Travelling to Sozopol by bus from Sofia give me a window to Bulgaria’s landscape in June, as we crossed though the flat parched landscape along the motorway. The fields were crammed with tall, smiling sunflowers, each straining in the same direction towards the sun. In the distance were hazy blue rolling hills as the bus made it’s way south towards the Black Sea.
Soon the landscape change to long stretches of beaches dotted with hotels and apartment blocks and sun glittering on the brilliant blue sea reflecting the blue cloudless sky. This area comes alive in May through to September then lots of places shut their doors, switch off the water and electricity and become ghost towns.
I was staying at Bulgaria’s oldest coastal town of Sozopol, 35km south of Burgas. It’s a town of two halves; the New Town, sadly lacking in charm and atmosphere with it’s faceless hotels, and endless apartment blocks; then there’s the Old Town of Sozopol, perched on a narrow peninsular, facing the island of St Ivan , where remains of John the Baptist were found in 2010, and it’s smaller version the island of St Peter looking out into the turquoise clear sea.
It’s an ancient fishing village and small enough to stroll around the cobbled winding, hilly streets, lined with traditional stone and wooden houses, some over 100 years old, some in need of repair, some already modernised.
Many of these houses become family disputes as parents and elderly relatives die and siblings fight, sometimes resulting in splitting the house in two. Often these houses are used only in the summer months then left standing empty as winter takes hold. Others make their properties work for them and rent rooms out to tourists. Holiday makers seem to return year after year and it’s not long before it’s like visiting family.
Sozopol was known as Apollonia in the 6th Century and if you’re interested in ancient history there’s much of it around. The Southern Fortress Wall, lots of old Churches, a number of excavations and the town’s archaeological museum should keep you busy. There you can discover artefacts from the end of the 5th millennium BC to the 17th century AD and Christian art 17th to 19th century.
Today fishing is in decline, though each evening you can watch as the sun goes down a handful of fishing boats leave the harbour as they go out for their nightly trawl. Fresh fish destined for the local restaurants can be bought when the boats dock in harbour.
The beach is sandy and the bay is calm with clear blue shallow water lined with pink umbrellas and people enjoying the long hot balmy sunny days. Beaches are clean except for the cigarette but ends which seem to litter everywhere. On the outside corner of the harbour overlooked by the abandoned Navy College used during WW2, is Wild Beach, a small beach with boulders and broken up sea shells from the waves crashing against the shore line on blustery days. This beach is never busy and the best spot to watch the sun setting daily, as G0d gets his paint pallet out and creates another new unique canvas.
Daily there are small group tours usually with a mature guide holding up a pin board or long stick with a flag tied to the top, followed by an assortment of ages, of bored looking tourists. I’m amused when I see them as they’re nothing like the swarm of Chinese tourists I’ve become used to in SE Asia, who have no consideration for personal space. These tourists, are not intrusive and considerately make room for you to walk past them. They seem to come alive and enthusiastic on arrival at the wine tasting shop and begin to start to enjoy themselves. Most tourists Bulgarian, Russians, East Germans, Ukranians, have been coming to Sozopol for years. They lived in the time of communism and this was where they came for a beach holiday. Now they bring their grandchildren. This is a family holiday town, not backpacker territory and still fairly undiscovered by the British tourist looking for a cheap budget holiday.
Walking the meandering, cobbled streets in and out of the shade there’s the usual tourist tat shops ranging from fridge magnets to local pottery, children’s cheap toys, cheap sunglasses, (all made in China!), the ‘antique’ shops selling Nazi and Russian memorabilia, the old Bulgarian ladies selling their delicate handmade lace and homemade fig jam who say ‘nei’ to having their photos taken, the fruit and veg stalls, the bakeries where you’ll find traditional feta like white cheese filled Banitsa and many other calorie filled delights, and the shops selling allsorts of face and body creams made from rose oil, the rose being the Bulgarian national flower.
I’m confused by the Bulgarians. I want to like them but so many seem unapproachable as they project an aggressive and angry manner. The Bulgarians who talk to me are usually living outside of the country and upon return notice what other foreigners experience. I’m told the reason might be because they’re poor. Most Bulgarians over 30 speak no English but the staff at the coffee bar I go to regularly to read, or write, always greet me with a smile and bring over my order without even being asked. This is a locals place and often filled with the old ladies meeting for a gossip or the old men a coffee and a cigarette. They’re indifferent to me but never rude. Over my many weeks they’ve become friendlier and started to nod to greet me and got more interested in starting a conversation. It’s mainly smiles, hand signs and Google translate, but what a breakthrough!
I’ve mentioned the buses in previous posts. There is an excellent network to get almost anywhere in the country at low cost. From Burgas to Sozopol it’s a 40 minute journey for about £3.
I planned 3 weeks in Sozopol and ended up staying over 2 months. Now is the time to leave as the chill in the mornings is taking longer to warm up, the swimming pool is becoming too cold to swim in, the Russians have all gone home, it’s become easy to get the best tables in the restaurants as they’re not so busy. The holiday season is drawing to an end.