Thursday, 21 January 2016

Winter Shows Its Teeth

Just when we might have been getting a bit complacent, and hoping for a short lived, mild winter, it arrived in full force. Those early bits of snow, which we had at the start of the year, were nothing by comparison. Being a 'Brit Abroad' I seem to have developed a slight fascination with the weather. One of my first tasks each day, once we have finished the housework and sorted the animals out, is to log on and check out the weather forecast. So with my normal coffee, I had noticed that we had three days of snow to look forward to, as time moved on it became two days, and then back up to three again. So we could safely say that snow was expected, just not how much would fall. Then it arrived one evening, the first flakes dancing in the street light in the lane outside. The wind began to blow them into neat little piles, but nothing to get too concerned about. Those bits of snow from the start of the year had all but disappeared, and the frosts had frozen the ground, so this fresh stuff did start to pitch.

Throughout the night, and all through the next day the snow came down continuously. When we woke up, everything had a thick blanket of white laid across it. The dogs were quite eager to go out and play in it, the cats were a different matter. The snow was deeper than they are tall, but they seemed quite happy sitting on window sills, watching me dig yet another trench for them to get up under the barn. Sirius, our bad tempered sawn-off dog, was quite happy doing an impersonation of a snow plough. Nose down and trudge forward, clearing a path for Fenny and Polly. Their water trough was frozen, but fresh warm water soon took care of that. So with the animals sorted out, trenches dug, logs brought down, and the fires lit we could actually sort ourselves out. Well, we could have done but at that moment the power went out, and for the rest of the day it was on and then off again. Thermos flasks were filled with boiling water during some of the on times, and using the gas rings on the oven we managed to feed and water ourselves. Somewhere in the village a power line came down, and due to our location and the amount of snow no one could come out and fix it. Fortunately we were not one of the houses affected by this, unfortunately our village Kmet's house was.

So we have spent days with cats and dogs snoring and steaming in front of the fires. Which is fine, until I have to feed more logs onto the fire, and then they seem very reluctant to move. Once the fire is banked in again, the dogs want to go out and play in the snow again. Why can't they make this decision before I have to step all around them. So over a period of about 36 hours we had almost 2 feet of snow fall. If wasn't the dry powdery stuff, but the wet clumpy version. The type of snow which brings down branches, and possibly the power line too. Every couple of hours I was back outside clearing my trenches again. For those first 36 hours nothing moved in the village unless it was on foot.

Everything looked like a winter wonderland, with the surface of the snow largely unbroken. Since the snow finished falling we have had a couple of days of sunshine. So the snow has glistened and sparkled. It's own weight starting to compact it all down. We have even had a slight thaw, which has caused some of the snow on the roof to melt and drip from the eaves. This in turn leads to icicles forming, not so much the icicles of doom from previous years, more like the fangs of fate. They do look quite spectacular when the sun shines on them. I was going to get a photo of them today, but the sky has turned a pale grey, with no hint of sunshine.

The sunshine on the snow might make everything sparkle, and it might cause a slight thawing possible, but we also have the night time temperatures to take into account. Where things have melted on the paths and other trenches, and then refrozen overnight we now have our own skating rinks, -19C seems to have that effect. So these paths and trenches have now been dusted with ash from the fires. That might give some extra grip, but it does mean that there is an increase in grubby footprints being trailed indoors. Taps are left dripping overnight, to help prevent frozen pipes. Anything with a rechargeable battery has been boosted, mainly because we never know when the next power cut might happen. Torches and candles have been dotted round the house.

It looks like we have to wait until the middle, or end, of next week for those night time temperatures to start to creep back up again. Although things have been a wee bit parky, we haven't managed to break any records yet. Mind you, we do still have February to look forward too. Even though a tractor has been round the village with a plough blade on I have no idea what the main roads are like. Maybe I will have to make one of my winter forays into town on the village bus next week, but much can change in the space of a week.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Looks Like Winter Might Be Here

Welcome to my first blog of 2016, and I would like to wish you and you family a very happy and healthy New Year. Hopefully there were no sore heads through over zealous celebrating, and that things have settled down now that we are a few days into 2016. Here in the village there were the usual fireworks, but due to the chilly night air they didn't seem to go on for as long as usual. The animals seemed quite happy about that, especially as the fireworks seem to get louder each year. We entered the New Year the same way as Christmas, with no snow, but keeping an eye on the forecast we were due some.

