It was actually the Irish guys I met the other day who directed me towards a place, which led me to no fewer than six four or five bar signals in the area. I'm not more than 200 meters from the Black Sea right now. The very first thing I did when the bus arrived from Veliko Turnovo on Sunday evening was go to the sea. I had to walk through Christmasland, which was great, but I booked it through there and enjoyed it more on the way back. At night, the Black Sea is, of course, black. The thrill of the sea air and the call of the gulls even at night sent me to a level of contentment I hadn't felt since I was, well, standing on the Bosporus in Istanbul eating a fresh mackerel sandwich while watching the fisherman catch more mackerel. I couldn't see much - a lighthouse, the lights from a ship in the distance - but the sound of the waves and the smell of the air was quite satisfying. I went down to the beach the next day. The Black Sea was green.
The Christmas display here is nice. When I got here Sunday night, after I rushed to the sea, I strolled down the street and took some photos of the lights. I was out for a bit, then went to a restaurant to get some dinner. Apparently it rained while I was eating, because the sidewalks were all wet, which lent a surface for reflection that had been absent in my photos before I ate.
It is quite nice to see Christmas decorations. Usually by this time of year I am sick of them from the Christmas overkill we suffer in the US. Before I left Washington, I had to go to Target and was appalled by the huge Christmas section next to the Halloween section. In September. Being in a country that isn't drowning in excessive decoration at the beginning of November has really made me appreciate this Christmas season. You could even say I am feeling sort of in the Christmasy spirit, which I can't remember really enjoying for the past several years. Sure, there are some tacky Santa Claus decorations in the storefront windows, but for the most part, everything is pretty tasteful. Except for the bizarre window display with the Buddha next to the snowman next to the Santa next to the giant stuffed black spider. That was a bit weird.
Speaking of "Santa Claus," you know he was Turkish, right? Good old St. Nick? He was an impressive figure, imprisoned for his religious beliefs by the Byzantine emperor. And yeah, he'd be appalled by the materialism and commercialization of Christmas.
But about Varna - I can't say there is much interesting here beyond the sea. Varna is a city for clubbers, mostly from Eastern Europe and Germany. The incessant house music is irritating. As I am not into that whole club scene, there isn't much for me here that is beyond the realm of my imagination. Varna is one of Europe's oldest cities. Back in the old days - about 570 BC - the city of Odessos was established by the Thracian people, a people related to the ancient Greeks. What I find particularly thrilling is that the city is named for Odessius, a.k.a. Ulysses in Latin, my favorite book. (Look at my screen name to know the extent to which I like the book. And Greek mythology, too.)
There is definitely a bit of a Soviet presence here, much more so than Turnovo. It is the third largest city in Bulgaria, after all. More importantly, the city was called Stalin from 1949 to 1956 at the "request" of Varna citizens. Apparently there are manhole covers that still say City of Stalin. I'll have to keep an eye out for those. This statue is the typical ex-commie state memorial that has been left standing because it honors soldiers or some other group not-directly related to communism, although there is no disguising the communist themes, namely labor and military. See the photo below of the hammer and the sickle. Oh, and for those Americans who have those "country stars" on their houses, those are COMMUNIST stars. I've seen plenty of them here in Varna. I have to photoshop them because the photos I've taken are from the ground and the stars are rather high up, but I'll try to post them later.
This cathedral is absolutely beautiful inside. These Bulgarian churches are all quite amazing. I learned today about the icon paintings when I went to the archaeological museum here. They even had a stage by stage display of how icons are painted. I so wanted to take photos, but it was not allowed, and given that I think I was the only one in the entire museum on account of it being winter and this being called the "Summer Capital" of Bulgaria, the museum babysitters had their eye on me the entire time. I guess my backpack was an indication that I was going to steal something; I don't know, but it was a bit annoying. Anyway, the cathedral is incredibly beautiful and I wish I could show it to the world, but they didn't even have postcards to purchase. I was particularly amazed by the painting of Christ on the main dome, and I'm sorry I don't know the names of Bulgarian Orthodox church parts.
On doing a tiny bit of research about the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, I've come to learn that one of the two dioceses in America are in New York and Akron, Ohio, of all places. Turns out there are a lot of Bulgarians in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. Kind of funny to me given that you know, Ohio and all? There are a lot of Bulgarians in California as well, but there are a lot of everyone in California.
Now they've turned the Wifi off in the place because I've been here too long. I'll continue to write this and save it in a Word document just to spite them. What are they going to do, kick me out? If you're going to have Wifi, you might want to expect people to actually USE it. But it's trendy here. Even the most ridiculous places have it - like strip clubs and dance clubs, places where no one would EVER use it. It's just like the fancy televisions in the restaurants and bars. That have the sound down. Yes. They play music videos with the sound down and then play the same songs on the radio or a CD player. They just have the televisions to have them, to prove that they're "cool." Same with the Wifi. They don't actually want you to use it. As I have web pages that were still open at the time of the turn off, I am pretending to not be affected by it, and I can tell that it is making them mad because this is a small place and...despite the fact that I was only there for an hour, they made me move to the bar, and they still didn't turn the internet back on. And I still gave the waitress a tip. But I've gone to another place.
I guess the post is getting rather lengthy, so I'll explain the Irish stuff and sign off. Yeah, Irish. After being sufficiently frustrated with the Bulgarian-owned Chinese place which advertised Wifi but didn't know how to set it up, I sought the only place I knew where there were sure to be English speakers thoroughly aware of the ways of the modern world, an Irish pub - not the faux Bulgarian-owned kind you find all over the country, but a real Irish-owned one. Yes, I had a real draft Guinness. And yes, I had real Indian food, from what I think is the only Indian restaurant in the country. It was fun. Cricket was on the television, and there were only five guys there - regulars - so it meant I had to talk to them and they had to talk to me. They informed me of many things about Varna, including this Wifi cafe, and we ordered Indian delivery, which was excellent, especially since I am so bored of Bulgarian food.