Our final stop in Varna was at the Sunny Days resort complex, where at last I could gaze upon the Black Sea. I looked across the water to the east, towards Georgia and Armenia. Tall, white hotels rose from the sand, not spaced so closely as to wall off the view but still dominating the shoreline. We were conducted to the luncheon buffet in one of the grandest of these hotels.
The Palace Hotel was luxurious, especially by Bulgarian standards. Most of the staff spoke at least a little English. There were fresh flowers arranged in marble vases in the lobby. The tables were covered in white linen and set with an unstinting assortment of glassware, most of it clean. The food was of lesser quality than the fare on the ship, but it was plentiful and varied. There were quite a few vegetarian dishes and, best of all, a selection of cakes worth photographing.
The sugary banquet did not keep us from the beach for long. We removed our shoes, rolled up our pants, and waded into the sea. It was tepid, though the breeze and lack of sunshine made me feel cool. I washed my face with the mildly saline water. The Black Sea did not smell briny, owing to the high volume of fresh water that it receives from rainfall and the rivers that empty into it. The Black Sea basin has little tidal variation, so we could have stayed in the shallows indefinitely, watching the coral-billed terns flying over the steel-colored water. I was very happy, having attained a goal that I had not realized, until then, was so important to me: I had reached the Black Sea.