We woke up on New Year's Day to a white garden, fortunately it was just a heavy frost. By midday the sun had dealt with most patches. It was even quite pleasant in the sunshine once you had managed to find shelter from the wind. On the 2nd, a countrywide weather warning was issued, the snow was about to hit us. Once again we had a frosty start to the day, but still blue skies and sunshine. Unfortunately the pleasant weather didn't last, and from about lunchtime onwards the clouds began to build and the sky darkened. Shortly after dusk the first flakes of snow could be seen swirling in the glow from the street light outside. They were so small that I didn't really expect it to mount to very much. Yet, with the way that they were being blown, I could see a possible problem with drifts if the snow actually started to pitch.

So when we woke up yesterday morning, we found that it had snowed throughout the night. It hadn't really amounted to much, the roofs of houses had a slight covering, and even in the garden blades of grass could still be seen. Was this what the severe weather warning was all about? Admittedly, it was somewhat chilly, with the thermometers hovering about the -11C/-12C point, and the day didn't seem to warm up at all. The little, bitty, flakes of snow seemed to increase in size as the day progressed. The cats and dogs wanted to go out and play in the snow, but they also wanted to stay indoors near to the fires. Maybe at some point someone could invent warm snow just to keep them happy. With the fires banked in, and Net doing the fire monitor and stoking duties I wrapped myself up like the Michelin Man and armed with the snow shovel started clearing paths.

Now you might think that the cleared paths would be for me to get backwards and forwards to the woodpile. The animals have different ideas. They want paths cleared from various doors to up under the barn, over to the studio, another so that they can get to the wall and investigate the barn next door, to their eating areas, to their summer 'bedrooms', and down to 'poo' corner. Only once those had been dug was I permitted to clear the paths and steps for two legged people. Sometimes I do wonder if we spoil these animals maybe a bit too much. Even once the trenches were dug, the snow kept constantly falling, and the wind was blowing it back in to fill the trenches. At least once the initial trenches were made, I then had a guideline to follow, and with it being fresh snow it hadn't compacted at all so was easier to shift. Compared to other years we have still not had a great deal of snow, but with it being a constant yesterday I can officially claim that I am already bored with it, and I am looking forward to Spring.

Despite having the fires lit, we still ended up with a minor problem. After tea last night the washing machine was put on, and we didn't really think any more about it. The kitchen was warm, as was the little lounge, water came out of the tap when required so no frozen pipes. Yet the washing machine decided that it wanted to try flooding the kitchen. This morning I found the reason why. The waste pipes run outside along the back wall, and they are insulated. Well, all apart from one bit that the dogs try to use as a back scratcher. The insulation from there seems to have been worn away, and inside the drainpipe was a nice block of ice. It can only have built up from us having dripping taps, which help prevent water pipes freezing and bursting. So the washing machine was trying to pump out water, and the water wasn't going anywhere outside so decided to have a tour of the kitchen. I wouldn't mind too much but we have had lower temperatures in previous winters, and have never had this problem before.

Looking at the 10 day forecast the weather is set to warm up, so maybe the winter will be a very short one this year. At the moment we have reached the dizzy heights of -7C. The only problem being that, whatever thaws during the  day will tend to refreeze at night. Which will make roads and paths into skating rinks. I shall being doing the same as our neighbours are scattering the wood ash from the fires on the road and paths. It does seem to help give an extra bit of traction, and also treated areas seem to thaw faster. I just hope that everyone remembers to check for nails and bits of metal before they scatter their ashes.

This afternoon I had a wander round the village getting a few photos as I went. As you can see the snowfall is nothing compared against other years. The tractors have been out and ploughed the roads, leaving that lovely layer of ice there for the unwary, but with care, we are not isolated this year. I'll still be treating myself to trips on the village bus though, it wouldn't be winter otherwise. It also means that I am forced to speak Bulgarian, with getting tickets and nattering with neighbours who are also using the bus. It might not sound a lot, but every little helps. At this time of year it can be an easy option to remain in your little domain and not actually see anyone from one day to the next. It seems to be a village sign that, if there is smoke coming from the chimney then everything is OK.

