What happens in Sunny Beach, stays in Sunny Beach … Well unless one of the participants is a keen blogger like myself! Don’t worry vets of the future, if you’re reading this I’ll try to keep it clean! For all those of you who are sat scratching your heads at the concept of Grad holiday, let me explain….. It is a deep-seated tradition that every year the soon to be graduating class of vets at Liverpool University goes en masse for a week of sun and frivolities before we go our separate ways into the world of work. It’s essentially our last hurrah before our university years are behind us and something looked forward to with anticipation as the “light at the end of the tunnel” during final exams. This year we went to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria and for all my sins I was one of the lucky four who volunteered to organise our pilgrimage and coordinate 90 vet students, navigating the trials of an all-inclusive holiday in one of the party capitals of Eastern Europe.
*DISCLAIMER – If you are likely to get offended or upset about tales of university students drinking, dancing and getting merry on a party holiday then please read no further. Be safe in the knowledge that no illegal activities occurred and we were by in large incredibly well behaved but some people still like take offence at the vets of the future daring to have a life and let their hair down once in a while. Rant over!
Day 1 – The Pilgrimage!
So let’s start from the beginning….. On a gloriously ( and uncharacteristically) hot summer’s day in the UK, two coaches pulled up outside the ALDI in Neston ( where all great ventures begin if you’re a Liverpool vet student) where the drivers were greeted by a hoard of excited faces, matching novelty t-shirts donned, ready to get their tan on!
When we arrived at Manchester airport, I don’t think staff or holiday goers alike quite knew what had hit them… We began by causing an airport traffic standstill while enlisting the traffic coordinator to take a huge group photo outside airport departures. As we formed a mile-long queue at the Sunny Beach check-in desk you could see the other passengers staring in horror as the realisation hit them that they made up the few seats on the plane that we hadn’t claimed for the vet school. Their confused and intrigued faces were staring trying to work out if we were some sort of sports team or the biggest stag/hen-do in the world. Alice, fellow “cult leader” as somebody appropriately put it, somehow managed to look glamorous, even at an airport! She strutted through departures in skin-tight white trousers and wedges with blonde hair and hooped earrings swinging barking orders at those dawdling at the back of our group in her unmistakable Northern accent.
We somehow managed to get to Burgas airport and onto the transfer buses in one piece with all students and luggage accounted for – stage one complete! Hotel Pomorie on the Sunny Beach strip, was awaiting our arrival with suspicious looking sandwiches (more on the food later) and so began the record-breakingly slow process of checking in. We all finally stumbled into bed at 4 am, excitedly anticipating a day of sun and sea after a decent night’s sleep.
Day 2 – Not-so Sunny Beach
We awoke to a grey sky and the threats of rain, sunny beach most certainly didn’t deliver on our first day! But being “very British” about the whole thing, we stubbornly donned swimwear anyway and headed to the pool. After coming across Jack, Alex and Rhys we discovered their night had not been quite so peaceful as ours…. Jack recounted the night’s events with great hilarity of Alex’s full-blown diva tantrum over refusing to be on the pull-out sofa bed (proving that even at 25 years old, we are clearly not immune to over-tiredness) and the full-on wrestling match that ensued (which apparently could have been mistaken for some sort of odd courtship ritual) whilst Alex was determinedly trying to steal one of the proper beds from Rhys. Not quite the sort of drama any of us were expecting, but that trio can always be counted on for some comedy!
We all spent the day by the pool determinedly trying to soak up the few rays that broke through the clouds and braving the Arctic pool water with inflatable lobsters, unicorns and the like. At mid-morning while everyone else was trying to sun themselves, the grad holiday reps went on a mission to scope out the area and find our rep for the week – a 27-year-old who looked about 35 who claimed ( whilst knocking back a San Miguel at 10am) in a voice hoarse from too much partying that he was never up this early in the morning ( possibly one of the reasons he hadn’t aged so well…). I’m not sure if we were his usual kind of clientèle but anyway, we came back bearing wristbands. Now to say we were all soon to be graduating a well recognised veterinary degree from a Russel Group University… There were an alarming number of us who really struggled with the simple concept of putting a wristband on; One girl nearly cut her circulation off while Rhys ( one of the comedy trio) managed to tighten his, before he got it on his wrist so had to wear a “party ring” for the rest of the holiday ( I’m sure there’s a saying about intelligence and common sense being inversely proportion …well, it definitely applied here!).
