Sunday, 31 March 2013

An English Easter In Bulgaria

View from on top of the dam wall, looking towards Paisii
Looking towards Paisii
Like many English living in Bulgaria, this weekend has been spent celebrating the normal English Easter. The Eastern Orthodox is not until the beginning of May, so we have to wait a while for that one. So like many we get to celebrate Easter twice a year. Net decided that we would cook a typical English roast meal and have friends round to eat it with us. We just needed to get the fresh vegetables, and something for dessert, as we already had a Lamb joint. The easiest place for us to get everything is Kaufland in Gorna Oriahovitsa.

Now here comes one of my pet peeves, and maybe some of you have also noticed this. There are groups of gypsies going round the carpark there, you use the ATM and there is a gypsy hovering in the background. You start to pack your shopping in the car and a gypsy appears with their hand out, they want to take your trolley back so that they get to keep your 20 Stotinkis, or they want food that you have just bought. Then to top it all off another one turns up wanting to sell you some dodgy perfume. They can be quite aggressive and don't like taking no for an answer, and after a while my patience was wearing thin so they were then introduced to that Anglo Saxon phrase tha ends in off. I haven't noticed this happening at Metro, or even Lidl, maybe because they have security there.

CPFC badge
Right moan over, as is often the way there were football matches being played on the evening of Good Friday, and this included Crystal Palace playing Birmingham. I can quite safely say that I have seen more Palace matches televised over here than I ever did in the UK. I have to admit to wishing that I hadn't watched the match on Friday, we were awful and ended up losing 0-4. I can only hope that Monday's match against Blackpool will be a vast improvement. It might seem unusual, but since we have moved here, I have come into contact with people who are not ashamed to say that they support less than fashionable teams. In typical Crystal Palace fashion we never make things easy for ourselves, but then again looking at the results so far neither is anyone else in this division.

Lake view between Paisii and Strelets
Lake view
We had our big Easter meal yesterday, and it did make a pleasant change to share it with friends. I know that we could possibly do that at Christmas, but all too often the weather has a say about that. The meal was cooked to perfection, I would like to say that I helped with it but I was delegated to washing up duties, so maybe that helped in some small way. I also did the housework while the vegetables were being prepared. The weather looked very undecided, but earlier in the week the forecast sites had all been predicting that the temperatures were due to climb. Everyone had more than enough to eat, and the best of it is that I also have plenty left over for Bubble and Squeak to go with cold roast lamb. We were also spoilt with a choice of desserts, either a white chocolate cheesecake, strawberry flan or profiteroles. I have to admit that it was a difficult decision, I did eventually solve the dilemma but sampling something of everything. Typically after a meal like that a walk was required to aid digestion. It was still overcast but the breeze was definitely warmer than it has been of late. We decided that we would go for a wander round one of the lakes between our village and Strelets.

Wild Orchids in Bulgaria?
Wild Flowers
Everyone managed to get themselves booted up and then Yolanta took a bit of a tumble down our steps out to the lane. Luckily she was okay, just a bit shaken up, and nobody had had anything to drink apart from Dave and I. Yolanta decided that she was ok to carry on, so we all set off for the lake. It really was a great day for having a ramble and trying to walk off the excess calories. Everywhere there were signs of Spring being just round the corner. Wild flowers were in bloom, there was blossom on the wild Plum trees, bees and butterflies were busy flying between the two. It really was a glorious afternoon for a walk,if you ignored the rubbish that the fishermen had left behind. It really does start to irritate, they are quite happy taking full beer bottles with them, but seem incapable of taking the empty bottles home with them.

Lakeside, Paisii - Strelets
The Far Side Of The Lake
We continued on our voyage of discovery round the lake, and found a few points where springs drained into the lake. It was at one of these pointsthat we had our next problem. Most had managed to get across a stream without too much trouble, but Barb stepped back once she was across and slipped into the mud. Of course everyone was very sympathetic, and amidst giggling and tittering people eventually helped Barb up and out of the stream. I still had to cross, and decided to try crossing at another point. Probably not my best idea of the day, as I put my foot on what I thought was solid ground only to see my foot disappear into deep mud.

Stream Feeding into the Lake
The Dangerous Stream
The mud slowly gave me back my foot, but it sounded just like a spoon in a rude jelly. So as we continued our walk there were both Barb and I try to walk in the longer grass and getting rid of some of the mud. For those not familiar with Bulgarian mud it is something that seems as though it has been mixed with a strong glue. It is no wonder that a lot of locals use it in the boundary walls instead of cement. For the unwary any walk across a damp field can often result in you growing a good couple of inches. The downside is that it feels as though you are wearing a pair of old fashioned diving boots, but it can give your thighs a very good workout.

The weather was warming up and jackets were being peeled off, but with the warmer weather comes the insects. On a personal note, I will suffer the insects as I am fed up with there being a constant bite to the air. It was so warm last night that even the local frogs turned their volume up as they serenaded each other. It won't be too long and they will be providing that constant background buzz, it sounds something similar to the buzz you hear when stood beneath power lines.

We even remembered to change the clocks last night before we went to bed. This proved very useful as we had an earlier start to pick Yolanta up and go to the Car Boot Sale at the Dragizhevo camp site. It was the first one of the year and was very nice to meet up with friends that we haven't seen in a while. There were certainly plenty of people about, and despite a breeze everyone seemed to be making the most of the chance to catch up with each other. The weekend hasn't finished in the UK yet as there is still Bank Holiday Monday to come.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


Ivancha Todorovden 2013
Meeting in the square of Ivancha
On the first Saturday of Lent, five weeks before Easter, Bulgaria celebrates Todorovden. This is also known as Horse Easter. We were told that the village of Ivancha was going to be celebrating this and so we decided that we would go along and see what was happening. It was a bit up in the air on the Friday as it was snowing, and would we be able to make it down off of the hill.

Luckily Saturday morning started with bright blue skies. The wind had picked up again, and the gusts certainly had a bit of a raw edge to them. As we had never been to Ivancha before, we thought it best to meet up in Polski trambesh and follow from there. It also gave us a chance to have a coffee and a loo break before we got to Ivancha, as we were told that it was only 12 minutes away.

