Sunday, 26 January 2014

It's Not The New Ice Age Is It

As the weather forecasters promised winter has returned these last couple of days. They did get the depth of snow wrong, well so far they have. Some of them were saying that we were due to get a couple of feet worth of snow, and so far we haven't even got anywhere close to that level. The snow is continuing to fall, but I am guessing that these weather forecasters might also exaggerate when they go fishing. They were right about the temperatures dropping though, and as strange as it might seem, it is warmer at night than during the day.There is a bit of a breeze but I don't think that it will cause too much of a drop in temperature. I know that it is cold outside as I have difficulty getting anywhere near the petchka to put more wood on. There is a sheep skin rug in front of it, and I am constantly amazed at just how many dogs and cats can fit on it at the same time. With only 3 dogs and  6 cats I don't think that I need to phone the Guinness Book Of Records just yet. When people say that animals like their creature comforts they are not joking. When I need to feed the fire a head might raise just enough to imply that I am disturbing them and to get a move on.

First thing this morning there was the patter of paws informing us that they wanted to go out. So I roused myself from my hibernation, threw on my bath robe and a pair of crocs. On opening the door I was suitably unimpressed at the lack of snow which had fallen overnight, the wind was whistling round my ankles though. This might have had something to do with why the cats and dogs had a rethink, they wanted to go back to bed. I am one of these people who are quite content to stay in bed for as long as possible, but once I am up I'm up. So if I was at the door and the dogs and cats were also there, it seemed quite a sensible idea to sort their breakfast out. Now the dogs get fed up under the barn and the cats get fed in the studio, so the rattle of biscuits and bits will normally cause them to race me. Even though the snow wasn't that deep they were quite happy to follow me. Now bare feet inside crocs might not have been one of my better ideas, as the snow soon found all of those conveniently placed holes. Cold snow on warm toes melts, and cools now wet toes making it feel rather uncomfortable, but with the cats breakfast sorted out the dogs will not be content to wait patiently for theirs. With the animals fed and watered I could then try and sort myself out, I even managed to flick the kettle on for that all important first cup of coffee.

I don't know how others sort themselves out, but in weather like this I do the outside jobs while Net looks after the inside bits and bobs. So with coffee drunk and wrapped up warmly my first task would be bringing wood down from the barn. Well it would have been but Sod's Law dictated that as soon as I opened the cellar door the bladder decided to make itself known. So warm clothing was discarded as I made my way upstairs, the good news was that I could put it all back on as I came back down. Once I was wrapped up like Nanook of the North I headed outside into the weather. Fortunately the snow shovel was close to hand so the first job was digging the snow trenches, having decent footwear on is so much better than a pair of crocs when you are doing something like this.

With pathways dug it is so much easier to move the wheel barrow full of logs down from the barn to the cellar steps. As the forecast is predicting a couple of days of this weather I thought it prudent to err on the side of caution and stack two barrow loads there. So with that lot and the nice dry basket full of logs next to the fire we should be warm enough. That is assuming that I can still get close enough to the fire to feed it. As of yet I have not heard the tractors going round ploughing the roads, so there must still be more snow due to drop. I am glad that we have still got our emergency winter reserves to fall back on if we need to.

Not only do we look after our own cats and dogs but also the local wildlife. I have hung a strip of pig fat up in one of the trees, and using an old coconut shell i have made my own fat ball feeder using wild bird seed and lard. The main problems that I have had is where to hang them. Not only do I have to make sure that the cats can't get at them, but also they won't get too close to the birds feeding on them. I had originally placed them nearer to the house, but I think the cats were too much in evidence for the birds to be tempted. We also try to keep an eye, and an ear, out for our neighbours especially if they are elderly, on their own or have small children. I have probably said it before but there is a greater sense of community here than I ever encountered in the UK. Everybody seems to look out for everybody else, which helps as it doesn't appear that anyone is going anywhere soon.