When Sunday evening approached, the more lively amongst us braved the strip for their first night partying. Fancying something a little quieter, a group of us went to investigate one of the beach bars instead and dip our toes in the curling waves of the black sea. This particular bar served the best cocktails of the entire holiday and we lounged on beanbags with our toes in the candlelit sand and watched the sunset turn the sky the neon pink and orange of a sunny beach UV party. At that moment, we could have been anywhere… And then someone was catapulted screaming into the air on the bungee pod above us and we were all promptly snapped back to the reality that we were in fact in the party capital of Eastern Europe! As we trundled back to the hotel when the light had finally left us, we spotted a vendor selling GIGANTIC pizza slices for 2 Lev. This became the staple snack stop for the rest of the week to satisfy the drunken munchies of vet students… Those pizza fellows must have made an absolute killing that week!
Day 3 – Burnt Bodies and a Bar Crawl
That next day was meant to be our only forecast sun of the entire week, so everyone rushed out, some as early as 7am to soak up the most of the sun! Our little group headed to the beach which was a mass of hungover bodies trying to soak up the elusive rays while recovering from the night before. We spent the morning in a suckling pig like fashion trying to tan as best we could, but by the afternoon, many of us realised we may have slightly over-done it… The many pasty white bodies began gradually turning the full spectrum of red!
I’m just going to take a moment here to mention the food at the hotel which was just about edible. My stomach turned at the sight of the tea which looked like day-old dishwater and after taking one sip, it strengthened my resolve to go (shock-horror) tea free for the rest of the trip. Luckily we vet students are used to roughing it so each day we carefully selected the least suspicious looking item on the limited menu and filled up on the all-inclusive drinks provided. The pizza stand mentioned above was also a key element to our survival!
That evening lathered in after-sun and comparing degrees of sunburn, everyone met in the lobby for our very first organised event – The Sunny Beach Bar Crawl. We flocked to the first bar to receive our souvenir t-shirt (which became my best friend for the rest of the holiday to protect my burnt bits), downed our complimentary shot and got geared up to party!
A few bars in we began to get suspicious – those who had been out the night before had frequented many of these bars the previous night and it became apparent that drink prices had doubled especially for the bar crawl. After the previous discussion about lacking common sense, what we were not lacking was the intelligence to figure out that we were being scammed so promptly boycotted the bar crawl and went to find our own fun instead (which for half the vets consisted of stumbling into a bar and becoming an enthusiastic, if somewhat out of tune part of a Madonna tribute act) ….Until our party rep coaxed us back to the bar-crawl with the offer of a free bar (what can I say? We’re easily bought!). The night finished on a high with multiple topless males ( it seems a vet school tradition that the boys are unable to keep their clothes on), vigorous dance moves and multiple members of our posse ending up dancing on the bar.
Big event number one and everyone got back in one piece, though one lad learnt the hard way about not listening to instructions… despite being warned about the vigilantes patrolling the beach waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists “spending a penny” and demand money, he decided to take the risk anyway. He came back nursing a few bruises and a few pennies lighter! So Sunny Beach tourists of the future… You have been warned!
Day 4 – How vet students cure a hangover…
Many a struggling vet student emerged not-so-bright eyed and bushy tailed for a day at the Aqua paradise water park in Nesebar. The weather was muggy and overcast but that did not deter the hoard of vet students from sporting their burnt bodies and getting wet and wild! Many of our cohort first took to the lazy river to catch a few Zs and a much-needed power-up. We saw them floating around sleeping with mouths open in an attempt to re-cooperate from the night’s events.
