The other day there was an article on SevenStreets that reminded me of what can happen when a place forgets its heritage, when they forget what made it great. The article discussed how Liverpool built up its culture and heritage and then sold it. Tesco on every corner. Pushing out the local culture in favour of cheap stuff that sells. Yay. This reminded me of my travels round Europe and how touts and tourism have taken over. I saw this most recently and extensively in Bulgaria and while it didn’t have a Tesco but there were times when the tourism trade there depressed me.
Nessebar and Sozopol are coastal towns in Bulgaria. Nessebar used to be a fishing village and over the centuries it was conquered by everyone. To that end there are over 30 churches on this tiny island. It’s a World Heritage Site now and in the early hours of the morning it’s beautiful. Fishermen head off to catch and later sell fresh fish. Boats bob around in the dock. The sun peaks through the wonderful architecture and drips down cobbled streets. It’s beautiful. They are both beautiful towns.
By 10 o’clock the wind changes. Buses and boats arrive. Tourists invade from the nearby resort called Sunny Beach. Yes, thats right. The Bulgarian town called Sunny Beach. It’s a name that translates as “OMG Booze!” So by 10am tourists are falling off the buses and seeing the sights. By 10am the beautiful streets of Nessebar are all but hidden by street sellers. Unfortunately these aren’t the same kind of market traders that Liverpool is quickly killing off. These are tourist trappers selling shiny things. Everything is in English. There’s a lot of cheap plastic and few real traditional cultural items to admire and take home. The cyrillic alphabet is beautiful and exotic and we searched everywhere for souvenirs with that authentic local flavour, but the only thing we found with cyrillic text on was a solar powered plastic flower. Yay culture.
By lunch time you can’t go anywhere without a tout trying to get you into their restaurant. Many streets were filled with touts trying to get you in. It’s a gauntlet. By lunch time I was depressed by it all. Nessebar is beautiful. Really beautiful. Its history stretches back over three millennia. It has been settled by Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byantians, Turks and Bulgarians. But here we were surrounded by tshirts, hats, perfumes, weapons (?!?!) and furs. It’s a World Heritage Site which surely must mean something. Apparently it meant that you could slap tourist traps all over it without anyone batting an eye lid.
I must stress that this isn’t an issue isolated to Bulgaria. I’ve seen it all over Europe. Any tourist spot is crawling with people selling cheap wares. The steps by Sacré Cœur in Paris and can’t watch the sunset over Paris without someone trying to sell you a keyring. The beaches in Valencia where you can’t relax in the sun without someone offering you shades, clothes or a massage. Duomo di Milano in Milan where as soon as I left the subway someone was pushing touristy key rings on me. I guess that Bulgaria was the last straw because I loved my stay there. In the early hours before the tourist buses arrived we walked the city. Beautiful. Stunning architecture. Lovely people. After our walk we enjoyed breakfast and then rested on the little beach by the hotel. We swam, we ate, we enjoyed a cold beer and in the early evening as the sun was heading home for the night we were serenaded by an accordion player. Beautiful.
I’ll be doing a positive look at what I thought was the real Bulgaria in the coming weeks.
So please, don’t lose focus Liverpool. Don’t chase the easy money. Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Do remember your heritage. The continuing success of the cruise terminal, for example, is a great boost for the city. Liverpool was built by shipping so its great to see the Mersey getting busier and busier. We fought for that. I don’t want to see other parts of the city get sold out. Fight for it because when we fight for what we want we get things like this (pic below).