At the moment we have Bulgarian TV playing in the background. I am sure that this helps us with our pronunciation when we come to speak Bulgarian. Trying to learn from books is OK but they don't tell you where to place the emphasis in a word. The only trouble is with this time of year you don't see many people out and about, and by the time that you do there is a tendency to forget what you have learnt. Being stubborn we will keep trying though, and even if we do make a mess of it at least we have made the attempt. We might use the wrong word, but hopefully we will pronounce it properly. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Reading the various news reports there are several regions which have declared a flu epidemic. Now that we have this cold spell maybe it will help to kill of the virus, or at least it might prevent people travelling about as much and spreading it that way. Perhaps that is another benefit to living in a small village in the back of beyond, there is not so much contact with the outside world. The cold snap will also kill off some of the nastier bugs and beasties, only last week someone was saying that ticks are about. When the snow melts that will also help to replenish the lakes, rivers and underground springs and reservoirs. It was only 3 weeks ago that I mentioned how low the rivers were for those hardy souls braving the waters for Yordanov Den. So this cold and snowy spell might be beneficial all round.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

If You Go Down To The Woods Today

I am guessing that many of us who are fortunate to live over here are enjoying this mild winter. It is taking a bit of getting used to, but I will continue to struggle on valiantly. The final patch of snow in the garden has finally succumbed to global warming, it disappeared yesterday. When I stop to think that we haven't had any fresh snowfall since November it hasn't lasted too badly. Some are predicting that more snow could be on the way, possibly arriving at the end of next week. If we do get any real winter it is liable to be short and sharp. The good news is that everyone will soon be on Stork watch, just so that they can get their grubby Martenitsas off of their wrists. The shorts will also be out, but the bad news is that my knees will also be getting an airing again.

The good thing with this milder weather is that we can get out and about for walks. Hopefully some will remember that we started last week with a walk along the river at Parvomaytsi, and that weather permitting we had planned another walk for this weekend. We are quite fortunate in that at the back of the village we have a large heathland and then woodland, which is an ideal place to go for a bit of a ramble. Yesterday morning reminded me of something that I should possibly have taken into consideration. The first thing I heard when I woke yesterday was gunfire, we were either being invaded or the hunters were out and about. From the sound of some of the rifle fire there were some larger calibres being used as well. I did start to devise an alternate route for the ramble up round one of the lakes, but after about 10 the shooting stopped. Which was quite fortunate.

So just after midday, well we had to have the compulsory coffee before starting, we set off. Initially the going was easy as we headed through the village to get to the heathland at the back. Some years it does seem very overgrown, but in the autumn the tractors had been up there, I'm guessing they had been getting a lot of winter feed for the animals. Even on the heathland there are some trees, and after inspecting them carefully, we decided that there was no one hiding inside them. The comment was made, that despite it being the middle of January you could hear an awful lot of birdsong. It was very true, and those who had dressed up as though they were going to be tackling the North face of the Eiger were soon regretting wearing quite so many clothes. The day wasn't hot, but there was no real breeze to move the warm air about. Considering the alternative, where we have had a metre of snow in the village, I know which option I prefer. Thankfully we didn't have to use these trees as cover from the hunters, but then again we weren't in stealth mode either. So we continued sauntering across the heathland, heading for the woodland at the far side. Previously we had barely entered into the woodland so it was going to be uncharted territory for all of us.

There is definitely some form of woodland management which goes on as we found this feeding station hidden amongst the trees. As to whether it is for Deer or Boar we are not certain, but there were plenty of corn cobs (or maize) and salt blocks placed there. It just seemed a bit strange coming across something like that in the woods, but in a nice way. We have also been told that not far from the village is the ruins of either a small castle, fortress or monastery, so everyone was keeping their eyes peeled for anything else out of the ordinary. For the most part the going was easy as we followed logging trails. The trucks had compacted the trails down quite nicely, and thanks to the lack of rain even the ground wasn't that muddy. Or at least that was the case in the early stages. We pushed on ever deeper into the woods, despite none of us knowing where we were heading, sticking to these logging trails seemed quite a good option, even someone had been round painting black and white marks on some of the trees. Heaven only knows what paint they use, but it can't be the same stuff we use. We got some washable paint, but if you look at it in the wrong way it seems to wear away, but this stuff they mark trees and rocks with seems to stay there for ages.