For those feeling less fragile, there was plenty to give the desired adrenaline rush. One slide in particular which looked like a skateboarding half-pipe had even the bravest people screaming. Everyone’s faces were a picture, in particular, one of our grad holiday reps…
That evening our little group went to Khan’s tent, a restaurant on the hillside providing a 4-course dinner with a show and panoramic views of the bay. It was renowned for being one of the more classy things to do in Sunny Beach and had rave reviews on TripAdvisor. It was also one of the few opportunities we had to dress up in anything that wasn’t a bikini and shorts! However, when we got there, we did get panoramic views… But of rolling black thunderclouds, sheets of rain and huge forks of lightning striking the sea below. The bad weather did nothing to spoil the evening though which truly was one of the best nights we had. The food by Sunny Beach standards was much more edible than what we’d endured at the hotel, but it was the entertainment which was the real show-stopper; It rivalled anything we’ve recently seen on Britain’s Got Talent I can tell you! There were trapeze artists, Can-Can dancers, aerial acrobats, jugglers and a man whose act I’m not really sure how to explain, but involved balancing on a number of things which should be impossible to stand on without ending up in the emergency room! When the tableware was cleared a live band played well-known, feel-good tunes into the night and the floor remained full of swaying bodies for the rest of the evening. I’m sorry Sunny Beach, but at the grand old age of 24, that was much more my kind of party!
Meanwhile back at the hotel, there were multiple reports of vet nudity; several ladies had to be removed from the pool after a night-time dip by a bashful security guard. Another of our girls was greeted by one of the other students who had managed to lock herself out of her hotel room and came looking for assistance. Now, this would not be so unusual if it had not been for the fact that she was fully clothed on the top half and completely “in the buff” on the bottom.
Day 5 – If Miss Trunchbull Ran A Boat Party
The boat party was the most anticipated event of the holiday, it was advertised as a three-hour free bar with a BBQ and multiple swim stops and we were all looking forward to letting our hair down and having a chartered boat party to ourselves. We’d seen one of the party boats with its music blaring, flashing neon lights and off the back slide passing us in the bay… Our boat was not exactly what we expected.
The day turned out to be quite the ‘inbetweeners’ style event beginning with the fact that our party reps had booked us not onto a party boat but a family, pirate-themed ship instead. Now I don’t know if this crew had been told the truth about our expectations but for some reason, they had decided to host us. This would have been fine had it not been for the fact the crew were not exactly in the party mood. I can only describe it as what being on a party boat run by Miss Trunchnbull from Matilda must be like. The captain and first mate ensured there were plenty of rules and stalked around the boat scowling at us, tutting and making threats to kick us off the boat if we looked like we were having too much fun. What was more, we WANTED to be kicked off the boat!! We’d been promised multiple swim stops and when we eventually moored for the one and ONLY swim stop they permitted, in a muggy area just outside the harbour accompanied by jellyfish and floating carrier bags … The fun police were ready to ensure the giggles and good times were limited. One crewman stood on guard like a bad-tempered bull-mastiff preventing more than 20 of us from going in the water at once completely scuppering our ideas of large group photos in the water. Another (let’s call him the distance Nazi) spent his time blowing his stupid whistle and yelling threats at anyone who dared to swim out of the mass of kicking people, trash and jellyfish to a safer spot a few metres from the boat. I wouldn’t mind if these rules were genuinely for health and safety but… we were more likely to be struck down with a life-threatening disease or from swallowing a plastic bag from the water we were swimming in than from us all being in the water at once!
Their health and safety skills, when actually put to the test were, as expected distinctly lacking. Ashley, one of our nearest and dearest had gotten something in her eye and was having quite the unfortuitous reaction to it. We asked for assistance enquiring about some saline solution to irrigate her eye to which after much fumbling around to find said the first-aid kit, it was without anything remotely useful. She did get into character by fabricating herself an eye patch out of plasters though!
Next, it was lunch time and god I was looking forward to that BBQ …..But wait, instead of a freshly cooked, much-anticipated burger, we were all handed a cold cheese and lettuce sandwich, quite the anti-climax! The one thing that was as promised was the free alcohol, though most of the spirits could be used to strip paint and the beer tap was a mere dribble and took 5 minutes to pull half pints.
However, the best is yet to come….2 hours into our promised and paid for 3-hour trip they were back at the harbour dropping anchor. At this point we went to confront Captain Trunchbull to which he told us we were the worst behaved group he’d ever encountered ( not being funny but we were in sunny beach ( case and point) and we were 24+ year old soon to be veterinary professionals and trusted upstanding members of society ( not the standard Sunny Beach Clientèle of 18 year-olds who want to substance abuse and shag themselves into oblivion). We’d be hard-pushed to do anything really that scandalous in Sunny Beach!) and then began to aggressively shove us off the boat. This did not go down very well, as you can imagine so a few fighters for justice cannonballed off the top-deck into the water in protest. I don’t think Captain Trunchbull’s face could have gone a darker shade of purple.
