Thursday, June 29, 2006

Nod For No

Greetings from central Bulgaria. Land of nods for no and shakes for yes. Of monasteries and beach. Where all the girls get dolled up and the guys just watch them walk by. And where Cryillic script is de-facto. It is almost like a little Russia, but with hot weather. And I am absolutely loving it.

But first I had to get out of Turkey. This thankfully was achieved without too much hassle, although there was the incident of the attempted scam, but that is a story for another time; to add to other scams attempts I have run in to. So I left Istanbul from the main massive bus station, or the Otogar. The place must be the mecca for bus stations worldwide. Buses travel to all corners of Europe and the Middle East and they would probably go further if they could (London on a bus from Istanbul is possible, about 3 days worth .. no thanks). Myself, I just wanted to head west, cross over the border and up the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.

I had no idea what to expect from this new country. I had plenty of Eastern European stereotypes floating around in my head; horse drawn carts rumbling down the main streets; gap filled smiles; orphanages needing help; nuclear reactor incidents. So I was in for a shock from Bulgaria. And Varna was the place to slap me in the face.

Varna was party central. A walk down to the beach was a sensory overload. Getting to the beach first, I had to pass all the beautiful people meandering around and along the pedestrian malls. Then past all the bars and all the clothes shops with all the latest fashion, and through the throngs with mobile phones clasped to ears. It all seemed so affluent and western, where was the communist soviet bloc influence?

Once I was at the seaside it was shoulder to shoulder through the masses and past the clubs. Dance tracks blasted out and even more beautiful people streamed in and around. The joints were packed and I was aghast. I needed a drink so I picked the first one that seemed open enough and was also happening to play a world cup game. Sitting at the bar I just wanted a beer. But it just so happened that I was at the cocktail bar that was in the Guinness book of records for the most commercially available cocktails. I counted them on the menu. Over a hundred, and they were cheap .. Eastern European alcohol prices. Every cocktail was AU$4 or less.

Cocktail overload

The beach the next day was another eye opener. The beautiful with less clothes and no inhibitions. I am still staggered at how dressed up Bulgarians get, and I have been here for a week. Although now that I have been out and away from the coast at least I have seen some normality .. horse drawn carts in town centres.

Beach bum & mum

I have also seen some amazing geography and precarious towns utilising it. Veliko Tarnovo was one .. medieval hilltop fortress, cobblestone streets .. you get the picture. It will be one of the next big destinations for package tours worldwide. Expect to see it gracing brochure covers in years to come. It was good to beat the hoards, because it was a brilliant spot to stop and relax for a few days. Mainly thanks to the accommodation. A chilled hostel run by local guys with time to spare to have a few beers and chats with the small clientele. I hope the rest of the east will be like this.

Same deal with my current local, Plovdiv in central Bulgaria. Here it is more of the same. This country is just breaking into the backpacker market and it is a great time to be here. I am meeting tons of other solo travellers and it is always good to trade stories and hometown anecdotes. The best so far has been meeting Luke, an Aussie from Sydney, who has ridden his bike from Thailand to Bulgaria for the last year and a half; he has a few stories to tell, and this is why I love travelling so much.

On the sightseeing side of things there has also been the getaways from the towns and into the countryside. It has been very hot, but a daytrip today to a fortress was a highlight. As well as the five hour return hike a few days ago to a monastery. This was complete with wizened old white bearded monk with hunchback looking after the orthodox church with beautiful ancient frescos covered in soot. I am not regretting heading this way to travel.

Monastery this way

But tomorrow I am off to the capital, Sofia, for the first time. Another hostel awaits and some more travellers are there to meet; some on their way to Istanbul, others into Serbia. But for me I will be staying for a few days before leaving the heavy pack behind to go lightweight and south for some hiking. Hopefully I will be meeting up with Luke as he is keen to ditch the bike. Besides, I want to shake and nod my head in reverse order at more of his stories over a campfire in the Rila Mountains.

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