Europe | Bulgaria | Kavarna – Swimming to Sokumi
Kavarna is a village on the Black Sea coast, settled in turn by Thracian (?), Greeks and Romans. Anchors dating back thousands of years have been found in the little harbour, one as recently as last week. When a friend of Elena’s opened up the history museum just for us (and didn’t charge admission – ‘you are friends,’ she said) we saw many artefacts all from this area. Its a sleepy village with a huge history.
The town centre however is more dreary. One night Kosta picked us up from dinner by the harbour, and we followed Elena’s car as they pulled into the car park of a grey communist apartment block. ‘oh, they live in a block!’ I exclaimed, then, pointing, asked if Kosta also lives in a block (and now I’m not sure if he nodded or said yes – nodding means no in Bulgaria) and, so as not to seem too shocked, I added that Sexton and I also live in a block (I was not able to describe in sign language our 1930’s era red brick building, a palace compared to Soviet stuff. England does also have its share of grim blocks, but most are being demolished now – 1960s mistakes.)
Just 5 minutes walk from town centre and you’re back in a more rural environment. There are still houses, like in a town, but everything is so run down and overgrown it’s like being on a farm, especially with those flocks of geese wandering around like they own the place. The road is part dirt and part crumbling asphalt and rocks. Sometimes there are piles of rubble in the middle of the road, as if road works had begun but never been finished. There was even a piece of concrete with metal
sticking out in the middle of one road.
I stepped around mud puddles when I went for a walk after the rain. A man pointed to the side of the road nearest the houses as if telling me to walk on the pavement(sidewalk). A small row of cement bricks seem to indicate a curb.
The edge of town was a disappointing rubbish tip. People seem to dump to their garbage over a beautiful cliff edge. On the way back I saw graffiti in Cyrillic on a cement building.
There is a legend at Cape Kalaikra that 40 maidens committed suicide by tying their plaits together and jumping off the cliff, rather than be captured by
invading Turks. The cape is about a 15 minute drive from Kavarna; Kosta took us first to small museum and then to the cape itself. We walked past ruins which I didn’t find them that impressive, as they just looked like the rest of rural Bulgaria.
At the very tip of the land, a handful of tourists under a small stone arch were taking pictures of each other. There was also a tiny chapel full of icons and candles.
Then we went to Balchik, also in a beautiful scenery on the Black Sea coast. There where there was a castle or manor house built by a Romanian princess. As recently as early 20th century, this part of Bulgaria was in Romania. There were a lot of similarities, but also differences. Bulgarian disco had a more Eastern feel, and the Bulgarians also liked rock music – a welcome relief after Romania where we did not hear one single guitar. I thought I’d outgrown rock, but an afternoon on Varna beach playing ‘name that tune’ to 70s classics piped in from a beach bar would indicate otherwise.
Balchik castle had very impressive gardens full of exotic plants, including cacti imported from Mexico. There was nothing terribly exciting inside the castle, but as it was included in the price I had a look anyway, while Sexton and Kosta went for a coffee. I joined them afterwards in the castle café which overlooked the Black Sea.
Kosta pointed across the water towards the distant ports – Istanbul, Bat’umi, Sokhumi, Odessa. Bat’umi and Sokhumi are in Georgia, ports that lead out of the Caucasus. This was the closest I’d get to my great grandfather.
It was an overcast day and the water was still as glass. The surface barely rippled as I slid into it. It reminded me of being at Lake Geneva – swimming under castles.