Thursday, 23 February 2012

There Is Life Out There

Well we have finally both made it off of the hill and into Gorna, and we didn't even have to use the village bus. It was a bit touch and go as to whether we would actually make it, but on a wing and a prayer we did it. Today being Thursday, I have to take you back to Tuesday. We have been scanning the various weather forecast sites, and decided that Wednesday looked quite favourable. We were down to our last gas bottle for the gas fires, we have three of them, and I had run out of fuel for my chainsaw. Yolanta also wanted to fill up a gas bottle too, so it was decided that Wednesday would be the day.
So on the Tuesday, armed with my trusty shovel (or should that be rusty shovel, as I have killed my snow shovel) I started to clear the drive of snow. You know these jobs that 10 minutes after you've started them you wished that you had never had the bright idea in the first place? Well this was one of them. Despite the recent sunshine, the snow was still over a foot deep behind the house, and unfortunately the driveway was buried underneath it all. So while the dogs and cats enjoyed the sunshine, I started to clear the snow. It was hot sweaty work, and I got told off for removing my shirt, but I was sweating like a Marine in a spelling test. Eventually, after about four hours, I reckoned that I had cleared enough snow to actually get the car out from under the barn, down the drive and out of the gates. I had muscles like Arnie, unfortunately not Swarzenegger but Higginbottom, the doddering old man. To save time in the morning, I thought that getting the car out and turned round would be worthwhile, and also the morning sun would help to warm it up.

Wednesday morning arrived, and the sun was shining in a bright blue sky, it was going to be a good day. The animals were all sorted out, the gas bottles and petrol can were in the back of the car, Net was sat in the car and I went to open the gates. First problem, I couldn't get the gates open wider than 3 feet, all of the snow melt had run down the drive and had frozen with the overnight temperatures. Brilliant!!!! My shovel wasn't clearing it fast enough, so I went and got my wood axe. There were bits of ice and frozen mud flying everywhere,  but slowly but surely I managed to open the gates wider and wider, until I had an opening wide enough to get the car through. So back up to the car and turn the wing mirrors in, into the driver's seat turn the key, and nothing, not a bloody dickie bird. Were we actually destined to be able to escape the village under our own steam? Net wandered off down to Yolanta's to let her know what was going on, I took the battery out and put it on a fast charge as the voltage wasn't that low. Meanwhile Net was helping Yolanta dig her driveway out so that we could use her car to jump start ours, as Net didn't know that that I had put our battery on a fast charge. She only realised this when she came back up the drive to let me know that the car had to go down to the bottom of the drive to enable the jump leads to be connected. I took the battery off charge, refitted it, secured it in it's cradle, turned the key and it started first time. Meanwhile Yolanta was bringing her car up, and we met her halfway. So Yolanta had to turn round and park up in her garage and sort out her empty gas bottle. 

Eventually, we managed to set off into Gorna. The main road through the village still looked a bit 'iffy' so we decided to use our normal winter route of the cemetery road. It was still snow and ice, but at least that had made the surface fairly level, and if we did happen to go 'off road' there are no nasty ditches or banks to go down. We made it out to the main road, despite having a fully laden wood lorry tooting at us and trying to pass, I learnt my lesson last year and refused to let him pass, luckily at the main road we both went in different directions. The main road was nice and clear, and the trip into Gorna went without further mishap. In way of a mini celebration we had a nice meal, which even included beef stew. We even managed to visit Linda and Geoff in Dragizhevo, before heading back home before the melted snow and ice started to re-freeze.

We had such a good time that Net and I even did it all again today, but fortunately without any of the hiccups of the previous day.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The English Struggle In Winter?

Here we are, still February, and still snowed in. I did make an attempt to get the car out yesterday, and surprisingly it even started first time despite some of the night time temperatures which can kill a battery. We have quite a long drive down to our main gates and some of it is quite deep in snow, I managed to shift some of the snow, now we have big snow mounds in the drive, but the dogs seem to enjoy these. I backed the car out from under the barn, got about 10 feet and that was it. The car wouldn't go forwards or backwards, so not wanting to leave the car where it was it was back to shovelling snow from under the wheels. No joy with that, or with warm water, I eventually managed to use some spare bitumen shingles as snow mats (Net's idea not mine) and now the car is safely back under the barn until the snow melts a bit more. So gravel, snow and ice don't really mix at this time of year. This is the longest winter out of the four that we have been through since arriving, we might have had blue sky days but the snow hasn't really shifted. Every time that it starts to shrink and melt we have had a fresh batch swirling out of the sky. We have had some thaws, and the icicles have been out, hanging like Dragon's teeth from roofs and guttering. As mentioned the snow starts to thaw and shrink, but the worst thing is that it just refreezes, so we have been largely ice bound for about four weeks. No wonder I often refer to our village as 'Ice Station Zebra' at this time of year. I have noticed that the weight of the snow has damaged some of the branches on the Pine tree in the garden next door, so hopefully something will be done about that later in the year before it becomes a potential problem.

