Saturday, 28 December 2013

All's Well That Ends Well

The other day I was going through the various bits of paperwork when I noticed that the car's insurance was coming due this weekend. I knew that it was about now but I thought that it was right at the end of the year. The last time that I was in Gorna I had noticed that the insurance broker that I normally use was now a computer shop. The good news is that it is a very good computer shop and I have previously used them when they were at their old location, but they are not very good at doing car insurance. There is a new broker's office near to the old location, but I wanted to make sure that it was the right one as the name had changed. Fortunately the insurance broker is on my friend's list, so it was an easy thing to check up on. So once the location had been confirmed we were expected sometime yesterday.

I don't know why but it seemed as though all of Gorna were out and about yesterday. We couldn't park up where I had planned, as it seemed as though everyone else had had the same idea. There were cars driving aimlessly round as people tried to find somewhere to park. In the end I thought that as we were going to be doing a bit of shopping we could park up at Kaufland and walk from there. It was difficult trying to get anywhere near due to the traffic. The traffic was nose to tail, and people were trying to jump in. It was at such a moment that the car decided it was a great time to play up. I managed to get her restarted and moved round the corner to an accompaniment of toots, and then she conked out again. It looked as though there was a problem with the immobiliser, which had it been a normal day in Gorna would not have been too bad. At least we were in such a position that vehicles could pass but it would be safer on the other side of the road. Fortunately a man with a mouth like an old council house, 2 up 2 down, offered to help push. Eventually we started moving across the traffic, it didn't stop cars trying to drive round us or people walk in front. It wouldn't have been so bad but the road surface was a bit greasy from spilt diesel, so it wasn't easy getting a firm foothold. Once we were in a safer position I was able to phone Peter our friendly mechanic and explain the situation. He got in touch with an immobiliser specialist and arranged for him to be with us in 15 minutes. This turned out to be closer to 45 minutes, but he was able to tell us that it wasn't an immobiliser problem. Neither of us knows what the specialist had to leave to come to our assistance so we didn't know how much the bill would be but he said that he didn't do anything so there was nothing to pay. You wouldn't get that kind of service back in the UK. Having said that, knowing our luck it is the return of our previous problem, but we were able to get the car restarted and we are eliminating potential causes.

Thankfully the car troubles didn't happen last week, when we had a late night phone call. Someone had a bit of an emergency and asked if we could run them into hospital. The closest one that I know of which has an A&E department is down in Gorna. So despite the thick fog we set off. I was hoping that the fog would lift a bit as we got lower down but no such luck. We made it all of the way to the hospital and we were kicking our heels while the patient was being checked out. The doctors decided that they wanted to do more tests, so there would be a couple of days stay in hospital for our friend. The doctor wanted us to go back to the village pick up a few bits and bring them back in. It was pointed out by our friend that that would take 2 hours, and it was dangerous in the fog. She said that she would manage until the next day, as it was just gone midnight anyway. The next day saw the start of our pilgrimages backwards and forwatds to the hospital, as the food there wasn't very appetising. So we were getting into Gorna, getting something to take into the hospital so malnutrition wouldn't be something else that needed treating. The good news is that the patient is now back home with enough pills and tablets that would make her rattle if she were inclined to jump up and down.

We still had to get the insurance sorted out, so with the car now behaving itself (hopefully) we decided to leave it there and walk down to the broker's office. We received such a warm welcome, it was difficult to believe that we had only gone there to renew insurance. We handed over the necessary paperwork, and were asked if we had anything else that we could do while the paperwork was processed. Hanging about waiting for the specialist meant that we had suffered a lack of coffee, so that was our initial priority. Once we had sorted that out it was over to the Post Office to get next year's vignette. Unfortunately there was Mr and Mrs Whiffy stood in front of me in the queue, and one of their relatives must have been behind me. To prevent myself turning green it was a case of breathing through my mouth. It was ok for Net, as she was stood out in the entrance foyer which meant that she did get some fresh air. The good news was that the cost of the vignette is still only 67 Leva, and by the time we had sorted that out it was time to go back to the broker's office. Once back at the car it was a case of will it start or not and if it does will it behave? It got us from where we were and up to Kaufland car park and surprisingly I was even able to find somewhere to park on the first circuit.

