Sunday, May 18, 2014

To Varna

Regular readers of this blog know we always chronicle our border crossings, particularly when they are on foot. There is certain uncertainty when crossing on foot.

Will there be a line and a long wait to exit? to enter?

How long is no-man's land between the border stations?

How do I get rid of my current local currency? Luckily Sun-Ling is could at planning and great at math so we almost always end up at the border with zero local currency.

How do I get the next local currency? Money changer? ATM?

Once I'm in the next country will there be transport waiting and what currency will they want?

Will the transport scene be chaotic with lots of people shouting at me or will it be orderly and obvious? Or worse, will there be no transport at all.

Well, to not jump ahead; we decided to head from Constanta, Romania to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria by heading directly south along the Black Sea coast to Varna, Bulgaria; spending one night there, then heading west to Tarnovo. But how to get to Varna?

It's very easy after June 1st when there are  buses every other hour; otherwise you pay about 25 USD for the 6 pm or 7 pm night bus to Istanbul which puts you in Varna about 10 pm or later.  But now it's May 14 and we are not night bus travelers these days.

So for us it will be train to Mangalia, bus to Vama Veche, walk 2 kms to the border, cross border and then what? It's about 105 kms to Varna. We don't expect to see any transport at the border, but we see on the Internet that there is a daily 1 pm bus from Durankulak, 6 kms south of the border, to Varna. In case we have to hitch the whole way, I've made a sign that says VARNA in both Cyrilic and Latin letters.

We get up at 6:45 am and it's raining. Oh my. So after breakfast we head out with rain pants and rain jackets on for the 2km walk to the station. The train SOUTH to Mangalia has a few commuters. Maybe they work for the Railroad. We pass more of the port. It's big. A reclamation project - more port. And then a set of Danube Canal locks are just to our right with a couple of barges inside. Then windmills; the blades spinning in and out of sight in the the lows clouds. And most always the grayish Black Sea to our left.

It's a steady rain when we get off the train in Mangalia but the sheltered bus stop for Vama Veche bound buses is just to the left of the station (as researched by SL). A dog is curled up on one of the benches. He lies motionless until tractor trailers with 3 rear axles go by. Then he springs into action, out into the street, barking and chasing the truck. Oh my. Two axle trucks get no response. Hmmmm.

Then good luck. The bus to Vama Veche does not drop us off in city center as expected, but right at the border saving us a 2 km walk. The rain has stopped.

Border formalities are a breeze as the Romanian and Bulgarian official have adjoining offices with a small window between. Nice! We hand over our passports and get then back 10 minutes later with both a Romania EXIT stamp and a Bulgaria ENTRY stamp.

But....There's no transport on the Bulgarian side. Not a bus, nor taxi, nothing. We start walking. Perfect conditions. Cloudy and cool. A slight breeze. And no rain. Small white nails litter the asphalt in places. Wheat fields. A view of the Black Sea to our left. Maybe 10 cars pass us in the next 6 kms. My thumb is out, but no luck.

We reach Durankulak at noon. There are several houses and a gas station with a "Fast Food" attached. The young man working the FF is friendly, and helpful. A bus will pass the crossroads at 13:30 he says and it will take you towards Varna. Great! And there is an ATM at the gas station. So we withdraw some Bulgarian lev. Woohoo!

We walk to the crossroads. There is a bus stop with a shelter. Nice. We sit until 1:30. Finish our chocolate bars. A few cars go by. It's pretty slow. We talk to a farmer. A minibus goes by in the wrong (for us) direction. Hmmm. He must turn around as there's no where to go NORTH but Romania.

Yes! He picks us up 15 minues later. We say we are headed to Varana. He says he is headed to Kavarna and we can catch the 3:30 bus pm from Kavarna to Varna. He even writes it down for us. Cool. We stow our bags and pay our fare. He then starts the bus, turns around heads back towards Romania. Oh my! No worries. Just a pickup at the local school. Finally we are headed towards Varna.

We pull into the Kavarna station with plenty of time to buy tickets for the 3:30 bus, buy a cup of coffee from the automated machine, and talk to a young American woman from Pennsylvania who has been in Turkey since November but is now looking to buy property in Bulgaria. She says she likes being in foreign countries but finds traveling stressful. Hmmm.

The Varna bus pulls out on time. We are the only passengers and for the whole route. Some good views of the coast as we head south. More windmills. We catch glimpses of some of the big Black Sea resorts like the one at Albena.

Varna is big. We walk 2 kms from the bus station to city center and almost to the train station before we find a room. We stay only one night in Varna. Not much to keep us there. But we do find it pleasant to walk around the leafy city center the evening we arrive and the next morning before we leave.

On the train to Mangalia.
Varna Bulgaria

From the train.
Varna Bulgaria

Varna Bulgaria

The Kavarna bus station (AUTOGARA).
Varna Bulgaria

The Rothkoesque Bulgarian countryside out the bus window.
Varna Bulgaria

The landmark Varna Train Station.
Varna Bulgaria

Buying our onward ticket.
Varna, Bulgaria

Evening strollers near the Sea Garden.
Varna Bulgaria

Leafy City Center.
Varna, Bulgaria

Varna, Bulgaria

The Cathedral.
Varna, Bulgaria

Varna, Bulgaria

Renovating the main pedestrian street.
Varna, Bulgaria

And some shots of the Municipal Beach.
Varna, Bulgaria

Varna, Bulgaria

Varna, Bulgaria

The Pier.
Varna, Bulgaria

A nice water sports complex with water polo and synchronized swimming practice ongoing.
Varna, Bulgaria

And the adjacent 50-meter swimming pool.
Varna, Bulgaria






4 comments:

Kathy said...

Ouch! That's a LOT more walking and a lot more uncertainty than I would want! So far I haven't been impressed with the Black Sea (Georgia, Bulgaria and Crimea), maybe Turkey's coast would be better.

liz said...

Sad to see the beautiful building marred with mc Donald signs. Beautiful beach and impressive aquatic center. (Sitty near huge soccer fields as I write this from Mexico city)

Sun-Ling said...

@Kathy, the whole problem was John insisting on going to Constanta :( in order to see the Black Sea, not that there was even any expectations of fabulous beaches or anything like that.

It turns out the coast was fascinating to see. They can grow fields and tall trees right up to the highwater line, something of a marvel for both John and me, considering the coasts of VA, NC, and Shanghai.

From Constanta, we had wanted to head to Veliko Tarnovo. It would have been easy enough to go back to Bucharest and down to VT, but both of us thought it would be more of an adventure to head to Varna. We were a little worse for wear, but will be ready for bigger adventures in the future.

Sun-Ling said...

@Liz, Bucharest was much worse at buildings being covered. Are you feeling the altitude in DF?