, herbs, and garlic and could not have made a better decision. The 1kg portion looked a bit daunting but it was quickly reduced to a bucketful of shells. HRH went for spag marinara, also arriving a Queen-sized helping. After washing it all down with a couple of pints of draught Kamenitza each, time to summon up courage and the bill.

Shock, horror! It came to 30 lev and some change. That wouldn’t even cover the beer in Dubai – and we’re talking big city rates, not Violetta’s taverna in remote and rural Srem.  Chalk up another plus-point for Bulgaria.

Well-fed and watered we headed back to the Luxor for an early night and recharging of batteries for proper exploration in the morning. That was a walk in the park – literally – or the Sea Garden as it’s formally known, full of trees, shrubbery, and sculptures. Hard to tell of whom – that’s the problem with Cyrillic inscriptions – but the most important is supposed to be the Alexander Pushkin monument.

(For those of you thinking that the vodka equivalent of Johnnie Walker definitely merits a statue, not so. First and foremost, he was a famous Russian poet, not a brand name.)

Close to the park is a city-centre pedestrian area, crammed with a curious mix of coffee shops, pubs, tourist tat kiosks, and even second-hand books. A junk shop/antique showroom (easily qualified as both) provided an interesting spell of browsing. Spinning-wheels, hand-leaving looms, wagon wheels, assorted bits of what looked like agricultural equipment – wooden plough shares and harrows – were piled high alongside antlers, stuffed foxes and pine martens, and ancient typewriters and sewing machines.

Among a stack of musical instruments in various states of disrepair, a button-key melodeon caught my fancy. Just like the one I used to play in my distant youth. Cue HRH and foot-stamping protest. Cursty on fiddle and me on guitar make more than enough Scottish music for her to handle, thank you.

Time to move on to the second-hand bookshop. Plenty beautiful old volumes on display, but unfortunately all in Bulgarian.  One shelf had a small selection of English titles. Obviously very valuable as they were each parceled up in clear cellophane. Closer inspection revealed the authors – Jackie Collins is clearly very popular with Burgas literati, along with EL James and 40 shades of various colours, Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, and other heavweights notable for their non-appearance at the Dubai litfest.

I could hear HRH breathing a sigh of relief that another few kilos would not be added to the luggage limit, the usual outcome of my visits to second-hand bookshops.

A visit to the museum of antiquities was another highlight of the day. At 5 lev each entry fee, expensive by Bulgarian standards, but well worth it.  A fascinating couple of hours discovering the country’s Thracian history, right up to relatively recent times and the reign of Tsar Simeon.

Day two in this part of the world was to be spent visiting the smaller resort towns further down the coast. Bad move.  Sozopol, Primorsko, and Kiten proved to be each as bad as the other – a mix of Blackpool and Benidorm, beaches crammed with tourists, new hotels and holiday apartments rising by the minute. We’re obviously not the only ones discovering the joys of Bulgaria.

When half the country appears to have decamped to the seaside, time for us to head for the hills.

PS: HRH had technical problems with her iPad and conventional cameras (whether due to gin or charger, I can’t say) so the Burgas pic selection is a bit thin. I’ve added some from the archives to make up.

beach burgas

Burgas beach is relatively quiet and peaceful…

beach primorsko

Primorsko is the other extreme…

pork carving

Camera-shy Cursty finally caught in the act – carving up the first roast from pig-sticking operations.

goats sheep

The evening procession makes its way homeward. Note the different configuration of Bulgarian sheep compared to the Scottish variety. For further enlightenment you can draw on Bob Cassie’s Aberdonian expertise in such matters.