Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Our Bulgarian Driving Licences

Well as some of you might remember, the other week a couple from the British Embassy came to Veliko Turnovo to make us aware just what they do and services that the Embassy can provide to the Expat community. One thing that came to light is that, after 6 months of living here on a permanent basis, the UK driving licence should be exchanged for a Bulgarian one. It probably makes no difference if you're only here part time as you would still have a UK address, but the DVLA can't put a Bulgarian address on a UK licence. On the other hand the Bulgarians can't put any points on a UK licence either, but they can apparently insist on you changing to a Bulgarian licence and applying the points in retrospect.

After receiving this bit of news I thought that it would be prudent to check on my licence. Just as well that I did, as my photo portion is about to expire, that wouldn't have been too much of a problem but Net's was also due to expire soon too. So we had a bit of a dilemma, we could use our daughter's address and get new UK ones but we might have to change them for Bulgarian ones anyway, or we could just go straight ahead and apply for Bulgarian ones. The consul from the Embassy claimed that it should only be a matter of exchanging an old UK one for a new Bulgarian one, which sounded simple enough, but were advised that it might be wise to use a translator for the paperwork. So we duly got in touch with Nick the Knowledge our translator, he was leaping about in the mountains somewhere but foresaw no problems with the exchange of licences. So we arranged that the Monday after his return we would pick him up at lunchtime and go to the KAT office in Veliko Turnovo.

So on the appropriate Monday we picked him outside of Kaufland in Gorna Oryahovitsa, and headed up over the hill to Veliko Turnovo and to our favourite place the KAT office. You have guessed it, it was closed as we had got there during their lunchtime, so we took a quick trip down to the closest restaurant. By the time that Net and I had ordered and our meals and drinks had turned up Nick was still trying to decide what he fancied. I know that Good things are meant to come to he who waits, but sometimes I really do feel that Nick might benefit from a kick up the backside. Eventually we were all fed and watered and set off back to the KAT office.

Now bearing in mind that Nick helped Mum change her licence a few months ago he didn't really seem to know where to go, and we ended up at the immigration window. I did find that rather odd and wondered why they would be doing anything with driving licences. They did manage to point us in the right direction, and we ended up at the other end of the building where the traffic police are. Nick ended up talking to a policeman through a hole in a door, it felt like he was trying to gain admission to a seedy backstreet gambling den. After a grunt from the policeman the door swung open and he stepped out, took our UK driving licences and disappeared through another door. Ten minutes later he returned and handed our licences back and declared that everything was in order, but had we had our medicals?

What medicals? We only wanted to change our driving licences, not run for president. It had now gone 2 in the afternoon and trying to find somewhere to get a medical done would be next to impossible. If Nick had helped Mum with her driving licence why could he not has remembered about the medicals and warned us about them. At least that way we could have gone to Net's Doctor and had medicals in the morning before picking Nick up. At least Nick managed to get some of the paperwork done for selling one of his cars, now how odd is that.

There was no point hanging round the KAT office anymore, and we arranged to go and see Nick's doctor first thing in the morning and get these medicals done. He assured us that it was basically an eye test. So the next morning we found ourselves outside of the Post Office in Gorna waiting for him to turn up. Once we got to Nick's doctor it was indeed an eye test, and that was it. 10 Leva each to get a form that basically said that we were still alive and breathing. So much for it being a simple matter of just exchanging our licences. Still not to worry, we had proof that we were 'fit and healthy', and just needed to go back to the KAT and get the rest of it done.

So just time for a quick coffee and then back over the hill into VT. Even though we had got there early there was still a sizeable queue, and it wasn't moving at all. After about three quarters of an hour someone started to lose their patience and began knocking on windows. Half an hour after that, the powers that be started putting up notices saying that the central computer had gone down and there was no forecast as to when they would be back up and running. Nick suggested that we go and pay for the licences and get that bit out of the way and on our return there might be some more news. So down to the bank bit and hand over 36 Leva each, because we were exchanging UK for BG licences they class it as a first time licence so we had to pay more, there's a novelty. Back to the original window and computers were still down and still no forecast when their situation might improve. We had managed to do the normal KAT office shuffle, two steps forward and one step back. I think that by then Net and I had nearly lost the will to live, so we were heading off for a coffee but Nick wanted to do some more with regards to his car sale.

