Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nessebar- A whole lot about nothing!


Map picture

Varna, Bulgaria

Our ship docked yesterday at Varna in Bulgaria. Unfortunately I think that in hindsight, Lisa and I selected the wrong shore excursion. We picked an all day outing to the ancient city of Nessebar, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage City. I did not know anything about the city, but with that stamp of approval, it had to offer something interesting. Well, it did not! It was a long hard day for virtually nothing.

We drove for almost 3 hours along the Black Sea south from the city of Varna to the city of Nessebar. IMG_3633Bulgaria is a poor farming country, and the drive was made on old style narrow winding roads. Pretty much all we saw were small family farms with an occasional small village to break the monotony.  In the process of our drive, we did learn some very interesting things about Bulgaria.

Our guide was quite well educated, as are many of the guides, and she is married to a physician specializing in Oncology. It was interesting how she explained what had happened in Bulgaria after the fall of the Soviets. In her mind, the country was very happy to be rid of the communist system and looking forward to this thing called democracy and capitalism. They were sure when the communists left that America would come to teach them how democracy and capitalism worked. But America never came, and the country fell into very bad times. During the Soviet era, everyone had work. Their farmers had markets and their industry made for export to the Soviet Union. When the Soviet system failed, so too did the entire economic basis of the country. Old style Soviet farms were split up and given back to the people, but they did not have the equipment to work the farms, and there was no place they could borrow the money to buy the equipment. All of their foreign exchange contracts were now null and void, and no one knew how to get them back. So they had almost no way to produce anything, and no one knew who to sell it to if they did! It was a mess. Many people assumed that in this new age of capitalism they, would quickly get rich.

Let me give you a good example. On our drive, we went through what was previously a small village by the sea. In the last several years, developers had come in and built the city up with hotels, casinos, apartments and condo’s. The amount of building was absolutely incredible. I am not joking when I say that it covered a huge area. Of course the quaint little village was no longer recognizable, but this was capitalism at work; or was it? I do not think they ever thought about who was going to buy all those apartments and condo’s. Where were all the tourists going to come from? Somehow they assumed that people from all over Europe would be flooding in, but guess what; it did not happen. And so now these large and beautiful buildings sit empty, unattended and are becoming rundown. Our guide told us that in the last year, Russians had starting purchasing the properties for almost nothing, and that it has reached the point where 4 or 5 hotels are bought by the Russians every week.

There are some bright spots on the horizon for Bulgaria. It has been accepted by the European Union, but will not gain full membership until 2014. In the meantime, it is a small agrarian country that is in bad need of capital.

Finally we arrived as Nessebar. Well, actually there are two Nessebars. There is the ancient city we had come to see, which sits on a small island connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge. Then there is the new Resort city of Nessebar, that was identical to what I already described had happened up the road. Huge areas had been developed and now sit virtually empty.

After 3 hours on the bus, we were all understandably anxious to get on with seeing something. Our bus stopped to let us off, and immediately the driver was accosted by the police and a shouting match ensued. There was some shoving and it was difficult to actually get off the bus. One of our group accidently brushed up against one of the policeman, and he whirled around and starting shouting at us which his hand on his baton. Our guide quickly hustled us away from the commotion, and left our poor driver to sort it all out.

Our first stop was to the museum where they have housed two items of particular value.IMG_3643 First, they have some gold jewelry on display from over 5,000 years ago. And second, in the basement they have an incredible display of Icons painted on Oak Wood, many of which date from the 1st century.  IMG_3646








Then we started to walk into the old walled city. We would walk for  5 minutes and stop to shop. Then walk another 5 minutes and stop to shop. It went on and on that way for our entire visit. In other words there is very little of the old city that still remains for viewing, but what they do have is a nice concentrated market place for tourists. So our grand tour to a UNESCO site turned out eventually to be 5 hours in a bus so we could shop until we dropped. What a bust!IMG_3650

By now it was 2 in the afternoon, and we had had nothing to eat or drink. Everyone was tired and a little cranky, but it just kept getting better. We had entered the town in the front, and our guide told us that the bus would meet us at the rear of the city down at the bottom of a very long steep street made of cobblestones. When we get there, the bus is no where in site. At first our guide was re-assuring that it would arrive shortly, but when it did not, she suggested that we walk around the city and go back to the front. Somehow she was getting confusing stories from her many harried phone calls, and she was clearly losing her cool. It was a long walk around to the front and when we arrived, there was no bus. The sun was very hot and there was no shade and no place to sit. More phone calls, and more confusion. Finally our guide said that the police will not let our bus into the city until the group that is behind us is also ready to depart. This makes no sense, but we wait in the sun for 20 minutes before they arrive but still no bus.

This time our guide goes back to the police and an intense conversation ensues. When our guide comes back she is very subdued and quiet and asks that we all huddle around. She says that the police are angry with our driver and that if he shows his face in this city again today he will be arrested. No one knows why they are so upset, but there you have it – no driver allowed. However after pleading nicely with the police, he finally relented and said to our guide that because she was now showing the “proper attitude” he might suggest an alternative. If she would take our group around the back road and over the nearby hill, a bus could come pick us up there and could not be seen by the police. So they could hardly arrest someone if they do not see him. She quickly took the compromise and we set out on a very long hot walk to get out of their sight.

We finally stopped for lunch at a local restaurant around 3 and during lunch we were treated with a local folkloric show. IMG_3722 The food was wonderful as  were the wines. The entertainment was well done, and before long everyone seemed in a better mood and so we started our 2 ½ drive back to the ship.

Long day – but hey, it happens.

Finally, I want to share some incredible photographs with you that were taken just this morning. Lisa and I awoke at 6 am and I looked out our window, and before my eyes was the city of Istanbul passing by in the early morning light. It was all alight. I grabbed by camera and starting shooting away. The bridges were lit with every changing colors, and it was one of those times when it was hard to take a bad picture. I do hope you enjoy.IMG_3753 IMG_3761

Today is a leisurely day at sea. Tomorrow we will visit the Greek city of Volos. We signed up for just a half day tour because tomorrow afternoon we have to pack for our return trip home. The following morning our ship will arrive in Athens around 6 am, and with luck, we will be walking in our door around 8pm on Tuesday night. Because of this tight time schedule, I doubt that I will have time to write about Volos or post any pictures until I get home.

I do hope that you have enjoyed our sharing.



No comments: