Open letter to the Mayor of Varna

05/09/2010 by Christopher Buxton

My dear Mayor of Varna,

First, may I offer my condolences following Chernomore’s home defeat at the hands of Chernomoretz Burgas!

I mention this in the context of the friendly rivalry that our two great Black Sea cities have enjoyed over the years. Competition – as I am sure the UK’s new Prime Minister believes – is a great stimulus for positive development. I am sure that the great port of Varna would not want to be seen as lagging behind its southern rival in any sphere – let alone the attention it pays to road signing. Bulgarian traditions of hospitality demand that the stranger be first welcomed and then efficiently directed to his preferred destination.

On Saturday we had to drive from my home town of Burgas to pick up some friends from England who had been routed to Varna airport. Starting from our flat at the end of the People’s Fist Complex, we followed signs for Varna (and for Burgas airport). The signs were prominent at every significant crossroads and roundabout. And so twenty minutes later you can picture us happily motoring past the Mutra-baroque hotels on the edge of Pomorie, secure in the knowledge that despite the discouraging view we were on the right track.

Through Byala and Obzor, enjoying the view of ripening melons in Priseltsi, we counted down the kilometres to our destination.

As our tires kissed the tarmac of the great bridge spanning the Varna inlet, we felt confident that this great city would not get us lost. We knew that shortly after the bridge we would have to circle round and drive west, but thereafter there would surely be plenty of signs.

Our sad conclusion is that Varna is ashamed of its airport. From our leaving the Burgas road, we saw not one sign for the airport until the very last roundabout where a tiny sign had been put in as an afterthought. Never mind! We had some idea that the airport lay to the west of Varna so first as we rounded the looping exit from the Burgas road we followed signs for Sofia.

You will now picture us bumping along a road flanked by railway lines and derelict warehouses. This must be the right direction and so we go straight on at two roundabouts. Ooops! Was that a sign hidden by a leafy bush. But we go straight on ignoring a turn to the right that looks like a Sahara Desert track. Doubt seizes us and we stop in a handy petrol station.

My wife jumps out. The petrol pump attendant is a proud Varna citizen but he freely admits that the signage system in Varna is crap. He directs us backwards. We should have taken the Sahara track. We should look for a Metro supermarket, turn left and I’d be at the airport. So we leave Devnya Street named aptly after the sprawling Chemical Works that blights the valley to the west of Varna, and set off down a dusty bumpy track. Giant craters open up slowing our progress to a stately five kilometres an hour. Ahead I have to swerve to avoid an oncoming driver who has left his side of the dust track to avoid enormous potholes. Two unsigned roundabouts later and hurrah we see the Metro sign. I slow at the traffic lights lower my window and call to local driver who waves me down a road to the left. This doesn’t look like the road to the airport. It’s a long straight single track lined with parked cars and scrap metal dealerships. Gulping scepticism we drive its length to join a piece of motorway with signs to Dobrich. We come to a roundabout. Now desperate I decide to drive all the way round it. There might just be a sign at one of the intersections.

Bingo! We have spotted the only sign for Varna Airport. This unique collector’s item pokes a shy finger off the roundabout. In thirty seconds I am parking in the generous airport car park.

As we sat in the airport café, my wife and I wondered why the Varna council could be so ashamed of its airport. What scandal could have so besmirched this place that its very existence would be put in doubt? We were sipping from our tiny cartons of pineapple juice enjoying the view of Germans hefting bags into tour coaches drawn up ready to drive them to heavenly hotels. I called for the bill and as I scanned it and drew a deep breath, I grasped at least one explanation.

I now understand that someone has sold the Airport restaurant concession to some make-money-quick merchant. The charge for the juice carton which costs 50 stotinki in any kiosk was five leva, a thousand percent mark-up. I dread to think what a farewell beer would have cost a passenger waiting for a delayed plane.

Irritating though it was to pay ten leva for a few sips of pine-apple, I think that trying to hide the airport is a bit of an overreaction to this minor example of profiteering.

Our guests arrived and in a short while we were driving forth, looking for signs to the city of dreams. I cannot fault the signs for leaving Varna. Unlike Constanza which is so hospitable it will not easily release its visitors, Varna cannot get rid of them too quickly.