Technically, this was not the first time I saw the sea this year. In January, I saw the Atlantic as my plane took off from New York City, ran around on a beach on the Pacific when I was in LA and in May, I went to a concert in Barcelona’s harbor, which overlooked the Mediterranean.
But, no matter how many seas or oceans I’ve been around, it still feels special to see the Black Sea for the first time each summer.
It all started when I was a child and my parents would ship me off with my grandma and grandfather to the Black Sea coast, where I would spend the allotted two weeks of vacation every year. It was something I looked forward to, even though vacationing with my grandparents – who were much less lenient and more responsible than my parents, had its own set of rules bound to annoy my four-year old self. Some of them – like the mandatory daily afternoon naps and the unavoidable snacks between meals, are something I would love to have imposed on me now. Others, like being allowed to only spend a few minutes in the water and not setting foot on the beach unless I was slathered in sunscreen, were undeniably tragic.
Strangely enough, one of the things that I remember best about the seaside is the actual journey there. In the 1980s, making your way from Sofia to the seaside was quite an ordeal: after weeks of preparations, we would start at an ungodly hour in the morning. Cars and roads of the 1980s and my four-year-old car-sickness being what they were, the trip would take the better part of a whole day. Sometimes, we would even stop and spend a night somewhere in the middle before continuing on to the coast. So, understandably my anticipation would build up and I would spend the best of the remaining 100 or so kilometers of the trip with my nose pressed against the window, impatiently waiting to catch a first glimpse of the sea.
And then, finally, I would see it! The glorious, shimmering sea, with the late afternoon light reflected off its surface. My carsickness, heat exhaustion and grumpiness would suddenly vanish and I would inhale its smell deep into my chest.
Things are different now. Going to the seaside is no longer a huge ordeal undertaken once a year. With faster cars, better roads and more freedom for people to choose when and where they vacation, going to the seaside has become a much more casual affair. As a result, I usually go several times each summer, just for a few days at a time. There are no weeks of packing or whole days of travel involved – typically, I decide to go last minute, throw a few t-shirts and a swimsuit in a bag and head out the door. The trip, now, can take as little as four hours in a car.
One thing, however, hasn’t changed. Seeing the Black Sea for the first time, every time, still feels magical. I still catch myself spending the last 100 or so kilometers of the trip impatiently peeking over the dashboard for that first glimpse of the sea, even if I had just seen it the week or the month before.
Last weekend was the first time I went to the Black Sea coast this year. For most of the four days I spent there, the weather was cold, cloudy, rainy and windy. But it didn’t matter. I had my eyes on the sea and my feet on the sand.