Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Picture Postcards From Gorna Oryahovitsa

In Bulgaria there are 28 regional Administrative Districts, up here in the centre of Northern Bulgaria, we are under the umbrella of Veliko Tarnovo. Residents of this district are easy to spot as their vehicle registration plates all begin BT. It is a district which covers approximately 4650 square kilometres. In total it has administrative control over 14 towns and cities, and 322 villages. Quite a fair bit for it to cope with, so the district is further broken down into 10 municipalities. We fall under the remit of Gorna Oryahovitsa.

Now over the years of posting these blogs I have mentioned Gorna several different times, but unless you actually know the area I might as well be talking about Timbuktu. This morning I took one of our neighbours into the hospital at Gorna for her appointment. Whilst waiting out in the car park I started pondering what subject to cover in my next blog. Then I remembered that I had done a photo blog from the village, so perhaps I could do something similar for Gorna Oryahovitsa itself, after all they do say that a picture paints a thousand words. So without further ado here is a small photo guide to Gorna.

Sitting above the town, like a silent 
sentinel, is a stone cliff.
Called, quite simply, The Stone.
From the top of The Stone, 
you can see out over the town.
Including looking out over the airport
Being a transport hub, there are many ways to get here.
Maybe you'd prefer to let the train take the strain.
Can you guess which is the village bus?

Then again there is always the bus
The Bus Station looks different
from outside
Sometimes the road system can be a bit confusing,
just wait until there's a roundabout here

The Municipality building
Put your Hands up for 
Gorna Oryahovitsa

Churches are a common sight
Some have different roofs or cupolas

Some mix in well with their newer surroundings

Home to GO Lokomotive, maybe not the Theatre
of Dreams but they give plenty of teams nightmares
The local museum well worth a look, once you
work out how to get in
You can see the stone from almost everywhere

Open air concerts? Step this way 
Perhaps you are hungry and fancy trying some
local fruit and vegetables
Maybe you prefer meats, there is a sausage named
after Gorna Oryahovitsa

You would be surprised at how many places
you can buy fruit
Sometimes its nice to have a stroll in the
afternoon sunshine

Or maybe go for a coffee

Plenty of trees for shade as you head 
for something to eat, or another coffee
Another claim to fame. 
The largest handmade
Bulgarian flag

The Central square is a great place to 
watch the world go by

Listening to the splash of the fountains in the
summer months 
Or trying to decipher exactly what is shown
on the mosaic above CBA
The best bit is at least three Ice Cream
stalls to choose from

Remember to stop for people using
pedestrian crossings

Especially when the crossing is next to the court house
A small church 
Watch out for Sleeping Beauty behind Lidl

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

There And Back Again

Yesterday started much the same as many other mornings, only it was early and I was awake. It was still dark outside, and even the birds were sensibly still tucked up inside their nests. We were rudely awakened by the alarms ringing on mobile phones. It was time to get up and make the final checks. As well as trying rouse ourselves with that all important first cup of coffee, we were running through a mental check list to make sure that we hadn't forgotten anything. As we were both making the journey we needed somewhere safe to leave the car, luckily friends 'volunteered' and also kindly took us in to meet the bus in Veliko Tarnovo.

The trip into VT was uneventful, dawn's fingers were slowly making inroads into the night time sky, and as we drove past we were even able to notice how work had progressed on the Funicular railway. Cases were checked onto the bus, and people were generally milling around. In one way it was quite nice, as it was still quite cool, and slowly you could here the birds starting to wake up in the trees and on top of the surrounding buildings. Seeing as how it was the only bus there it was quite a good guess that it was the one that we were meant to get on. So with a fond farewell to our friends we went and found our seats.