Todorovden, decorated horses and carts
Decorated carts
We arrived in the square shortly after 10, and there was a ladies choir singing, but only a couple of horses there. We didn't know if we had missed anything as we were told that there would be a parade of horses and carts, but everyone seemed to be getting in their cars and leaving. We thought that it might be wise to follow them, although there was no one to really follow by the time that we had loaded up. We had seen the general direction that everyone had headed so off we went. Thankfully someone managed to point us in the right direction, and eventually we saw a lot of cars parked up near the cemetary, It was either a bloody big funeral, or it was the right place, and as luck would have it there were plenty of horses, donkeys and carts milling round.

Everyone seemed to be hanging around waiting for the wind to die down. Looking at the area geographically we were in a valley with hills either side, and the wind was being channeled straight down between them. They held a race but it wasn't too successful, as the wind was spooking the horses, so for safety they decided to call off the other races, but the attendance was a distinct improvement on last year when they only attracted 3 horses.

A Stork enjoying the strong wind
Stork gliding
A local family of Storks were about the only things enjoying the wind. They were just gliding head on into the wind, like some modern day version of a Pterodactyl. You wouldn't want to be beneath the flight path of one of these if it was caught short, but we shouldn't complain too much as the warmer weather is just around the corner. Our next task was to find a cafe back in the square, so that we could get a coffee and warm ourselves up. It was decided that despite the wind the day was too nice to waste, so we wanted to go walking somewhere. On a previous trip I had noted a sideroad off of the main road that the fishermen use, the big question was would I be able to find it again?

Bridge over the River Yantra
A nice spot for a picnic
I am happy to report that I didn't suffer a navigation malfunction, and managed to find it without any problem. As we drove down the side road towards the river one of those 'traffic census' ladies was walking back up. I have a sneaking suspicion that she had not been fishing. Even though we are mid March, we sat down on the other side of the bridge, out of the wind, and had our first picnic. The noise of the bullfrogs in the pond next to us was louder than the traffic on the road. The river was running quite fast and the sunshine was causing little diamond sparkles on each wavelet, and what a civilised way to spend an afternoon.

Blossom along the river
With the picnic done it was time to explore along the river. There were signs of life springing up wherever we looked, the trees are showing signs of coming into leaf, and the wild fruit trees are plastered in blossom. Even with the strong wind at our backs it was great to be out in the fresh air. It is disappointing to see the amount of rubbish that has just been dumped. Sometimes I do wonder if people actually appreciate the beauty of the countryside that Bulgaria has in abundance. Surely it can't be too difficult for people to take their rubbish home with themselves.
Wild Daffodils

Even in the most surprising of places there are little splashes of colour, as Mother Nature wakes from her winter slumbers. We have daffodils growing in the garden, but they are not even close to flowering, so we have that treat to look forward to. We have the other direction of the river to explore next time, and there will be a next time as it really is a great spot for a picnic. It is surprising what a little bit of sunshine, and longer days, can do to make for long term plans. The countryside is wonderful round here and we fully intend to make the most of it. All in all I count yesterday as a great success, and we spent it in the company of some great people, which makes it that much better. You know who you are so a very big thank you, and looking forward to the next time already.

Must be some good fishing

Friday, 22 March 2013

It Is Officially Spring In Bulgaria

Forsythia buds Spring in Bulgaria
Forsythia buds
On Wednesday the 20th March Spring officially arrived in Bulgaria. This was the date of the Vernal, or Spring Equinox. On this day the length of both day and night are approximately the same. Even the word Equinox, which is based in Latin, tells us this, Aequus means equal and Nox means night. It is on this day that the sun rises directly in the East and sets directly in the West. Which is worth bearing in mind if you wish to put up a weather vane and you don't have a compass. The sun has now passed back into the Northern hemisphere, and believe it or not the weather is due to start warming up. I only point this out as we are still in March, and as previously pointed out Baba Marta can be a crotchety old lady.

March snow flurries in Bulgaria
March snow flurries
Even as this is being written we are looking out at flurries of snow.Luckily the ground is wet from last night's rain and the snow is not pitching on the ground at the moment. Maybe the Storks are starting to regret returning quite so early. Since they have come back, they have had to suffer torrential downpours, they have been battered by gale force winds and now they are being subjected to snow. Probably round about now their wintering grounds in Africa are looking so much more inviting. It is not only the Storks that we have to feel sorry for at the moment, if you listen closely in the evening you can hear the frogs and their chorus. Admitedly it isn't up to full volume yet, and the nighttime temperatures are still a wee bit on the chilly side, but it will not be long before each evening will be accompanied that background buzz.

Fruit tree blossom in Bulgaria
Fruit tree blossom
Everywhere that you look in the garden there are signs of new life and growth. The snowdrops and crocuses have finished flowering, and the daffodils and tulips will soon be replacing them. There are leaf buds now showing on the trees, and on some of the fruit trees in the garden we have blossom. We are just hoping that this cold spell will not have an adverse effect on the blossom. I did notice that there were plenty of Bees round them yesterday, so if we are lucky they will already have done some of the pollination. At the moment we only have the one fruit tree in blossom, the only downside is that this is the first time it has blossomed since we planted it. As a consequence we are not really sure what sort of fruit tree it is, but it is reassuring to know that it is strong and healthy and has survived the winter. If I am lucky it will be a peach tree, it has always been a wish of mine to step outside  and pluck a fresh juicy peach from one of our own trees. That is not to say that I don't enjoy walking round the fruit and vegetable market in Gorna, with peach juice running down my arm and dripping from my elbow.

Fruit tree blossom, Bulgaria
Maybe I should take this opportunity to remind you all that in just over a week the clocks will be changing. On Sunday the 31st March at 3 o'clock the clocks will go forward one hour, so everyone will end up with an hour less in bed. Just in case people are like me and have trouble remembering which direction the clocks change, a useful aide memoire is "Spring forward, Fall back". It has saved me some confusion over the years, even if fall ought to be autumn, but that doesn't make  as much sense.

