Anybody in Western Europe who talks about going to Bulgaria to spend this year`s summer holiday will probably be looked at in a strange way. Bulgaria does not yet have the reputations of a fully-grown tourist nation, but it for sure has lots to offer: beaches, mountains, monasteries, cave churches, Roman ruins, unspoilt nature and favourable weather conditions, all waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, Bulgarian politicians are not always very intelligent when it comes to taking advantage of these assets.
The easiest way to get to Bulgaria is to fly in via the capital Sofia or to Burgas, on the Southern Black Sea Coast. Connections with neighbouring Romania and Turkey are poor and connections are secured on a less than daily basis. Traveling inside Bulgaria is more suitable for hardcore backpackers than it is for luxury holiday makers. Tourists should pay attention to fraudulent taxi drivers who are known for charging different rates for tourists in summer. Price differentiation between Bulgarians and foreign nationals has been abolished in hotels only during recent years.
`They grey and worthless hotels in Sunny Beach have been built from EU funds for the development of regional tourism`
The Bulgarians are fond of welcoming tourists as they represent a significant inflow of money. At the same time, they are very concerned about the changing face of the Black Sea Coast. Toni (29, photo) tells me that the changes are indirectly and unintentionally sponsored by the EU, who funded the construction of concrete hotels under the false promise that the money would be used for regional development. `Instead, we now have big concrete hotels growing out of the like crazy ? some of them not further than 5 meters away from the beach. Those hotels are the very reason why EU funds to Bulgaria have been frozen, because nobody can or wants to justify the expenses. They have been constructed with the support and funding of leading politicians who have not by any means respected the requirements for construction. Neither for the safety of the building, nor for the way in which they spoil protected cultural heritage. Some time ago, the fa?ade of one of these buildings sank down by half a metre. Just one year after the building got completed, can you believe that?`
Stefan (28) says: `Entire new cities have been born during the last decades. Sunny Beach is one such resorts. It`s the party capital for all of the summer, but most of what`s there is owned by local politicians and their associates. They are in it for the quick money and if I were to come there as a foreign tourist, it would definitely be my last time to Bulgaria. It is a big shame, because the country has so much more to offer than that. There are plenty of sites that even Bulgarians have never seen before. Churches in rocks, with paintings dating back to the 12th century, mountain tops with all sorts of remnants of times long gone. Tombs of historical kings, but also deserted communist congress centres and statues. Bulgaria is known for its mineral water wells, both for drinking and for swimming.`
In spite of the many beautiful sites to be seen, travelling in Bulgaria can be quite a challenge. Infrastructure is rather poor and public transportation is by no means prepared for mass tourism. Some parts of the countries are plain dirty, which might scare luxury-lovers and sterilomanes away. The accommodation offered through package holidays to the Black Sea Coast may prove to be a risky bet, while local taxi drivers may scare another handful of tourists away.
Katerina (26) has mixed feelings about the increasing tourism: `It supports the economy and it helps young people find jobs for the summer. Tourism also indirectly supports the construction of better roads and better connections to foreign countries. But it could be so much better if we could just show tourists the real Bulgaria, if there was enough information about our cultural heritage and the different things they could go see or do. Instead, traveling inside Bulgaria is a bit of an adventure. It requires quite some patience and organisation, even though many people are willing to provide assistance in English or even in other foreign languages.`
Katerina used to like spending her summers in Nesebe, but most of her pleasure disappeared after the construction of another set of mass-produced hotels. She is now looking for a different favourite place, which is not easy with so many new buildings being pulled up from the ground.
Melina (25) tells me that most of the tourists in Bulgaria only make it to the beach and not to the inlands. `Most of the tourists come from the UK, Ireland, Romania, Germany and Russia and they tend to stick to the coast. I don`t find them to be particularly friendly in general. They behave in an arrogant way, as if they are better than the people they are visiting. They like to comment on how cheap everything is in Bulgaria, but for us it is not cheap at all. And we don`t like people who behave uncivilized simply because it`s `so cheap`.
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