Jack Reacher, star of the Lee Child novels, has rules for living, like if in doubt, turn left and when in doubt, drink coffee. Gibbs, from the TV series, NCIS, has a list of rules, too, rules by which he lives his life. I like No. 8 – never take anything for granted. I have rules, too. One of them is to go local when on holiday and if possible, avoid the tourists (having made my peace with the fact that I am one of them, too).
In an effort to see a little more of Bulgaria than the beach at Bourgas, and having had such a lovely time up north in Nessebar, we took a bus in the opposite direction, and went south to Sozopol. Another 40-minute bus ride for the even cheaper price of 4.50 BGN (€2.50). A 15-minute taxi to the bus station set us back 4 BGN (€2) – with tip. And the gas prices are the same as Ireland and Hungary. What gives?
Sozopol is built on an early Bronze Age settlement and the current town dates back to the 7th century. The stone/timber houses are typical of the Black Sea region and streets of them divided as they are by strips of cobblestone and paving give it a little other worldly feel. I know I’ve used that term before, when talking about Bulgaria, but it just about sums it up. There’s a life-size version of an Alamana, a wooden fishing boat that was used for fishing off the Black Sea Coast from the 18th to 20th centuries. Usually 12 m long by 2 m wide, it was home to a Captain, a Coxswain and eight rowers. A beautiful piece of work. Some workplace.
Unlike Nessebar, the churches here are fully functioning Orthodox and equally stunning. I’ve been to a few Orthodox services and the lack of an obvious pattern upsets my Catholic soul. I’m so used to sitting, kneeling and standing pretty much on command that the random walking around and queuing and going in and out is confusing. But I’m quite partial to the icons and the candles and when I add the candles to my wishes, it doesn’t get much better.
There are all sorts of shops and stalls and stands most of which are selling upmarket tat and some real stuff, too, a lot of which is made in Bulgaria. Always a plus in my book. The streets wander around the port, opening out onto large squares – ideal open air concert venues. In August there’s jazz and in September there’s the Apollonia art and film festival and all summer there is plenty going on down by the beach – one of two main beaches in town. There’s one on the way in, a smaller one by the marina which doesn’t rate as a beach, beach apparently, and then the ‘pleasure’ beach, with its row boats, its paddle boats, its parasailing. And in August, an additional feature – the carpet of green algae that floats in on the tide. It looks a little suspicious but the locals didn’t seem in any way put
out by it and once you get used to the feel – a little like embroidery thread – it’s grand.
As beaches go, it was hot. Very hot. Very, very hot. And the most expensive so far in terms of umbrella and bed rental, but it did comes with mattresses, which was just as well as three days of lounging around on plastic beds were taking their toll. Still though, a fiver a day for the pleasure of lolling around on pleasure beach, with the occasional dip in the Black Sea, is cheap at twice the price. And Bulgarian gin ain’t bad either.