Some of the more observant ones amongst you will have noticed that the layout of this blog has slightly changed, with some badges on the left hand side. These are links to various ExPat blog sites, so if you write your own blog you can get them promoted there. They do work as I have had readers from Mauritius and Vietnam reading these ones. Readers can also vote on your blogs as well, but I don't know how that works, so to our fellow bloggers it is another way that you can reach a wider audience.

The last snows of 2012/13 Bulgaria
The final flurries?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Our Drive Out :- Day Four

Day Four

We woke up cold and stiff, well before the birds were up. The joys of Chisineu Cris had long since evaporated, we were hungry and in need of coffee, maybe there would be something in Arad, on the map it seemed like a big city, and it even had an airport. My logic said where there is an airport there would be coffee and something to eat, so with that thought in mind we set off, it was still too dark to sort out the animals and Fenny was still snoring.
The road heading for Arad was just as bad as we had remembered from last night, it seemed to be more pothole than road. Thank heavens we had decided to take the 4x4 and not something else which would have shaken itself to bits. It might have been early but lorries were still out and about. We reached Arad as dawn broke, it certainly didn’t look appealing the roads for a city were just as bad as we had been travelling on. The city was awake though, cars being driven at breakneck speed, engines revving and horns tooting. You definitely needed your wits about you as cars cut you up, and all the locals seemed to think that it was your fault, they were introduced to the universal two fingered salute on several occasions. What a revolting city, they could stuff their coffee and something to eat, we couldn’t wait to get out of there, which was when we hit roadworks. They were a joke, maybe they were putting pot holes in and not filling them.

Once we left Arad and the roadworks behind us, we pulled over to sort the animals out. We had been spoilt throughout the rest of Europe with their service stations, loos, and something to eat and drink. These niceties seemed to have totally bypassed Rumania, the layby was just a bit of dirt and gravel at the side of the road, at least we had nearly a full tank of fuel.

The road hadn’t improved either and this was meant to be a main road. No wonder everyone else had said allow yourself a day to go through Rumania, and to do it in daylight. We seemed to be passing through shanty town after shanty town, Rumania was no longer on our list of places to visit, Dracula could keep it. We were in the back of beyond when at last we spotted a sign saying fuel, cafe, loos and rest stop. We pulled in and all we could see was articulated lorries, if it was good enough for truckers it would do for us. The animals were soon sorted out and Fenny had a bit of a walk in the freshish air. We headed for the cafe and disappointment, we were able to order coffee but the Lei notes that I had were too big. So two coffees cost us 3 Lei and 3 Euros, we wouldn’t have minded too much had it been nice coffee but warm mud would probably have tasted better. We couldn’t even use the loos on the other side of the car park as they were locked, and looked as though they had been for a long while. No wonder the car park smelt of wee, at least our mobile litter tray didn’t smell out of place.

Back on the road again and we headed for the Carpathian mountains. The road climbed and dipped, by now we had had enough of Rumania and decided that if nothing else we would get out of the country by the end of the day. We ploughed on mile after mile, or should I say kilometre after kilometre at least the scenery was starting to improve as we passed through mountain gorges beside rivers, with kids trying to sell bags of walnuts beside the road.
We managed to stop for fuel at a petrol station in a town, we don’t know which one as I have said before all we wanted to do was get out of the country as soon as possible. At least we were able to get cold drinks and some biscuits to nibble on, which would keep us going. The road started to become a switch back as we climbed up and down hill sides. I think that it was about at Pitesti when all of a sudden the road improved, no more potholes. We were able to make good time on towards our next hurdle, Bucarest.

The Sat Nav was behaving itself, and a service station with loos came into view. They were nothing special, but at least they were clean, had running water and were actually open. The only down side were the packs of dogs that were barking at each car that came in for fuel. A much needed pit stop behind us we continued on wards towards Bucarest. We had been made aware that it was easy to miss the turn towards the border, the Sat Nav took us straight to it before trying to send us in the wrong direction, at least we were able to go round the block and get back onto the right road. At that time we decided to phone the estate agents, as it looked like we were going to arrive a day earlyThe road surface seemed to have degenerated to little more than a dirt track again, but at least we were heading for Giurgiu, and the border crossing.

To get to the border seemed to take an eternity, the light was fading thank heavens for the early start. We even noticed that they still had Christmas decorations up, and sparkly lights on the pedestrian crossings. At long last the bridge over the Danube came into view, now all we had to do was find out how to get to it, the road signs for Ruse were not a lot of use. In the end we followed a car with BG plates and eventually arrived at the border crossing. We waited in line and eventually passed through after paying a bridge tax. Once through, the next challenge was to try and find our way onto the bridge. A lorry seemed to know where he was going so we followed him, at long last we were on the bridge and about to leave Rumania, halfway across we both let out a sigh of relief. We were sat in a queue of lorries and didn’t seem to be getting any further, a car behind us decided to pull out and try beating the queue. A moment later it was reversing past where it had come from being pursued by half a dozen lorries. Maybe there were traffic lights up ahead, and slowly the queue of traffic started to move forwards.

We managed to get off of the bridge, but were still snarled up in amongst the lorries, and had to wait until we got past the crash barriers to get into the car lane. Patiently we waited our turn, the car in front of us was having to open its boot and bonnet, and take all bags out to be checked. Someone was in for a big surprise if they chose to do that with us, hopefully they would have a very bad head cold. Then it was our turn, we presented all 6 passports which were barely glanced at, we confirmed that we were English and that we had bought a house in Bulgaria. With a nod, a wave and a welcome to Bulgaria we had arrived, the only thing left to do was buy a vignette. Again a cheerful Bulgarian, speaking excellent English welcomed us to Bulgaria.
Now it was a straight run down to Veliko Turnovo, as command had decided that we were in touching distance of our goal and that we would press onwards. The roads were an awful lot better than those in Rumania, but I was getting tired. I kept my speed down, much to the annoyance of the lorry drivers behind us, but I would rather get there in one piece. That was the only time throughout the whole journey that nerves got a bit frayed. I concentrated on the road and followed the signs and the Sat Nav for VT. Once in VT I nearly had our first accident of the trip, I got confused with the road layout and couldn’t remember if the memorial was a roundabout or not, it probably worried the two kids on a scooter more than me. We pulled up outside the estate agents at 10pm, and phoned them up, at which time we found out that they had sent us a text message saying that if we were coming in on the Ruse road they could meet us at Byala if we would like. We had been through there over an hour ago.