We had only just got out of the car when the car park beggar tries to start, they managed 2 words before I managed to teach them some English not taught in schools. We only wanted a few things, but they are bits that we can't get in the village. One such item was red onions. We found them on the far side of the fresh vegetable aisle. Net started putting some in the supplied plastic bag and then passed the bag to me for weighing. At that time the bottom of the bag gave way, there were red onions bouncing all over the floor and me holding a faulty plastic bag while giggling. I got a new bag and scrabbled round on the floor picking up onions, when I stood up the bottom of that bag burst and that was it, I was laughing like a drain. People must have thought that the lunatics had been kicked out of the asylum. When we made it round to the checkouts it seemed as though half of Gorna was there. We still had to get a few other bits an pieces up at Lidl and CBA, so with fingers crossed we drove up the hill to Lidl. We made it there without mishap, we even made it to the petrol station.

We had intended on surprising friends but in the end decided it might be more prudent to head home while there was still daylight. We made it all of the way home without any more occurances, but whereas we hoped that the problem had been sorted out previously it appears that it might be intermitent but it is still there.

This will probably be the final blog of 2013, so thank you for all of support and encouragement this year. We would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope that 2014 brings you all that you  wish.            

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Christmas Interview

Last week we had a request from the local press asking if we could sort out an interview with some of the local ExPat community. They were interested to find out how we prepare for and celebrate Christmas, and what differences there are to doing this over here in Bulgaria. We put the request up in the big facebook group. Time marched on and there were no volunteers, so not to disappoint the reporter I put something down, and below is a copy of what I wrote. I shall also include links so you can see how it turned out. 

For more than five years I have been fortunate to live in Bulgaria with my wife Jannette. We live in a very small village by the name of Paisii, and we couldn’t wish to live anywhere better. I am 52 years old and for many years served in the British military, Jannette was a nurse. We lived near to the sea on the South coast of England, which is very different to where we find ourselves now.

We have been asked about how the British community celebrate Christmas in Bulgaria, and I shall try to explain this from my own point of view. Some people might find it strange that we don’t decorate our house, but all of our decorations were handed on to our children before we left England. Some of them included decorations from our Grandparents, so these items will continue to get passed down through the family. We do not have a tree indoors either, as Jannette is allergic to Pine, but I have planted one outside.

Being in our very small village up in the hills, and with winter weather being as unpredictable as it is, it is difficult to make plans to visit people, or to have them visit you. The cost of air fares at this time of year are very expensive, so we find it is better for the family to visit for longer at other times during the year. It is true we do miss friends and family back in England, but thanks to the internet and Skype, we do get to see most of the family on Christmas day. We also miss going to the church for midnight mass, even though neither of us are big church goers, but that was something that we tried to do as a family group.

Even with just the two of us we do have the traditional English food at Christmas. Once again due to our location and the weather, it has to be pre planned and not left to the last minute. In England there would be a selection of five different meats, Turkey, Gammon, Beef, Lamb and Pork. In Bulgaria that would be far too much as we do not have fifteen family members to feed. So here we do have a Turkey crown, which is just the breast meat, and some Pork. At least with less meat to cook, it now all fits into the oven at the same time.

We do try to eat the typical vegetables that we were brought up to see for a Christmas meal. Some we find difficult to obtain here, so we have to adapt or grow our own from seed. So we will have Potatoes, and these will be both roasted potatoes and mashed potatoes. We will also have roast onions which have been cooked in the meat juices, along with roast Parsnips. There will be Cabbage and Cauliflower, and Broccoli too. Not forgetting, Carrots, Swede, Butternut Squash and Brussel sprouts.

With the vegetables Bulgaria has a distinct advantage over Britain. They simply taste so much better. You know that there are not the additives as they have either been bought at the local vegetable market, or we have grown them ourselves. We leave getting the vegetables for as long as possible so they will be that much fresher, and will keep their taste.

There will be some traditional English items, which many will not have heard of, items such as stuffing, pigs in blankets and gravy. The stuffing is typically made with breadcrumbs and herbs, the most common type of stuffing is Sage and Onion, although many have different tastes and will opt for a different combination. I have never seen the packet mixes sold in Bulgarian stores, so we get them either sent out by family or we go to one of the English food fayres, often the one at the campsite in Dragizhevo. Pigs in blankets are simple to make as they are small sausages with strips of bacon wrapped round them. Gravy is made from the meat juices combined with a stock.

It might sound a lot, and in all honesty it is. Most of the preparation is carried out the night before. Thankfully my Mother taught me how to be useful in the kitchen, so I can help Jannette with the preparation. So with the two of us peeling and chopping vegetables, and getting the meat ready for cooking along with all of the other little things which need attention, it is done in less time. This also means that Christmas Day is more leisurely now. This year we are having our Polish friend to join us for lunch and the afternoon, as we don’t like to see  anyone on their own. We would normally eat in the early afternoon, most probably we will have been too busy for breakfast and will have had tea and coffee whenever we could.