Getting away from civilisation you realise that you could be anywhere in the world. OK, maybe not a tropical rain forest, but it just seemed to be us lot and the common language was English. Even the breeze was not in evidence, so it was just us lot accompanied by the twittering of birds in the trees. Walking through these woodlands it is easy to see just how mild this winter has been, as there are still plenty of berries on the trees and bushes. It will be interesting to see just how many wild flowers grow in the woods in a few weeks time. Even as we were ambling along yesterday I could see wild hellebores, but I am hoping there will be a lot more poking their heads up through the carpet of leaves. In a way I am quite glad that this is all left natural. Had someone like the National Trust got hold of it there would be regimented pathways between points, bridle paths for horse riders and the mountain bikers trying to run people over. On the positive side though there would be somewhere to aim for to get a coffee at the halfway point. We did all agree that it would be an ideal setting for a picnic, and I am sure that will be on the cards for later this year.  

This is one of the joys, well for me anyway, about living here. I can fall out of bed with the idea about going for a wander in the countryside, and I can do just that as it is right on our doorstep. We managed to go through the woods and once we got to the thinner areas of trees the famous Bulgarian mud began to appear. For those who have never encountered this before, the easiest way to describe it is Super Glue. This stuff really does stick. If you are walking along and all of a sudden your feet become heavier and heavier, until it feels as though you are wearing a pair of diving boots, you know that Bulgarian mud has got a death grip on your boot. There are advantages as you do tend to grow a couple of inches. I did go past this lot to see if it was any clearer but if anything it looked as though the logging lorries had turned it into a cross country rally course. As we had been traipsing along for nearly two hours it seemed a sensible idea to start heading back. It might have been a wise decision as we did hear more rifle shots in the distance. Perhaps it was the two individuals with the metal detector in a field who were playing a tape of BBC sound effects, although I somehow doubt it.

Whether it is true or not, I have been told that once upon a time tanks were stationed up near the village. We did find several areas that looked as though they could have been revetments, or sangers, . There is certainly an airstrip the other side of the village, and what appears to be a bunker in Strelets, so there might be some truth in it. The return leg always seems that much quicker than the outward journey. The clinging mud had decided that it didn't really want to head for drier land, and we all had an urgent appointment with coffee. As we had expended all of that energy what better way to replenish our reserves than with pasty, beans and  chips. We have been eagerly looking at the forecast to see if we can get another walk in before the end of the month, and it is definitely looking possible. Hopefully by then the twinges will have eased out in knees, hips and ankles. It is great to be able to get out and about and enjoy all of these things.  

Monday, 13 January 2014

First Walk of 2014

The Route
For many of us living out here in Bulgaria, this winter seems to have been exceptionally mild. We haven't really had any snow since November, even in our garden we are left with an ever decreasing pile of snow from when I cleared the drive way. So we are now almost up to mid January, which hopefully means that any real winter will be quite a short one. Before we know it the Martenitsa stalls will be out and we will be keeping an eye out for the arrival of the Storks.

The River
With this wonderfully mild weather it was decided that it would be a shame to waste it. It's still a bit too cool to do any garden work, or DIY bits outside, but it is ideal for a walk. So during the week plans were made to have our first walk of the year on Sunday, meeting at midday. It was only intended as quite a gentle ramble, although initially it didn't seem that far in practice it proved to be maybe a little further than we had imagined. Even when we first arrived, we were faced with a dilemma, tea or coffee? Also the young lady had cooked us lunch, did we want to eat before the walk or after. The general consensus being that we would all have built up an appetite during the ramble, which seemed quite logical.

