Bulgaria's North-East (like most of its other extremities) is pretty poor. It has known better days. The Black Sea was like a mill pond yesterday – and the blue skies and sun had Balchik’s small promenade full. The small town which clings to the white sandstone cliffs is popular with both Bulgarians and Romanians – it is only 30 kilometres or so from the border and did indeed belong to Romania for almost 30 years. After the Second Balkan War, in 1913, the town, styled Balcic, became part of the Kingdom of Romania and was much loved by its Queen Mary. It was regained by Bulgaria during World War I (1916–1919), but Romania restored its authority when hostilities in the region ceased. Quite a lot of the Romanian bourgeoisie built villas - many of which have collapsed due to the soil subsidence which is a problem in the area.
But in 1940, just before the outbreak of World War II in the region, Balchik was ceded by Romania to Bulgaria. When we were last here - 10 years ago (on the way back from a trip to Turkey) - our landlady lowered her voice to speak Romanian.
The town’s art gallery has apparently paintings from that period by Romanian artists – who were charmed by the strong muslim air the town had in those days. The gallery’s website understandably uses the language of "occupation” when it talks about “the group of eleven Romanian artists who have painted Balchik during the occupation of Dobroudzha”. The group includes two favourites of mine - Alexandru Satmari and Samuel Mutzner. Many Bulgarian artists have taken the air here - not least Mario Zhekov (I don't think the villa shown in this painting of his survives) - and the area also boasts famous cliffs further north.
Sadly, however, the permanent collection was closed - due to reconstruction (as with Shumen, the charming young woman could offer no firm date for its re-opening). But a few of the Romanian paintings were on display - as well as a temporary exhibition of paintings by an 84 year old Nedelcho Nanov - mostly miniatures of the area painted variously in the 1960s and 2000s.
He is now based in Sofia - and this "Interior" was, for me, particularly intriguing.
A trip north to Kavarna - which was also a painter's haunt - was, however, disappointing. The town has been built back from the sea - and a curious remote stretch of road leads to the sea and to an eerie ghost town of half-finished modern blocks of tourist flats. The one positive feature of the town was its gleaming new sports facilities.....
A forest of wind turbines as we approached the town suggested a progressive mayor - but turned out to be linked to horrific new golf courses and the usual allien complexes of the rich associated with them. There was even a special Italian/Bulgarian furniture chain standing at the side of the road out of Balchik catering for these aliens. "Green" electricity is apparently more expensive than the local!
Tomorrow we hope to see the Dobrich Art Gallery collection the way back to Sofia (they assure me that it is possible to see the permanent exhibits!). That gallery offers a first for Bulgarian regional galleries – a blog!