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.


Saturday, 19 October 2013

Your Nuts Sir

As quite a few of you actually know me, it will come as no surprise to find out that I like a nice bit of cake. At this time of year what goes better with coffee than a slice of cake, unless it is another slice of cake. I have to admit that I am rather partial to Net's coffee and walnut cake. The thing being if I want a cake it is down to me to collect and shell the walnuts. The first part about collecting the walnuts is quite easy, especially after the strong winds that we have been having, and we have three mature walnut trees round the house.

I can remember the first time we saw the locals wandering round with great big sticks. I thought that maybe they were doing something like beating the bounds. I was wrong they were intent on beating 7 bells out of any walnut tree that they could find. The daft thing is that they don't even let the walnuts ripen before they start to collect them.

You can see them going round the village with sacks, bags and buckets. In fact anything to carry their treasure home with them. They collect as many as they can beore the market traders start to come round. You hear them in their small vans, with the loud speakers mounted on, calling out "Orehi, Orehi". The locals have to strip off the green outer husks to get to the recognisable walnut underneath. It almost seems to be a family concern, as every member of the family will look like they have been helping do oil changes on the village tractors. It isn't even as though the black washes off straight away, it stains the fingers for weeks.

Anyway I have collected my own bucket of walnuts, and now all I have to do is remove them from their shells. At least they don't have their green husks any more. Now I don't know about anyone else but I have never had a great deal of luck when it comes to getting walnuts out of their shells. Brazil nuts no problem, Hazelnuts are simple as are Almonds and Sweet Chestnuts. Walnuts however are a different kettle of fish.

I have tried the traditional nutcrackers, slowly cracking round and round the nut. Eventually they will go crunch in the crackers, all too often pinching the ball of your thumb somewhere in the proceedings. Then it is a matter of trying to fish out bits of shell from the flesh of the nut. There are also the bits of stiff membrane stuff which seperates the nut halves. If I don't get them all out, Sod's Law dictates that I will find it in the cake. Normally when it spears me between tooth and gum. Along this same line I have tried pliers, Mole grips and Various wrenches from my tool boxes just in case I had more luck with those. I have even tried one of the typical wooden Bulgarian walnut crackers. They are ok but the nut does tend to get jammed inside the recess, and once again there is the problem with sharp bits of shell.

If you get your grip right you can even crack the nuts in your hand. Even some of the old Babas can still do this, they must have a grip like a hydraulic press. There is something rather disconcerting about passing them outside of the Post Office and hearing them cackle away as they crack nuts. I'm not really sure why they worry about walnuts as they can't have a full set of teeth between them, and instead make strange sucking and slurping sounds. But good luck to them all, they seem to enjoy what they are doing, and I wish them many more years doing it, but I would be grateful if I wasn't there when they did do it.

Then there is the old favourite, also from the toolbox, of the hammer and a flat stone surface. I tried that one last year with varying levels of success. I also tried squashing fingers and thumbs, not to mention frightening Billy the cat half to death. I couldn't have had the walnut flat on the stone, or I must have hit the top of the nut off to one side. The long and short of it is that the walnut shot off and narrowly missed Billy Bonce, so he made himself scarce. Mr Cat decided that then would be a good time to practice his football skills, to this day I still have no idea where that walnut ended up. The good news is that Billy has now forgiven me.

This year I am trying a sharp knife and a twist. So far it seems to be working as I am getting much bigger pieces of nut out from the shell, and we now have a bag of nuts in the freezer. At least doing it this way means that I am not prodding around in the shell, like a Winkle lover on a day trip to Margate. The nuts have been coming out in quarters and some have even come out in halves. It is still quite an oily job, and my fingers  feel strangely smooth.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Did The Earth Move For You?

Quakes in the last 24 hours
By all accounts in the early hours of this morning there was an earthquake. It was over the border in Romania, but apparently quite a few in Bulgaria also felt it. Especially those in towns along the Danube, and also some in Pavlikeni also claim to have felt it. We were not in that number, even the animals didn't seem to notice, but it did get me wondering about earthquakes and seismic activity here in Bulgaria. The main quake from this morning seems to have registered at about 5.3 on the Richter Scale, with subsequent tremors and aftershocks in the region of 2.3 to 2.7 on the Richter Scale. It just goes to prove that anywhere in the world can be subjected to a quake or a tremor, but some areas are more prone to them than others.

World Seismic Areas
As you can see from the Seismic hazard map, Bulgaria falls in such an area. Many people living here will tell you that they have felt tremors. I thought that I did once, but it turned out to be Sirrius having a scratch and rocking the chair. We have been told about keys jingling in a door lock during a local tremor. There are also others who claim that the area is overdue for a big earthquake. Last year there was one, of a similar scale, near to the city of Pernik. Reading up on things, even though they might be of a similar magnitude, it is often the depth at which something occurs that causes the problem. There have been many earthquakes that have affected the country, and more importantly for me, they have happened quite locally.

We are between the Turkish and Romanian Hotspots
In 1986 there was an earthquake which registered 5.5 on the Richter Scale. The epicentre was near to the town of Strazhitsa, which is only about 10 miles away from us as the crow flies. For anyone who might think that there are no really serious quakes here, this one caused 3 fatalities, more than 30 injuries and left more than 3000 homeless. Power and water supplies were disrupted in the town and the surrounding area. It was estimated that over 80% of the buildings in the area were damaged, with 1370 homes either destroyed or severely damaged. Many Bulgarians were rehomed as a result, and the town having a newer look to it than most others in the region. In a populated area a quake of scale 5 can cause considerable damage, one of scale 6 can cause severe damage. This isn't the biggest quake to hit the immediate area either, but that is further back in history.

