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…

Friday Night Winter Coat Woes: To Check or Not to Check?

“Enjoy the chilly weather,” a friend said in a text message. “Sometimes it seems I’m the only one who enjoys it!”

“Not so! I love the cold! It saves me blush step when I’m ‘putting on my face!'” I enthusiastically typed in reply.

Getting ready for a summer night on the town has its appeal, particularly in the lack of clothes required...

The late sunset, the empowering “good-bye” to layers, wool tights, and a multi-moisturizer makeup regime — certainly, going out on sultry summer nights has its appeal. But as any girl who has found her foundation dripping down her face and sweat stains stretching to her waist knows, getting ready for a carefree (read: humid and blistering) summer night is no carefree task. The onset of the winter chill is a surprising relief.

“Scarf appropriate” earrings must be considered (you don’t want your chandeliers snagging your cashmere), but otherwise, winter nights on the town are reasonably low maintenance. When things turn frosty, I can use a hairdryer without the extra 2 coats of antiperspirant. I can look to sensible, rugged flat boots for almost all evening occasions. And thanks to movement-friendly leggings with figure-flattering sweater dresses, I can transition from day into night with a mere swipe of red lipstick.

The catch? That whole “coat problem.”

Hats stay on heads and scarves swirl around necks as parts of an ensemble. Gloves slip into pockets and earmuffs into purses. But those long, inflated, element-proof outerwear garments don’t fade into the background so easily.

If you’re lucky to find a lounge with a coat check, problem solved. At most, all you need to worry about is a dollar tip at the end of the night. But make your way to the typical crowded bar, and things get more complicated.

Hats and scarves become part of an ensemble, while mittens and earmuffs dissapear into purses.

I walked into the dimly-lit Keats on 2nd Avenue and took a quick survey of the throbbing alleyway of pint glasses, rosy cheeks, and navy sweaters. “Are there coat hooks anywhere?” my friend asked. Apparently, somewhere at the back of the pub there were small brass hooks triple hung with peacoats and ski jackets. Was there room for her black wool coat among the sea of like-styled black wool coats? Didn’t look like it.

Sometimes, hooks are strategically pinned under mahogany bar tops. Supply is usually scarce. If you happen to find yourself at a bar with back-rest enhanced bar stools, you’re in luck – a built-in coat hanger at your seat. Find yourself at a bar sans the aforementioned amenities and your MacGyver instincts have to kick-in.

This many accessories does pose a challenge at the local Public House

I stood at the bar, with a pint of Blue Moon in one hand, my knee-length quilted mauve Burberry in the other, backless stool in front of me, and awkwardly attempted to find a solution. “You could hang it on your knee when you sit down” was one suggestion. Okay, here goes. Before I could take a sip from the glass, my coat was in a heap on the sticky floor.

Why don’t you sit on it? That seemed like a good plan until I wiggled onto the coat-draped bar stool, watching the head on my ale teeter-totter close to lip of the glass. It was then I hooked my heel on the coat’s pocket instead of the stool’s support rut.

The rip was audible and the footprint insoluble. Mild panic.

As I slipped off the stool, my butt sent my coat tumbling to the floor again. To add insult to injury, while on the ground, it had picked up the powdery remnants of a bowl of peanuts. The 5 second rule is a lie. I still had a full pint in my hand. It was too early to retire. I picked up the coat, examined the stool, and proceeded to re-drape my now wounded outerwear. Sigh. The damage had already been done, the least I could do was finish my drink and make sure I had a place to rest my feet.