Our party rep had a lot to answer for for the absolute shambles of a boat party they’d organised, as you can imagine, and as a peace offering for the hour free bar we’d missed, he organised us an hour free bar at the club he worked for as compensation – grievances settled.
It was a shame our Sunny Beach party boat hadn’t turned out as planned but we can all look back in amusement and camaraderie at the time we got kicked off a boat for being “too rowdy.”
Day 5- Baring all
For us, it was time to get out of Sunny Beach! Ashley had been doing a bit of research and had stumbled across what was said to be one of the most picturesque beaches in the area and was a short 40-minute drive away. We organised a return taxi to take the 5 of us to Irakli and as we stepped out of the car we were met by sparkling turquoise water and an expanse of soft white sand guarded by the greenery of high-sided cliffs. The reports had not lied, it was beautiful, and what’s more, the weather was on our side and the sun was shining determinedly overhead.
Now what I have thus far neglected to mention was that Irakli beach is a well-known naturist beach. Feeling a safe distance away from the horde of fellow students we decided to go for it – Might as well even up the burn! We found a secluded patch of beach and were about to put our stuff down when a man came running up to us (thankfully clothed) and warned us that in this particular spot there were snakes, we weren’t sure if he meant actual snakes or if it was a metaphor for creepy naked booked hiding in the foliage but either way, we were thankful for the warning and moved further down the beach. Once we were happy with our chosen spot and thoroughly factor 50’d in the sensitive areas, it was time to bare all! I have to say, there’s something very liberating about being completely in the buff on the beach, especially in the sea – I would advocate any brave soul to try it!
As a bit of alternative entertainment that evening we decided to host ‘Sunny Beach Vets got Talent.’ On that stormy evening, vet students congregated to witness the best talent the vet school had to offer ( the weird, the wonderful and the downright mad). The proud winners of this event were Louisa and Sarah who we discovered were incredibly adept at creating witty limericks to poke fun at their fellow students. Their inclusive and imaginative idea won them a paid trip on the banana boat (top quality prizes of course). Although these girls stole the trophy, there needs to be a few honourable mentions…..
First to Graeme and Olly who were forcibly roped into the talent show against their will by fellow organiser Alice for being the epitome of good sports. Despite having no planned routine, they took to the floor anyway and created a comedic act of demonstrating various questionable gymnastic moves.
Another victim of Alice’s recruitment, James who deserves props for doing the most enthusiastic and painful looking worm any of us have ever seen…I’m surprised his kneecaps survived intact!
What the talent show did reveal is that we have an abundance of genuine singing talent! First with the Alpacapellas, then the majority of the girls in our year got up to do their rendition of the ‘Cup Song’ from Pitch Perfect and then we had a beautiful trio by Maddie and two of the four Hannahs on the trip. I can honestly say I’m surprised any of them had voices left after the activities of the week, let alone be able to carry a tune!
Many people got brownie points for sportsmanship too; Johnny for his pretty coordinated juggling with things won from a slot machine, Kay’s vet school version of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ and Rosie’s comical vet school version of the ‘Fresh Prince of Belaire.’
Some of the acts were frankly quite disturbing; We were all equally horrified and amused when Alex and Jack appeared wearing masks of one of our well-known lecturers and did a romantic song and dance number to Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman’s duet of ‘something stupid’ I don’t think anyone can un-see that!
There were also some real eye-openers; Seamus who did a magic trick which while slightly tipsy, still actually worked! Eliot was like a gazelle/ world class show-jumper when he cleared heights almost as tall as him. That boy has a future in the Olympic high jump if veterinary doesn’t work out for him, I still don’t know how he managed it! All I know is that myself and all the other grad holiday reps were sat praying he had holiday insurance in case he broke his neck!