Seeing as it is a popular journey we shouldn't have been at all surprised to realise that we were sat across the aisle from another English lady that we knew. So the ladies were happily nattering away as the bus drove towards Sofia. Well they were happy until someone further back asking them to be quiet, I didn't notice anything being said about anyone else talking, or using mobiles. So we must have been on the no talking in English bus, imagine that daft o'clock in the morning and on the naughty step already. We had both brought our kindles with us , but neither of us could really concentrate on reading with the motion of the bus. The bus had left VT at 0615, and there was still a fair amount of traffic on the road. We noticed this, because we got right up close behind a few vans and lorries until the driver swung out from behind them and overtook.

When people talk about Bulgaria to others back in the UK, the stunning scenery is often mentioned. Travelling by coach, rather than driving yourself, does give you the opportunity to enjoy it all. Another good way to also enjoy the countryside is to use the train, which we will endeavour to do at a later date. There is still so much of this country to see, and explore, but if we drove ourselves everywhere we would miss things as we would be too busy concentrating on the roads. I have driven the route quite a few times but not since they have made the changes at a place called Dolni Bogrov. Now the road totally bypasses it, which does tend to make things easier. So at least that is one positive step for the Hemus Highway. One day it will be completely finished, and both ends will meet in the middle.

The trip from VT to the central bus station is almost non-stop. We did have the normal, apparently, stop outside of Troyan to let someone off. There are buses which go via the airport, but they are not really convenient for those flying by Easy Jet, as the times are a bit out. We had taken our own breakfast with us. By which I don't mean I was cooking bacon and eggs in the aisle, and neither was Net throwing milk over cereals as we flew past another 'slow' HGV. We had taken drinks, fruit and biscuits, even I can't make too much of a mess with them. Alright I can, but I just put it down to a natural talent or gift. It's not everyone who gets challenged to two falls, a submission or a knockout whilst trying to open a pack of biscuits.

From what I could see most of Sofia looks to be undergoing major roadworks. Traffic is flying at you from either side, to your front and also behind you. Most of the commercial type drivers seem to have been culled from the ranks of failed Kamikaze pilots. So there are taxi drivers, bus drivers, van drivers, lorry drivers and tram drivers all aiming for that one spot that you are currently occupying. I know that I haven't done city driving for a while, but it all seemed quite manic. In a way it was a relief to get to the Central Bus Station, as at least you could have a quick breather before getting into a taxi and facing phase two of the dodgem car rally, and go from the bus station to the airport.

Hopefully most people will be aware of various, how shall we put it, less than honest taxi drivers who operate at these type venues. Going through the Bus Station we were asked to follow a bloke to a waiting taxi. I don't think so, we went out the front and got one from the taxi rank there. The drivers stay with their vehicles, they don't go inside and tout for trade. Always check that the taxi you opt for has a meter, that is actually running, at the end of the journey you get given a receipt. You should also see a current tariff of fares, and the taxi driver's ID licence. Have a quick look to make sure the bloke driving looks a bit like his picture. Fortunately the OK taxis seem to be OK.

The drive across Sofia was just as manic as the drive in, but we arrived at Terminal 1 in one piece, and in plenty of time to do the baggage check ins. I left the ladies as they were going through the customs type bit as my mission was complete. Now all I had to do was the trip in reverse. So it was another taxi from the airport, doing battle with the traffic and arriving unscathed at the bus station again. I decided to book the tickets not only for my return journey to VT that day, but also for when I have to do it all again and go and meet the ladies at the airport. The girl at the ticket counter even understood my Bulglish as I ended up with the right number of tickets, on the correct dates and at the correct times. I even had enough time to get round the outside of a large slice of pizza and a medium coke. A full fat, high octane coke for me, not one of those semi skimmed fat free cokes.

While waiting at the correct bus stop someone tried flogging me some dodgie perfume, so in my best Bulgarian I just shrugged and carried on eating my rapidly diminishing pizza. Oh joy of joys, even though it was a different coach, it was still the same driver, although this time he seemed to have a co-pilot. The co-pilot seemed to be in charge of the in flight movies. They might have been great but you would have needed binoculars from the back of the bus, probably even from the middle. The air conditioning was almost on, I could here the fan but warm air was trickling out of the vents, which seemed to defeat the object somewhat. Needless to say, as I am here writing this, I arrived back in VT in one piece. Rather tired, warm and sweaty, but in one piece. I even had enough time to book my next ticket up to Sofia. At this rate I will be qualifying for the frequent flyer bonuses.

