Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bulgaria the Wonderful

After several uneventful weeks of life and work in Istanbul, Gavin and I realized it was time for a little excitement: A trip to Bulgaria.

What's better than a trip to a beach town in the heat of the summer...nothing. Thus, our adventure to Varna began.

After an uncomfortable 10 hour bus trip, we arrived in the pre-dawn hours to a spectacular lightning storm. The increasing winds and parched electrical warmth should have warned us to take cover, but due to the early hour and lack of knowledge about Varna we wandered through the streets aimlessly. When the torrential downpour commenced we were lucky enough to be near to an outdoor tented cafe, where we managed to stay somewhat dry for the duration of the storm (Hurricane Katerina). Laying on benches, we attempted to sleep, while trying to keep the millions of beetles covering the ground off of us. When day light finally came we managed to get some directions to our hostel, but, alas, it was not open yet, so Gavin and I started our party early and downed a few beers (Beck's) in a breakfast cafe (thank you Kate Cambell for the six leva you left Katie, without which we would have been screwed!).

Around 8am we made our way to the hostel only to find it still closed, but where a wary traveler, Jon the Baptist, was waiting as well. He was easily persuaded into breakfast with us. After more beer and great food, we wondered over to the hostel (Flag Hostel, we recommend it for anyone traveling there alone), and finally got into a room by 11 and got some much needed rest.

By 2, Gavin and I hit the town. We discovered quickly that while there doesn't appear to be any Chinese people living in Bulgaria, there is a plethora of Chinese restaurants. After indulging in a feast of fried noodles with pork, Gavin and I wandered about the town. The town stretches along the Black Sea. There is a wonderful park that runs directly above the beach for what appears to be miles. We took a long walk through the town, park, and along the beach, finally laying out for a few hours and getting some much needed sun.

Bulgarian beaches are a very peculiar place. Women tend to go topless and often wear only a thong from age 6 - 85. There sure were some sights to see! There were many tourists there as well, due to a small cruise ship parked there the fist day of our trip. American women attempting to "go native" and exposing white flabby skin that no one wants to see... it was entertaining to say the least.

Later that night Gavin and I ran into two Canadian girls from our hostel, whom we enjoyed another feast of traditional Bulgarian food (very home style baked casseroles, with a lot of cheese and potatoes and of course PORK.) After dinner and drinks (vodka was cheaper than water) the four of us made it to a beach bar, here we met up with other hostelers and Jon the Baptist for an all out Bulgarian beach party which lasted until the wee hours.

On Monday, Gavin and I celebrated our one and a half year anniversary. We decided that the hostel wasn't quite for us. Sleeping in bunk beds across the room from each other in a minuscule apartment inhabited by 8 strangers isn't quite our thing. We managed to find a wonderful room in The Hotel Splendid (We got a deal for the room after talking to the Manager, I would recommend it to any couples who go there, it was only 20 leva more than the hostel for two and very private/clean.) We ate Chinese again. Fried noodles with mushrooms and pork spareribs with spicy cabbage salad. you sure can't find that in Istanbul! Our day was spent swimming in the Black Sea and laying out on the beach reading and talking. When the sun finally set, we made our way to a beach bar for another night of fun. After meeting the veritable conflation of Mad Max and Johnny Knoxville, Uncle Petey, we went to an unimpressive fish dinner ("I'd rather eat a plate of bullocks than those fucking cold mussels!") and hit the town once again, this time in grand form - don't order the "love cocktails".

Tuesday was spent in the sun. Petey and his Lithuanian pals, Jon the Baptist, Gavin and I spent the whole day swimming, sunbathing, drinking Bulgarian beer and "taking the piss" out of life at the waters edge. We feasted one last time on Chinese food, this time getting even more dishes. The evening was spent laying in the sun in bean bag chairs; yet, after a few too many drinks our company sculpted the aforementioned bean bags into a large fort and took turns running into the pillow-fort at high speeds.

Then the "Choice" was made. Not quite as shocking as Sophie's, but difficult as we turned our backs on Varna and headed to the bus station. As a final send-off, we quickly stopped in a grocery store and stocked up on sausages, extremely cheap booze, and honey.

Upon arriving in Istanbul at 7 am we were reminded of all the faults of this city. No clear signs to the buses to get back into the city. Smelly buses/people. People staring at us like we were aliens. Having to walk on the side of a highway with no side walk to get home. Oh, the malignant woes of Istanbul. Next summer we will be spending three months in Bulgaria rather than just three days.

To the say the least, Eastern Europe is highly recommended by these pseudo-intrepid travelers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Too Many Starbucks and Not Enough Screens

A couple of my friends from college (let's just refer to them as Tim and Sean) recently spent ten days in the city with Nellie and I. One of their countless observations concerning Istanbul was that there is "too many Starbucks". Agreed... there is too many of them on this planet. A second concerned windows and the lack of screens accompanying them in this country. At the time, the lively atmosphere prohibited deeper probing into the validity of the statement, but I was immediately skeptical as to the real practical utility of the screen. We composed a quick tune on the subject, moved on to greater philosophical ramblings, and let the question of supercilious window coverings disperse into the night air.
A normal being would let the subject die, but I had to exhume the corpse due to a throat illness and a glut of free time following the departure of my friends. Thus, over the next few days, I had little to do but vacillate internally over the need for screens on windows. Istanbul does indeed have a fair amount of mosquitoes; on the contrary, this is not sub-Saharan Africa and we follow local Istanbul custom by keeping numerous basil plants in the living space (according to Turks, mosquitoes don't like basil as much as Thais or Italians do). There is also the question of thieves and the easier access provided by a lack of screens, but the ubiquitous bars on all ground level homes usually provide a deterrence to would-be intruders. Points and counterpoints streamed through my consciousness until my brow burned and I gave up - banishing that silly debate from my addled brain. Flash forward to early this morning, when an event of such gravity occurred that my bi-partisan ramblings on the subject were forever quelled.
Our new apartment is located just a few blocks from this district's camii (mosque) and the first azan (call to prayer) woke me at ten to five. I generally tune-out the azan and rare is the time I am awoken by its cacophony. However, this time, the abrupt prelude of abrasive, crackling speakers led to such a sonorous, deeply beautiful melody that I was peacefully brought from my dreams. The nasal pitch of the call was softened by a wistful, melancholic undertone and as I listened in silence I felt that I could understand the Arabic words as though they were imperceptibly translated in my psyche. It was if I held my breath for the entire duration and when the speakers were disengaged and the crackling subsided, I gasped for air.
Severely self-satisfied and exhausted by this fleeting grasp of cosmic piety I quickly fell back asleep.
Albeit, there is no rest for the weary and, moments later, I was startled out of bed by a soft thud that emanated from the windowsill. It took my eyes but a moment to adjust to the darkness and to my great surprise a small ebony cat was perched on the cabinet beneath the window - in our room! My heart just about leaped from my chest and, invariably, the little brigand was as frightened as I. The critter hastily returned to the night scape from whence he came and Nellie woke up to me shrieking that our luck is forever marred as great Providence has bestowed the ultimate sign of our demise upon us - the black cat!
I didn't enter into cardiac arrest, but the ordeal was less then ideal. Needless to say, I am now a card carrying member of the pro-window screen lobby.