Wish you were here? (Or home!)

DO you remember that sinking feeling when you were invited to the home of friends for a drink and a mardle, walked into their front room…and found a screen and a cine-film or slide projector ready so your hosts could entertain you with their latest holiday pictures?

Today it is my turn! I am going to tell you all about the holiday Mrs Peggotty and I enjoyed in July, and show you some snaps!

Mrs Peggotty and I regularly vow never to take another holiday because we are fed up with the travelling: airports (and the Norwich International accursed �10 so-called Airport Development Fee to board a flight there), expensive car parking, queues, lengthy security searches, delays, grossly over-priced food and drink and all the other down-sides.

But we continue to break our own vows and head off somewhere, arguing that the down-sides are a necessary evil for our week in the sun.

We did so again this summer when we spotted an advertisement in the Mercury for a cut-price holiday in Bulgaria - a country we had never visited and which we struggled to locate in an atlas. We had booked it within the hour.

Our resort was Sunny Beach, an Anglicised name which became Sonnerstrand on picture postcards aimed at German customers. It comprises hundreds of hotels plus the expected plethora of open-front tourist-aimed shops, fast-food outlets, restaurants, bars, fun-fair attractions…

The flight from Norwich took under three hours. Our hotel had 350 bedrooms accommodating about 700 guests, only 100 or so of them British but most (judging from their languages) from Romania and other ex-Soviet bloc nations, plus some Germans.

Most Read

Sunny Beach is perfectly named: hot sunshine from blue skies, a five-mile pebble-free beach of pure white sand, transparently clean sea with water warm yet refreshingly cool in the heat, and hundreds of identical white parasols and blue-and-white sunbeds arranged in perfect geometrical lines and occupying a depth of about 50 yards of the shore from water’s edge. Lifeguards were stationed remarkably close to one another and a launch was constantly on inshore patrol. There were umpteen parascenders, banana boats, crazy inflatables and other popular seaside fun activities.

The oft-repeated good-health message in Britain is to cover up against the sun – countered by those who claim the lack of vitamin D derived from sunlight is causing harm. Look on our local beaches nowadays and protective clothing is prevalent in summer.

But although gallons of sun protection creams, oils and lotions were being used in Bulgaria, there was no evidence of covering up. Everyone was determined to get maximum exposure to the sun, it seemed - it was why they had chosen to holiday there.

Generally the visitors were smartly dressed in holiday apparel. Beachwear was tasteful. And (sorry, Yarmouth) we saw scarcely any overweight and scruffily attired holidaymakers that are evident in Regent Road and along our Golden Mile.

And although this may take some believing, during our week at Sunny Beach we did not see one electric invalid buggy or mobility scooter or whatever we call them. It must be a British phenomenon, the prevalence of these buggies that cause pedestrians to keep a wary lookout as they walk our pavements and be on constant alert to dodge the marauding motorised aids.

While Sunny Beach in Bulgaria apparently had no buggies – perhaps its visitors are fully capable, or cannot afford them - there were plenty of other forms of so-called transport for its holidaymakers.

For a start, there were landaus, the only difference between the Bulgarian ones and those that have been an anachronistic attraction in Yarmouth for many decades being that ours are drawn by one horse at a gentle clip-clop whereas their Sunny Beach counterparts were pulled by a pair at brisk canter, red cockades on their heads.

What else for visitor transport? Electric three-wheel scooters not much larger than those conventional two-wheelers that were once a kiddies’ toy but are very much in vogue among teenagers in 2012. They nipped around at speed, weaving between pedestrians, sometimes driven by a youngster, or by a dad with his young child standing in front of him. Golf buggies were also in evidence as a means of getting about. Inevitably, there were street trains.

Landaus warned people of their presence by honking a horn; the trains rang a strident bell.

I suspect Mercury editor Anne Edwards will suffer pangs of nostalgia when I report that one of the most popular forms of tripper transport for families in Sunny Beach is still...the four-wheeled family cycle about which she wrote wistfully in early summer, illustrating her recollections with a family picture snapped in Yarmouth in the Fifties.

Tony Moore, a visitor for yonks, had e-mailed the Mercury about the lack of cycles for hire here, despite the vast number of holidayakers. The tourism information centre told him the nearest place to hire bikes was 15 miles away, and he commented that he thought someone was missing a great commercial opportunity to fill the void.

So editor Anne illustrated his suggestion with a snap of herself, sister and Dad on one of the family pedal-arounds they hired daily from the South Denes during annual holidays here more than half a century ago.

She would find them still abundant and popular in Sunny Beach despite advances in transport technology.

Disregarding the unapppetising food, we enjoyed our week in Sunny Beach. But a dark and chilling side emerged after we returned home to Peggotty’s Hut Gorleston.

As we had sat in the departure lounge of the provincial little Bourgas Airport at 5am, we idly noted its range of destinations, among them Israel’s Tel Aviv. But only three days after that flight back to Norwich, a suicide bomber - casually dressed, and carrying a back-pack - attacked a coach carrying Israeli tourists at Bourgas Airport, killing seven and injuring more than 30.

Holidays at home suddenly seemed a good idea...