Our next trip to the KAT was this Monday, and I had decided that if we had any other problems then we would go down the route of getting them renewed in the UK. We arrived there during their lunch hour but joined the queue anyway. Two and a half hours later we made it to the front of the queue and first up was Net, paperwork submitted, printer goes off line, new printer sent for, printer installed and linked to network, other forms printed off , these forms filled out and handed back, ledger filled out, various people consulted in their office, and finally various forms handed back to Net. Then the same had to be done for me, well less the messing about with printers bit. While this was going on we were able to overhear bits of conversation, little gems like English huff, should learn the language huff, why are they taking so long huff, they are English huff. Once we had finished I did delight in wishing them Dobur Den and Priyaten Den, and letting them know that we had understood some of their rudeness.

Have we got our new Bulgarian driving licences? Have we heck, but at least now the end might be in sight.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

An August Awayday

Last week we decided to have an awayday, but we couldn't decide where to go. Net remembered that Mum and Dad had mentioned that they had taken Karl wake boarding at Stamboliski Dam and that this was also on our list of places to visit. So our destination was decided, all that remained was for me to work out how to get there. Isn't it typical that whenever you look for a map you can never find one, I think that they have probably been tidied away only to see the light of day when we are next looking for something that has also been lost or hidden. The best that I could manage was a map of Eastern Europe, it didn't go to much detail but luckily Stamboliski is one of the largest dam lakes in Bulgaria so it was actually shown on there. From the map it looked as though I had to head out on the main Sofia road from VT, turn off and head towards Vishovgrad until I got to a place called Mladen, and from there it would be easy to find. Most of the trip was simple enough, I even found the turn off towards Vishovgrad easily enough, it was once we got into Mladen that the confusion started. According to the map from Mladen I should take the road to Gorsko Kosovo, the only problem was that we couldn't find the road.

We did try one but that seemed to be taking us in totally the wrong direction. The only option that I could come up with was to plug the SatNav in and see what options that gave us, even with it needing updating. The SatNav found our position, and eventually worked out which direction we were facing no wonder we couldn't find the road it wasn't in the village but a couple of miles outside of it. Now that we were back on track we could enjoy our exploration of the Bulgarian countryside. We passed through a village, Byala Reka, where we had looked at a house while we were over viewing properties. We even drove past the house, it doesn't seem as though it ever did get sold. Such a shame to see it looking a bit ramshackle and unloved, but we are more than happy with where we are. As we approached Gorsko Kosovo we were confronted by the dam wall, it is quite an impressive sight providing you don't worry about all of the water that it is holding back. Looking up at the dam wall I couldn't help but think of the film "The Dambusters", but there wasn't a sign of a Lancaster anywhere.

We drove up through the village and made it to the top of the dam wall, it did seem slightly worrying when looking about you there were various rocks and stones that had slid from the hillside. We didn't hang about there for too long, but headed further along the lakeside. I was quite surprised at the number of chalet type huts that were dotted about either side of the road, and various tracks and paths going down to the waterside. Going further along the road we noticed that we were getting closer and closer to the water, so at one point we just parked up walked 25 yards through some bushes and found ourselves on a 'beach'. It was very pleasant hearing the small waves lapping at the beach, quite reminiscent of Baiter Park in Poole. Stamboliski Dam is a wonderful place to take the family, even if only for a picnic, people camp and fish there, go water and jet skiing, but for the most part people just go there to relax.

We let the SatNav decide on our route home, and it took us out of the lake area the back way, along a small road that twisted and turned up the hillside. Eventually it took us through Suhindol, and to my surprise there was an old aircraft stuck on a plinth. It looked a lot like an old Sukhoi, ok so it might not have been a Lancaster but it was good enough for me. I am used to seeing various statues in towns and villages, but this was the first time that I have seen a plane. I think that the last ones that I can remember seeing were the gate guardians at various air stations in the UK. Besides the aircraft I didn't notice too much about Suhindol, but maybe it has hidden depths. We did stop for coffee in Pavlikeni on our way home, and decided to go home the Polski Trambesh way. I think that it was quite a good idea as we were able to see just how much the baby Storks have grown, there were 3 of them strutting round a field while Stork just looked on and supervised. March and the Martenitsas seem such a long time ago now.

We enjoyed Stamboliski so much that on the Sunday we took Mum and Dad there for a picnic.