The fires will have been lit, so that anyone who comes visiting will have a warm welcome. Even though Net and I don’t drink a great deal, at this time of year we have drinks to offer guests and visitors. There are often chocolates and nuts in dishes on the side (unless I have got there first). If there is a flat surface, it seems as though there are treats placed there. The cats and dogs will also have been told to be on their best behaviour.

Even into the evening there is still plenty to eat should anyone still be hungry. With cold meats, different cheeses and pickles. Also there is my favourite, a dish called bubble and squeak. This made from the left over vegetables from lunchtime. These are all mashed together and then fried in a hot frying pan.  Most people will have this with the cold meats, but sometimes some bacon is cut up, and mixed in. I will eat it on its own or with cold meat, but always with brown sauce.

I hope that has given people an insight into how we celebrate Christmas, and the foods that we eat. I wish that my Bulgarian was better, as I would like to wish you all “Весела Коледа и Честита нова година. Честит празник на всички”

It is probably fair to warn people that I have also been asked for another interview in the New Year, so you might want to hide away when that happens. So all that is left to do now is to wish each and every one of you, and your families, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Net and myself. Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and for your words of encouragement.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The End Is Nigh (The End Of 2013 That Is)

Well we have made it a third of the way through December now. There have been no further outbreaks of snow since we had that last lot dumped on us, however that is still lingering on here. Bulgarian snow seems funny stuff, it doesn't seem to melt but it does seem to shrink. There is plenty of water running out of the drainpipes, but the snow is still quite thick up on rooftops. One good thing about the snow up there is that it act as an insulator. The other day I was able to get up in the attic and remove the summer's wasps nests. I thought that we would have had a couple, and waited a few days until I was sure that all of the little buggers would be asleep and hibernating. I ended up removing about a dozen and a half nests. It must have been quite noisy up there during those hot days and nights. Still, I daresay that come next summer they will be back again, as they are a bit sneaky like that.

Anyway, even though we are this far into winter, to my mind it isn't the proper winter yet. That normally saves itself for January and February. So there is still plenty to do to get ready for the proper winter. One such task was accomplished today, and that involved the making of Pasties. So today we have made about a dozen individual ones and a big serving tray sized one. Once cool this will be cut up into individual portions. We have also got the Steak and Kidney in the slow cooker ready for tomorrow's pie making session, which only leaves Chicken and Mushroom to go. Maybe some people will question why so many pies, but there is nothing wrong with eating something with a bit of bodybehind it when it is daftly cold outside. Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I would have photographed today's offerings but apparently I was eating them almost as fast as they were coming out of the oven. They are now securely stored away from my grubby liitle mits. I am pleased to report that even though I managed to get flour and pastry all over the kitchen, I ended up quite unscathed.

With the end of 2013 comes the start of 2014, and in one way I am hoping that the UK does get deluged by hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians. I am actually quite disgusted at the way that these people have been portrayed by not only the British press, but also by British politicians too. The self same people who also want to vote for a much higher than inflation pay rise of 11%. Surely they cannot be so far removed from reality to think that people will be happy to accept that. Sometimes I wonder whether all of tis jumping up and down about Bulgarians and Romanians is just a smoke screen to get things like this passed without too much notice. I do remembe the times when various newspapers had a political slant, either one way or the other. Now it seems almost as though it is the press who are trying to sway the policy makers. They seem to be doing a fine job of leading the public by the nose about January 1st.

Well here is a newsflash for you, Bulgarians and Romanians have been living and working amongst you for years. Where was the public outcry then? They have been paying their taxes and national insurance, just like everybody else. Does anyone shout about this? People claim that those from these countries are not educated. I am sorry to report that many of them are better educated than I am, and hopefully I'm not thick. Just consider that many Bulgarians and Romanians already in the UK, not only speak their own languages but alongside English they can also speak a third or a fourth language. How many Brits can say the same, as I know that I can't.

Some of you might have seen this kind of rubbish. It just panders to those who still cling to the idea that the UK still has an Empire, or that they are a major player on the political world's stage. Take a look around you and what do you see? Streets full of rubbish, buildings in decay and disrepair, people begging on the streets, a health service in decline, the elderly frightened to go out at night, but they struggle to keep themselves warm. To my mind this hardly seems like a good indication of a 'great' country. maybe people should be thankful that others still want to go there. January 1st 2014 is nothing new, it has been approaching for a long while now. What was done about it five years ago, or even last year? Now all of a sudden these two headed Bulgmanian and Rogarian pet eaters are the greatest threat to English society. If it wasn't so frightening it would be pathetic. The UK press and certain politicians have done a fine job about stirring up the masses. I am not just talking about the ill educated people, there are also intelligent people who are buying into this rubbish. I am quite happy to state that in the five years that I have lived here not once have I seen anyone with two heads. I have never seen anyone eying up any of our dogs and cats whilst licking their lips.

