The Budget Babe | Affordable Fashion & Style Blog

Savvy Travel: Va-Va-Va-Varna!

The Budget Babe's International Travel Advisor Fifi LaMode soaks up the sights, sounds and soothing sea-air of the ever-evolving city of Varna, Bulgaria. —TBB

by Fifi LaMode
I admit I knew little of Varna before I went there. My primary reason for taking a cruise on the Black Sea was to see the Crimea, so I took little notice of the other stops thrown in to fill out the itinerary. This is one of the joys of travelling—sometimes the places you have the least expectations of turn out to be among the nicest.

Varna is the third largest city in Bulgaria, a Black Sea Port, and a spa town, due to its mineral waters. It is a popular resort among eastern Europeans and more increasingly, among western Euros as well. As in most old countries that are new again (due to the end of the Cold War, EU subsidies, and foreign developers seizing initiatives to make big bucks before prices skyrocket), you see many restored old buildings; these are in a turn-of-the-century Balkan Art Nouveau style. Very pretty. Many parks and trees; one park by the water has old helicopters, tanks, and other weapons of war on display. Can't read Bulgarian but I gleaned they were from WW 2. Interesting, but strange.

The downtown area is a clean pedestrian district with wide avenues, lined with trees and teeming with cafes. People are friendly, they look more Turkish than Slavic (don't tell them that—they were under Ottoman rule once and don't like to be reminded of the fact), and prices are relatively cheap (for Europe). It's a quiet, peaceful, yet lively town. There's a lovely Orthodox cathedral—Orthodox churches all seem to look like somebody's vision of heaven when you walk inside—plenty of paintings of angels and saints in bright, beautiful colors.

Not that much English is spoken but you can get by with a little of everything, English, French, German, anything Slavic. This will change, as many Euros, especially Brits, are buying retirement properties in Bulgaria.

Mixed in among the Euro-stores are charming antique shops where you can see what life was like in old Bulgaria. You don't have to buy anything, just have a look around at somebody's family treasures. If you show interest, the sales staff is more than happy to give you a quick history lesson.

The atmosphere is not frenetic, rather graceful and low-key. What to buy? Silver is nice and not expensive. Workmanship is good. Many places do not accept credit cards (this is bound to change soon—Bulgaria just entered the EU), but they'll take just about any recognized currency (I paid for a necklace with a mix of Euros, Dollars and a few leftover Levs, their local currency). Other things to buy are folksy doily-embroidery-type things (tablecloths, etc.), but we've found that when you get these home, they're usually given to elder family members, or kept in drawers unused. Important fact: I didn't feel I was getting ripped off anywhere. This is a very good feeling in a foreign country.

A better way to pump money into the economy is to drop a few coins in the boxes you see in churches for their maintenance (a good cause), and to soak up the atmosphere by sitting in cafes, people watching, inhaling the sea air (letting the iodine from the salt water do its magic), and enjoying life. Sometimes, when you travel, it's not about how many sites you see, how many facts you learn, or how many pictures you take. Sometimes, on a warm, sunny autumn day, travel is about finding a nice place where you can relax, enjoy being alive and smile at the world and say "Today, life is good."

Varna's that kind of place.

Read more about Fifi LaMode's global escapades here. >>
Sounds lovely! Very informative, I've never even heard of Varna before! :-)
#1 Peaches (Homepage) on 2007-11-07 11:10 (Reply)
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