Not to worry they would meet us at the office, they duly turned up and it was a great relief to sit on something other than a car seat. While we were drinking tea they even loaded up a Bulgarian Auto Route onto the Sat Nav for us. They said that they would lead us to our village, and once we had finished our tea we set off. We hadn’t even left VT when they remembered that they had left the keys in the office, we waited while they went off to collect them.

Back on the road again, we headed off for the village. I am glad that we opted to follow them, as there is no way on earth that we would have found the house otherwise, the Sat Nav had managed to find the village but without street names we would have been totally buggered. We pulled up outside the house and it felt like we had finally arrived home. We unloaded the car, and opened up the cat boxes once indoors. At which point Greebo made a bee line for the girl’s box, and promptly burst his banks. All the way across Europe and he had kept his legs crossed, that first evening he really made up for it. With great relief we got out the blow up mattress and had our first decent night’s sleep since the UK. We still had a couple of days until the lorry turned up with the rest of our bits and pieces.

That is the end of our travel blog, and we would like to thank all those who have taken time to read it and offer their encouragement.

Our Drive Out :- Day Three

Day Three

The cold grey fingers of dawn on Monday crept up on us, but it wasn’t that that had woken me. It was the Austrian clean up crew, their wagon was parked behind us and the radio was blaring out as they rattled and banged their way round emptying the bins. Daft o’clock in the morning and already there was life in Austria, most of the lorries had already left. Time to fiddle with the Sat Nav, looking on the map it all seemed fairly straight forward, but just to be on the safe side I only programmed it for Gyor in Hungary.

Once Jannette had finally surfaced it was down to the normal routine of sorting the animals out. The clean up crew had now left so we took the opportunity to hide some of the incriminating evidence from the cat boxes in their nice clean bins. With the animals fed and watered, with the exception of Greebo, we set off on the next stage of the big adventure.

All was going well until we hit the outskirts of Linz, we must have arrived at the Monday morning rush hour. There were cars joining and leaving the ring road, and signs coming thick and fast. At long last the Sat Nav came into its own, with keep in the left hand lane and keep in the right hand lane, take the left fork and then stay right we safely managed to negotiate our way out of a potential trip round the joys of Linz.

A wee bit further along the road and the munchies hit us, at the next sign posted truck stop with a cafe we pulled over. Once again it looked like the extras from the Sound of Music had got there before us. We shared a huge breakfast for two gazing out at snow capped mountains in the distance, we even had Darjeeling tea, very civilised. No milk though, but we coped. We paid up and left just as a bus load of Japanese tourists arrived, we couldn’t have timed it better.

Back to the chore of sorting the animals out and liberally spraying the Prada round, we even got to wear some ourselves. After a couple of hours I felt the need for more coffee, we went into one truck stop but it was so busy, I thought that all of Austria had decided to visit. Nothing for it but to head onto the next truck stop. We arrived and parked up, I went in search of coffee while Jannette sorted out the animals. Once the coffees were drunk I took Fenny for a walk round the car park, there seemed to be some sort of dog show going on at the hotel and I wasn’t the only one exercising a dog. The couple in the car next to us had spotted that we had a Boxer and started asking about his pedigree and the breeder, it only turned out that they knew of the breeder in Southampton. They can’t have been Austrian as they didn’t know anything about the vignette.

Time to hit the road again, which proved uneventful until we got to the outskirts of Vienna, and the ring road. Once again the Sat Nav safely took us round, we were starting to appreciate it now and the idea of just programming in short hops seemed to be bearing fruit. Once we left Vienna behind us it was a straight run down towards the Hungarian border at a place called Nickelsdorf. Just before the border we stopped to fuel up, get the vignette for Hungary and change Euros into Florints. To get the vignette I had to produce my passport and car documents. Those obtained we drove straight through the border point, which was totally deserted.

A quick pit stop to program the Sat Nav, our route map said that we were to make Arad which would be the first city in Rumania. The Hungarian roads were just as good as any of the other roads that we had been travelling on. The weather had improved and it seemed like we had left the rain far behind, even the sun was coming out. We had come all that way and finally we were getting to see blue skies.

We remembered that people had said to leave a whole day to travel through Rumania so our idea was to get as close to the border as possible, fuel the car, hopefully get a Rumanian vignette and then wait for daylight. It all sounded good in theory and so we set off into Hungary.

We passed Gyor and the Sat Nav was behaving itself, we passed Tatabanya and headed for Budapest. Once we got past the Budapest ring road the Sat Nav threw another wobbly, and tried to take us to Szeged. Our route planner said that we should cross the border at Gyula, in hindsight maybe we should have taken note of what the Sat Nav was telling us. We reprogrammed it to take us to Gyula.

The closer we were getting to Rumania the worse the roads were getting, and it was getting dark as well. Sometimes it seemed as though the Sat Nav was now taking us along dirt tracks that twisted and turned like nobodies business. We must have been heading in the right direction as lorries were passing us. There was nothing for it, but to follow a lorries tail lights. Luckily once we got close to Gyula the roads started to improve.

At each border crossing we had been able to get fuel and a vignette for the next country so we hoped that we would be able to do the same there. The signs for the border crossing were very vague, and the Sat Nav told us that we weren’t even on a road. We just kept heading for the bright lights and hoped that it was the right direction. More by luck than judgement we managed to arrive at the border crossing, no fuel station and no truck stop. Nothing for it but to cross into Rumania and hope for the best.