The most hilarious act of the night by far was when Ian’s one-man act suddenly became a duet when our talent show was crashed by a small, aggressive, foul-mouthed bingo caller who unbeknownst to us had been trying to call out bingo numbers below us. While Ian was hosting a sing-along to a well-known Irish song, this angry hamster of a man came storming in lacking any and all British decorum swearing like a sailor wanting a fight. He quickly changed his mind when squaring up to Ian as it looked like a chihuahua was trying to take on a Great Dane and after assessing the situation he sensibly decided the odds were not in his favour. The whole thing was caught on video and I’m sure this little encounter will be remembered for a long time!
Day 6 -An Adrenaline Hit
On our final full day it was time for the ‘Sunny Beach Vets Got Talent’ winners to claim their prizes, and as a self-pat on the back, the grad holiday girls decided to join them to treat ourselves for a job well done! We selected the floating sofa and squashed on ready to be launched across the sea at breakneck speed by a man on a jet ski who looked like a wannabe incredible hulk. It was amazing fun, though Lauren’s face was a picture as she lay sprawled in the bottom of the boat like one of those cats that don’t want to go in the water. Unfortunately at some point during the ride a stray knee connected to Lauren’s eye socket resulting in quite the black eye the next day!
After the morning adrenaline hit we headed out to Nesebar, a local town and UNESCO world heritage site. This old, cobbled town with it’s towering wooden windmill was beautiful and despite being a stone’s throw from Sunny beach, it felt world’s away. We wandered through the picturesque little streets with their wooden shutters and flower boxes marvelling at the ruins of churches and monuments which have been encompassed into the modern town itself. We did some souvenir shopping as here you could find items other than novelty penises which was a welcome relief. We then found a beautiful little restaurant on the seafront with breathtaking views and Beth and I shared a kilogram of mussles in the most fantastic tomato and garlic sauce. We are so many we thought we may explode, but god it was good!
We arrived back at the hotel in time to get ready for our final group event – the Sunny Beach UV party. It is well-known vet students love any form of fancy dress and smothering yourself in UV paint was just as exciting. I was a little disappointed the UV beach party wasn’t actually on the beach (false advertising or what!?) and the DJ really needed lesson in what constituted as good music (in my opinion anyway), but we sipped our bucket of free cocktail and swayed along for a bit until there was a large caffufle on the dance floor. We wandered over to check it out and found ourselves in the middle of a roaring crowd with 6 unsuspecting victims up front who’d been volunteered to play a game. We rolled our eyes at the hideously vulgar rounds which objectified and sexualised the girls – safe to say not our cup of tea and then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… The boys were asked to give the girls a lapdance. The hideously clueless bachelors who could have made quite the comedic show out of doing a proper lap dance, took this to mean clambering on top of the girls and providing a ghastly very public performance of what can only be described as dry humping. We’d had quite enough by the time the game progressed to this public grinding affair (amongst other things that were definitely not featured in your standard lap dance) on the blindly drunk girls with their skirts hooked up under their basoomers (good luck retrieving your dignity girls) and decided it was time to call it a night. As we were leaving one of the staff tried to commandeer us to get us to stay, we tried to shake him off to which he offered us a lap dance ( quite the unusual proposition I must say) we replied we’d just seen a preview of what to expect from such an activity and that performance wasn’t going to get him anywhere!
On the way home, feeling the usual hunger pangs I thought I’d splash out and get a McDonalds…..This idea was quickly scuppered when I discovered the absolute extortion which was taking place £8 for a medium chicken nugget meal!! They were clearly very used to swindling drunk clientèle, personally, I don’t think I could ever be drunk enough to pay that much!! Back to the pizza guys it was!
Day 7 – home sweet home
After saying goodbye to Sunny Beach properly with another ride on the speed sofa boat, this time accompanied by Sasha who too was quite a fan of being launched around at top speed. It was finally time to board the coach to leave for the airport. Many students boarded the coach looking dishevelled and still covered in UV from the night before but once again we managed to get everyone back in one piece minus one stubborn piece of baggage which decided it liked the party life and wanted to remain in Bulgaria.
It’s safe to say I will never go on one of these holidays ever again (one trip to Sunny Beach is well and truly quite enough) but I can also confirm with confidence that I had an amazing and unforgettable experience celebrating “sunny beach style” with Liverpool vet school class of 2018. I can’t wait for our one-year reunion to see what all you crazy cats have been up to, I wish each and every one of you luck in your new jobs and I hope you all enjoyed our grad holiday as much as I did!