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Burgas: The Picturesque Spot at the Black Sea

When you get to Burgas, it is time to put on your bikini. Here, you can hop into the Black Sea, but you might smell the big oil refinery at night. Because of Corona and the war in Ukraine, those big cruise ships are staying away these days.

Burgas, Bulgaria, April 5th, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — When Roman coins minted from the 1st to 4th centuries are found in a city, it is safe to say that it has quite a history. Burgas, which was part of the former Roman province known as Thrace, is one of those places. Much later, the Ottoman Empire controlled the city. In the mid-16th century, the Port of Burgas was already mentioned in documents.

Because of Corona and Russia’s war against Ukraine, Burgas will not welcome too many tourists this year. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Fear of War

Burgas is Bulgaria’s fourth-largest city. ‘Trakiya Freeway’, the main traffic artery that connects the Bulgarian capital Sofia to Burgas, was obviously named after Thrace. Part of it is about as bumpy as ancient roads must have been. By car, the trip from Sofia to this port city ends after about four hours. First, the Lukoil Neftochim Burgas refinery will be in sight. Those who race across another hill, will see the city and the sea.

The former communist party HQ now houses the city’s courts. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Lukoil is just as Russian as the war of aggression against Ukraine. From Burgas, Odessa, Ukraine’s big port city, is only 500 kilometers away. Only the Black Sea separates Burgas from Mariupol, a city that was just flattened by the Russians. A 63-year-old lady who has been living right here at the Bulgarian coast all her life told the author she had hardly slept during the first two weeks of the war because she was afraid it could come to Burgas too. The same woman is one of several residents who said the refinery was polluting the city. Depending on the direction the wind was taking, its smell was all over the city at night. Everyone in Burgas knows where the air pollution is coming from, but there are no environmentalists. No protests are being staged. Nothing is being done against the problem.

The Lukoil refinery pollutes the air in Burgas, residents say. Photo by Nasomatrix (license)

Souvenirs and Beer Cans

Before the war in Ukraine, and before Corona, Burgas was invaded by Russian tourists a lot. To them, the Bulgarian Black Sea coast is paradise. They disembarked cruise ships that stopped at the big port and filled the pedestrian zone in the city center. The crowds entered souvenir shops and purchased little items. They bought all the beer cans available, but failed to eat at Burgas’ many restaurants. That is because the food they got on those ships was included in the price they paid for their cruises. All in all, the cruise ships brought more pollution than income. Now, they are gone.

Some parts of Burgas still spread ‘communist charm’, more than three decades after the big changes. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

So are those regular tourists, from Russia and Western Europe. When the world was still standing, before Corona hit and before the war in Ukraine began, Bulgaria, a small nation of 7 million inhabitants, counted up to 9 million foreign tourists per year. Many of them came through Burgas on their way to Bulgaria’s terrible and overcrowded beach resort Slanchev Briag (‘Sunny Beach’), or to much nicer ones, such as Kavarna (read feature ‘Bulgaria’s Kavarna, where the Sun Rises in the North‘) in the very north, at the Bulgarian-Romanian border, or Sinemorets in the south (read feature ‘Sinemorets: Stunning Views and Fridge-Sized Insects‘).

A train ride from Sofia to Burgas can take 7 hours, even though the distance is only 380 kilometers (236 miles). Photo: Imanuel Marcus

War Refugees at Beach Resorts

Back then, the tourist wave started hitting in May and receded in September. This year, the tourism industry in Burgas and all along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast is not optimistic at all. At this stage, some hotels are accommodating Ukrainian war refugees. In Burgas, the nice little Hotel Doro is almost empty. There is a Ukrainian family and the editor of a publication called The Berlin Spectator with his big daughter. They are visiting his smaller kids who are two of Burgas’ 200,000 inhabitants.

The former communist regime built this memorial for the victims of fascism in the Sea Garden, but none for its own victims. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Especially when the refinery does not stink, during the day, the children of Burgas grow up at a nice spot. During the warm season, which usually is rather long down here, they have the Sea Garden, a park located right next to the beach, with many little playgrounds they can spend the day at. And they have the beach itself. Jumping into the Black Sea feels good, especially at spot that are far away from the Port of Burgas. The closer you get to the port, the more the water stinks.

Burgas has Bulgaria’s largest port. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Black Sea in Bad State

All in all, the Black Sea is in a bad state. The fact that Bulgaria still does not have enough sewage plants causes issues. At some crowded beach resorts, tourists swim into items nobody wants to get in contact with or mention in features about Burgas. But there were much bigger problems when the six former communist states around the Black Sea, including Bulgaria, built part of their industry at the beach and did not give a damn about environment protection. The Black Sea is dirty. It’s eco system might collapse soon, some experts believe.

Located outside the city, in the middle of nowhere, the tiny ‘Burgas Zoo’ houses two White Wolves. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In 2012, Burgas Airport became a crime scene when Islamist terrorists bombed a bus with Israeli tourists. Five of them died. So did a Bulgarian bus driver. Many people were injured. The terror organization Hezbollah was made responsible for the deadly attack.

Burgas Beach is a nice place. The water quality is not too high. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Shade, Cats and Music

These days, Burgas is quiet, and it might stay this way all summer long. In the city’s big pedestrian zone, a few locals sit at café tables. They walk their dogs at the Sea Garden and appear at those playgrounds with their kids or grandchildren. In July and August, when Burgas’ average temperature is 29 degrees Centigrade (85 degrees Fahrenheit), they will need the shade-giving trees at the park.

The pedestrian zone will probably remain sort of empty this year. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Someone should create a coffee table book full of photos of the cats of Burgas. They are everywhere. Shooting pics of the ‘communist charm’ Burgas still has is another task. Today, those typical apartment blocks the Sofia regime had erected, back then, are still here. So are certain monuments the communist regime had built. July Morning, an annual music festival, takes place at Burgas’ beach on June 30th. This year, the Bosnian multi-instrumentalist and composer Goran Bregovic will be there.

Burgas is a picturesque spot that is far more liveable than Sofia. But there obviously are issues. One of them is the pollution, another the lack of jobs. Many young residents go to Sofia or abroad for that reason.

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