The border crossing is very badly laid out, and we ended up trying to go through the lorry crossing. At least the border guard spoke a form of English, and he told us to back up and go through the car crossing. We eventually found it, and lo and behold they even looked at the pet passports, they were only interested in Fenny as they couldn’t see the cats in their boxes, not that they could understand anything that the passports said. We passed through into Rumania, while I was getting the vignette and changing my Florints into Lei a Gypsy decided that we would wash the car. He didn’t do a good job and wanted 6 Euros for doing it, I gave him 2 and told him to bugger off. The next priority was to get some fuel, the first pump didn’t work but luckily the second one did. By this time we just wanted to get away from the border and wait for daylight. The first habitation that we came to was a place called Varsand, I have seen nicer looking shanty towns, there was no way we were stopping there for the night. Maybe Arad would be better. The bloody Sat Nav took us in the opposite direction and we ended up in a place called Zerind, another Godforsaken place. We turned round and headed towards Arad, we had passed a brightly lit hotel complex and garage on the way to Zerind, that would have to do. We paid 3 Euros to park, but at least the car park was patrolled and so we felt relatively safe.

Our Drive Out :- Day Two

Day Two

Once we woke up and sorted out the pets a command decision was made, we would follow the sign posts for Aachen, as we knew that was in Germany, and for the time being we would ignore the Sat Nav. Once we had got to Aachen we would start to pay attention to the Sat Nav as we should be back on track.

The plan seemed to be going well as we were now heading towards Koblenz, we confirmed that it was on the route map and the marked route on the road atlas. We started to wonder if the Germans had heard about the trouble with the world markets as there were so many Ferraris roaring past. It wasn’t until we got to near the Nurburgring race circuit that we found out why, they were having a Ferrari race meet there. The trees through Germany were in their full autumnal colours, what with watching them and the multitude of Ferraris on the road we didn’t notice that the Sat Nav had thrown another wobbly. You’ve guessed it, the bloody thing was trying to take us to Serbia again (hence the title of this blog).

The nice thing about travelling through Germany is the amount of lay-bys and the standard of them. They are certainly a lot better than the motorway service stations in the UK. At the first available one we pulled in and grabbed a quick forty winks after the routine of sorting the pets out.
Once we woke up we consulted the road atlas, turning on the Sat Nav we found a use for it. It told us where we were, somewhere between Ludwigshafen and Speyer. All was not lost, it looked like we could cut across country and pick up our proposed route near to Nuremburg. To prevent the Sat Nav trying to take charge of our destiny we decided that we would first check the atlas and then only program in that day’s destination.
Our goal that night was to get to Passau, where we could rest up before heading into Austria the next day. So unless you wish to travel via Serbia we would suggest this method to anyone else contemplating the journey, that and consulting a route finder and taking a good European road atlas with you.
We did stop at service stations to check on the animals, and to feed and water ourselves. Walking Fenny was a good way to stretch our legs and get the kinks out of our bodies, by now the cats had decided that they were not coming out of their boxes for anything or anybody. Every time that we stopped we had to clean the 2 girls and their boxes, we were getting worried about Greebo as he didn’t seem to be eating much and drinking even less. Even more concerning was the fact that he hadn’t been to the loo since our unenforced stop just outside of Poole. The German lay-bys might be nice but all he wanted was to stay in his box.

Even though our plan to fool the Sat Nav seemed to be working we had both developed a paranoid distrust of it. So with me driving and with Jannette map reading and looking out for sign posts we started heading towards Passau. The roads in Germany on a Sunday seemed remarkably quiet, even the number of Ferraris had now dwindled to a trickle. Instead of our proposed diagonal trip across Germany we had now completed the down bit of the letter L, and all that was now required was the bit along the bottom.

The road to Passau was largely uneventful, the girls decided that once one had been to the loo in their box and been cleaned up the other one decided that it was their turn. The car was now starting to smell like a mobile cat litter tray even with the windows open, if it hadn’t been raining we would have opened the sun roof as well. The car air freshener wasn’t coping so at the next stop Jannette rummaged in one of the bags and came out with one of my after shaves. The Prada seemed to be doing the trick, so it should at the price and it wasn’t even duty free.

We rolled into a big service station at Passau just as it was getting fully dark, after putting fuel in the car and getting the vignette for Austria once again it was time to sort out the animals. Tinks and Luna were still refusing to come out of their boxes, and Greebo was still on his hunger strike. He wouldn’t even be tempted by his favourite treats. Fenny was as good as gold apart from suffering with bad wind, I know the old saying about blaming it on the dog but you couldn’t avoid the awful smell emanating from him.

The animals sorted it was our turn to get fed and watered. We were sat in the all night cafe drinking a final coffee when the extras from the Sound of Music turned up, complete with Lederhosen, hairy socks and knobbly knees. Now there’s something that you don’t see everyday at Fleet services.
We got back to the car and found that a refrigerated lorry had parked up near us and it was making an awful racket. There was no way that we were going to be able to sleep with that noise, incontinent cats, a constipated cat and a dog suffering with terminal flatulence. The only thing that we could do was move the car to a quieter spot, maybe we were getting used to the animals by then, at least we had the Prada.

Early in the morning, very early in the cold morning, we were woken by yet another noise, the engine on a Czech coach had caught fire. People were running here and there with fire extinguishers. There was no way that we would get back to sleep after all of that rumpus, but at least we had managed a good few hours sleep, so we headed further East and crossed into Austria at Engelhartszell.

If we count the UK, we were now into our fifth country, and no one had asked about the pets or their passports. A nice quiet lay-by came into view, it was still dark and we were knackered. We stopped and were soon fast asleep, surrounded by lorries of all shapes and sizes.

Our Drive Out :- Day One Part Two

Day One: Part Two

So with a wave and a toot of the horn we were finally off to our new life. Competing with the Saturday afternoon traffic going into Poole we finally made it onto the main road out, passing one road there was our eldest daughter flashing her headlights and her and the grandchildren waving like lunatics, our final goodbye and bon voyage.

We had managed about 5 miles and our noses were assaulted by a nasty smell coming from the back. You’ve guessed it, one of the cats had decided to say farewell to Poole in their own special way. Into Sainsbury’s car park to sort out Greebo again, trying to get his lead onto his harness without getting ourselves covered was no mean feat. In the end we took him out in his cat box, as that had to be cleaned again, he was not a happy boy. The 2 girls and Fenric didn’t seem too concerned, the girls were asleep and Fenric was carefully observing all that was going on. The clean up operation complete, evidence hidden in a Sainsbury’s bin, everything stowed back in the correct position and we were off again. At least the ferry wasn’t until 10 that evening so plenty of time for any more mishaps.

