Saturday, May 5, 2012

May Day Weekend: Varna and Balchik

This week was shorter because of the four day vacation that extended through Tuesday, May 1st. May Day, or International Workers' Day, is officially celebrated in many countries around the world- but not the United States. From what I remember, this had something to do with a general fear of the popularity of socialism in the early 20th century. Americans celebrate Labor Day in early September.

But to get back to Bulgaria, we had a nice long weekend and I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous summery weather and visit my friend L in Varna, on the Black Sea.

It was a much-needed break. I am feeling a little overwhelmed by deadlines and the end of the school year quickly approaching with too many things to finish, so it was great to go to the beach and relax. I was joined by our friend A, who is also living in Sofia, which made the whole trip felt like one big extended sleepover party (fun!). We dipped our legs in the still-freezing water, worked on our tans/sunburns, enjoyed lots of delicious food (Varna has an amazing Thai restaurant and a sushi place, not to mention great seafood) and took a day trip to the botanical gardens in Balchik.

Here are L and A enjoying a beachfront meal of mussels, fried fish, calimari and beer.

The botanical gardens in Balchik are on the grounds of what used to be Romanian Queen Marie's residential palace. It was built during the interwar period when Southern Dobruja was under Romanian control. It is now part of Bulgaria, and the gardens are maintained by Sofia University. Fun fact: the queen's heart was buried in a special part of the gardens, but were transplanted to Bucharest after the region was returned to Bulgaria in 1940. 

One of the most distinguishing landmarks of the palace is this minaret, which looks like what you would find attached to a mosque. This building, however, was neither designed as a mosque, nor has it ever been used as one. Apparently Queen Marie had it built as a symbolic gesture to the architecture of the region. She also professed her belief in Baha'ism, which explains the coexistence of Islamic and Christian symbols in this part of the complex.

I returned to Sofia on Tuesday night feeling well-rested, but the rest of the week was a blur. I guess that happens when the working week is only three days long: you feel much more exhausted afterwards than you would normally! 

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