There is so much more to Bulgaria than Sunny Beach and the Ski resorts. Certainly Sunny Beach seems to appeal to the neanderthal element of British tourism. Anywhere for cheap drink and fags, and when drunk make a complete fool of themselves. Yet these same people feel that it is acceptable to malign the Bulgarians and Romanians. How many of these drunken louts can even say please or thank you in Bulgarian, never mind actually hold a conversation. Do they not know just how much beauty is such a short distance away? Maybe they don't care about the wealth of history that has helped to make these two countries what they are today. To all of the ignorant drunken louts who visit Sunny Beach and mouth off at the Bulgarians thinking that they don't understand you, the truth is they do but they have a lot more manners than you have. The Bulgarians who I have been fortunate enough to meet are the same as you or I. They don't want something for nothing, they are a proud people who only want what is best for their families. If that means working 2500 miles away at some menial job then they are prepared to do so, which is more than can be said for a lot of the British benefit scroungers. The Bulgarians and Romanians have rights too, and one of these rights, come January 1st, is to work where they choose throughout Europe. Some might go to the UK, oters might not. For those who elect to try the UK please treat them in the same way that their countrymen have treated us, with warmth, friendliness and respect. Is that too much to ask?

There are certain amongst the wealthy in the UK who feel that their wealth can influence politics. One such person is a one time Tory backer, Paul Sykes. He has now decided to put his wealth behind UKIP, no wonder Mr Farage is smiling. All of the while that people are jumping up and down about January 1st there is still a growing number of immigrants from outside of the EU who are still entering into the UK. Do these people have a legal entitlement, and what is being done to curb their numbers? All the while this is happening Bulgaria is taking in Syrian refugees. So which is the 'great' nation, or which nation is showing a level of common decency to put it another way. To my mind the UK is a broken country, and this has been brought about by Politicians, and the media with a common thread between the two, the wealthy.

So although I am English I have been made to feel more welcome in Bulgaria than I ever was in the UK. To any Bulgarians and Romanians who might read this I can only offer my humble apologies for the disgusting way in which the country of my birth has seen fit to treat you. So this is probably a good time for me to put my soap box away, and to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas wherever you may be .

Monday, 2 December 2013

What A Difference A Week Makes

As the title at the top of the blog says what a difference a week makes. The first snows of the winter have arrived. Initially it was just a bit of a dusting, and made everything look clean and white. Everyone was wishing each other "Честит първи сняг" or Happy First Snow. Everything was all quite nice, and the snow was quite light and powdery. I should have realised that something was up when the tractors hadn't been out and about ploughing the village roads.

The morning after the first snow my trusty snow shovel and I were out digging trenches in the garden. The cats and dogs, apart from Sirrius, would much rather follow these pathways than try wading through the snow. Sirrius is like a four legged snow plough, and will often end up with a mound of snow balanced on the end of his nose. I was glad that I had remembered to place the snow shovel under the porch, rather than having left it under the barn. So I had to dig a trench from the back door to the studio, one from the back door to the barn and another from the backdoor to the shed. This meant the animals and I could sort out their breakfast, get wood from the main logpile and get to the big freezer if required. Then it was clear the path down to the gate and down to the cellar. Over the years I have got it down to a fine art.

With enough paths and trenches done inside, it was time to tackle outside. First it was the steps down to the lane. These steps never really get much sun on them at this time of year so I sprinkle them with ash from the petchkas to provide additional grip. The only downside with that is that you do often end up leaving a trail of footprints, or pawprints, indoors. I was in fine company as Nikolai the water man was clearing snow from the front of his, and Saeed was also clearing snow from his house too. As our driveway slopes down to the lane, clearing there before the lane gets ploughed is always a good idea. Otherwise instead of a level amount of snow I am confronted by a snow wall which I would have to deal with first. Once the front had been cleared that only left the driveway round the back of the house to do. So to my mind it seemed an ideal time to go indoors for a warm up, a coffee and some toast. It was round about that time that the first of the big fat snowflakes started falling.

The cats had decided that unless food was involved their place was in front of the fire. Looking at the photo Mr Cat is missing so he had probably positioned himself halfway up the stairs, right where it would cause most inconvenience. I know that the old saying is about it being a dog's life, but the cats don't seem to do too badly out of things. The dogs would have been guarding other rugs. At times we have had cats and dogs sharing the sheepskin rug in front of the fire. One coffee led to another and still the snow came down. Over the course of the day I redug the trenches three times, it was still coming down when we went to bed. By that time we had had about 10 inches of snow which had fallen that afternoon and evening.

