A May 2004 trip
to Bulgaria by AAA-Simon
Quote: Our holiday trip to Varna, Bulgaria was a perfect success! We saw many places like Nessebar, Varna, Balcik, Nos Kaliakra, Pobiti Kamani (Stone Forest), and also did a Jeep safari. The best cocktail bar with over 1000 cocktails available and the best cocktail bartender are also located in Bulgaria.
The Hotel Atlas has three pools and lots more.
More information at: http://www.we2.ch
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 23, 2004
We left Bülach near to Zurich at 5am, so that we could catch our early morning flight to Varna, Bulgaria. We watched a really funny show on the screens on the plane and at 10am Bulgarian time (one hour time difference) we were the first ones out of the airport. With our airline tickets we were given a useful travel book with basic words. Our transfer bus to the hotel was waiting for us. We waited until the others came out, and were told a few things about Bulgaria by the tour guide who gave us more information. About 30 minutes later, we arrived at the hotel. At the moment, Golden Sands is one big construction site. They are building hotels and shops. It is so dusty. But we figured there must be a catch with the super price we got. Anyway, after settling quickly into the room, we headed for the beach. It was just a quick look because we wanted to listen to the tour guide at 2 about various things to do in Bulgaria. We found a McDonalds take-away on the beach! No, we did not have lunch there! We ate at a fabulous cheap restaurant on the corner. We ordered a bean soup and an egg, tomato, cheese and paprika slushy something. It was just a small starter because we weren't very hungry. A Swiss couple next to us tucked into huge burgers and were donned with baby's bibs. As we were laughing, the friendly, funny waiter told us we were next. So we also got bibs and a very nice mint liqueur. Very warming. We went back to the hotel where we were given a complementary glass of Bulgarian white wine which was very sweet. We signed ourselves up for a jeep safari tour on Tuesday with another young Swiss couple. It is supposed to take us away from the tourist areas. Looking forward to it. After the welcome drink and info, we took a local bus to Varna. There we found another McDonalds, written in Bulgrian script. We walked around and eventually found the Orthodox cathedral. Beautifully golden outside and inside also beautiful with black wood. We were able to take pictures and we were even blessed by the priest. Afterwards we looked around the food market. Before returning to Golden Sands, we sipped a cool aperitiv in a nice bar. We then had dinner at the hotel. An extensive buffet with meat, salad, soup, desserts.
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After a large buffet breakfast, we planned to take a trip to Nessebâr. Someone had told us we could go by boat, so we headed towards the ferry terminal in Varna. But we had no luck there, just a few people who spoke very little German or English, a run-down ferry terminal and no boat. We walked to the train station, thinking we could get a train to this very old town. We were also unlucky here. A taxi said he could take us there and back for 50 Leva. We thought that was a bit expensive but we asked him to take us to the bus station, in case there was a bus going there. Here we were lucky, for 6 Leva per person one way, we took a maxi-taxi and we could spend four hours there. That's a big difference in price. After a bumpy road and a 90-minute drive, we arrived in Nessebâr, an old town on a peninsula. There old stone buildings were built before Christ. It was very beautiful. In some old buildings, there were art galleries. But there were also wooden buildings and sometimes you had the impression you just stepped right into the middle of a coyboys and indians western film. Quite a lot of tourists there and the prices in the sovenir shops were way over-priced. We were drawn into one souvenir shop because the sign said "Sorry, we are open". We thought that was funny. As we came into the shop, we were handed a fruity tea. There were some nice things, but the sales lady was too pushy and the prices too high. So we walked out. We passed a man making snakes out of wood. Very clever and very nice. We then noticed a cute Bulgarian / Czech restaurant and had a very nice lunch. We started off with a piece of delicious garlic bread and continued with moussaka and fish in a tomato sauce. We walked off our big lunch wandering around the beautiful town and had an aperitiv in a bar near the beach, waiting for our maxi-taxi to return and pick us up. Unfortunately the journey back took a little longer, and we were both desperate to go to the toilet. Sheer agony when going over all those bumps. We missed our stop, and asked the driver to just stop at the side to let us out. We didn't recognise where we were until late! But he stopped and we ran into a bar and had a quick juice and used their toilets. Then we took the local bus back to the hotel. We bumped into Beat and Sandra (the two Swiss people that are going on the jeep safari with us) at the lobby bar (open 24-hours). Simon and I decided to go for a folklore evening, but when we got there, they had already finished. We stayed a while tasting Bulgarian beer, wine, rum, brandy and of course the delicious popular complementary mint liqueuer. Then we had a drink at the Irish pub and got some tourist information. We were told about a boat with which we could fish. If we return tomorrow, the barman will give us more information. We then had a quick jig in a nightclub and returned to the hotel. There some Germans paid a few rounds for us and then we went to sleep.