The animals were pleased to see me, although I'm sure that it had more to do with the idea of me doing their tea. The house was a bit fuggy are having been shut up all day, and I took the chance to get back into just a pair of swim shorts (apologies if you are eating for that mental picture). The only downside to a packed day was that on the way home I picked up a puncture. So that can be attended to when I next go into Gorna. I am wondering if it might be a prudent measure to wear a blindfold when I do the next journey there. Then again in the words of Corporal Jones "Don't Panic", although I'm sure that "They Don't Like It Up'em" could also be utilised driving through Sofia.      

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

It's Almost Like A Water Sport

Many people will tell you that you are often confronted with a string of related problems with a house. They can be structural, electrical or like us it can involve water. We have had water where we don't want water, we have had to move water away to prevent it taking up residence in the cellar, we have had to put water where previously there wasn't any. We have fiddled and faffed around with clean water, grey water and 'orrible stuff too. We have had leaks where we don't want them, blockages preventing water actually getting where we do want it to go. It's just like a form of water sport, in as much as it involves water and I normally end up getting hot and sweaty sorting it out. The latest episode involved our hot water boiler in the bathroom, as the name implies it is there to provide us with hot water.

Sunday morning everything is working as advertised, operate the hot tap and hot water comes out. Go for a shower and you can adjust the temperature to your own desired setting. During the day it had behaved itself, but when I went for a shower that evening (and its not even my birthday), where's the hot water? Net, who had had a shower before me, hadn't noticed a problem, but at this time of year you don't want to turn the bathroom into either a sauna or a sweat lodge. The power light outside the bathroom is working, but no power light on the boiler. I made a mental note of where the temperature indicator was sat and left it alone for 10 minutes, just in case it was the LED in the switch which had gone. After 10 minutes there was no change, so it was a slightly tepid shower for me. Thankfully it wasn't the depths of winter.

So Monday morning I arm myself with a multimeter, and start checking voltages. Voltage coming in, voltage going into the switch, voltage coming out of the switch, the thermostat seems to be working fine. So it looks like the element has given up the ghost. I remembered someone saying that the element itself can be replaced, which is great if you have the parts, but being out at the back of beyond we are quite limited on DIY stores. I remembered that a neighbour had previously had boiler problems and it was taken away, sorted out and refitted all in a day. So I thought that it can't be that difficult to disconnect it all, and remove it from the wall. I always like to have a go myself, then if I run into problems I will then call for the cavalry, but at least I will have learnt something.

So having already removed the base cover from the switch area, I thought that I would make a start disconnecting it electrically, remembering to first isolate it outside the bathroom and at the trip box. Now for those not familiar with Bulgarian wiring, there is often no colour coding, so how to identify which wire goes where. My method involved a CD marker pen and my mobile phone. I first marked the various white cables, and then I photographed then in place before I started disconnecting them. There are possibly easier ways of doing such things, but I thought it was a great idea for me on a Monday morning. So feeling quite pleased with myself I disconnected the electrical side of things, that seemed to be the easy bit out of the way.

So now I have a water tank holding 80 litres still on the wall. It seemed a logical step to remove said 80 litres of water before attempting to do myself a mischief, as 80 litres of water is going to be a bit on the heavy side. So I thought I had best disconnect the cold feed in first, after closing off the shut-off switch. So now no more water can get into the tank, surely I only needed to open a hot tap to drain the water from the tank itself. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that, which is a bit of a bugger. One foot is now getting a bit damp as the shut-off switch when it is in its closed position doesn't fully close the water off, so water was still dribbling out of the main supply. So I sort that out before I squelched my way up to the shed to find something to help drain the tank. We now have a sawn-off hose. More by luck than judgement I had cut off enough hose to go between the boiler and the sink. So if the water wasn't going to leave via the hot tap there was no point in the hot water pipe being connected, so that was disconnected too.

