The Many Charms of Varna - Bulgaria

I wasn't expecting to like Varna, Bulgaria. It's a big city on the Black Sea on Bulgaria's eastern coastline. In fact, Varna is the biggest city and port on the Black Sea.But it's most famous as a huge beach party destination in summer. I've seen photos of Varna's beaches - jam-packed with rows and columns of beach chairs and umbrellas. So many that you can barely see the sand. And, of course, the beaches are backed by bars, restaurants and cafes galore.That is not my idea of an enjoyable beach whatsoever. In fact, that's the kind of place I avoid like the plague.So I was inclined to completely skip Varna.But the city is also reputed to be full of beautiful historic architecture. And that I definitely like.In addition, I was assigned to review one luxury boutique hotel there. So I was learning towards visiting Varna despite its crowded party beach reputation. In any event, I didn't get over to the Black Sea coast until November, which is way off season for Varna and its lively beach party scene. As it turns out, Varna in November is very peaceful, quiet and nearly empty. That I like. Even so, I was not prepared to fall head over heels for Varna. But that's just what happened on my very first day out and about in the city!Truth be told, Varna's meager historical architecture was a let down. Sadly, Varna only has a handful of remaining historic buildings scattered about its historic district.Mostly they city has been over-run by ugly, non-descript boxy modern buildings, with just a few beautiful old buildings wedged in between. And Varna's much bigger new city is considerably uglier.The city's lack of beautiful architecture is another reason I was so surprised to fall for Varna. Usually I only like cities filled with gorgeous buildings. And considering all the stunning European cities I've seen this year, my standards have probably become even higher. But Varna has quite different attractions. Things that quickly made me decide to stay in Varna for one entire month, despite the cold, cloudy November weather rolling in.Street cats are wandering all over Varna – on the main pedestrian walkways, outside shops & restaurants, in Varna’s vast park, on the beaches and along the long coastal walkways. There are so many cats that you can’t fail to see at least a few on any walk in the city, no matter where you go. Most of the cats are very healthy, with clear eyes, thick glossy fur and full bellies. People here feed the cats daily. Many people take food out to specific cats or to specific locations. Other people toss over food craps from their meals at restaurants & cafes, where cats sit by patiently awaiting their free hand-outs.Some of the cats are still wary enough of people that they won’t let anyone touch them. But many cats love getting pet, scratched and even picked up and cuddled. I pet as many of them as I can. Needless to say, as a major cat lover, Varna is a paradise for me simply because of its cats.Nearly every day here I head out for a walk, cat food in my bag, and find several cats to feed, pet and sit with. I have my favorites, ‘my cats’, that I visit frequently, and others that I meet along the way. Varna’s massive coastal park is one of the best city parks I’ve ever seen any where in the world. It’s right up there with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (one of my other all-time favorites).Sea Garden was created back in 1886 by Varna’s founding fathers and a French landscape / horticulturist, who designed the vast grounds and imported thousands of species of trees and other plants from all over the globe. The huge upper part of the park rests on a bluff above the coast and ocean down below. It’s filled with a variety of different areas – pine forests, deciduous forests, a wide landscaped promenade leading to a huge statue, performance areas, children’s parks, walkways along the edge of the bluff with look-out points, a couple restaurants, the Astonomical Observatory and a petting zoo.