I told you not to smoke after eating beans
Some say that the quake that struck Gorna Oriahovitsa way back in 1913 was somewhere between 7 and 7.5 on the Richter Scale. Whatever the magnitude it certainly made a bit of a mess, as can be seen from this old black and white photograph. So with all of this seismic activity I checked on our insurance policy and we are covered for earthquake damage amongst other things. Not something that used to really concern me back in the UK. Something else that you wouldn't really think about in the UK is how you would go about surviving such an event. If you are indoors the easy thing to remember is Drop, Cover and Hold. The following is a link to and is a more comprehensive guide to what actions you should take if you do get caught up in one. Which we all hope will not happen.

As I said in the opening piece, the Romanian quake of this morning didn't even wake us up. So do not let the 'possibility' of an earthquake put you off of a potential move to Bulgaria. Yes there are tremors, but for the most part you might not notice them, and we have yet to experience a full quake in the back of beyond since we have been here. I shall just say that our house was built in 1928, and is still standing and showing no ill effects. The house next to  us in the UK looked worse as bomb damage from the war had cracked a lintel over one of their windows and it was still standing when we left.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A Bit Of A Do

As some of you might be aware there are various ExPat ladies groups throughout Bulgaria. The majority seem to have their own group pages on facebook, and one such group are the LaLa's. I am told that they are not limited to just ExPats, but are quite pleased that they also have Bulgarians within their number. Every so often these ladies groups will meet up for lunches. Yesterday saw such an occasion for the LaLa's as they held a lunch at the Hotel Palmira in Arbanasi. As far as I am aware this is the first time that they have ventured into a hotel for one of these occasions. The ladies came from far and wide, and it was an ideal opportunity for them to actually put faces to the names that they have previously been chatting with. Some stayed in the hotel overnight and some were hosted by some of the local ladies.

We played hosts to Jenny, so our Sunday started bright and early as we had to pick her up in VT. So there we were waiting at the bus station, a bus went and nothing else happened, nothing else came in. We gave it a further 10 minutes but there were no signs of any other activity, so we thought we might actually be at the wrong bus station. So we went on to the next one which seemed more promising as there was a lot more activity. People were sat there with cases, buses were coming and going, however not the bus we wanted.  So I had to go inside the bus station and try to find someone who could tell us if we were in the right place, if not where we should be. It turned out we were at bus station south and we should have been at bus station west. So onto our third bus station and sure enough there was Jenny waiting for us. So after our tour of the bus stations of VT I was definitely in need of coffee. Over coffee we had a decision to make, should we stay in VT for a few hours and meet the next couple at the bus station or did we go home and then come back in a couple of hours later. We decided that it was possibly bbest staying where we were given the problems we had trying to guess the right bus station earlier, why a city like VT can't have a single bus station is beyond me.

Anyway we eventually managed to pick everyone up who needed picking up. As we have dogs and cats to feed we thought that we would go via home, I could feed the animals, Jenny could drop her luggage off, coffee could be drunk and the facilities could be used if necessary. Once all of that was done we could then head over to Mrs M for the next stage of our journey and lunch. We were spoilt as there was a full roast meal waiting for us including roast lamb. It was a great evening spent catching up and having a bit of a laugh, the only downside being that we had to drive home in the wet and the dark. We eventually got to bed about 1am. Then it seemed as though it was up again as soon as my head touched the pillow. Everyone fed and watered then it was over to Polski Trambesh to act as guide getting those from that way to the hotel in Arbanassi. It might seem a bit of a weird and convoluted route but we managed it all. People were turning up at the hotel and luckily we were going to be eating in the dining room as it was a persistant drizzle with low flying cloud outside.

There were even 4 of us brave men who had decided to brave the occasion, and not one of us had a posh frock on, fortunately. We did have our own table out of the way. It was closer to the kitchen, which meant that we got served before the ladies did. The meal was okay, even though it wasn't what was actually arranged when the venue was booked. There only seemed to be one waitress doing all of the work, there were other staff there but I think she was the only one who spoke English. In the end everyone was fed and all in all the lunch went off without any major snags. There was certainly a lot of chattering coming from the tables with all of the ladies, so I think that everyone enjoyed themselves. Even when the lunch had finished and people had started to drift away there were still about eight who stayed behind nattering.

To my mind it was definitely a good do, and it did give me a chance to put some more faces to names. I am also pleased to welcome Sarah as one of the new followers to the blog. Even once we had left and returned home to sort animals out we still had another trip over to Mrs M's to make for a buffet and more talking and laughter. The weather hadn't improved at all, and even the drive home was wet, even when I got stopped for a document check near Polski. I guess that with the weather they wanted to feel like they were doing something useful. I think that I got to bed about 2am this morning. Maybe I am getting too old for all of this party lifestyle, and I am becoming a daft old fart. However, there is much to be said with the old saying, "That you can't expect to soar with the Eagles if you have been out hooting with the Owls."

How Does A Lala's Lunch Affect You?
So ladies a very big thank you to all who braved the weather and managed to attend, and even for letting us men join in as well. I don't know if anyone actually took their swimming cozzies with them, but I didn't notice anyone brave enough to actually take to the water. Although it was touch and go when someone almost dared someone else to take the plunge.