So now no water can get in, but I still had to get the existing 80 litres out. There is a small spring loaded lever as shown on the cold water feed, but see that small itty-bitty pipe just to the left of it, 80 litres of water has to come out of there. Trying to hold the lever in while keeping the length of hose in the sink is easier said than done. After the first 10 minutes you try changing hands, a further 10 minutes and your brain has switched off and entered into neutral, and the hose that should be in the sink is now soaking your other foot. At least I could now squelch in stereo. All in all, with interruptions, and a coffee, it took me over 45 minutes to totally drain the tank. If it wasn't a wet room before I started, it was by the time I had finished. Unmounting it from the wall was relatively easy, and thankfully lighter as it was empty.

So with dry feet, and the water heater in the car I set off for where I had been told they did boiler repairs. Unfortunately I must have arrived during Mrs Monday's fag break, as she didn't look overjoyed to see me. The only thing she was interested in was did I have the guarantee and the documents. When I explained that we were not given these treasured bits of paper she lost even more interest and turned to wander off. I politely asked if she knew anywhere else in town which could do the repairs, but that was just met with shrugged shoulders. Realising that I wasn't going anywhere she called her smoking partner over who spoke some English which almost helped. I went through the whole pantomime again with him, only to be told that they no longer did repairs, but he knew a man that did. Unfortunately he knew that this man was at the sea, but he could phone him if I liked and find out when he would be back. So he phoned his mate and they were having a nice natter, eventually he got round to asking about boiler repairs. It turns out that he wasn't at the sea at all but had been busy for the last few days. So I was given his name and number and told to phone him the next day. I didn't think that was too bad, until I asked if he spoke any English, the answer being a big fat no. OK so how do I find this man if I can't understand his directions, which was met by more shoulder shrugging. I did ask if smoker's mate could find out directions, but was told that I would have to phone the boiler repair man the next day, however if I wanted a new boiler he had some that were on special offer that day. So I was given various prices for different models, but still left there with a knackered boiler, a phone number I couldn't decipher and the name Ivan.

As I had other bits and pieces to do I thought that I would do a price comparison with my normal plumber's merchant. So I went in and there were the same boilers at exactly the same price, so his special offer can't have been that special at the other place. As I was there I thought that I might as well ask if they knew anywhere that did repairs. Now neither of them speak English, and admittedly my Bulgarian isn't brilliant, but as best I could I explained the problem. I was stopped so that a phone call could be made, I was then asked where was the boiler. The answer being in the car, up in Kaufland car park. OK says the main man, drop it off later and you can pick it up tomorrow. The difference between the two places was like chalk and cheese. He even gave me a hand carrying it into the shop, and also out with it when I picked it up today. It has been repaired all for the princely sum of 30 Leva, he did say what was wrong with it and I am fairly certain it was the element. So I did all of that running round in yesterday's heat and humidity, and ended up sweating like the last chicken in Colonel Sander's back garden.

Actually fitting it back up in the bathroom was quite easy with my handy reference bits and pieces. The only problem I had was that I had to dismantle part of the shut-off switch to enable water to fill the boiler back up. The good news is that the little LED works in the light switch, the thermostat changes the water temperature and the indicator changes with the different temperature. I also managed to keep both feet dry. So as I said earlier plumbing type jobs are almost like a water sport for me, and today despite the humidity I only ended up like Sweaty McSweaty of the clan McSweaty, rather than the usual Marine in a spelling test. At least I have been able to have a proper shower, which makes it all worth while. Rather than the old boiler being junked it has been given a new lease of life. By following the Bulgarian example of trying to fix things first, I have saved myself money which can't be a bad thing.