The following morning we woke up to nearly a foot and a half of snow. Those big fat flakes were not the dry powdery stuff, these were the wet heavy ones. In one way it is easier to shovel as the snow sticks together, but it is harder going on the old back. Our big peach tree has suffered a broken branch due to this snow, also at least one of our fruit tree saplings has not fared well. This soggy snow has also damaged trees elsewhere round the village, but at the moment there isn't a lot that anyone can do about it. Since the snow stopped falling in such vast quantities the roads have been ploughed, and I did end up with a 3 foot snow bank at the bottom of the drive. So once again it was a day spent snow clearing. After previous years I have learnt to carefully clear round the gates, and then open them to ensure that there will be no ice to get in the way should you need to get out in an emergency.

After a couple of days without snow things soon start returning to normal, and the novelty has worn off. If we get blue sky days throughout the winter then things will not be too bad. Unlike today where we have leaden grey skies and a persistant drizzle and rain in the air. I don't mind the cold but I can definitely do without the dampness. OK -20C sounds cold, but here it is normally a dry cold and not that awful damp bone numbing cold which is the norm for the UK. Given the choice of the two locations I do know which one I would choose. Mind you even the night time temperatures haven't got much lower than -8C so far. Although I do have to point out that this isn't the winter proper yet. We have even managed to get out into Gorna and continue with our winter siege shopping. The good news is that we are 98% ready now, Sod's Law dictates that there will always be something that we forget, but hopefully it will be small enough that I can get it home on the bus.

I don't know what is happening but the roads are a lot clearer this year. There is not the traditional layer of ice That we normally find ourselves confronted with. As I have said previously this will be our sixth winter here, and so far none of them have been the same. It certainly keeps you on your toes, and who knows what the rest of the winter might throw at us. We have already had a couple of days worth of the power going off at the most inopportune moments. We have definitely learnt this lesson as there are torches and candles dotted round the house, and we both have head torches normally within arm's reach. One thing that we have started doing is, we now fill a couple of thermos jugs full of hot water. Even when you come in from outside, or shopping, you can get a hot drink straight away. It might be a simple thing but it all helps.

It looks like the 27000 mark is within touching distance, so now I am wondering how close to 28000 we can get to by the end of the year. So a very large thank you to all of you who take the time to read these blogs, to those who forward them on to family and friends and to those who actively follow these blogs. I am amazed by how many countries this blog has made it to, the latest one being El Salvador. It is all because of you, so once again a very big thank you to you all, and there is plenty of room if anyone decides they would like to follow the blog. :o)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Is Winter Just Round The Corner?

Well once again it has reached that time of year, and people are preparing for the onset of winter. It seems difficult to believe but the temperatures were in the 20s last week. Not so long back people were saying just how hot it was. Depending on who you give credence to, the coming winter is either meant to be the coldest on record or it is going to be freeze and thaw with the coldest weather in January. This will be our sixth Bulgarian winter and each one has been different. So far records have been broken, but that has been for the highest temperatures at this time of year. If you look at the forecast shown here you will notice a couple of things. The temperatures are expected to continue with their downward trend, and the dreaded s*** word is being mentioned from tomorrow onwards. The wind is now coming from a more northerly direction, and has a bit of a raw edge to it. We do know that something is going on with the weather as all three dogs and six cats are now indoors, which is surely a more reliable source of information.

So maybe today is the final day of sunshine, but who can try and second guess what the weather has in store for us. It is like the other day we were enjoying bright blue skies and sunshine, we had to nip into Polski Trambesh to get something for Yolanta. The weather was fine until we got to the other side of Orlovets. Then it was like driving into a cloud, and with the dampness the temperature plummeted. Fortunately we have got into the habit of carrying jackets with us in the car wherever we go, we even had a spare for Yolanta. We got our bits and pieces and had a coffee, but on the trip back the cloud of doom had reached Vinograd. Later that same evening that same cloud had swallowed the hilltop, and it was as though everything was wrappedin damp cotton wool. No wonder the animals wanted the fire lit. We are not doing too bad so far this 'winter' we have only lit it 3 times, and the rest of the time we have just used the gas fires to take the chill off.

