Eastern Europe is one of my favorite places to travel. I love the history, the old communist, Iron Curtain feel and the great natural scenery. I love taking the train from city to city; it’s a great way to see the countries. However, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned road trip.
My buddy Jake and I decided the other day on a whim to do just that. We started in Varna, Bulgaria and ended in Burgas, Bulgaria and traveled some 1400km in between…that’s about 900 miles more or less in 2 days.
Road trips are such a great way to see a lot in a short period of time. You can stay as long or as short as you want and you can be on your own schedule. You also get to choose your route and see the dynamic countryside. There is no waiting for trains or busses, no dealing with annoying people. You just go where you want when you want. It’s the best. Any road trip is good in my opinion.
Here are some highlights and thoughts on some of the places we visited ion this trip n chronological order.
For years I had heard about Varna and its legendary nightlife and great Black Sea beaches. I had always wanted to visit. So I finally got the opportunity and I have to say my feelings are mixed.
The beaches themselves in Varna are OK. European beaches have a different standard than American beaches and are often less visually appealing. They are often covered in umbrellas and package tourists and small with people doing strange things. Varna was no exception.
The beach is flanked by crumbling old Soviet era buildings (for lack of a better word). It also had a port at the end that didn’t make it look any nicer. The water itself was great and the topless women sunbathing are always a welcome addition to any beach in my book.
The town of Varna is also OK. It’s very Eastern European and very drab in my opinion. I have been to many towns all around the Black Sea and I have to say, no matter how much I try to like them, it doesn’t really resonate with me.
It also didn’t help that my friend Jake and I got stuck in an elevator in our crappy hotel. That aside, I enjoyed my time in Varna and it is always fun to see places like it. However, I probably won’t be returning anytime soon.
Constanta and Mamaia, Romania
I was really looking forward to Constanta. This was my fourth time in Romania and I was finally able to get to Constanta which is on the Black Sea coast north of Bulgaria. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with Constanta and with its northern neighbor Mamaia.
Constanta is another one of these big Black Sea towns that is older and crumbling and doesn’t really appeal to American mindsets of gorgeous swaying palms and unspoiled white sand beaches etc. It’s not to say it’s a bad place because it’s nice enough; it just doesn’t have the nice beach atmosphere I wanted.
I guess I am a bit snobbish about beaches and beach towns but Mamaia is supposed to be the best beach in Romania. I agree it was nice, the beach itself. However, the town lining the beach was so tacky and cheesy that I had a hard time appreciating the actual beach.
Much like Odessa or Sochi or Varna, I just don’t like the old industrial feel at the beach and that is what Constanta was like to me. Mamaia was more like a cheesy Mexican beach resort if it was built in the 50’s. Not my thing and I hate to be negative. Europeans and Americans simply have different tastes in certain things and I think beaches are one of them.
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Veliko Tarnovo is a great place to spend a day. I loved it there. I love old medieval towns and I really enjoyed the time we spent in Veliko Tarnovo.
It is a beautiful hillside town divided by a beautiful river. Overlooking the town is the imposing Tsaravets Fortress; which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It gave great views of the town below and was also a good hike.
The church at the top of the fortress was really nice and much more modern inside than you’d think. The only downfall to Veliko Tarnovo in my view is that it was really dirty and messy. There is currently a ton of construction going on and there are large trash dumps all over town. Hopefully it is just in the name of progress.
If you do a day trip as many people do, including us, you’ll realize that finding a decent restaurant for lunch is tough. We looked at a ton of different places and ended up at Ego Pizzeria. From what I heard it was the best place in town. In reality it was OK at best but had generous portions and a deep menu. It did however, have the best views in town of the valley and river below.
Burgas is the big alternative to Varna on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It is more modern than Varna and is more pleasant to walk around. It has nice parks, a great walking street and a ton of cafes and food stalls.
Burgas also seems to cater to families and package tourists mainly. As in any Black Sea resort town, there is some good nightlife as it caters to package tourists from Czech Republic, Russia and other Eastern European countries that love their techno.
You can easily handle Burgas on foot. It’s not that big and very pleasant to walk around. The beach is OK at best unfortunately. It is very dirty and again, for some reason they have a massive port and garbage dump right next to the resort beach. It really makes it look ugly and undesirable. However, the beachgoers don’t seem to mind but it’s not my taste.
We also visited several other towns and cities like Galati and Bucharest, Romania. I didn’t include them in this because I have written about it a few times before. Check these two articles from last summer and 2007 to read about Bucharest and other parts of Romania.
I can’t wait for my next road trip in Europe, which will start September 3rd in Frankfurt, Germany.