Traveling the world one gymnastics meet at a time

Veliko Tarnovo, Varna, Gymnastics, and Godzila

I visited Bulgaria for the third time for the Varna World Challenge Cup.

Following the rather crappy few weeks in Spain, I flew to Bucharest and took a very long train ride to the northern Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo. I spent roughly twenty-two hours there before departing for Varna for the Varna World Challenge Cup. I obviously did not see much while there but met some very nice people during my stay that left a very positive impression of the city.
I usually screenshot directions to the hostel, bookmarks the hostel on Google Maps, and caches Google Maps so that even when I do not have wifi I can use the GPS on my phone to find my hostel.  I also generally can find wifi when I arrive in a city but I arrived at the train station in Veliko Tarnovo and realized I was in the middle of nowhere. I dodged the aggressive cab driver attempting to lure me into his overpriced cab and while doing so the lady in the ticket window and all the other people at the train station left. I attempted to walk to the hostel from the train station but the road led to woods in both directions. I backtracked to the station and asked the only people still there who were waiting for a ride if they knew the location of the hostel. The people did not speak English and I got ready to cry because what else does one do when one is somewhat lost without wifi, data, or a map in the middle of Bulgaria. Luckily only two seconds later the ride for the last remaining passengers arrived and he spoke perfect English! He pulled up directions to the hostel on his phone, I snapped a picture, thanked him profusely, and headed on my way.

I walked along a road without a sidewalk for quite a while and eventually reached the town center. I still did not know quite where I was in relation to the hostel and stopped in the tourist information center for more directions. The man in the tourist info center provided me with excellent directions but also suggested I take a cab. Heeding his advice, I hopped in a cab and eventually arrived at the hostel where I showered, ate a quick dinner, and went to sleep.
The next day I ate the delicious free hostel breakfast and walked to the bus station where I boarded on a bus heading in the wrong direction. I eventually realized my error and by “realized” I mean someone said I was in his seat, looked at my ticket when I argued with him, and he said that bus would go to Sofia rather than Varna. I hopped off the bus and waited for her bus which would arrive in half an hour.

I stood around the bus station and a girl around my age approached me and said a few words in Buglarian including “Varna” and pointed at the bus. I rightfully assumed the girl asked if that was the bus for Varna and said “No, Sofia…Varna…soon.” The girl noticed that I spoke English and became very excited to practice her English. She asked me  where I was from and when I said Boston the girl talked about she had heard that the leaves all turn different colors in fall in Boston. I continued speaking with the girl until they parted ways when the correct bus arrived.

I arrived in Varna and booked it 2KM directly to the arena because I had already missed the morning qualification session. I arrived in time for the second qualification session but I was drenched in sweat due to carrying my bag 2Km while wearing a million layers. I had held onto my winter clothing under the delusion that I would need them when I eventually returned to Iceland. 

Following the first day of qualifications I checked into the hostel which ended up being one of her strangest hostel experiences. The showers did not have hot water, which is “just how showers in Bulgaria are” according to the receptionist. I found this statement extremely odd considering I had not had any issues with hot water in any of the three other cities I had visited in Bulgaria. The free breakfast consisted of two pieces of white bread per person per morning. Also, usually hostels are decorated so guests do not feel like they are sleeping in an asylum of some sort but this hostel felt exactly like an asylum. Most hostels provide guests with a map of the city and offer some advice on places to visit but the receptionist handed me my keys and immediately returned to Tinder or whatever she was playing on her phone. In other circumstances, such as one where I did not have a gymnastics competition to attend, I might have been more bothered by this hostel but it served its purpose as a place to sleep. For the record, I was very bothered by the room temperature shower water.


I spent the next few days watching the Varna World Challenge Cup, wandering around Varna, finally seeing the Black Sea and eating an abundance of pizza from Godzila Pizza. The photo below says it all. I left Varna and went back to Sofia, the city that I enjoy more and more and where I does less and less every time I return.


godzilagymnasticstravelvarna world challenge cupveliko tarnovo

Kerry Joyce • 03/07/2016

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