Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Bus Trip Mk II

The day dawned and revealed that more snow had fallen over night, and it was time to make a decision. Did we take the chance and try driving into Gorna, or did I take the bus? I think that the ice lurking under the snow was the deciding factor. I scraped away some of the snow on the path and found about an inch of ice underneath, and with the sub zero temperatures along with the wind there was very little chance that it was going to thaw. It was bitter out there, and the wind had a keen edge to it, then what had first started out as small flurries turned into a mini blizzard. As I was getting ready to go and wait for the bus, Net was busy sorting out empty tablet boxes for me to show the pharmacist. We didn't even know for certain that the bus would be running, which has happened previously, and the only way that I would know for sure would be when I was actually sat on it.

I left home looking like the Michelin Man with a woolly hat and gloves on. Armed with bills to be paid, empty packets and a small shopping list I slipped and slithered my way down to the bus stop. The whole village was very quiet, not a soul to be seen, not even any stray cats or dogs, it looked as though I was the only one daft enough to poke my nose outside. The road wasn't showing any signs that vehicles had driven on it, so there was nothing for me to do but wait patiently and hope that the bus would eventually appear. Trying to find somewhere out of the biting wind was proving to be difficult, I'd find somewhere and then the wind would shift direction. If it wasn't for the hat I would have looked like I was suffering from terminal dandruff, and my feet were starting to feel like blocks of ice. After about 20 minutes I was joined at the bus stop by an old lady, which to my mind seemed to bode well that the bus should be running, and if she could wait out in the cold and snow then so could I. A car slowly crept down the main road of the village, and very gingerly turned the corner where we were waiting. A further 5 minutes and the bus came into view on it's way to Vinograd, where it would turn round and retrace it's route back to Gorna. So just another quarter of an hour to wait, I had given up playing I-spy with myself and was more interested with trying to get feeling back into my feet.

The bus eventually came back for us, and it seemed to be full of the Vinograd Women's Institute on a day's outing. They were a happy bunch, laughing and joking amongst themselves. Once again it was like a sauna on the bus, and I had to undo my jacket, body warmer, Norwegian Army shirt just to feel comfortable. I felt a bit like a human onion as I undid layer after layer. The driver was taking his time, I think that his top speed must have been about 30 kmph. I couldn't really say that I blamed him, the road conditions were awful, and driving snow didn't help things. I did feel the back of the bus twitch a couple of times, and felt glad that we decided not to try driving ourselves into town. Eventually we came down off of the ridge road and joined the main road, where conditions were only marginally better. They were slightly better by the time we got to Draganovo, but as soon as we left there it was back to normal until Dolna. From then on it looked as though roads had been ploughed and gritted.

First stop in Gorna was everyone's favourite M-Tel. Initially there were 2 queues then all of a sudden there was just the 1, and people started jostling for position. I just stood my ground and let them carry on, but after a while I got to the head of the queue and presented our Internet bill. The girl behind the counter asked if I spoke Bulgarian, to which I replied "Malko", and so she then started speaking to me in German. Now I did 'learn' German at school, but that was more years ago than I care to remember, and she was speaking far to quickly for me to get a firm grasp on what was being said, but the gist seemed to be "Did I only want to pay this month's bill or next month's too". M-Tel have had me on that one before, and seeing as how we had only just received that bill in the week I wasn't going to pay for any 'services' that we hadn't received. M-Tel finished with it was up to Vivacom to pay for the new contract mobile phone bill, for some strange reason we can pay the home phone bill in our local Post Office but the mobile has to be paid in Gorna. This bill was for the princely sum of 32 Stotinki, it hardly seemed worth wasting my time or theirs but hey ho. Over the road to the pharmacy and I managed to get some of Net's tablets, but would have to go to another pharmacy to get the others. Luckily there were more on the way up to Kaufland, where I had bits of shopping to get. I noticed the clock on top of the municipal building was saying -5C, but that didn't take the wind chill into account, so it probably felt more like -15C, a wee bit on the chilly side. Kaufland was easy, apart from Net want some de-caffeinated coffee. The last time that I tried de-caff coffee it was something akin to Badger's wee strained through a tramp's old sock, not a pleasant experience. Everything on the list was bought, plus a couple of extras, and I had over an hour to kill until the bus home.

I decided that proper coffee and some people watching would fit the bill nicely, so I headed to a cafe off of the main square, where I could sit in the warm and watch out of the window. All round the square there were stalls selling the Martenitsas, most of them had given up with the plastic sheeting covering their various bracelets and things. The wind was blowing snow everywhere, and a lot of the stall holders looked as though they wished that they could be somewhere else. It must have been quite unpleasant for them, but most seemed to be nursing cups of coffee, which had probably been laced with something a bit stronger. Judging that I had about half an hour left until the bus went I started on the snowy trek down to the bus station.

The usual characters were there, plus another Martenitsa stall in the waiting room. It was just as cold in there as it was outside, but it was largely wind free. The same gypsy lad who tried scrounging money from me the last time was still there, he still had the same curly toed shoes on and still no sign of a jacket or anything warm.   As before whenever anyone associated with the bus station came into view this gypsy lad beat a hasty retreat. I decided to wait outside, as according to my watch there was only another 10 minutes to go. Others had had the same idea, and people were milling about waiting for the bus to arrive from the other side of the car park. I knew that something wasn't quite right as the driver was also stood with us, and didn't appear to be in any great hurry to go over and start the bus. I knew which bus that it was, as lurking on the other side of the car park was the same ropey bus as last time.

With revving engines and wheels spinning two cars came into the car park and quite literally slid to a halt alongside the bus. Six men piled out of the two cars, and stood in the mini blizzard whilst our driver finished his coffee and cigarette before deigning to saunter over. So now there were seven of them prodding and poking the bus, alternately shouting at each other or mumbling between themselves. People were getting bored, some of the youngsters decided to have a competition to see how far they could slide, which went well until one fell over into a pile of snow. He then decided that snow is cold, so that put paid to that. Other passengers seemed to be visibly shrinking inside their coats and jackets, until all that was left was a small gap between hat and upturned collar. They had a go at starting the bus, but all that it did was shudder, which lead to more prodding and poking. Attempt two resulted in a thick black cloud from somewhere near the back of the bus, and more shouting. All of the snow whirling around probably made it look worse, but I did think 'that can't be good'. After another four attempts they managed to get the bus running after a fashion, by now we were 15 minutes late getting on the bus, it was cold and people were getting impatient. With a lurch the bus moved and there was a surge of bodies, but instead of coming over to where we were waiting the bus left the bus yard. I thought that maybe it was being driven round the block to make sure that it wouldn't cut out, another 5 minutes of waiting put paid to that idea. Even if the bus did break down on the way home I had a carrier bag full of emergency provisions at my feet. The bus never did make it back to the bus station, so maybe it has finally been pensioned off, but an equally decrepit looking bus took its place. At least with the 'new' bus the seats didn't move when you sat down, and they weren't split with the stuffing coming out. It did have a heater of sorts, but whenever the driver stopped to let passengers on or off all of the heat left through the open door. At least the diesel fumes were replaced with fresh air. I could tell that the driver wasn't familiar  with the bus, as our journey was accompanied by the grinding of gears, and various lights and windscreen wipers being switched on and off.

Gratefully I got off the bus in the village, and shopping in hand trudged home. Net, bless her, had fed the animals, cooked tea, and made me a coffee as soon as I got in the door. So the only thing that I had to do was try and get feeling back into the blocks of ice that I used to call feet.

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