A Boy’s Weekend in Bulgaria

When it comes to bars, I have one simple rule: if its featured drinks are rainbow colored-shot flights, find another bar.

I'd come looking for a drink. I found rainbow shots...
I’d come looking for a drink. I found rainbow shots…

Sitting in the hookah-scented Graffiti Cafe, I saw a list of drinks I hadn’t seen since that college spring break on Playa del Carmen. I folded the menu and walked into a hotel lobby, scanned the scene and wandered into a restaurant. I ordered a bowl of cucumber-yogurt soup and a glass of rakia and made some notes.

I’m in Bulgaria.

Varna, Bulgaria, to be exact — a city perched on the Black Sea with a history older (and more complicated) than any other in the world.

No, seriously. It’s mad old.

Varna is know for it's spot on the Black Sea, and its 4km-long beach party
Varna is know for it’s spot on the Black Sea, and its 4km-long beach party

But that’s not the point — my interest, for the purpose of this post is in Varna today. Namely, in Varna as the party city of the Black Sea. Where dance clubs and open-air bars stretch for 4 kilometers across the beach, creeping up to the water’s very edge. It’s a city you go to to misbehave — a summer long spring break town where the drinks come in fanciful (unnatural) colors and the music blasts from every door opening (you never really know what euro-pop techno tune is playing in your club; it could just as easily be coming from next door.)

My first morning in Varna started lazily — I rolled out of bed at 9:15 and stumbled to get dressed, still “hungover” from the 2 days of travel it took me to get here. By the time I had my shoelaces properly (and safely) secured, I had 20 minutes left to grab my free Bulgarian breakfast.

Varna is a colorful city, to be sure
Varna is a colorful city, to be sure

I scurried down the hall, trying to ignore the South African-sounding man standing in nothing but his skivvies seeking direction on how to work his TV remote from the poor receptionist who had obviously accepted his demand for help unaware of what was awaiting him.

The hotel, an art nouveau gem, was reportedly full the night before, but joining us for yogurt and coffee were only a group of 50-something-ish British gents. Mr. Boxer Briefs joined them a few moments later.

“They’re Americans,” I heard one of them say, when they noticed I was laughing at their request for “brown bread” (meaning properly-toasted white toast).

“Yes, we are. I’m sorry.”

I learned the group of 10 burly British gents were on a weekend-long holiday. A sort of “let’s pick somewhere in the world to go and go” adventure.

They had go-karting in their future. I suggested the archaeological museum.

The exchange was short. I immediately began to fill in the missing pieces and write the screenplay…

I imagine it to be a sort of Hangover, Britainized, with a cast that includs Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Ciarán Hinds (expected, I know, but easy sell).  They come to Varna hoping for a taste of the Orient and the semi debauched, only to find they’ve hit it at the start of the off-season.  Very few people understand any English. The only open bar on the beach is an underground gay dance club. The city that doesn’t have a wet season is all of a sudden hit with a weekend long monsoon. They go go-karting and discover the go-karts are decommissioned Cold War era military vehicles you push.

Hilarity ensues. They rediscover themselves. etc.

In short, it’s kinda like a Hangover meets Saw, but without the blood and sudden toddler cast member.

Obviously, I still need to flush this whole thing out, but if there’s one thing I have figured out it’s that Varna is a perfect backdrop for a Hugh Grant movie. Trust me. I’ll see you at the Golden Globes…

The rooftops of Varna as the monsoon approaches...
The rooftops of Varna as the monsoon approaches…
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