Well that seems to be the first blog of 2016 done and dusted. Very many thanks for your support over the last year, I have just realised that the blog articles have been accessed over 150,000 times now. None of which would have been possible if people decided not to read them, so my heartfelt thanks to each person who actually reads, or shares, these blogs. I hope that you have a wonderful New Year, and that it is everything that you wish it to be.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Where's The Weather Hiding?

This is our eighth winter here in Bulgaria, and it is true to say that each one has been different. So far this one has to be the mildest. I do hear reports that people are still sitting outside and enjoying their coffees in the sunshine. At the moment there is only a slight breeze, and if you are in a sunny spot it is still 16C. Our cats and dogs are enjoying it too. When we let them out, they go up under the barn and get their outside blankets and move them into their favourite sunny spots, and then build 'nests'. Well the dogs do, and then the cats try and gain the benefit by enforced sharing. Fortunately the dogs are very tolerant, and of an evening will even share the rug in front of the fire.

As far as I can remember this is our first non white Christmas since we have been here. The closest that it got to being one was the frost in the morning, the fog when it rolled down the hill, or possibly even the full moon. Everyone is able to move about freely, but I still keep a weather eye out just in case, as you never can tell. One good thing about it being so mild and snow free, our friends didn't have any problems getting to us for Christmas lunch. We might not go overboard with the Christmas celebrations for ourselves, but Christmas lunch is different. Out of habit much of the preparation work is done on Christmas Eve, so it is not then a mass panic on Christmas Day. Even goodies had arrived from the UK in midweek, so there would definitely be a taste of home with our lunch.

The day began well with everything in the oven that needed to be in there. Pots and pans were on the oven top waiting for their turn, which also included the compulsory Sprouts. Bits and pieces were in the fridge cooling and chilling, including the mandarin cheesecake with white chocolate. All cats and dogs were out in the sunshine, otherwise they would be trying to guard everything whilst supervising and getting under foot. All of a sudden the bell at the front gate goes, if it was our friends turning up early they could be plied with drink. It turned out to be our lovely neighbour from across the lane, with a freshly made Banitsa for us. I couldn't swear to it, but I am sure that our oven became related to Doctor Who's Tardis for the day. It seemed to be a never ending supply of things emerging from it. Fortunately there was still room for us all to sit around the table once various dishes of Christmas fare had been placed there. A minor logistical miracle that everything was able to be shoe horned into place, the table must have been groaning. I know that my stomach was by the time I had managed to sample a bit of everything, and maybe have seconds too.

One downside to the lack of snow, is that it removes one avenue of how to burn off some of those excess calories, which might possibly have slipped through, cunningly disguised as a Sprout or two, or perhaps it was the pigs in blankets. At the moment my snow shovel is close to hand, just in case, but is playing host to a few spiders and some dry leaves. So I had to resign myself to sitting uncomfortably and wishing I had a pair of 'Expando' trousers, knowing full well that on the Boxing Day it would be just as bad with the addition of Bubble and Squeak. The fires only seem to be lit in the late afternoon for a couple of hours, just to take the chill off the rooms, so the firewood piles are still looking very healthy.


Comparing this December to a previous year, it is surprising to see the difference. All four photos in this group are in colour, and it is easy to see how grey and dreary the usual winter sky appears. As of yet I have managed to resist temptation, and get the lawn mower out just to keep everything trimmed and manageable. Well, that's my excuse, and I am sticking to it. Despite stocking up for the usual winter siege, the cupboards and freezers are still full, we are planning a trip into town in the next few days just for a trip out more than anything else. I will have a go at trying to get the new Vignette for next year, maybe even redo the car insurance, a Post Office visit, stock up the New Year's Day goodies for when the village children come knocking and definitely a coffee or two.  Looking at the 10 day forecast the temperatures are set to plummet, so maybe Winter will put in a guest appearance. Hopefully we will manage to escape the usual icy road conditions though, still there is always the village bus. We can't complain about our weather though, because compared to the North of England and Wales we are having it an awful lot easier. So if you are in one of the affected areas, or have family or friends there, I hope that all are safe, warm and dry.

