Bulgarian cops are built. Or rather, the cops I’ve seen in Bourgas are built. Seriously built. I’ve been known to cast an appreciative eye over a set of pecs in my day, or salivate at that broad-shouldered narrow-waisted form that water-polo players sport. But I wouldn’t say that ogling the male body takes up a lot of my time on any given day. Engaged as I often am in flights of fancy that have little bearing on the real world, I seldom notice so when I do, it’s worth noticing.
At breakfast yesterday, a little drama played out in front of our hotel that had me intrigued.
An older man, on a crutch (just the one) walked in to the courtyard and began speaking very loudly to a couple breakfasting beside us. They all spoke Bulgarian ( which sounds remarkably like Serbian which sort of makes sense as it’s all Balkans – I just read that somewhere) so I haven’t a clue what was being said. One of the staff intervened and walked the ould lad outside. The conversation continued. And then the cops arrived: two fine young lads who would put Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox (CHiPs? Ponch and Jon?) out of business. I was fascinated.
In Belgrade a number of years ago with riot police on the streets I remember feeling remarkably safe. This was in stark contrast to being in Budapest with riot police on the streets and feeling very afraid. I’ve often wondered what makes us trust or distrust our cops, who are supposedly there to protect and serve. Why do some instill that sense of security, and others instill a sense of fear? I drove like the clappers through the Florida panhandle years ago chased by visions of being locked up on a small-town jail and never seeing the light of day again. I hadn’t done anything wrong – it was just an impression I had.
These two lads seemed quite respectful. The old man sat down on the kerb and pulled out his ID. When he stopped shouting (more in a bid to be heard than to be aggressive I think) he started whimpering. I had no idea what was going on but it seemed like he was lost and didn’t know where he was. Or had fallen and needed a hospital (he didn’t seem too impressed with his crutch). The boys were patient. Ran their checks. And then called a taxi to take him to wherever it was he needed to go. No raised voices, no aggravation, no weight thrown around. Two (gorgeous?) young lads, in uniform, protecting and serving. Did the heart good, I tell you.
Confident now that I’d receive similar treatment were I to get lost, I was all for getting a bike and touring the city. Yes – me – on a bike. And yes, those were pigs you saw flying.
Bourgas is the fourth-largest city in Bulgaria. A haven for commercial fishing, it is also home to the largest oil refinery in the Balkans. There’s a curious mix of old panel buildings (think tower blocks in Ballymun) and modern architecture, as if it really doesn’t know what it is, was, or might be. Surrounded by four lakes, it’s a natural for naturalists and bird watchers. Atanasovo Lake (the one we’re on) is one of two salt-water lakes in the Black Sea area and home to raptors, storks, pelicans and cranes and sees its fair share of migrating falcons, too. Maritime Park (our walk to the beach) stretches for miles and is populated with random statues and sculptures that even on second or third viewing remain a mystery. More still seem to be of naked people doing things like surfing or reading.
Wandering the streets, the only foreign tourists we’ve happened on were French. Most peculiar. But then all was revealed. Up the road, about 35 km, is Sunny Beach. Here, 800 hotels serve package holiday tours to the outside world. How smart is that. Corral the tourists – give them their own space and let them be. Keep the rest for your people. Not a bad plan. And it explains that sense of novelty I can’t help but feel, as if I’m some sort of exotic species on which those who can are delighted to practice their English. We might venture up, just to have a look-see and marvel at how lucky we were to have booked where we did. So far the local beach has done us fine.
Customer service swings between can’t do enough to who the hell are you and why are you in my restaurant. Menus may or may not be in English and requests for mayonnaise so far have resulted in a wine menu, a napkin, and some sort of yoghurt drink. It could well have something to do with how I’m pronouncing it.
The food is excellent though – and cheap and fresh, although the stuffed squid I had yesterday has come back to haunt me. I did think it was taking a little long to prepare. It’ll be a few hours yet before I’m ready to brave the outside world. Oddly, there’s an abundance of coffee vending machines. It’s as if they’re terrified of running out of coffee. And so many people smoke. Noticeable numbers. It’s all a little other worldly – as if I’ve stepped on to a movie set and have still to figure out that the plot is or even what era I’m in. But I’m enjoying it. And am glad I came.