After going for breakfast, which was the same food as yesterday, we went back to sleep as we were up late last night. At 12.30 we made our way to the Irish pub for information about the fishing trip. There was one boat going at 10am and the other at 2pm. We decided to get the 2 o'clock, so I rushed back to the hotel to get the coats (because it could be windy). When I came back, Simon said we would go tomorrow, because the barman just found out that the fishing is just in the morning. The afternoon trip is just a trip along the coast. We decided to check out the port though and went down by taxi as it was quite a walk from one end to the other. After asking a useless sailor, we suddenly saw a wooden ship which looked very nice. We asked the guy who told us that we would set sail in an hour, and it costs 25 Leva per person. We decided the price was right and decided to have lunch in the fish restaurant next door. Meanwhile two girls were prancing around on the boat in pirates clothes, trying to attract people to come on the boat. We were on the boat at 3 and waited to set sail. Whilst we were waiting, a diver came nearby to get washed off. Eventually at 3.45, then engine started and we cruised out of the harbour. We were the only passengers! The captain, his "shipmate" and the two girls, who were 17 years old! We learned some interesting Bulgarian. We said "Prost" when we wanted to drink, but they looked at us very strangely and said "cack?". Prost in Bulgarian means "idiot", and their "Cack" means "what?". It was a great laugh, even though it was a bit windy. An hour later we were back at the port. We would have loved to just stay the whole day on that boat. Afterwards we had a drink in a bar called "The Octopus". There were various levels and you were able to sit outside, more or less in the middle of the trees. It was beautiful. Then we took a taxi to the hotel and ate dinner and had a few drinks in the lobby bar.
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Our appointment for fishing was at 9.30. There was going to be a bus going round all the hotels and picking the people up (you had to make a reservation). I saw a few busses, but nobody was taking people to go fishing. Suddenly a guy came from his very old car and asked if we were fishing. A really old car. It was struggling to work, there were at least two red lights on, the speedometer wasn't working, the fuel gage was showing empty and we came to a standstill half-way. He opened the bonnet and filled a part with water, and we were able to continue driving. We got to the harbour, and we had to laugh. It was the same boat and captain and ship-mate as yesterday. The two girls were at school, but they were replaced by two people who said nothing. The number of passengers went up to 3, a Scottish guy came to join us. The price was 40 Leva per person, but you get lunch and drinks included. This time we left the harbour at exactly 10am. We stopped after a while and the ship-mate prepared the bait for us and we tackled the game of fishing, sipping Bulgarian schnapps and beer. The Scottish guy caught quite a few fish. There were many jellyfish around, but on Simon and I's side, there were few real fish. Eventually I caught one, but they threw him back because he was so small. Then Simon caught 2 and I caught 2 more. A long time we caught nothing, and the ship-mate hooked a half piece of fish they were preparing for lunch (the wrong way round - the fish on Simon's rod is a set-up but it created a great laugh). We still didn't catch much afterwards, and the ship-mate called us to lunch. They prepared a huge feast for us. Potato and dill salad, cabbage salad, sardines, and big fish. Delicious. As we were eating, we headed back to the harbour. We said our goodbyes and thank yous and decided to take a taxi to the monastery in the rocks. Firstly the taxi could not take us all the way to the monastery because there was road works. As pedestrians we also had difficulty getting over the huge ditch. We ended up walking around it in the forest. After a long climb, we eventually arrived at the entrance, where we saw a few cars. At the entrance we heard monks singing, but soon realised it was a recording. We sat on a bench and admired the green scenery and the rock whilst refreshing ourselves with softdrinks. Then we went up the steel steps and were most disappointed at what we saw. All we really saw was rock. There were a few signs saying that in the olden days that was the kitchen, the sleeping room, chapel etc. But it didn't go deep into the rock. We tried to visit the catacombs, which was a little further away. Also that was a disappointment as you could not go in because of falling rocks. There wasn't even an entry point as far as we could see. It was not worth paying 3 Levas each. At the exit, they even have the cheek to have a donation box. For what are you going to donate? There's nothing there! We walked back through the forest. Near the hotel we noticed a fuel station, right in the middle of the street! We were very tired from our adventures of the day, and took it easy watching tv in the hotel room. We decided we didn't want to have dinner at the hotel, because it is always the same, so we went near the harbour and found a mexican restaurant. But also this was a waste of time as the food was not brilliant and the wraps that they used for the burritos were actually crepes. Kind of spoils the flavour. We had heard about a cocktail bar which is in the Guiness Book of World Records. We asked the waiter where it was, but he didn't know. Whilst eating dinner, I looked out the window and saw something flashing and 1000 written on it. It was the cocktail bar, just 20 meters from the restaurant. Pencho's cocktail bar has over 1000 cocktails which you can try, and it's open 24/7. Pencho Penchev is the owner, and he works at the one in Golden Sands. He was really good. As we walked in, we were handed a complementary Bulgarian schnapps, which is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. But it tasted like anis. Simon had a double dosage because he had mine. The bar itself just had about 8 tables, and it was just underneath the Octopus bar. The menu was a big book all sorted out by ingredients. As we were going home we noticed a ship on land. There was a sign post pointing to Trinidad, which we thought was quite funny.