When the fog eventually clears we have enjoyed blue skies. These have enabled us to continue doing the final few jobs ready for winter. There has already been one 'fatality' that I have to report, and that is my splitting axe. After more than five years of faithful service the head is rather loose on the shaft. I am still able to use it but I have to keep stopping and wedging the head back in position. I tried sealing it in position by using glue from a hot glue gun, but that didn't work too well, so I will have to devise another method of securing the two parts together. I do have an emergency backup axe, just in case my running repairs keep on failing. One thing you do learn is to try and plan for various scenarios, and how you will attempt to overcome them. One thing to bear in mind is that the sunshine will return.

Today has been a baking day here, and we have made sausage rolls, cheese and bacon puffs, apple turnovers and an apple crumble. Most of these are destined for the freezer, now that they have been officially approved by the chief taster. In case of power cuts they can be brought out and placed on a cake cooling tray on top of the petchka and heated up that way. We also have a camping kettle which will also fit there so we can always have hot drinks. It is quite surprising what you can learn from other people and how they cope, all too often they are simple little things that you hadn't even considered. One thing to keep in mind is that the Bulgarians have survived much harder winters than we would have been used to, and they did so without many of the modern gadgets that we take for granted. So we can all learn from our neighbours, which is one of the best things about small village life, there is still a community spirit. So everyone seems to look out for everyone else.

In the last week I have noticed that I feel more and more like hibernating, or is that curling up with a good book? Maybe it is just the thought of winter looming on the horizon, or the still lengthening night times. Often the night time sky is so clear that it seems as though a handful of diamond dust has been scattered on a black velvet cloth. Out in the middle of nowhere there is very little light pollution so it is easy to watch satellites and stars, it just gets a wee bit chilly. So for all of the readers of our blog I hope that your plans for winter are all on course. If you do have elderly neighbours, or those who are on their own, please keep an eye, or at least an ear, out for them. One of my next tasks is to make a seed cake for the local birds, I always used to buy them but this year I thought that I would attempt to make my own. Fortunately the cats have lost interest with trying to catch the pork skin that we have hanging up, so if I am lucky they will do the same with the seed cake. We have also said that during winter we will try teaching our nearest neighbours some English, they will also try to improve our basic Bulgarian, so wish us luck.

We have already posted these small posters on the village website to start gettng people used to the different languages. Whether it will help or not remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Walk On The Wildside

It is with deep regret that we have to announce the sad demise of Summer. Greatly loved by many, and will be sorely missed. In recent times Summer has defied the prognosis by experts and has lasted much longer than originally predicted.

Yes folks it seems as though the gypsy summer has finally come to an end. We shouldn't complain too much as it has lasted until nearly the middle of November. I dare say that many of us could only dream of such a thing happening in the UK. In the last few weeks I can only remember a couple of frosty mornings and they haven't been recent events either. I have to admit that we have had to resort to the gas fire a couple of times but we have resisted the temptation to light the wood burners.

The past couple of days have been rather gloomy looking with grey skies and no real hint of sun. I think that the official term is 'claggy'. Even today it looked as though we had a touch of mist up on the hill. When we went into Gorna we discovered it to be the top of a cloud. We couldn't see down over the hill towards Polski, and it was getting thicker the lower we went. It made me quite glad that I had decided to go for my walk round the village on Sunday afternoon, as this would appear to be the final blue sky day for a while. I was going to head off towards one of the lakes, but as it was only me I changed my mind and decided to see where a farm track heading off towards some woods would take me. I even kept my ears open in case hunters were out and about, in which case I would have revised my plans again. Fortunately I didn't hear anything apart from the sounds of children playing somewhere in the village.

I was quite surprised to see that both bees and butterflies were still out and about. Maybe they were doing the same as me and enjoying the last of the summer sunshine. In one way I will be quite glad for the temperature to drop for a few days. Mainly due to the fact that I have at least one wasp nest up in the attic, and I am hoping that the cold will keep the wasps sleeping while I remove their nests. I don't really fancy trying to do what some people might think of as dance moves or a ninja workout in a restricted area under the roof. Maybe I will be lucky and they will have all have left home, although I somehow doubt that.

Anyway as I was wandering about it suddenly struck me that over the past few days all of the leaves seem to have been stripped from most of the trees. So everything is looking very autumnal, and getting themselves ready for winter. The various forecasts have been murmering about how this winter will be breaking records. They haven't actually said which records, but to my knowledge they have also said the same for the last few years. This will be winter number 6 for us, and all of the previous winters have been different. We can certainly say that it will be cold, there will be snow, but we can't say just how much or when, or even how long it will last.

It is surprising the things that you stumble across when you are just out wandering around. This structure was at the edge of woodland overlooking the village. I have a feeling that it has something to do with the villages water supply as I have seen Nikolai the waterman returning from  this direction on occasion. Looking at the state of it though it seems to have been there for quite some time, but with the breather tubes it might be the villages emergency water reservoir. Although an old cold war bunker complex sounds just as likely. One day we might be able to find out more of the village's history, and others have also asked about this in the village's Facebook group.