As this will be the final blog of 2015, it just remains for me to thank you for your continued readership, kind words and encouragement. I hope that the coming year will be a happy and successful one for you, wherever you are, and may it be all that you wish it to be.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Ever Decreasing Circles

Now that we had got ourselves re-registered, and all legal by jumping through the required hoops, it was the turn of the car. Unlike the UK, where once the DVLA is notified about a change of ownership it then stays registered to the new person until they are told otherwise, it isn't quite so simple here. For one thing you can't just stick it in the post with the necessary payment, and then wait for the return of the new registration document. Here you wait in queue after queue, clutching numerous documents, as if the vehicle is registered to you by name then the registration document also has an expiry date. This is linked to the residency card, so you get a season ticket to the KAT and Immigration offices all at the same time.

We had to wait for the new Lichna Carta, to get a new date for when the vehicle registration would expire next. I don't think that those with vehicles registered to a company name have expiry dates though. Anyway, armed with our new residency cards we had another day trip to the KAT office, although it was in a different part of the building so we had different walls to contemplate in different queues. I say queues, but they are more akin to huddles, with people coming and going, so you never really know how close you get to the head of the queue until you somehow arrive there.

Our first task was to submit the old registration documents and explain what we were trying to do. So we entered into an office with three different serving windows, and waited patiently at one of them. We subsequently arrived at the relevant window and just as we handed over the documents the woman behind the window started nattering away on her mobile, and we were largely ignored. The documents were shuffled about on her desk for a bit, and whoever was on the other end of the phone must have taken a breath as we were told that new vehicle registrations were at one of the other windows. We politely pointed out that it wasn't for new ownership but for re-registration, but by this time she was back nattering on her phone. The documents were re-checked and she pressed a few buttons on her keyboard, and a piece of paper was spat out of her printer. She managed to tear herself away from her all important phone call, to inform us that we had to pay the taxation at the bank. having been through the similar rigmarole with the residency cards we knew the score and taking the new bit of paper over to the bank window we waited in another queue. The lady there was cheerful and efficient, and once I had handed over my 12 Leva, for registration taxes, we were given a receipt and signatures placed on the new piece of paper.

Armed with the new bit of paper, now with signatures on, and our receipt, it was back to the first window we were at. She was still on her bloody mobile. I couldn't see any sellotape keeping it in position, so I came to the conclusion she must have had an accident with either superglue or the stapler. Fortunately her phone call ended there, and she was fully up to date on the latest happenings in a soap opera, or something else of equal importance, and she was able to give us her undivided attention. Documents and pieces of paper were handed over again, then it was proof of insurance, and then Net's new Lichna Carta. With a bit of mumbling and a few more buttons pressed another sheet of paper emerged from the printer. We were then directed to window number 4. There is nothing like service with a smile.

So we headed for window number 4 which was at the other end of the building, and joined the huddle there. It seemed as though we were finally getting somewhere as a woman who had also been served in the first office, and who we had waited behind in the bank queue, was also there chatting to someone, and she also had similar documents to ours with her. Being in these queues and huddles the brain does tend to switch off, and none of us noticed that she had disappeared. Once I had noticed, I just put it down to too many coffees and the resulting call of nature. On the bright side it meant that we had shuffled forward an extra place. We arrived at the hallowed window number 4 and handed everything over, only to be told that we needed to go via the Traffic Police Office first. The mobile phone woman in the first office must have neglected to tell us that bit.

So off we wandered, down this dim and murky corridor, to join another queue. We discovered that the woman who had disappeared was also in this queue, but several places ahead of us. We made it to a door with a hole in it and passed the documents through, along with Passport and Lichna Carta (which after a quick glance were handed back). The remaining documents were stapled together and a stamp and signature placed on one of the documents. Then it was back to rejoin the huddle at window number 4. This time everything was accepted, we weren't directed to go anywhere else, but as it was getting near to lunchtime we were informed to collect the new documents at window number 6 in a couple of hours. After our own lunch (and feeding a couple of cats) it was back to window number 6, and another wait. Someone made the mistake of knocking on the closed window, and got told off for their trouble. Those who were waiting patiently, including us, were handed our new documents without any problems. Now we have new documents for the car, and for ourselves so it is just the annual vehicle safety check to be done at the end of the month. Thankfully that is a lot easier, and we avoid going round in ever decreasing circles.