If you have read any of my other journals, you may well have seen that I lived in China for four years. During that time, one of my favourite spots was the Xiushui Market in the Sanliturn area of the city. I wont for one minute pretend that this was some kind of hidden-away nook or some fantastic secret that only I knew about. It was actually a giant four-floor market that sold pretty much everything you could ever wish to buy. It dealt in fake designer goods, local handicrafts, jewellery, electronics, anything.
I used to love Xiushui. First of all I liked it because it was a great place to shop, but I also liked it because there were no fixed prices and you were forced to barter with the store holders to get your goods. This meant that it was possible to get some amazingly cheap things – I used to pay less than a dollar for pure silk ties – but that it was also possible to get badly burned (many tourists often found them,selves paying as much for the fake Levis as they would for a real pair). Golden Sands was not quite the same., It did not provide the bargaining fun, nor did it offer similarly low prices, but it was the first place I have been that genuinely reminded me of Xiushui and it was a fantastic place to go shopping.
During my stay in Bulgaria I had been desperately searching for a local football shirt. I was keenest to wear the colours of the local side Chernomorets Varna. However, finding a shop that sold their shirt proved to be impossible. So, I thought I would turn my attention to one of the big teams from Sofia such as CSKA, Slavia or Levski. With this I had more success. I managed to find their shirts, but the prices were extremely high – they were the same I would have paid for a shirt in France or England. Therefore, when I saw the huge sea-front market in Golden Sands, I sensed an opportunity. And, sure enough, I was not disappointed. Within five minutes I managed to find a small store that sold only football shirts – these were fake, but of good quality and were impossible to tell from the naked eye. It did not have a local team in my size, but did have the national team shirt and the bargain price of 35lv (17 Euros).
With my football shirt hunt complete, my girlfriend could stop glancing at her watch and sighing audibly, and we could get into the midst of the remainder of the market. It proved to be great. She was keen to buy some local souvenirs such as soaps. The choice here was quite simply staggering. The Bulgarians specialise in soaps and waters based on roses, and there were hundreds of these in scores of different flavours. It eventually took her almost an hour to select a small bunch of these that cost just two lv each. Other traditional offerings included bowls and tableware (Bulgaria boats some wonderfully colourful plates and bowls), pottery and jewellery.
Along with the traditional goods, there were also plenty of designer knock-offs. The majority of these stalls seemed to specialize in sweaters and t-shirts by brands like Abercrombie, Hollister and Bench. The prices were pretty good: a t-shirt was 10 or 15 leva (5-7 Euros) and a sweater 25 or 30. The quality was also good. On top of this, there were plenty of stalls selling perfume and after-shave. However, the quality here was rather dubious. I tried a few sprays of my favourite fragrances – or the supposed versions of them – and found the similarity to be little more than passing.
The market was absolutely fantastic for shopping and we spent four or five hours in there. It also had a few interesting side stalls, such as a henna tattoo artist (there were real tattoo parlours as well, but I steered clear) where I got my girlfriend's name written in Cyrillic on my arm for just 15lv.