The Bridge Over The River Yantra
So with teas and coffees drunk it was time to wrestle with stout footwear which had been dragged out from under beds and the back of cupboards. Even though we have not had any real rain either we would be following the course of the river, and there were possibly going to be slippery muddy areas. Not to mention where the sheep had been. So fully booted and spurred the expedition set forth. There is a new way down towards the river and being the curious sort that we are we headed down that way, passing various springs and bizarre looking trees. You know the ones I mean, the ones that appear to have old manky bananas stuck in them. They are a form of seed pod, but with no leaves you cannot help but notice these things. One thing about taking a different route anywhere is that you do get to notice different things. Down near the river level there were small herdsman shelters with quite long barn complexes. Looking at them they haven't been used for that purpose in quite a long while, but it does make you realise how much towns have encroached into the rural setting.

Des Res in need of some TLC
The Ford
Before the onset of 'winter' some of us had noticed that there had been a digger in the middle of the river dredging channels, or that is what we assume that they had been doing. There had also been trucks going backwards and forwards across a fording area. On closer inspection it does appear somewhat deeper than I had imagined. Still we can live in hope that one day a boy racer, in his souped up Lada, will also try and cross here. For the moment the dredging work seems to have finished, and this area of the river seems to be the haunt of countless fishermen. Despite there being so many I have yet to actually see anyone catch anything. Maybe they have
The Ford
plenty of patience or I have been wrong place wrong time.

After scaling the massive mole hills, or the piles of earth and clay that the excavations have dug out, we made it to the bridge and the other side of the river. On one side of the river it was residential, but we were now in open farmland, and it did smell a bit cabbagie, but that might have been me. With it being open the breeze had picked up, and though still quite cool it did start blowing the cobwebs away.

Who Needs Modern Apprenticeships?
When you are out and about walking it is quite surprising what you notice. For example we did see this power cable going across the river to a fish farm. How long an apprenticeship do you think this electrician served before becoming fully qualified? Notice how the ends of the cables have been carefully taped together, and then positioned in such a way that moisture would run down the cable towards the bare elements. Health and Safety would have a field day with some of the things that happen here. Now that Bulgaria is supposedly fully integrated into the EU, will people now have to start worrying about falling foul of H&S directives? There was also some evidence that the high winds and the wet snow had caused some fatalities amongst the trees. The locals being the helpful sorts also seem to have been over there with chainsaws helping to minimise the problem. If anyone needs a little extra firewood I do know where there is some just laying around. We did notice that along the opposite river bank it was a hive of activity.

Picnic Spot
Posher Picnic Spot
If you happen to have a river not far from the bottom of garden, wouldn't you make the most of it and build your own picnic area? Some people do try to outdo others though. It might be more solidly built, and have a proper roof, but it is further away from the water's edge. Although during any floods, that might not be such a bad idea. Onwards, ever onwards our happy band of ramblers traipsed. It was surprisingly solid underfoot, perhaps because cars belonging to the fishermen seem to drive up and down it. The only place that it got a bit squelchy underfoot is when we got behind the railway marshaling yard. There is some good metal on some of those pylons so I am surprised that some enterprising individual has not tried helping themselves to a few bits and pieces. By now we were beginning to feel the need for a well earned drink, and we weren't even halfway.

Welly Testing
Ye Old Oak
With the scenery you could be excused for thinking that you could be in a number of places in the world. Perhaps Bulgaria wouldn't be the first country to spring to mind. Even the birds that we saw are quite universally known, Sparrows, Tits and Jays. Occasionally you could even hear a Woodpecker yammering away at a tree. Reality soon made it's presence felt again as we made our way towards the Lion Bridge. Nearly back into civilisation and a well deserved coffee at least.

Lion Bridge
We made it over the bridge and into the start of the residential area when some lady opened the door to her house and began rabbiting away. There was something about Macedonia, and did we know anyone who wanted to buy a house. Thanks but no, as we have all already got houses. Perhaps we had got muddier than any of us realised and we looked like waifs and strays. We eventually managed to sidle away, and down those back roads there are some cracking little houses, some even have proper stained glass windows. Rather than the normal glass windows which are stained. We headed into one of the local cafes, and had to settle the next dilemma. Would we manage to fight off starvation before we made it back for lunch, or did we have a quick snack? The quick snack won out, but we were very good we all shared cheesey chips. These were chips with a difference though, they were fluted, and never mind the cheese, they would be ideal for a salsa dip, or my favourite suggestion curry sauce. It looks like every supermarket that we go in now the freezer cabinets will have to be investigated. We didn't want to stay in the cafe too long as there is always the possibility of these old knees seizing up.