We were not late in going back to the hotel, because tomorrow is Safari!
We had to be in front of another hotel at 9.15 for the jeeps to pick us up. There were 4 jeeps, driven by local people. Our jeep was the youngest, noisiest, funniest and the best. We were 6 young Swiss people. Our driver was at the head of the convoy, but then some jeeps kept overtaking us and we sort of made races, but not driving too fast. We stopped by a ravine to pick up more people and then the fun really started. We drove through water and lost sight of the green jeep. We all said as a joke that they all fell in the water, but they didn't. We drove over rocks, along very bumpy dirt tracks, over grass etc. First stop was at the top of a hill for a look-out and cigarette break for all the smokers. We were a little concerned after we made joke about the first jeep to lift the bonnet up - it was our jeep. But everything was working ok. As Simon said, as long as the light was green, it was ok. Sliding through a very muddy field, it was finally decided to change to four-wheel drive. But we again lost sight of the green jeep. Somebody had binoculars and we saw them. Eventually they caught up with us and we continued. Another cigarette stop on another hill and technical discussions between drivers as to how to do the rest of the trip due to all the mud. We drove further and slipped and slid with the mud. One time we had to get out of the jeep, we nearly crashed into a tree because of the slippery mud. The other three hefty drivers pushed and we eventually got the jeep back on the track. Another jeep did the same (we made a movie, it was so funny), minus passengers. But two jeeps had the "sense" to attack it slightly differently. They didn't slip and slide. We bumped and slid further until we reached the place where we were expected for lunch. A typical Bulgarian welcome - very nice soft bread and schnapps. Then we tucked into a huge lunch consisting of cabbage salad, bean soup, stewed pork which was quite tough with potatoes and yoghurt. We had heard about this Bulgarian yoghurt from our tour guide, it is supposed to be very good against cancer. It was very nice. We walked off our lunch by doing a quick visit of the tiny village. There was a huge beautiful house where once a very rich man in Bulgaria lived. It is now a hotel and restaurant. Nearby was a sort of playground with old tractors and train engines. I noticed a black cloth on a gate in the neighbourhood and a picture. That was to tell the villagers that a person had died - because of course, they have no telephones. It was quite an eye-opener for all. After our walk, we got back into our jeeps (each driver wore a different part of an army uniform - one the hat, one the coat and one the pants and the other guy was the odd one out). The sky looked quite threatening and it wasn't long before we stopped and had to put the blue tarpaulin cover on. The blue cover was absoloutely useless. We got soaking wet. It was leaking in from all sides. The other jeeps had proper covers. But they had the least laughs. Our driver suddenly got out a noise maker and we were making more noise. We made a quick stop where we were told we were supposed to go shooting, but it was useless in the rain, so we carried on. We arrived back at the hotel, soaking wet and muddy. Before going upstairs to change, we 6 had a hot chocolate to warm up. Simon and I went later to Pencho's cocktail bar again and rounded off a fantastic adventurous day.