As some of you might remember, a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by TV7. It seems as though it wasn't a follow up to the piece that 'Borba' did the other year, but how the English cope with the winters out here. One part was about how the new English family arrived in the village at the end of January, and the Kmet had to make sure that they had enough wood for burning to keep warm throughout this long winter. The interview was aired on TV7 about 2 weeks ago, but I have only just found out about it. Hopefully this is the link for anyone who might not have seen it. By Bulgarian friends I have been told that in the piece where the Kmet is speaking, she is telling the reporter how the English have to be taught how to light their fires and stoves. Maybe I was asleep when this happened but as far as we are aware she must have forgotten to do this for us. The report has also made it into a newspaper, from where this picture has been taken, unfortunately I have yet to find out which newspaper so that I can get the article translated. If it is anything like the previous interview in 'Borba', the translation makes for quite amusing reading. In case anyone is wondering, I am the one on the left in the woolly hat, with our village Kmet.

I do remember the reporter asking how Net and I cope with the cold, and he did look at me rather oddly when I told him that I have worked in colder than this. It is true though, as I have previously spent 3 months inside the Arctic Circle, during the Nordic winter living in tents and snow holes. There the night time temperatures were regularly below -35C, and you could hear trees explode as the sap froze. I don't want to put anyone off, yes the winters here are cold but it is a dry cold, and not the damp bone chilling cold of the UK. We have gone through more firewood than I anticipated, but we haven't run out, and a lot of the ExPat community throughout Bulgaria have said the same. So although it might not have been 'that'cold continuously, it has seemed to drag on for a long time. We do get bright blue skies at times, and by and large the Village bus is like the Pony Express it always gets through. Despite this being our 4th winter here we are still learning, but a lot of our preparations have paid off. So do we struggle? I think that the answer lies in the fact that we are still here.

So until our next blog, this is Ice Station Zebra signing out

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Not Only Valentine's Day

Good afternoon to all of our readers, not only is today Valentine's Day in Bulgaria but also Trifon Zarezan Day. Today is one of the days when they celebrate the vine and the wine, they also do this on the 1st, so often gets celebrated twice, depending on whether you use the old or new calendars. Besides the first pruning of the vines it is also a good excuse to ask for a bountiful crop the coming year, but to also sample the fruits of the previous year's crop. Supposedly today marks the ending of Winter and the nearing arrival of Spring. As I have previously mentioned I have definitely grown tired of Winter, and that quite soon the novelty of living in a Christmas card landscape soon wears thin. Today I have seen the first of the Martenitsas being sold, and that is always uplifting of my Winter spirits, Spring is just around the corner and soon the Storks will return to nest.

Today we were invited down to the pensioner's club to celebrate both days, even if the proceedings did start at 10am. So at 9.45 we were down at Yolanta's to pick her up, well Net was as I went to the Post Office to check for mail and pay the water bill. Lo and behold the Post Office was actually open, the first time in over three weeks, so the weather has to be improving. It is quite dazzling outside, with the sunshine being reflected from yesterday's snowfall, and bright blue skies. The temperature has risen from -11 when we first got up to a dizzying +8, and the welcome sound of dripping from roofs and gutters.

The first person that we met on entering the Pensioner's Club was Hussein, otherwise known as Lovejoy, one of the village characters. Now we all know that he is a bit light fingered, but he is also what I guess most people would refer to as a lovable rogue. To us he has always been well mannered, polite and courteous, that is not to say that we would trust him any further than we could throw him, but he is definitely a character in the village. He never introduces himself to new comers to the village as anything else but Lovejoy, and if you want something chances are that he can lay his hands on it. His wife is lovely, and took me aback yesterday when she called out "Hi Neil, how are you?", it took me a moment to realise that she had asked me this in English and not Bulgarian. Their children are fine, Elise and Nohan speak English, Osman does too to a certain extent, but I do get the impression that he is following in his father's footsteps, and if there is a handy open window he will not be averse to having a look inside.

