A Soul-Cleansing Journey to the Black Sea…part 2

25 November 2012

I woke up my first morning in Varna with a nasty hangover, as expected from last night’s excess of rakia from the local Varna region and down the coast in the Pomorie area. A bad sleep as expected, and felt rather lethargic with a healthy dose of headache. A shower helped, as did the entertaining Bulgarian television morning programmes. I realised I understood much, much more than I thought…

But in a significant symbolic move, I took a pair of scissors and cut my goatee… As some of you know, the length of this goatee (grown originally to mark my 40th birthday) had become ridiculously long. So I slashed it and trimmed it to a “presentable” length and saved the longest strands (at almost 13cm/5in)…

As a non-breakfast eater, I just relaxed and tried to catch up on some tweets (roaming, so had to be conservative…hotel wifi still down). But in keeping my slow pace, I did not emerge from the room until about midday when I headed into the centre of town and explored some of the town’s best known sites.

Varna has some life in late November, but in the centre. But still, it’s a sleepy town, and the residents are clearly dreaming of the warmth of summer and hate the cold. It’s only about 5C today, and many are walking quickly from door to door, from shelter to bus. I enjoyed the chill as I walk by beautiful iconic buildings and Orthodox churches. Take a look at the Wikipedia page to see some of the beautiful sites (better than my pictures).

After nearly 2 hours I was getting hungry so I looked for something appetising around town. By now I was just wandering aimlessly and decided to hop into one of the country’s best known chain restaurants — Happy Bar & Grill. I know what some will say — why a chain — but it is a darn good chain. I’ve had their food in Sofia before, and I’ll happily eat here all the time. But being on the seaside there were more treats here. So for lunch was a plate of fried sprats…mmm…

sprats

I love sprats, not just stuff from the Baltic, but also these. Fantastic, from head to tail, all washed down with some nice local beer. It was a nice rest and the friendly service showed that chain restaurants, when done well, can be very satisfying. I ate a second plate of the fish fry before taking off appreciatively.

I then slowly strolled back towards the seaside and headed to the beach again. I treaded on the sand going out to the water. The air is so nice, it really is cleansing. And as a symbolic gesture, I took out the long strands of my goatee, and let it go in the wind at the shore of the Black Sea…as if I’m letting go of something very dear to me here…

blacksea

Surprisingly, no tears fell this time, just some heavy baggage. The strands of hair flew in all directions, some took off, some fell in the sand, some were seized by the water. But I felt relieved, and although this was a symbolic act, it made an unexplainable difference in me. It’s like I’ve finally made peace with everything relating to the last 7 1/2 years, and it’s time for me to start to be myself again. This is priceless.

I left the beach and walked up the promenade and just strolled around the busy pedestrian areas just north-west of the beach. So this is where all the residents of Varna are! It was busy with people shopping, strolling, and just people-watching. It’s easy to do as Varna is full of very beautiful people. Eventually I headed back to the hotel to chill out for a bit.

I didn’t manage to head out again until way after dark. Unfortunately it is Sunday night, and it’s not easy to find good food. I was going to go down to the beach, but decided to go for something in the centre instead. Wandered around and after about half hour of fruitless search, I almost gave up, and ended up (in utter capitulation) in Armenia — which, not surprisingly, serves Armenian food.

From the blaring of Russian TV to the heavy smoke filtering through, I was about to leave. But they had brought me some plonk to drink, so I had to order something. It was not pleasant inside, and the other table of foreigners trapped there felt similar I think. I ordered a plate of veal tongue…

tongue2

Less butter, not as substantial nor tasty, but still good. They know how to do their tongues here. But the smoke was just too much, even though they had turned the TV off (knowing the guests were annoyed). But I headed out, now a little fortified, to continue my search for food.

I wandered around more in the old town and finally spotted some lights from a dining establishment, this time at a small square where the House of Architects was. I walked into Burjani — and was immediately smoked out the door…ugh…

It was an empty night so the staff was just chilling and smoking inside in the warmth. So I made due with the situation and chose to sit outside in the 3C temperature. They were shocked but accommodated me. Coat off, I enjoyed the subsequent meal in the cold, especially once the wine started flowing.

The server, freezing outside, tried to talk me out of my order, saying it was too big, but what the hell…it’s my last meal here. So, before everyone here goes yech, it began with a heaping plate of sauteed lamb intestines…no, it is not pasta! 😀

intestines

It was far too oily, but was quite good. This offaly good dish is a Bulgarian specialty (that they usually don’t talk about because of the squirm factor). Before I got about a third of the way done, my main came out…but they said they’ll put it back in the oven. I worked on this a bit more and I had to stop at some point. However, this is why I ordered more food than necessary…

By now two stray cats had appeared. One was just sad and not talking, and I fed it some of the intestines. It really liked it. But then another more dominant stray came, and was talkative, meowed a lot. But it kept trying to steal the other’s food, so I reprimanded it. And after a little while they were sharing and playing nice. Yes, I’m good with strays, as I said in the last post… I’m the cat whisperer…

When the server came out with my main and more wine, she was trying to shoo the cats away in disgust… But the dish was piping hot and it is the pork shank…mmm…

shank

It was huge, but I know the cats will help me. It was also so nicely cooked that at one point a fat bubble inside the shank exploded all over the table (and myself, burning me). Oh, what a treat… The meat was extremely tender and seasoned perfectly, and I slowly finished it, sharing it (and the leftover intestines) with the cats.

I pretended to keep picking at the food while the server, now wearing two coats, brought out rakia for me. Obviously she didn’t want to come out for awhile, so she brought me a large wineglass full of rakia! I enjoyed the cold, the strong drink, and feeding the two cats more intestine and pork. Other strays were nearby but they saw I was only feeding those two and talking to them in my own way, so…

Eventually I finished and was nice enough to bring all the stuff inside (so the servers didn’t have to go back out into the cold), and paid, and thanked them for a good meal. Outside the two cats were still there, but they didn’t follow me. As I walked away I heard meowing and I turned around. The second, dominant one that had been meowing to me had already gone. But it was the silent, first one that meowed for the first and only time, almost as if it was thanking me. And slowly walked away.

And so did I, with a big smile. I walked back to the hotel and enjoyed the rest of the evening with a few more rakia in the bar, which was dumb considering I have a long day flying tomorrow to Berlin with a long annoying Vienna layover. But I wanted to enjoy the last bits of my time here. And really, with all that’s gone on, all the emotions that flowed today, I felt more and more at peace…

Maybe this trip to Varna was a good idea after all, and my soul is being cleansed one sea breeze at a time…one meow at a time…

Happy Bar & Grill
4 Драгоман [Dragoman]

Armenia [Армения]
7 Архимандрит Филарет [Arkhimandrit Filaret]

Burdzhani [Бурджани]
10 Мусала [Musala]
Varna [Варна], Bulgaria [България]

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6 thoughts on “A Soul-Cleansing Journey to the Black Sea…part 2

    • Благодаря! I always enjoy adventurous foods, and ate well in Sofia as well. I wish more was open in Varna, but it’s the off-season. Thank you again!

      • Няма защо 🙂 There are many incredible places that are still opened in the winter. You just have to know them or have someone local to take you. That’s one of the reasons I love Varna, it’s like two different cities depending on when you go there.

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