We made good time to Dover, arriving at about 6. We had planned to feed, water and exercise the animals both before and after the ferry crossing. The cats now didn’t want to come out of their boxes, but Fenric was more than happy to get out and stretch his legs. So the cats were fed and watered in their boxes while Fenny ate and drank in the car park. We decided to fill the tank up while in Dover to prevent having to find a petrol station in the dark, we also stocked up on mints and sweets. Then into the ferry port itself, where we were expecting a wait. Through the French passport check, they were only interested in ours not the Pet’s, and onto the ferry check in bit. As luck would have it the 6.30 sailing was delayed and they would put us on that one, once again no one interested in the pet passports, it did make us wonder why we had bothered with them. So we navigated our way round to gate 43 to wait our turn.

By now the wind was getting up and the rain was starting to lash down. Not ideal conditions for crossing the channel, but we had chosen the Dover-Dunkirk route as it meant that the animals would have least time in the car during the ferry crossing. Finally we were called forward to load onto the ferry. We were told that our P sticker meant that we would be put near ventilation because of the animals, but that didn’t make any difference as we were just directed to follow the car in front.

The car safely in the hold, and the animals checked on we went in search of coffee and something to eat. The water in the port was starting to get a bit choppy as the wind was picking up even more, we were soon to find out the conditions in the channel. The ferry eventually nosed out past the breakwater and started to lurch and roll. As it was dark we couldn’t see the white cliffs, just the street lights bouncing about on the horizon. It was soon after that Jannette found out that she had somehow forgotten to pack her sea legs, a cigarette on the back end of the ferry didn’t help. Even when we had found shelter from the wind, the smell of marine diesel caused her stomach to lurch and roll in time with the ferry. Not a very pleasant channel crossing for her, although once we started to see the lights of the French coast the motion of the ferry seemed to calm down a bit. Then it was past the breakwater and into the Port of Dunkirk. Somewhere that I had always wanted to go as my Grandfather was picked up from there some 60 odd years before, not that I would see much as it was dark. While we were waiting to disembark Jannette checked on the animals, while I fitted the filters onto the headlights, and putting our destination into the Sat Nav. Then we were off into the great unknown, driving on the wrong side of the road. At least there was less traffic on the road to contend with, but the roads are pitch black and no such things as cats eyes. Before our journey I had downloaded a route map and transferred that onto the road atlas, as we didn’t want to get lost in the great unknown.

By my calculations we should only have been in France a short while before crossing into Belgium, but we seemed to be criss-crossing the border as we went. We did pass a sign saying something about Flanders, which we seemed to remember from history lessons in school as being in Belgium. Onto our first set of roadworks and where we should have continued straight on according to the Sat Nav we found ourselves going off of a slip road. At least the Sat Nav got us back onto the right route, even if it did mean back tracking and going round roundabouts. At the first sign of habitation we stopped to feed and water the animals, the cats didn’t seem to like the Belgian air even on their leads and harnesses all they wanted to do was get back into their hated cat boxes. Fenny was quite happy doing his normal prancing around, just so long as he was with his Mummy and Daddy he didn’t care where he was. Animals fed and watered and us with a pit stop we decided to make the most of our extra couple of hours and head for the German border, or at least get as close to it as we could.

After a while we had the sneaking suspicion that the Sat Nav was trying to take us away from our goal. We pulled over, and sure enough it was trying to take us through Switzerland and Serbia. The bloody thing had a death wish, didn’t it understand that that Serbia would invalidate the pet passports. Consulting the atlas we worked out that if we set the route via Liege it should get us back on track. We got as far as Verviers before it threw it’s next wobbly and once again decided that Serbia was the best route for us, we only noticed this because we saw signs for Aachen pointing in the other direction. Once we had eventually got close to the German border, after poking and prodding at the Sat Nav we decided to call it a night. A walk for Fenny and another fruitless attempt to get the cats out of their cat boxes then it was time for some sleep in the car. Our original plan of one sleeping, while the other drove, was now out of the window courtesy of the suicidal Sat Nav.

Our Drive Out :- Day One Part One

It has just occured to me that many will not have had a chance to read this travel blog of our journey out, so I have just dug it out 

Day One: Part One

The previous night we had had a text message from Oggi saying that the lorry would be with us at about 9 o’clock in the morning, as the lorry had a trailer on the back of it could we suggest a secure lorry park where the driver could leave his trailer. Luckily we live in Poole so we thought that the ferry port would have facilities, a quick call to our youngest daughter’s other half (a Policeman) confirmed that this would be the best option.

An early start for us on the Saturday morning included putting harnesses onto the dog (Fenric) and the 3 cats (Greebo, Luna and Stinky Tinks). Fenric was put into the garage to keep him out of the way, and the cats went into their boxes, much to their disgust. We took final gas and electric readings and with a final cup of tea phoned them through. The family started arriving just before 9, ready to give a hand loading the lorry.

Another text from Oggi saying that the driver was not able to leave his trailer at the ferry port as it was for ferry traffic only, could we suggest anywhere else? As we were replying this massive artic and trailer turned into our road. Luckily our neighbours had parked on our side of the road effectively holding enough parking space for lorry and trailer, they were all quite happy to give up their parking spaces, maybe they were just happy to finally be getting rid of us.

The rest of the family arrived and the loading of the lorry got under way. Oggi had calculated that with 4 men it would take 4 hours, with the family lifting and shifting and the driver organising it took 2 and a half, even with an interfering Grandson trying to take over from the driver. A call from one of our Granddaughters informed us that one of the cats had exploded, on walking into the kitchen we understood what she meant. We know that the cats dislike their boxes with a passion but this was a new one on us, So it was Greebo out of his box, Jannette wiping him down with wet wipes while I cleaned out his box, thank heavens for French windows as we needed all of the fresh air that we could get.

The lorry was all loaded and the paperwork all signed, as the lorry gingerly drove away through the parked cars lining both sides of the road we thought that finally we were actually on our way. One final thing to do before we set off ourselves, a family breakfast, so 7 adults and 6 Grand kids descended on our local cafe for a final full English.

