After a long, hot trip across most of the Balkan Peninsula the sunny beaches of the Black Sea were a welcome sight... except that it was raining. The interesting part of night trains is that you awaken to new conditions and a new city at the end of the night. In this case we awoke to the chemical plants, refineries, and heavy industry of eastern Bulgaria... Burgas is a port city and heavily industrialized. As the woman at the train station growled at us for not having the right change to pay her off for using the public restroom, we wondered if we'd picked the right spot to travel to.
We'd diverted south from our original plan of going to Romania, so our total Black Sea plan was based on checking the number of beach umbrellas and resort strips on the coast to the north, and finding a cheap hostel on the beach during a quick internet search in Sofia.
It's cold and drizzly the first day, but we've come 800 miles to go to the beach... we're going to sit on the beach!
As we searched in the rain for the the local bus, discovering that unlike Sofia, there were no English or Serbian speakers here... the lack of sleep and heavy packs started to catch up with us. After finally determining that the bus down the coast stops "in front of the old post office" we were off. Well, except that Bulgarian busses are usually about half an hour late...
We found Kraimorie only because it's the final stop of the bus line. As the bus pulled up to a loop we hesitantly got off, confirming with a couple people that this really was the right spot... It was good. After traveling across several miles of wetlands and farms, we were in a little village on a peninsula only 20 minutes away, but where the smokestacks and cranes were only features on the horizon.
A couple nights of no sleep on the trains catches up with me....
The town extended about 3 blocks each direction from the bus station, and was filled with Bulgarian families on vacation by the seashore. Shops sold flowered shirts and colorful inflatable water toys, the necessities of a beach trip.
A woman walking through town noticed our backpacks and lead us to the hostel, I guess we kind of stood out... The hostel (see review) was cool. We were basically in a room at the top of a 3 bedroom house with a couple beds, a shaky table, and a 12-inch television bolted to the wall, but it was exactly what we wanted with thick, cool walls and a sea breeze blowing through the huge window. The owner spoke only Bulgarian, so she just gave us the keys; her son checked us in that night when he got off work. For some reason all of the windows in the house were by the floor.
Mysterious low windows...
.. in the stairs, in the hall, behind the toilet... yes, there was an oportunity to moon the citizens of Kraimorie as you lowered yourself onto the toilet. It was a one-drain-does-it-all bathroom, so you could brush you could shower on the toilet, always a time saver.
The first day we swam between breaks in the clouds, the second day it was sunny. The sun (or currents...) brought out the Jellyfish! There were four kinds - little orange-sized ones, bigger disk-like aurelias, and a few melon-sized white ones. None of these stung (Zvonka had me test them), but the fourth, an uncommon, walnut sized box-jelly did. But just a little. When I swam into it with my lips. The water was clear and warm and... fresh! The Black sea has nearly a third less salt than a normal sea, so it actually tastes less salty and you don't float quite as well.
The L-shaped bed...
It also supports a completely different set of creatures that the Mediterranean. I didn't recognize any for the fish or algae. There were a few umbrellas by the end of the main street (by umbrellas, I mean the European thing of rows of identical umbrellas and chairs for rent, infesting miles of private beach..) but with a 2 minute walk you could have as much beach as you needed. We took a 10 minute walk around a rocky point, of course, to have our own sandy beach to ourselves.
The PODA wildlife refuge was a 20 minute walk away, back towards Burgas. The bus goes there, but this was a walking trip. It's an amazing wetland area with all gradients of salinity from freshwater lakes draining into saltmarsh draining into bayside brackish water, then the seashore.
Window set up for mooning the main street as you sit on the toilet
A peace corps volunteer from Texas collected a tiny use fee, and explained how this was the only non-government refuge in Bulgaria. It's run by a coalition of non-profits from around the world. The fee gets you a pair of nice binoculars, a lecture on the birds and wildlife, a high, sturdy observation platform with spotting scope, and a network of trails and blinds for wildlife viewing. Most of the waterfowl, shorebirds and ...wildlife in general of the Black Sea coast show up here. We saw probably 50 species in a couple hours including nesting cormorants and spoonbills, but we were too early or too late in the year for a lot of the species.
At night we ate ...bread, red pepper paste, soft cheese.. on the beach and sampled many bottles of less than a Euro wines.
All-in-one bathroom setup. I'm getting one of these!
.. on the beach. Nightlife consists of two small beach bars, one with pounding techno and one with a troupe Bulgarian musicians and singers. We were drawn into the almost Turkish style music of the Bulgarians. We recognized recognized the same regulars every night, stumbling and trying to sing along as the good-natured woman singers passed among them with wireless mikes, extracting tips and drinks.
It was hard to leave, but the number of remaining vacation days were quickly counting down so we reluctantly headed back across Bulgaria to Sofia, the only rail route to Skopje (stupid mountains and seas in the way...)