Even the other day I found out that some of the woods round the village were part of an experiment to find out which planting method, and which trees, returned the best yield. I think that looking at the regimented planting here I might have found one of the trial areas. Even though there have been some trees which have fallen over the years no one seems to have ventured there to acquire them. Maybe that might have something to do with the fact that it would be quite difficult to get a horse and cart up to that area. It was nice and peaceful up there in amongst the trees, with the only sound being my own feet moving through the dry leaves.

Round about this time the sun had started going down, and as the sun went down it was taking the temperature with it. So I headed out from between the trees and out onto the heathland and headed for home and a coffee. Others must have noticed the temperature change as I could see smoke starting to corkscrew up from quite a few chimneys. The good news is that Summer will return, we might have to wait a few months but it will be worth it.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Tales From The River Bank

A Visitor
European Tree Frog
Firstly a word of thanks from me. Earlier in the year I set this blog a target of 25,000 hits by Christmas. Well here we are just into the beginning of November and we have already exceeded that figure. This is all due to you having taken the time from your busy schedules to read my ramblings and musings. The number of people who follow these blogs has also increased,  so a very big thank you to these kind people.

November is always a busy month as the work getting ready for the winter continues. Our firewood has now all been cut up into 'cheeses', we have been out splitting a fortnight's supply. It might sound a bit odd only doing enough for a fortnight, but during the depths of winter splitting more wood gives me some exercise every day. So what was previously split will have dried nicely, and will be replaced by the freshly split stuff. I don't know if this is the best way to do it but it seems to work for us.

The garden has been stripped, and made ready for the winter. The veg plot has all been turned and fed, the garden has been weeded and partially turned. The majority of the trees have finally shed their leaves, and now look so bare. This has meant several bonfires, especially with the amount of leaves which always seem to accumulate. I have even been up ladders sawing branches down from a walnut tree as they could potentially have damaged the power lines coming into the house. I even checked that it was ok to do so with the Kmet. Normally E-On would have done this but since they sold out to Energo Pro our village seems to have been ignored for such matters. While stood out the front talking with one of the neighbours and the Kmet, it got round to the internet and they both seemed surprised that we also use Facebook. They were quite eager that we sent them friend requests, I did enquire if there was such a thing as a village Facebook group. There wasn't, but there is now and it now has over 60 members. Mind you I haven't a clue who half of them are, but they do seem to know the village and like the photos which have been put up. We do try to post in both languages. Maybe not everything we post in Bulgarian is grammatically correct, but we do get plenty of Brownie points for trying.

However, we have still managed to find time to get out in the fresh air and enjoy the countryside. The weather, up until today, has been glorious. Supposedly it has even been breaking records for temperatures in November. So we make the most of it when we can. Several of us decided that it would be nice to go out for a Sunday afternoon Ramble. We had often passed a track on our way into Polski Trambesh, and so we decided that would be a fine place to explore. Despite the fact that we haven't experienced any rain for a while it was surprising the amount of water which was still sat in some of the potholes. One of the good things about walking alongside a river is that the going is normally quite flat. Also rambling gives you the chance to see things that you might otherwise have missed, like dragonflies. Although Sod's Law did mean that by the time I had my camera sorted out they had buggered off. Unfortunately we also got to see several piles of building rubble spoiling the countryside.

So to make up for it here is a photo of some cows, who were also enjoying the autumn sunshine. Fishing is definitely a popular pasttime over here, and you will often see them lining the river banks, or fishing from the various bridges. The people that is, not the cows as they seem more content just mooching along eating grass. I don't know if anyone else has noticed but herds seem to be getting bigger here. Not only cows, but also sheep and goats.

For the most part we were able to enjoy the silence, apart from three lads who passed us on a quad bike and a couple of trail bikes. Thankfully that noise was short lived, but we did see them when we drove home coming down from Orlovets. So there has to be a way through to there, maybe we will discover that another time. We were all quite happy to enjoy the peace and tranquility. The gnats and midges we could have done without, but they are to be expected along the rivers. Heading away from the river there was plenty of sun scorched yellow grasses climbing the gentle slopes of the hills. This surprised me as I didn't think that this summer had been as hot as last year. Mind you, for all I know this grass is possibly meant to look like this.

At the top of a hill there was a rather curious structure made from wood. Have American Indians decided to pitch their teepees in the middle of rural Bulgaria? Perhaps Giants have been using it as an easel. Or perhaps it is just something to do with hunting. Whatever its purpose none of us really felt like traipsing up to the top of the hill just to have a closer look. Idle speculation seemed a much better idea.

