Daily Wanderlust: The golden hour at Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

Walking down the main drag in Sunny Beach reminds me a lot of Senior Beach Week in Ocean City, Maryland: scantily clad teens and college-aged kids, families, and heaps of parties (hello, laser-foam-pink-eye-factory shenanigans).

Like Benidorm in Spain, Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach is lacking a bit of the local culture. But, for what it lacks in culture, it makes up for in sunsets like this.

Sunset over Sunny Beach in Bulgaria

Destinations

Escape of the Week: Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

It has been just about one year since Abby and I bounced around Istanbul and Bulgaria together. Poor Abby saw the worst of me during this time — I was in the full clutches of Travel Fatigue, mixed with being sick.

We didn’t really have any set plans other than meeting in Istanbul. From there, we tried to do Eastern Euro Exotic. After doing a search for top Black Sea beaches, I came across Sunny Beach. If you’ve been to Sunny Beach … well … it is a beach. Whether it deserves the title of “best Black Sea beach” is another story (read my Sunny Beach experience).

It’s fun. It’s rowdy. It has an international flavor (I am pretty sure we heard more Scandinavian and Russian than Bulgarian). From the resorts lining the sandy beaches, to the all-night parties, to the boardwalk complete with little trinket shops, Sunny Beach is the ultimate let loose vacation spot in Bulgaria.

It may not have been my match, but it was certainly gorgeous. Especially when the sun started to sink in the green rolling hills.

Here, a parasailer catches the sunset from a different perspective: above the Black Sea

 

 

Bulgaria Destinations

The Jersey – Sunny Beach – Shore

Bulgaria.

In my mind, I pictured a quaint Eastern European country thriving with culture and history.

Then, Abby and I went to Sunny Beach.

On the bus from Istanbul to Bulgaria,where they served ice cream(!),  I conjured up images of the country in my head … cobblestone streets, little villages tucked into mountains, historical cities boasting pre- and post-Communist architecture, little bars with terraces covered in branded umbrellas.

It seemed as if we were going to get just that.

Then, we arrived to Sunny Beach.

The anti-Bulgaria.

It took a while for us to notice, but as soon as Abby and I ventured from 415 Hostel (a great find, by the way, complete with pool), we were smacked in the face with it.

At first, I was struck by its small-town beach vibe.

Little restaurants lining the main road. Men, burnt by the Black Sea sun, with opened shirts, women gallivanting around in little bikini tops and short shorts.

Beachy.

Then, we got to the main pedestrian drag.

It was Ocean City, Maryland on crack. Actually, it reminded us more of MTVs “The Jersey Shore.”

The carnival-like atmospheere permeated the air. Hot, young thangs passing flyers to laser parties, foam parties, parties, parties, parties.
Chinese Food. Pizza. McDonalds.

Rides.

Girls clad in too-tight dresses with five-inch heels (how the stumbled around after being drunk, I don’t know. I would have bit it, easy). Men, in muscle-bearing T-shirts, cuffed jeans, spiky hair, on the prowl for their night’s conquest.

We heard Bulgarian, but more often, we heard Russian, Swedish, Danish.
We walked down the street, eyes-wide, smiles on our faces.

What the hell did we stumble into?

Then, there was the beach.

Lounge chairs and umbrellas lined the sand as far as the eye could see, giving way to the bluish waters of the Black Sea a few meters from the restaurants.

When we arrived in Sunny Beach, I had been traveling for nearly five months and was getting burnt out. But Abby … she had just arrived and had lived in a small town of 3,000. She instantly loved Sunny Beach and the very alive scene.

Each night, a group from the hostel would go out. I went out twice. Both times calling it a night before the alcohol could even produce a buzz in my bloodstream.

I would retreat to our private room, write, read and enjoy a little solitude and knowing the only person who would walk through the door and wake me up would be my friend, versus a stranger.

My time there was relaxing. While Abby went out, I stayed in. Thinking. Sometimes too much. By day, we would hit the beach or the pool, armed with books, and soak up the sun.

In total, Abby and I stayed four nights in Sunny Beach. By the fourth night, we were both beat, opting for a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant, and then a night of reading, internet-ing and sleep.

The next day, we boarded another bus and headed to Varna, another beach city.

As we got on the bus, I said a silent prayer, hoping that Varna would be a little less Jersey Shore, and a little more Bethany Beach.

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The Jungle Princess joins the Adventure

The first time I met Abby was in Las Vegas about four years ago. She was an editor and I was a publicist, so we had a few lunches and swam in some of the same circles of the Las Vegas social scene.

I never imagined the next time I would see her would be in Istanbul.

But, it was.

She and I had stayed in close contact the past year … sharing our thoughts about travel, our mutual support of the travel blogging world, and had talked about possibly doing a meet-up somewhere in my adventures.

When she found out her time living in Costa Rica was coming to a close, she messaged me asking where I was.

And, then everything came together.

Three weeks later, she was jetting from her pueblo to the bustling city of Istanbul.

The night Abby arrived in Istanbul also happened to be Chris’ last night of his travels.

“We’ve got to celebrate your last night,” I announced to Chris.

So, Claire, Chris and I headed to Sultanahmed to find a shisha bar and get some drinks. Our first stop was The Sultan Hostel, where Claire was staying, for some large Effes, and then on to Top Deck to enjoy some shisha.

I didn’t think we would be out late.

But, we were.

As we sipped on way too sugar-y alcoholic concoctions, the three of us laughed the night away.

“I think Abby’s hotel is nearby …” I said, and then asked Sasha, the owner of the bar, where her hotel was.

“It’s right there,” he said, pointing around the corner. He grabbed me and guided me to the hotel, where I quickly penned a note to Abby, telling her to drop her bags and come and meet me … even if it meant she had to jump from three flights to a cab to a hotel at 1 a.m.

We sat on the outdoor cushions for another hour, each time a cab pulled up I would crane my neck to see if it was Abby arriving.

Then, a white van pulled up on the street and a girl with long, wavy light hair got out, I immediately knew.

Abby!

I jumped the rail and bounded to her.

“Hi!!” I squealed, grabbing her, so happy to see a familiar face and to have a friend from home in Turkey.

We ran to her room, dropped her bags, and then went back to Top Deck for a few more cocktails, closing the place down early in the morning.

For the next few days, Abby and I would grab our laptops, do some writing and then tour the city, hitting the Grand Bazaar and wandering, eating and drinking wine.

I had been in Istanbul nearly two weeks total by the time we headed to Bulgaria … I was ready to go and be somewhere new and to create new (and happy) memories.

We teetered on where we would go after Istanbul, deciding on Sunny Beach, which was rated as one of Bulgaria’s top beach destinations.

At 7 a.m. on a Friday morning, after two days of wandering Istanbul together, we met in the rug shop below Harmony, loaded our belongings into a cab and headed to the bus station (a massive cluster unlike anything I had ever seen before), and boarded a bus to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.

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