Breakfast done and it was time to load up Jannette’s 4x4 with the pets and the final bits and pieces, Fenric ending up with most room. Passports, both ours and the pets, were checked and double checked along with the ferry booking details. That was it, we were almost off, no mess, no fuss, no fanfares we were actually going. Just the final goodbyes to say, our next door neighbour’s gave us a lovely card wishing us well in our new life. Then it was the families turn, most were fine but our youngest daughter’s eyes started to water and that nearly set Jannette off. Kisses and cuddles all round and then it was our turn to load ourselves into the 4x4, as I’d not driven it before it was decided that I would drive to get used to her before getting to grips with driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Boss Is Away

As I write this Net is in the hospital in Razgrad, no don't panic everything is alright. A friend of ours has had to go in and have an operation on her ankle. Unfortunately her Mother is also in hospital, albeit a different one, so Net has volunteered to go over and help out. I don't know about anyone else, but I have always found hospital stays to be mind numbingly boring. It is also much nicer to wake up from an operation to see a friendly face there. Anyway we had to alter various plans that had previously been made and make sure that Net had enough bits and bobs to cover all eventualities. So yesterday it was a case of loading Net and her bits and pieces into the car and taking her over to our friends so that they could both go to the hospital together. It was quite fortunate that we went when we did, as just inside the borders of the village of Kamen we saw two Storks sat upon their nest.

We had passed other nests and open fields but these were the first two that we actually spotted. People have been reporting that the Storks are out and about in the country. It has also meant that we can now remove our Martenitsi, ours are now  hanging in fruit trees in the garden. They might have started off as red and white, but seeing as we have been wearing them since the start of the month they are looking a bit dishevelled, and now appear more red and grey. I say that it was fortunate that we saw them when we did, as even though I did look for them on my return journey there was no sign of them anywhere. For some strange reason we don't have any Stork nests in the village, or if there is one we have never managed to find it. Even though they are fascinating birds to watch I wouldn't really want them next to the house as they do make a bit of a racket with their beaks, and who knows what the cats and dogs would make of them.

So my first job on getting home was to tie the Martenitsi in fruit trees. Well it would have been but I had noticed a message taped to our gate. A courier company had tried to deliver something to us while I was dropping Net off. The only problem was that it wasn't for us it was for a neighbour down the road and she had been waiting for them to turn up. Luckily there was a contact number at the bottom so hopefully she was able to get it sorted out. So the message eventually got delivered to the correct address, and our Martenitsi are now adorning some fruit trees in the garden.

So at home at the moment there is just me and the animals. I think that I am meant to be in charge but the rest of the motley crew seem to have other ideas, and Mr Cat definitely thinks that he and Albert are in charge. I get looks of complete and utter disdain if I make too much noise while I am doing the housework and it disturbs their rest. Mini will complain if I am a couple of minutes late with their breakfast, and SillyO just tries attacking anything and everything. The dogs want food, attention and warmth, not neccessarily in that order but preferably all together. I have tried explaining that there are three dogs and I only have two hands, to make their feelings known they try gassing me. The dogs made sure that I had enough wood sorted out so that they could have their fire in the evening, no wonder people say that it is a dog's life, our three don't do so bad. 

Yesterday afternoon was spent painting that white Var stuff on the fruit. i have often asked what it is for and have received various different answers. The two that seem to make most sense are that insects are easier for birds to spot and so eat. The other being that walking and boring bugs don't like the lime so look elsewhere. The last one is probably correct as I have previously seen ants 'farming' the aphids. Whatever the purpose it also looks neat and tidy, and gives the impression that someone is caring for the garden. It is a bit like trying to paint porridge onto the bottom metre of the trunk. I think that I was doing it properly, although Sirrius did try washing it off of one tree just after I had finished 'painting' it. 

This morning started off with brilliant sunshine so I was quite looking forward to working out in the garden today. I did the normal routine of sorting the animals out, sorting myself out and then the housework. Believe or not ladies, us menfolk aren't totally helpless in these matters. I might even have a stab at the laundry tomorrow, if I'm lucky nothing will end up pink.

Once I got outside it was a matter of getting the patio furniture back out from under the barn where I had stowed it to avoid the winds from the other day. The sunloungers were given a quick test by Albert, and seemed to meet with his approval. I had got halfway through putting Var on one of the walnut trees outside when the wind started picking up again, the sky turned grey and it started to spit with rain. So the patio furniture was put back under the barn before I finished with the walnut tree. I will probably find that the rain has washed it all off, and so I will have to start again, but there is that great smell of damp earth.

The good news is that all of the animals apart from Mini are indoors and trying to gas each other. The fire is lit and I have my coffee. I shall have to go and see what I fancy for tea, so I shall leave you to read this latest blog in peace

Friday, 15 March 2013

Thar She Blows!

As I write this blog the Bulgarian National Weather Service has placed 22 districts under code yellow due to gusty wind conditions. These regions are Vidin, Vratsa, Montana, Lovech, Pleven, Gabrovo, Veliko Tarnovo, Ruse, targovishte, Shumen, Razgrad, Silistra, Dobrich, Varna, Burgas, Yambol, Haskovo, Stara Zagora, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Smolyan and Kardzhali. Code yellow means potentially dangerous weather conditions, and that people should exercise caution. Code Orange has been raised for the Sliven region. This means intense weather conditions with potential damage, injuries and possibly even fatalities. People are advised to stay indoors and only venture outside if they have to.

Yesterday it seems as though Gabrovo and Veliko Tarnovo bore the brunt of things, when we were on our Code Orange status. Unfortunately in Gabrovo there was a fatality as a young lady was hit when some scaffolding was affected by the wind. Across the two regions, trees have been blown down, buildings damaged and the fire departments have been kept very busy. Several areas have suffered power outages as a result, as power lines have been damaged. Hurricane force wind speeds have been recorded at over 120 kmph, and there have been even stronger gusts.

So for our region the winds have abated somewhat. They are certainly no longer roaring round the house. When we hear how other people have fared in the storms we have got off very lightly, even if we do live at the top of a hill. Though luckily the village nestles in a hollow at the hilltop, so maybe the wind was just whistling across the top, and not bothering to stop. We were watching the pine tree in Baba Donka's back garden. Even though she is no longer with us we still refer to it as her house. The wind was certainly giving that tree a going over, and this morning I have noticed a few broken branches. 