Red Star
So with the promise of lunch being imminently on the horizon we left the cafe. Even though we were following the main road it was possible to see evidence of previous history. Either that or we had just seen the changing rooms of Red Star Parvomaytsi. All in all a brilliant day, spent with great people. If the weather continues to hold the next ramble is planned for this coming weekend. So no fog, snow or rain please


Monday, 6 January 2014

January 6th = Yordanov Den

Today being January 6th saw one of the main traditions happening today. This goes by various names, Bogoyavlenie, Yordanovden, Voditsi, Vodokrushti or Men's Water Day. All of the names revolve around water, according to the Eastern Orthodox teachings it was on this day that Christ was baptised in the River Jordan. I can remember when I was growing up and there were items on the news about people swimming in the Serpentine, or the sea, on New Year's Day. Even at such an early age I can remember thinking 'Sod That'. Over here in Bulgaria winter has a tendency to be a bit colder but on this day it doesn't seem to matter. Fortunately this winter has been unusually mild, so rivers and lakes haven't been swollen by snow melt. However even saying that I have to say that I would much rather be fully clothed.

The day starts with the church bells ringing and the priest saying a mass. From there people head for the nearest river or lake. Once again the priest says a small mass and casts his cross into the waters. The young men attempt to catch the cross, or at least retrieve it from the water. I think that it is just a thing that men get involved with, but this celebration doesn't seem to happen in our village beyond the ringing of the bells, and even that didn't happen this year. Whoever retrieves the cross returns it to the priest, in exchange for a small gift and a blessing. This person is thought to be guaranteed health and happiness throughout the coming year. Presumably that is if he doesn't succumb to pneumonia after his dip. There are slight similarities to doing Arctic Survival Training (AST), water is bloody cold at this time of year.

I was scanning through various news items on Facebook, as you do, and I came across an article from Burgas. They are fortunate enough that they retrieve the cross from the sea and not a river or lake. This year attracted a sizeable crowd of participants, with men ranging in ages from 16 to 60, and surprisingly one brave young lady. Bearing in mind what I wrote earlier about the various names, and one being Men's Water Day. Has sexual equality finally arrived here in Bulgaria? Certainly for the older generations things have always been done in a certain way, and therefore should continue in the same way. The younger generations do not seem to be quite so bound up in these hard and fast 'rules'. I have to admit that when I first arrived here it was quite annoying to seeing women being treated subserviently. Thankfully this attitude does seem to be dying out.

Who knows that maybe next year there might even be more women taking part in this tradition. As they say, 'Mighty Oaks from little acorns grow'. So I have to say a big well done to this young lady for having the courage to do this. It can not have been easy being the omly female taking part in what is supposedly a male tradition. For those who don't know Bulgaria is a country rich in traditions, linked to their folklore and history. What I would hate to see is for these traditions to die out as more people head for the bright lights of the cities and desert the towns and villages. If by becoming open to both males and females these traditions flourish then long may they continue. For those wondering if the young lady made it into the water .......................................

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Hospital Watch

A very warm welcome to this first blog of 2014, I hope that you have all enjoyed the festivities to the fullest. As some of you might remember just before Christmas we had a phone call from a friend who didn't feel well at all, and could we possibly run them into hospital? Now those in the UK might query why we didn't call for an ambulance. There are two main reasons, the first being our geographical location. Maybe you have wondered why the blog is linked to the back of beyond? Well we are rather remote up here, and it takes a good half an hour to get anywhere close to civilisation. So to call an ambulance out will often take longer than getting cars out and doing the run ourselves. In a real emergency we would go and batter the door down to the doctor who lives in Strelets. Another reason for not calling an ambulance is that they have next to nothing in them. The good news is that they now have a fishing tackle box of emergency supplies, and there are meant to be newer, better equipped ambulances in VT. Which is why everyone tried doing their little bit with BinkyAid the other year.