We were invited to a party in the Pensioner's Club, and duly attended. When the Kmet arrived both Yolanta and I were in the Foyer bit smoking and it was big smiles, handshakes and kissing both cheeks And I was told that later in the week there will be a photo of me and the Kmet from the interview that we did with TV7. Once in the club it was a bit confusing at the start as they started making speeches. The gist of it was should the annual membership be 2 Leva or 3 Leva, this seemed to go on for about half an hour, they even wanted to count our votes even though we are not members.

Once the voting was out of the way food started to arrive, first there was cold meats, cheeses and eggs, Followed by Pork, potatoes and some rissole type things, accompanied by the pickled vegetables, then more sliced meat and finally some of Net's birthday cake. All of the while this was happening we were plied with various wines and rakias, that the villagers had produced themselves. They would give you a taster and wait for sounds of approval, once they had this your glass was filled up. It is so nice to feel included in these village celebrations, even though some of the people you don't even recognise as being from the villlage, but they have gone out of their way to make us all feel very welcome. If they had had their way we would all still have been there now.

We did meet big George again, and he was translating bits and pieces for us, which was very kind of him. We were asked what we would like to happen to the club, to encourage us to use it more. Some of their ideas might work and some might not, I do disagree with them trying to undercut the village Magazin on a lot of items, but then again we get on very well with Todor and Renie. I did enquire about the possibility of someone trying to teach us foreigners Bulgarian, or at least helping us with it as I really would like to be able to speak to the villagers in their own language. He suggested that maybe the club wouldn't be the best place for that as there would possibly be too many interruptions, but he did offer to teach us in his own home. He is more than happy to play chess in the club though, and when Net suggested that we take one of our chess sets down there he is insistent that he buys a chess set for use in the club.

The long and the short of it all is that we do feel welcome in the village, even though there is the slight language barrier but we are determined to overcome this, and with a little help we shall. I certainly feel more at home here than I ever did in the UK, and feel thankful that we have such lovely and welcoming neighbours. Even though they would still like us to be over there getting absolutely plastered with them, which is another tradition on Saint Trifon's day. Sadly I am no longer pub fit  

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

We Have A Little Snow

Well here we are in the grips of another Bulgarian Winter, and the novelty of snow has definitely worn off. A  few days of living in a Christmas card world is enough for me. This is our 4th winter here, and each one has been different, and try as we might we can never plan for every eventuality. This year we have had snow, it has then disappeared only to reappear again. Initially I thought that the majority of the snow was going to pass us by, and admittedly we haven't had the usual three feet of snow but what we have had recently seems to be fairly constant. Nothing seems to be moving in the village, and even the chickens and dogs sound as though they are muffled. Our cats and dogs have developed an affinity for our wood burners, so much so that even SillyO tried climbing in one as I was putting logs into it.
  One constant that we do have is that nasty layer of ice that lurks underneath the snow. As an added bonus we have also had an ice storm, and then ended up with about an inch that was on top of the snow which was on top of the ice. Even walking round to the Post Office or the Magazin was not the easiest of things to do. Our temperatures do not seem to be as low as in previous years, but according to the Bulgarian news items record lows have been set. To put it all into perspective, other areas of Bulgaria and indeed other areas of Europe have had it so much worse than we have. Down in Southern Bulgaria a couple of dam walls have failed causing fatalities and a lot of damage, in the Ukraine the cold snap has killed a lot of homeless people. I don't wish to downplay the Bulgarian winters it can get slightly chilly during the day, often struggling to get above zero, but the big difference between here and the UK is that here it is largely a dry cold, and not that horrible bone chilling damp cold. So a few sensible precautions and we find that we can manage.
One odd thing that happened last week was that I was interviewed for the television, they would have preferred to interview both of us but it would have to be the day that Net was suffering with a head cold. I think that is what is commonly known as 'Sod's Law'. It was a bit of a follow up to the newspaper interview that we did previously, and they also wanted to know how we cope with the Bulgarian winters. They did find it rather strange when I stated that I had worked in colder temperatures, but I didn't tell them that I spent 3 months living in tents inside the Arctic Circle after I had completed my Arctic Survival Training. Hopefully the Kmet will let me know when it will be televised as I neglected to ask. I was more surprised that they had managed to drive up to the village in a Renault Megane when even the delivery vehicles can't make it through to the Magazin.
Like a lot of people we are looking forward to Spring, but who can tell when the winter will end. Only another 3 weeks and it will be March, but Baba Marta can be a fickle old lady and we can have brilliant sunshine one day and a hail storm the next. There could still be a long way for the winter to go yet.