Did I get your attention with that pic, eh? Well, that’s because this is a regular sight at the place where I’m currently writing from. See, there’s hardly a hotel left in Bulgaria, which doesn’t proudly wear a grand-sounding name like “Something-something Resort”, “Something Spa Palace”, or “A-lot-of-Something Resort & Spa Palace”. In the worst case, either “Something Beach”, “Anything Del Mar” or anything related to a lot of awesomeness amidst a presumed sea of tranquility and relaxation.
In reality, though, the picture looks much different. The BG seaside resorts are a curious and colorful ecosystem of its own that’s full of internal inconsistencies and abounds of striking paradoxes.
See, the 4-5-month summer season at the Black Sea coast passes along laws of physics and biology of its own, as if pulled out of some sort of parallel universe. For many visitors, the few days/weeks they spend there with the intention to relax, often turn into some kind of resilience and endurance test – both for the human body (primarily through various types of intoxication), its physiology (after (un)intentionally falling down from balconies of varying height), or a test of the limit of human tolerance to physical confrontation, and excessive amounts of loud, horrible music.
Both to the north and south of the place where the long Balkan mountain range plunges into the sea (a spot that happens to be near the location where my employer company operates, and where I spend most of the summer time, working amidst all those cheerful procrastinating folks), there are tons of unique local color that’s capable of capturing the imagination of any connoisseur of abstract art, post-modernism, gangster cinema and horror literature. And oh, where without the so-called Thug-o-Baroque style, of course. From June to September, now world-famous places like Sunny Beach, Golden Sands, Nesebar, St.Vlas, Primorsko, Sozopol, Kiten, the larger cities of Varna and Burgas, and the many locations along the Black Sea aquatorium, many of which have now practically merged into one humongous Spain-style conglomerate of resort craziness, attract hundreds of thousands of seekers of extreme sensations.
The ceaseless flow of crowds who love to “unhinge their heads” as the local saying goes (meaning, to blast oneself with drinking), are staggering. Many of those peeps spend most of their time around here in a constant state between alcoholic nirvana and aesthetic inferno. And they all love it. Because it’s cheap, it’s crowded, and it’s crazy.
I once saw a few UK guys being interviewed for a local TV after a week’s stay at a local all-inclusive hotel. “Did you guys love Bulgaria?”, the reporter asked. “Sure we did! We didn’t leave the room for six days; the drinks are really cheap here, and the room-service is 24/7, way cool!”, they retorted. Yep, that’s all this is about. Boobs, drugs & booze all night long. What more can you wish for? Doesn’t matter that there’s an ancient town sporting some of UNESCO’s most notable sites of interest just a couple of miles away. Who cares.
If they could squeeze 15 minutes of relative sobriety out of their almost uninterrupted state of amok, perhaps some of those tourists would’ve realized that the formerly cute, cozy little resort towns along our cost that used to harbor a unique atmosphere and culture, have now grown into gigantic super-urbanized mastodons of concrete, glass and steel, with their own unwritten rules of existence. It’s good that most people tend to leave this place with almost no memories remaining within their alcohol-filled skulls anyway, which is a form of bliss, I presume.
A short stroll across the most crowded of these resort places leads you alongside rows of artificial palms, in turn lined with tasteless (but expensive) hotels with prefixes like “Golden” and “Grand”, and suffixes like “Beach”, “Resort”, etc.
The showcase of posh, kitsch resort places begins from the very beach line, and ends at the nightclubs. A 24/7 spectacle, drowned in neon lights and loud pop-folk (“chalga”) music, that’s become the symbol of the post-communist “Transition period” that’s been going on for decades here now.
The nature of local resort life is quite eclectic. There’s huge amounts of virtually everything: classic thugs (called “mutri”, i.e. ‘mugs’ in local slang), a remnant of the 90s, which were the years of the peak of thug-o-cracy during the height of the Transition to Democracy(TM); confused foreign tourists representing the cream of the working class of Western and Northern Europe; Russian parvenus with their families and huge SUVs, as well as local BG students who’ve been saving money from their meager stipends all year, just to come here and splash them over booze, drugs and boobs for the 5 days of their stay at the Bulgarian Riviera(TM).