Once the sun started sinking the temperature soon begins to drop, so all to soon it was time to retrace our steps and head  back to where the cars had been parked. None of us had over exerted ourselves, but we all felt much better for having a little bit of gentle exercise in the fresh air. We enjoyed it so much that we have decided to have another similar ramble at the weekend. That is providing that the weather picks back up, which it is forecast to do. Temperatures in the 20s during November are not to be turned down, and although the shorts might have been packed away the t-shirts are still in use. Some of the things that we saw made me wonder if Mother Nature wasn't a bit confused by this warm weather. So is it Autumn, or have we bypassed Winter and gone straight into Spring?


Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Stone Revisited

Wild Cyclamen
Some of you might remember the beginning of the year when some of us brave 'explorers' scaled the heights of the stone overlooking Gorna. This is the large ridge of rock which seems to stand as sentinel over the town, it is even floodlit at night. The last time that we made this journey we didn't have a camera between us. Well this week it was fine walking weather once the morning mist had burnt off, and armed with camera this time we decided that we were going once again climb the stone. We parked up and began our ascent, at least this time we had more of an idea about where we were going. It is surprising just how many Bulgarians there are also walking up and down the road, even with it being midweek. Apparently it gets even busier at the weekend. We decided that we were going to make the ascent without oxygen or climbing aids.

The Early Stages Were Quite Easy Going
Initially the going was easy, and then we got off the road and started heading off between the trees. All was going well at this stage, and no one was feeling the effects of oxygen deprivation as we began our ascent. We did express our sympathy for whoever had gone before us with their pots of paint. The first time that I had seen these markings I thought they might have been poor attempts at Spanish graffiti, but the Indian pathfinder had done quite a good job. Sometimes it might have been better if some of the marker points had been closer together. It was nice to see some good size clumps of wild cyclamen poking up through the blanket of fallen leaves. Even though we haven't had rain for a while the mist and fog had left some areas a little bit slick underfoot, which could catch out the unwary.

The Start Of The Stone
For a while we even had a Bulgarian couple following us, but that was short lived. maybe they felt that we didn't have a clue where we were going. We just had to follow the trail left by El Painto. Unfortunately they caught up with us just at the time when we had found a wide gap in the trail markings. With a little bit of perseverence we soon picked up the trail again and we continuedour assault on the big rock. It was surprising to see some of the big gaps under and between some of the rocks. They were big enough for bears to hide, or from observing the contents left in them the local wine and beer appreciation societies had recently held meetings there. It really is a shame that such areas of natural beauty are spoiled by rubbish being left strewn about.

Starting To Get Steeper
We continued our climb up through the trees, hopping from stone to boulder, and boulder to stone. It really does pay to wear some proper footwear when you are making these ascents. We could notice that the trees were getting less and less, and the sun was getting hotter. Beneath my backpack I was starting to sweat more than the last chicken in Colonel Sanders back garden in Kentucky. We burst through from the trees into an area of bushes and scrub. Fortunately it was a bit of a convenient passing area as an old man was coming down with his newspaper. So we moved to one side to let him pass, and then we continued ourselves. Even Chris Bonnington would have been proud of us as we reached the summit.

The Airport In The Distance
There are some stunning views looking out over the town of Gorna. The Bulgarian couple also appeared at the top at the same time, they didn't look as sweaty or as disshevelled as we were, so they must have found an easy way up. Unfortunately with the farmers burning the stubble off in the fields there is a bit of a smoggy haze which seems to be a permanent feature for this time of year. This view makes it all worth while, and on a really clear day it is amazing the number of villages which you can actually spot and name. The air was so still and quiet that we could hear the siren of an emergency vehicle in the distance. We think that it might have been between Yantra and Pravda but we couldn't be certain. I had carted the binoculars up there but no one could really be bothered to use them. It was enough to just be up there and looking out over the land below.

Looking Out Over Part Of Parvomaysti
Unfortunately we had another appointment so it seemed that no sooner were we at the top of the stone then it was time to start on our way down. This actually proved more problematic, as there could be small twigs hiding under the fallen leaves. Fortunately no one fell into the wine appreciation areas, and everyone made it down unscathed. All joking aside for anyone else thinkingabout attempting this climb, on a dry day it is really worthwhile. On a wet day perhaps it might not be so good. Always remember that a good pair of boots or walking trainers are much better than flip flops. Most of all don't forget to take a camera with you to record those views. This time of year is wonderful, especially with the autumn colours.