The weather was atrocious with thick freezing fog, which could have caused even more of a delay. So it was decided that it was going to be best if we made the trip. So the patient was given an aspirin, calmed down and made comfortable in the car and off we set. Previously when we have had thick fog like this it clears as we get further down off of the ridge. This time the fog stayed with us all of the way to the hospital. We could have seen the doctor in Strelets but things seemed to have quietened down, so we decided to press on. Anyway to cut a long story short we made it all the way to the hospital with only seeing one other vehicle. So it isn't only the midday sun that attracts mad dogs and Englishmen.

Without having to face any major problems we made it to the hospital in Gorna, as it is the closest one that I know with an A&E section.. I only know of one way to get to the department and that involves ignoring a No Entry sign. So with no other vehicles about, or police we made our way up there. I dropped them off and went to park up in what is probably the doctor's executive car park. Anyway I followed them into the department and straight away they were receiving attention, not like the hanging around amongst the drunks in a UK waiting room. It was quite fortunate really as there was only a wooden bench to sit on. They were being vey thorough with the tests, and twenty minutes later I was starting to regret that final mug of coffee. As there were two of us waiting we could take turns just in case either of us was needed for something.

Now one of the problems with an older hospital is that it has the original plumbing. This is what I commonly refer to as a "Pharoah's Head". Try not to breathe too deeply if you are sitting close to the screen. Now most of the time these aren't too much of a problem for us men, but for the ladies strong thigh muscles are required. Once I had finished what I needed to do I used the flush, which is when I discovered the first problem. The water pipe had corroded at floor level, which caused a Tsunami across the floor and me to try tap dancing backwards to avoid soggy shoes. I then had to tell Net to leave it for 5 minutes to let the floor dry a bit. I rather gallantly suggested that I looked after her long coat while she attended to business. A further ten minutes and it was decided that the patient was going to be kept in for another couple of days so that more tests could be carried out. We were then asked by the doctor if we could return to the village and get a few bits and pieces, and bring them in. So that would have been an hour back to the village, then an hour back and then an hour back home again in thick freezing fog. Trade might have been slow for them that night but I didn't fancy being another couple of customers for them. Fortunately the patient said that tomorrow would be fine, and explained where all of the bits and pieces could be found.

Sure enough everything was found and packed for a couple of days stay. This included such vital things as clean clothes, wash gear, toothbrush, bottled water and loo roll. The cats were fed and watered, and we were off again. First stop Gorna to get something edible. Now although you do get fed in hospital, it is not overly brilliant or appetising. Perhaps it's the equivalent of compo rations which had the effect of bunging you up. Even on the ward once we found it, the Pharoah's heads were still about. I did wonder how I would have coped if I had my gall bladder removed here and not back in the UK just before we moved out. The service mentality brought to mind how we overcame such things when we were out in Brunei, although someone did have to sacrifice a patio chair. Maybe western thigh muscles are just not as strong.

The hot water also seemed to be at a bit of a premium, as apparently it was very intermittent to say the least, so anyone looking at a stay in hospital is advised to take wet wipes and hand gel. For those who are ex-military I would suggest treat it like going on exercise. Although I'm not certain that they would take very kindly to people brewing up over a hexy burner between the beds.

So if you do have to go into hospital you will probably have to rely on outside help. Even for something as simple as a drink there is no tea trolley, but there are plenty of vending machines about. The hospital itself might look a bit tired and old, but then again so do I at times. The attention and the treatment seems that much better than that in the UK. There also seem to be plenty of people pushing brooms and mops about. One thing I did notice is that although there was no smoking in the building, you do have to run the smoke gauntlet just to get through the main  doors and into the hospital, as it is like a smoker's scrum.