Meanwhile, the more posh places of nightlife provide an opportunity to check your watch with the latest tendencies of plastic surgery. Silicon is more abundant in lips than in boobs. The modern-day Cinderellas of the pop-folk “chalga” generation have magically transformed themselves into princesses of kitsch. They dismount lushly tuned pompous carriages, the metaphorical steel pumpkins of modern time, in turn driven by pumpkin-heads looking like brainless Terminators. Mounted on their 9-inch shoe platforms, tattooed from top to bottom with trendy hieroglyphs, thick artificial suntan and leather dresses of tiger patterns, these modern Cinderellas proudly enter the palaces of kitsch and “chalga”, nose up and shiny purse in hand.
In the larger resorts like Sunny Beach (where I’m currently stationed), one could clearly notice the gap between the local show-off parvenus and the “deluded” all-inclusive foreign tourists. The newly spawned local “upper class” can be noticed from a mile within this famous Black Sea reservation of special humanoid species. They park their second-hand limos worth 200 grand right in the mud beside the huge nightclubs at the very sand dunes on the beach, essentially “chalga” clubs and palaces of vanity and pomposity. Their very presence there is considered a sign of social prestige. Inside those mysterious places, a fierce competition rages between the various thug-o-cliques: everyone is striving to show off as the one commanding the largest horde of the most scary-looking, neckless, and utterly useless gorillas that in some circles are passing for “security”. The unsuspecting observer could be shocked at the sight of a club table, densely encircled by a dozen of those monsters, who’ve blocked any access and any vantage point of observation towards their precious untouchable employers. Every now and then, behind the forest of muscled arms and skin-shaven, neckless heads, a tender female arm or two would pop up, clapping in semi-trance or clicking their jewelry-laden fingers in rhythm with the sound of loud pop-folk.
While (in)famous (and quite successful) local drug dealer and pimp Tosho the Shark orders malt elixirs 400 bucks apiece (but not before having filled his nostrils with an ounce of the most expensive coke in town), just a few blocks away from this palace of grotesque luxury, the average Sven from Sweden is actively turning himself and his peers into a semi-sentient cretin, by means of gargantuan amounts of super-cheap, super-shitty Bulgarian alcohol. Cheers! Nazdrave! Or as they say in Sweden, “skål”!
Somewhere after the 15th shot, Sven and his folks will stagger out into the Main Street of Sunny Beach, now on all-fours, without knowing where he is, what he’s doing, and what sort of creature he is any more. He’ll then be stopped by a tender voice emerging from behind the open back-door of a parked yellow taxi, a local nymph of unspecified ethnic origin inquiring in broken English whether he wouldn’t like to perform a sexual contact with her, in exchange for some coins. The almost dead-drunken Sven will gladly accept the offer, and a quarter of an hour later he’ll have parted ways with 200 bucks of the money that his oldies had given him for this vacation, after a quick and instantly forgotten coitus. Much of those 200 bucks will then end up straight in the luxurious leather man-purse of the above-mentioned Tosho the Shark, who’ll be spending it responsibly on more cocaine and malt. No surprise the likes of IKEA have come up with adverts of this sort:
That said, no doubt, next year Sven will be recommending this amazing place to his cousin, along with another 10 of his pals back in Sweden. They’ll come to Sunny Beach or Golden Sands, and in turn, duly “unhinge their heads” in quite a similar manner. They’ll have joined innumerable hordes of Russians, Germans, British, Norwegians, Poles, and our very own local brand of super-dudes. One or two of them will end their holidays with fractured limbs after one of those famed “balconing” sessions after having consumed a litre of alcohol in their hotel rooms. Granted, that’s a practice so tempting that there’s no way it could be resisted, so there goes.
And all of that, at the background of the concrete brutalism and infrastructural insanity that reigns supreme along our seaside, where every vacant square inch of interior has been turned into rooms for rent, and every inch of exterior – into parking lots.
The only thing that’s saltier than the sea itself, are the local prices. A litre and a half of simple water is worth 4.50 bucks at the beach. Tap water being posed as mineral water, presumably (but not really) originating from our famous spa resorts in the interior of the country, ya know. Horrible, yet expensive food. Tons of concrete and silicon everywhere. These resorts sometimes resemble a students’ town on steroids, and at other times a shooting site for a crappy low-budget Felini movie.
But no one can take the spectacularness and grandeur away from these monstrous chalga-polises. They’re the aggressive, concrete confirmation of William Blake’s famous words, “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom… You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough”.