Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sozopol, no Back Door

View of Sozopol from our Balcony, Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria

Ever since Rick Steves introduced the concept of the "Back Door", people have been hunting for undiscovered spots throughout Europe. If the bed and breakfasts are empty and the village life seems to be untampered with, a picturesque town is ripe for a pitch that it's about to be the next hot spot. We stayed in one of these newly discovered hot spots last night: Veliko Tarnovo, the new Prague, the new Bucharest. And we loved it. But is it so bad to stay in discovered country? To join a happy crowd in a warm sea? To find a menu printed in English, doner kebab stands liberally sprinkling the streets, and horse-drawn carriages waiting alongside neatly organized fruit stands? I defy the travel writing world and say no. I like Sozopol, and I am not ashamed to join the throng. When we told Maria Assenova, the international papers manager (and much more) at our new school, that we were headed here she wall all pleased recognition. Is it so wrong to stay in a town that leads one's new Bulgarian acquaintance to nod approvingly with a knowing look in her eye?

The Selena Beach Hotel perches at the edge of the Southernmost beach in Sozopol. A well-trod path leads to a short staircase down to beach and sand heaven. Five leva buys a straw umbrella location for the day and a few more leva will supply roasted corn or drinks at the beach bar for the hungry and thirsty. Of course, fifty leva will buy you your own little living room on the beach, complete with white sofas, but why not just stay home if you are going to go that far?

An ideal schedule for a day in Sozopol goes something like this:
1. Wake up after a quiet night's sleep (which you appreciate much more if you've recently slept a few floors up from Sofia's resident dog population)
2. Eat breakfast at the meat-cheese-olive-gingerbread-watermelon-toast buffet
3. Watch the Olympics
4. Nap, read, swim. In any order you desire. Schedule to be repeated until hungry.
5. Eat lunch. Preferably to include fresh nectarines and raspberries from fruit stands.
6. Nap, read, swim (see note above).

And now, (ahem ahem), a review of the restaurant in our hotel. Impartial and expert food and service critic Betsy Potash reporting...

Amount of sauce on pizza: 0 Stars (ketchup available)
Amount of alcohol in mojito: 0 stars (ancient mint plant apparently substituted for alcohol and sugar, leaving unique taste previously experienced only in mint flavored italian soda and nightly hygiene rituals)
Similarity between pictures of food and food itself: 1 Star (usually they were the same substances, though arranged differently and in different quantities)
View from restaurant deck, including moonrise over neighboring hotel strewn with drying beach towels: Three Stars
Proximity to room: Three Stars
Possibility of procuring service: One Star (various methods such as hand waving, Bulgarian phrases, English phrases, eye contact, and walking inside to search for waiters produced limited success)

Total overall rating for the Selena Beach Hotel Restaurant: One quarter Star

I think we enjoyed making fun of the food together almost as much as we would have enjoyed good food, so it didn't matter much. And the knowledge that tomorrow we can repeat the above schedule has kept the overall mood in room 201 high. Sozopol may be a well-lit and inviting front door of Bulgaria and not some secret haunt, but that doesn't seem to stop all of us here from having a lot of fun...

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