Even when I went round to the magazin to get bread this morning the only signs that I noticed were a few broken branches laying in the road. One good thing has been that a lot of the rubbish that tends to surround some of the gypsy houses is no longer evident. The downside being that it will have ended up either in someoone else's garden or out in the countryside. As for ourselves we seem to have got away with things very lightly, our roofs are intact, the patio furniture hasn't gone on a tour of the village, a few plant pots have moved but that seems to be about it. The daft thing is that shortly after we moved here we bought a bamboo wind chime, an English neighbour asked why we had bought one of those as we don't get wind in Bulgaria. I hope that he was looking out of his window last night, as he might have noticed a few gusts of wind.

The animals were not overly keen on the weather yesterday. They only went outside when they had to, and even then they were haddled back in front of the fire as soon as they could. Here we can see Fenric and SillyO hogging the fire. Fenric is the only one of our dogs wo will put up with SillyO, for a small cat when she stretches out she seems to take up an awful lot of room. No tail or nose is safe from her claws either. They do seem to enjoy their creature comforts, but with the weather slowly warming and the days getting longer we won't be lighting the fires as often. Having said that after the wind and rain of yesterday it does feel rather chilly today. As I said on a previous blog Baba marta can be a fickle old lady, with sunshine one day and storms the next. On a much happier note, whilst I was walking round the village I noticed plenty of signs to let us all know that Spring is just round the corner. Some people have been lucky enough to have seen Storks already, if there were any flying round this way yesterday I think that they have probably been blown slightly off course.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Google Street View comes to Bulgaria

As of today people from across the globe can now virtually explore the majority of Bulgaria. This is thanks to the release of Google Street View from Bulgaria. The country is now the 48th one to have this street view linked with Google maps. The majority of the picture taking was done over the past year, and it must have been fraught with challenges. However it does possibly answer one question, and that was the purpose of numerous road markings that mysteriously appeared. By all accounts the vast majority of the country has now been covered. Although in our village it seems as though the only coverage has been limited to the 'main' roads. As we live up a side road our house has not been included, maybe that isn't such a bad thing though.

Much has been said that faces and number plates will be blurred to protect, or respect, an individual's privacy. It is quite interesting to look at these images and think back to the weather of this time last year. You will be following a clear road in the sunshine and all of a sudden it is snow covered. A reminder about just how changeable the weather can be at this time of year. I can see that this will prove to be a useful tool, especially when it comes to navigating your way round somewhere that you have never been before. Directions are all well and good but if they can be also linked to landmarks then it does make it so much easier.

Even when you have accessed the Street View programme there are still other options for you to employ. You can look left and right, as well as up and down. All of this is because when the camera car has been touring round, up to 15 different cameras have been utilised at the same time. This allows the user to explore somewhere through a complete 360 degrees. It really is a remarkable programme and thanks to it I have had a nose at houses where we used to live, and seen any changes that have been made. It also does jog the memory when you see a particular landmark that you haven't seen for a while. Even if it is a pub sign, although some pubs that we used to frequent are no longer there.

It has to be said that Google have been quite determined in their approach. Certainly in other countries where it has proved impossible to gain access to some areas by vehicle, they have had people go in on foot. The Bulgarian roads must have posed quite a challenge with their famous potholes, but they seem to have overcome this problem.

Some people have been having problems accessing the Street View programme so here is a brief overview of how I have managed to do so. As to whether this is the right way or the wrong way remains to be seen, but for me it works.

  1. Open up Google maps 
  2. Select the area you wish to see
  3. Zoom in as close as you wish
  4. Click on the yellow figure at the top of the zooming slide
  5. Drag it over to the area you wish to check
  6. If the road turns blue then the Street View programme is available
  7. Using the provided tools you can pan left and right, or tilt up and down

I hope that everyone has fun using this, as not even Google could manage all of the roads in Bulgaria so if your house or street is featured then maybe your roads are not as bad as you once thought.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

National Liberation Day - March 3rd

Today is a very important day in the Bulgarian calendar. This year marks 135 years of Bulgaria's Liberation from under the Ottoman yoke, where they had been held for five centuries. The actual Independence Day is celebrated later in the year in September. Today commemorates the signing of the San Stefano peace treaty in 1878 between the Empires of Russia and Turkey, which enabled the Bulgarian nation to re-emerge, although that wasn't the final version of the peace treaty.

This peace treaty came at the end of the war of Liberaion which was fought between 1877 and 1878. The Russians became involved due to attrocities that the Ottomans had carried out against the  Bulgarians in the April uprising of 1876. Fortunately it was reported by an American journalist who was working for the British press. There are many famous names linked to the Independence movement of the 1870s, some are even known to us foreigners. People such as Hristo Botev, Georgi Rakovski, Lyuben Karavelov and Vassil Levski were leading figures in the Independence movement but the deciding factor in ousting the Turks was the Russian involvement. This was when Tsar Alexander II of Russia declared war against the Ottoman Empire, over concerns about treatment of orthodox christians in Bulgaria. After the liberation Bulgaria came under Russian administration for a couple of years, but it also allowed Bulgaria a gradual transition to achieving nationhood once again.

Today there are celebrations being held throughout the country. There are normally large solemn celebrations held at the memorial atop the Shipka Pass, which was where fierce fighting took place during the war. Flowers and notes of thanks are often placed at the various liberation momorials. 

This year the are also various protests being held across the country, but the organisers are hoping that these protests will pass peacefully. In Varna people are being asked to wear a badge depicting a flame. This is in recognition of Plamen Goranov, a 36 year old who set himself on fire as an act of protest. In a village of this size not a lot happens, as people tend to head into the surrounding towns or the city of Veliko Turnovo. Despite a chilly start we now have sunshine and clear blue skies, a change from the snows of previous years.

So to all of our Bulgarian friends we would like to say

Честит национален празник на България! Честит 3-ти март на всички българи!

Happy National Day of Bulgaria! Happy March 3 to all Bulgarians!