Black and White

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Flag Hostel

Flag of Bulgaria  ,
Friday, November 3, 2006

With only 50km still to go I arrived in Varna just after midday. Nonetheless, by the time I'd found a hostel and organised my life it was dark outside. This was at least partly due to the Flag Hostel being run by British people who had their own supply of proper English tea and Shameless on DVD. That combination would slow anybody down. I went for a walk along the beach, listening to the waves and looking out over the inky water. The Black Sea is only black at night, it turns out. I'd been looking forward to this moment since I left Calais- the far shore of Europe- and felt a little glow of pride at having got this far. I dipped a hand in the cold water and licked one of my fingers. It tasted salty and nauseating, as I knew it would; that's the problem with romantic gestures- they make you sick.

I spent the next day touring Varna. I'm afraid I have to disagree with my Grandfather on all points, which goes against all my better judgement. Not only is Varna intrinsically interesting, being the site of ancient Thracian Odessos, not only does it have a beautiful beach (well, a beach anyway) and seafront, parks, an archeological museum containing some of the oldest worked gold in the world, and have an exquisitely decorated cathedral, not only does it have shops selling things I actually need; it has a hostel with SHAMELESS ON DVD. What more could you ask for?

The archealogical museum was full of ancient Thracian treasures,  the oldest worked gold ever discovered was quite shiny. The bit that really grabbed me though was an introductory display showing the time-line of exhibits in the museum. Occupying a whole wall it was in the form of a grid, with epochs from top to bottom and locations of digs from left to right. The 'medieval epoch' had a picture of a cross from one place and a kitchen utensil from another. The 'iron age' had some arrowheads and tools. Each epoch was no more than 3,000 years and had a few representative pieces. At the very bottom of the grid, propping up ten millenia of developing civilisation, was a piece of apparently unworked, wedge-shaped rock. Apparently a 'tool', though in what way it was distinguishable from other roughly wedge-shaped rocks was unclear, this lone exhibit represented the height of technical acheivement during the stone age- an epoch lasting 90,000 years. Think about that. Ten years of the internet, 100 years of the motor car, 2000 years of christianity, 6000 years of writing and 10,000 years of organised societies are all just the tip of an iceberg, the vast submerged majority of which is you and your wedge-shaped rock. What were we doing for 90 millenia? 3,600 generations failed to progress as far as making their rocks a bit more pointy. As far as I know, even though this is an unimaginably long time, it is not an evolutionary timescale. (Neanderthals co-existed until around 30,000 years ago, but even the mere 30,000 years we've had on our own was surely long enough to invent the 'pointed stick' for instance.) These were people like us- what the fuck were they up to? And if it takes 90,000years to go from a blunt bit of rock to a sharp bit of rock, how the bloody hell did we get to the internet in just 10,000years? It's nearly enough to make you believe in God. Nearly.

Speaking of which, the cathedral in Varna I only popped into for a minute. The interior seems at first sight to be dark wood, gold trim and rich patterns, mainly bright blue, on all the walls and ceiling. In fact the interior is covered with murals, depicting stuff and things. (probably Jesus, Mary, apostles, all that crew- I didn't inspect it too closely). It looked like if you had to spend time there, say for a mass, the decor could probably keep you entertained for a fair while. Since I didn't have to spend time there, however, I entertained myself with Shameless.

The great shopping would be better described as serendipidous timing. I needed gloves, and there was a stall selling gloves. I admit this doesn't actually set Varna apart from most inhabited areas. The town itself was busy but in a domestic, functional way, with many restaurants and bars closed for the winter, especially along the sea-front. Strolling along the strand was a little eerie; dormant, like a deserted themepark. I wandered as far as the port during the day, but there was not much going on. Some piles of scrap and static cranes, poised.

By the second evening I was the only guest left in the hostel, so the owner offered to take me out to the local cocktail bar. Four of us went, the owner, the foul-mouthed but friendly Bulgarian girl who worked there (she was taught English by her Aussie boyfriend. Apparently down-under 'fucking' is a conjunction) and the Liverpudlian Angie who was permanently resident there and owner of the aforementioned tea and DVD. The bar, about 20m up the road, is in the guiness book of records for serving the largest variety of cocktails in the whole wide world. Two spiral-bound menu's full of Choice. Of course you couldn't ever hope to drink the menu in this place... but you can try. I abandonned choosing after the first two cocktails, leaving such difficult chores to the waitress. By the end of the night three of us had managed to have a blazing row and become best friends. (the girl nursed one drink all night and watched, probably apalled) We meandered back to the hostel around midnight and slept soundly.

I left Varna mid-morning, having been informed by some new arrivals at the hostel, (who scarily had already heard of me in Romania) that it was 'snowing in the mountains'. Thats ok, I thought, I'm following the coast-road. No mountains there. While I was thinking this, the road began to climb. Within fifteen minutes, the banks either side of the road were buried under a foot of pristine snow. This was not, however, my immediate concern. The road itself had no snow on it. Well, it wouldn't, a busy road like this; a busy, three-lane road like this; shit. How have I ended up on a motorway? By the time I realised I'd gone wrong my options were a) get off and push, b) turn around, c) crack on. Since 'a' would have meant longer in harms way and presenting a larger target, and 'b' would have meant riding agains the direction of traffic on a motorway, 'c' seemed the only plausible option. Until, that is, option d) suddenly presented itself. viz: scramble through that there hole in the fence and continue on the track which is running parallel to the motorway. Genius. Only one small problem: the track is made out of ice, mud and snow, and is still running uphill. There were 3km until the motorway became a normal road again. A combination of slipping, riding, sliding and pushing got me there very slowly, and I had to stop for 20 minutes as soon as I hit solid tarmac to clean the caked crap off every part of the bike. This wasted valuable daylight, but the brakes weren't working, so I had little choice.

I had, when warned of snow, remembered the agony of numb toes the morning I left for Calarasi. Clearly layers of socks were not enough. I left Varna wearing two pairs of socks, one pair of plastic carrier bags and another pair of socks. I don't know why I thought this would help, but it worked like magic.
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