Report on Bulgaria 2004
Excursion to Varna town
This was our first organised half-day trip with Balkan Holidays , and we did it to get acclimatised to the general area. It cost £7.50 (or 22 levs) each.
First stop was, unbelievably, at a huge electrical superstore. Perhaps it just hadn't dawned on Balkan Holidays that we too have Curry's and Dixons and Comet, because that was what it was like.
Nobody bought anything because what was there to buy that we couldn't buy back in England at half the price and with a full guarantee?
I have a sneaking suspicion that they were proud of this superstore; after all it showed that they too were right up there with the best in Europe. It's just a pity (and highly ironic) that most of the merchandise was far too expensive for most Bulgarians to buy.
Second stop was more interesting at a Bulgarian Cash and Carry.
If you have ever been to the hypermarkets in Calais (France), or a Costco in the States, then it was like that, with everything on sale from trainers to washing machines. The huge food section was most interesting to us Brits and we took advantage of the cheap water, crisps and chocolate (there was a limit to what we could carry!).
Outside the cash and carry was a pizza stall which sold a strangely tasting pizza. We reckon the base was very different to Pizza Hut pizza dough which made it taste strange but not unwelcome.
Our final stop was in the city centre, right opposite the cathedral and immediately in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken! Yes even in Bulgaria they have them!
This marked the beginning of the pedestrianised shopping area with shops to cater for all tastes, although they were targeted mostly at Bulgarian yuppies, I reckon, looking for haute fashion. My daughter found a couple of nice shops selling ear-rings and other cheap fashion jewellery, so she was happy.
There was also a very nice shop selling chicken wraps (a few pieces of chicken, lettuce, chips and sauce wrapped up in a flat pitta bread) for just 2 levs each (about 70 pence). You could also buy a white milky substance for just 30 stinkies which tasted like very thin natural yogurt. None of my family liked it but I drank it all and could drink it again. Probably contains millions of "very good bacteria" which you spend a fortune on in Britain.
We had more than one of these wraps over the two weeks and I highly recommend them.
The pedestrianised area is large and will take at least an hour to walk round. Buy a map of Varna city centre, on sale at each and every news stall as you go round. Unfortunately you can't buy English newspapers here but you can in Golden Sands. You can get German ones though (and eventually I found a single copy of The Sun for 5 levs which I bought just to find out what was going on in the world).
You can use the toilets at McDonalds (for free) although you'll probably want a drink by then if you didn't try the milky yogurt stuff.
Finally there is a large department store (very much like the old Co-op or John Lewis), roughly half way round, where you can use the toilets for 30 stinkies (the cheapest we found) and which sells good quality leather belts for 10 levs (about £3.20).
All in all you can spend a good half day or more here, even if it's just window shopping and people watching.
Varna has a very large, 8km, park called the Primorski Park or Sea Park. It houses, amongst other things, the Dolphin Show which you can go and see by yourselves or with Balkan as an organised trip.
Also in the park is a Terrarium that houses many species of reptile and insects. This is the most appalling excuse for a reptile house that I have ever seen. If it was in England it would be shut down by the RSPCA in an instant. The cages of the woe begone creatures are many times too small for their needs, and they are dirty and smelly.
Our tour operator Polly could shed no light on the establishment (it was not one that Balkan used) and even as a native Varna-dweller she had no knowledge.
In these days of enlightened awareness of the needs of other living creatures there can be no excuse other than blind ignorance. Yet the place was staffed by young people who must be only too aware of state of the place yet seem unaware of the distress it must be causing the animals, reptiles and insects.
My strong, unequivocal advice is not to visit but to avoid at all costs. I shall be writing to "Lonely Planet" and "Rough Guide" to update them on the tragic state of this place in order that they can steer tourist well clear. Frankly, the local authorities should be ashamed of this horror which has no place in the new, 21st century, democratic Bulgaria.
Just to show that Bulgarians do know how to run a terrarium, look at my page on Balchik where there is also a Vivarium and which didn't leave us in tears as we left. It, too, might not be perfect, but it is a monumental leap forward to the abomination found in Varna.
Try a chicken wrap and the white milky stuff.
Most people don't speak English but the younger they are the more likely they will.
If all else fails use the tried and trusted approach of pointing and holding up fingers to indicate how many!
It's worth knowing a few basic words of Bulgarian before you go. Like EDNA means ONE.
Oh, and if you speak Russian so do all Bulgarians.
Avoid the reptile house (vivarium) in the park in Varna at all costs unless you want the trip to end in tears.