Bulgaria and Romania

The next morning we arrive in Nessebur, Bulgaria, The old town of Nessebur is built on a small rocky peninsula jutting out from the coastline, with a causeway connecting the two. The old town is small, quaint and filled with tourist shops. The newer part of town stretches for several miles along a beautiful sandy beach and is about as tacky as any seaside resort could be.

Bulgaria had been desperately poor until it joined the EU. Now it’s just desperate. The EU brought with it an influx of European money and European people (mainly English) who appreciate the low cost of living in Bulgaria. Over the last few years, countless blocks of inexpensive apartments (starting at about $40,000) have been literally thrown up, with no thought of design or urban planning. They stretch back about a mile from the coast.

The buildings look cheap, the apartments are cheap, and the inhabitants are cheaper still. Nearly all are either retirees or people with a second home . They are mostly painted in shades of apricot and yellow with blue accents (the buildings, not the tourists – although the tourists wear a lot of colour in a tasteless way as well). These apartment blocks are interspersed with cheap hotels advertising rooms that sleep 4, are all inclusive, and cost about $70 a night. Throw into this unpleasant mix an endless supply of fish and chip shops, cafes advertising English breakfasts, and English Pubs selling beer and steak pies, and you have my idea of hell. (Ed. Note: Sounds fine to me!)

But even these apartments are not cheap enough for some of the buyers. To satisfy them, there are now ugly complexes being built in the valley behind the town, where the land is cheaper. Here the apartments start at $25,000, but they are often some distance from the nearest road and the only way into town is to hitch hike. (If they had a car, presumably they wouldn’t have to buy one of these apartments).

To avoid all this, we rent a car and drive into the hills behind Nessebur where we have been told there are quaint old Bulgarian villages well worth a visit. The person who told us this either had a great sense of humour and is still laughing about our day, or held a grudge against us and this was payback time.

Once off the main roads, the roads to the villages, are narrow, full of pot holes and sometimes little more than dirt tracks. Traffic is just the occasional car or cart.

The villages are desperately poor, but sometimes with one or two newer houses built perhaps by slightly more adventurous Europeans. The countryside is mainly rolling hills, amazingly untouched by humans . We see little crops or livestock anywhere, other than one small field of lavender and a yard full of goats.

The main attraction is the hundreds of beautiful little butterflies which fill the air, attracted by the wild flowers that line all the tiny roads

We decide that Bulgaria is definitely our least favourite place so far, but we haven’t visited Romania yet.

That treat awaits us the next day

Constanta is our next port of call. Constanta is the 5th largest port in Europe and aims to be the second largest (after Rotterdam) within the near future. The port presumably brings huge revenues into the country but there is no sign of any of it being spent in the areas we visit. Neither is there any sign of the investments that being a member of the EU brings. But it is early days yet.

Constanta is a huge city, but the historic section is just a small area right next to the port. It is an easy walk and we can see all of it within a few hours. Obviously at the end of the 19th century it was an affluent, elegant resort. There are s
ome beautiful houses, and attractive beaches, but the results of a post Communist dictatorship are all too visible. To say the town is in a sorry state of disrepair is a major understatement, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Beautiful buildings have been allowed to crumble. There are huge cracks visible in many of them, with balconies crumbling, and nets strung out over the sidewalks to catch any falling masonry. Even sadder, is the fact that many of these buildings are still inhabited

We later learn that part of the trouble is that since the fall of the regime there is no clear ownership to a lot of the properties in the historic area. The endless uncertainty means few are prepared to risk investing there. It is a shame because the area has great potential. A few brave souls have realised this and there is the occasional trendy restaurant amongst the decrepit buildings and shops virtually empty of merchandise.

I suspect these entrepreneurs are a little early with their enthusiasm and will not survive to see the revival that surely must come

It has been an interesting day, but a depressing one.

We return to the ship where most of the passengers are as old as the City we have just visited and many of them are in a similar state of disrepair.

The fabulosity meter will probably never ring again

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