At breakfast we bumped into Brian and Eva (the other couple who were with us in the jeep). We decided to rent a car together and go for a drive (not along dirt tracks like we did with the jeep). A very attractive look-out point first caught our attention and then we headed for the botanical gardens in Balcik, which we were told is very good. We drove a little bit wrong and ended up in some casino area. We drove round the round-about again and found our way. We asked about entrance fees - you had to pay for the gardens and the palace, you couldn't just visit one. For tourists it was 10 Leva, for locals just 2 (I spotted the locals prices). We decided it was a complete rip off and didn't bother visiting it. Simon purchased some dried sausages where we parked the car and made our way further. We found a sign saying "White Lagoon" which we tried to find, but we found cliffs and wilderness. There were navy ships in the sea who were practicing shooting, because we kept hearing booms. Then we drove further to Nos+ Kaliakra, a cap with ruins and breath-taking scenery from the top of the cliffs. By this time we had all tried the sausage, which we didn't like at all, so offered it to some old local ladies selling their goods at the entrance to the ruins. We were hungry and ordered a kebap from the restaurant. But we got something different to what we imagined - we got sausages. That's their kebap. Anyway, we drove further via Dobric, going round the round-about twice (to make sure we were heading right.) We passed some donkeys, horses and very poor areas. Areas where the people have never seen a tourist before. There was a road sign which was indicating that at certain times of the day horse and cart cannot go along that road. At one point we couldn't decide whether to take a right or a left. Purely by chance we took a right and ended up at a place that we wanted to visit - the natural Stonehenge of Bulgaria, Pobiti Kamani (Stone Forest). It is a geological natural phenomenon that is 50 million years old. Geologists think there was a sea there and erosion caused the stone forest. It was great fun for us. We got in at students price (we study geology, of course!) and had a great laugh. There were different shapes, some stones shaped like animals, some like faces and of course, the most favourite - the male fertility, which we girls were quick to embrace! In a special circle, we took off our shoes and did a silly dance and hugged the stones (supposed to bring positive energy). The ground was sandy. A little bit further there was the female fertility, but the boys couldn't hug that as it was quite a tall column. After a quick stop to buy souvenirs, we travelled further. We wanted to see a delta, but there was no water in the river. We ended up driving to a beach. We asked a little boy which road for the beach, and he pointed in the opposite direction, which we knew it wasn't. We tried telling him "Black Sea" and eventually he understood when we mimed swimming. The beach was lovely, the water quite cold and not crystal clear but the atmosphere was great - the sun was slowly sinking and it was warming. Then we drove round the village, taking wrong roads and bumping into pot holes. What a laugh. Heading back to Golden Sands, we saw a few prostitutes on the side of the road, one of who made business with a passing car. One village we passed through, their income fully depends on spare parts for cars. We also saw the leaning building of Bulgaria which was apparently caught in a landslide. We decided to continue our fabulous day and went for dinner together, eating a proper kebap and ended up at the cocktail bar. There we decorated Brian with the umbrellas (the whole bar joined in, in decorating him). That rounded off a fabulous day together.
Whilst the boys went to fill the car up with petrol to hand it back, we girls chatted in the hot sun. The lads returned after an hour (they had difficulty in finding somewhere that was working). We handed back the car and took the bus to Varna with Brian and Eva. We tried on jeans in a very poky jeans shop and bought some. On our way to showing them the cathedral, we saw old ladies on the street with scales. 10 Bulgarian cents to weigh yourself. These poor people. Simon paid 20 cents and we girls jumped on the scales. Not sure those scales were right, but nevermind. We went back to the cathedral to show Brian and Eva and then whilst they went to the market, Simon and I went for a snack. It was so hot, and we were all worn out so we waited for the bus. We saw a police car - a very old car with the blue lights on. Cute, but not sure whether they can catch criminals in that car. Simon and I took a very quick dip in the hotel pool. The water was icy cold. But it was nice to lie in the hot sun. We had dinner at the hotel with Brian and Eva and then we met Peter, the tour guide, for a farewell drink along the beach. Just the 5 of us. Nobdoy else wanted to come. We had a few drinks and more great laughs. The lovely pool lit up at night was not our hotel pool, but it was a lovely atmosphere.
Oh dear, the time has come to leave Bulgaria. We had a blast, it was really good fun, everyday. The sun was shining nice in Bulgaria, but when we got back to Switzerland it was wet and cold. The flight to Switzerland itself was also a great laugh with we 4 fooling around, as usual. We wanted to do some duty free shopping in Bulgaria, but they wouldn't accept Leva (strange) so we left it. We will be back. That was one good holiday.