Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mindya Rock Fest VI

I always look forward to this time of year ever since we moved here. Just in case you are wondering why, it is because I enjoy the Rock Fest held at the village of Mindya. This year was the 6th time that this event has been held, so we missed the 1st one as we weren't even here then, but we have made it to 3 out of the other 4. This year was slightly different, as rather than being held over the two days it became a three day event. Also some of the more familiar groups were absent, but they made way for some different bands.

Thursday saw the untested groups vying for the chance to have time in a recording studio, so that they could get the chance to have their own disc made and the possibility of being signed up. You will notice that a lot of these unheard of groups were not local to the area, so it is easy to see just how far the word about Mindya has spread. Friday brought out the rock in people, and the people who rock. We toyed with the idea of attending on the Friday, but as we went to Bojur Fest earlier in the year at Gorna Oriahovitsa, we decided that Saturday, and the rock and blues night, would suit us.

 So just before 6 yesterday evening a group of us left our village and headed towards Mindya. Some of the younger ones had decided that they were going to camp overnight. This is another wonderful thing about Mindya, if you choose to camp there over night you are quite at liberty to do so, and it is free too. I dare say that there have been a few hardly souls who have been there since before the first act took to the stage on Thursday. The downside with it becoming more popular is that it becomes more difficult to find somewhere to park. This is another good reason why we left our village so early, and every year we seem to be able to grab the same parking spot. The food and drink vendors were all doing a good trade by the time that we wandered up into the village square. So we found a suitable vantage point from where we could view the stage, and it also meant that we could keep an eye open for the happy campers and friends who were due to arrive.

As if by magic everyone seemed to find each other, and once the drinks were sorted out it wasn't long to wait until the first group took to the stage. Fortunately the sun had just dipped down behind some trees, and the village Kmetsvo otherwise we would have spent the first quarter of an hour squinting into bright sunlight. One thing that soon became apparent to us was that the sound engineers were not as good as previous years. The beat from the bass drum could be felt thudding into your chest. I did a quick check and there was no-one there trying to shock me with defibrillators. It might be OK for Heavy Rock where volume equates good, but maybe not so much for rock and blues.

With the Rock Fest now being spread out over three days, it means that the bands get longer sets to perform more of their repertoire. I am guessing that if you only have a short slot on stage then actually selecting which numbers you are going to perform can be quite a daunting task. Also with a longer set they get to demonstrate more of their versatility. One thing that I did notice happening was there seemed to be an over enthusiasm to use the smoke generator. At times it was almost as though the band performing had disappeared into a thick Victorian London fog. Anyone who has see any of the Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper films will get the idea. Fortunately, it didn't seem to affect any of the groups, or at least they weren't coughing and spluttering on stage. Maybe with the breeze blowing it helped to dissipate the smoke, or at least mingle it with the smoke from the sausage and chips areas which seemed to often waft across us. Perhaps that was a sales ploy, but some fat person had polished off more than half a pizza before we had left our village. That would be me then, so it wasn't too surprising that I wasn't actually hungry.

With the lack of the familiar favourite bands, it did give the chance to hear other groups. Some of these were from abroad. I was quite impressed with Atlas, who came from Turkey, and not forgetting The Cotton Pickers who were from Serbia. The roadie with Atlas looked like a much thinned down version of Freddie Mercury. Even in his heyday I don't think that Freddie ever wore such bizarre trousers though, they looked like a black elasticated nappy, a full one!!! At least his scampering about the stage didn't seem to put any of the band off, but once you notice something like that you can't drag your eyes away. He didn't even sing, so maybe his resemblance to Freddie didn't go much further than his moustache.

As the night wore on the temperature was dropping, but the mosquitoes were out in force. Possibly they had gone into a bit of a feeding frenzy with such a target rich environment. Having faced this problem before we had taken lightweight jackets with us, and looking around many others had also done the same. Over the years the crowd numbers have increased, and for the first time instead of the token Police presence I actually noticed proper security. Even when we left the Police hadn't set up their usual on the spot breathalyzer checkpoint going out of the village.

As previously mentioned the crowd size has been steadily increasing with each passing Rock Fest. So hopefully that means that the word is spreading further and further afield, and that the Mindya Rock Fest will continue to go from strength to strength. It must be the envy of many villages having something as worthwhile as this happening so successfully each year, and with the influx of people into the village the shops and bars ought to be doing quite well too.

One important thing to take note of, is that in all of the times we have been there we have never seen any trouble. It must take an awful lot of organising and dedication from all concerned to put something like this on, and everything has to be thought of beforehand. Happily people have gone there for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to enjoy themselves. A quick look at the crowd last night and I saw every age group represented, from toddlers right up to the elderly. I have to admit that there were even people older than myself who were there. So if ever you find yourself in this area, at this time of year, you could do a lot worse than check out the Rock Fest at Mindya. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Picture Postcards From Gorna Oryahovitsa

In Bulgaria there are 28 regional Administrative Districts, up here in the centre of Northern Bulgaria, we are under the umbrella of Veliko Tarnovo. Residents of this district are easy to spot as their vehicle registration plates all begin BT. It is a district which covers approximately 4650 square kilometres. In total it has administrative control over 14 towns and cities, and 322 villages. Quite a fair bit for it to cope with, so the district is further broken down into 10 municipalities. We fall under the remit of Gorna Oryahovitsa.

Now over the years of posting these blogs I have mentioned Gorna several different times, but unless you actually know the area I might as well be talking about Timbuktu. This morning I took one of our neighbours into the hospital at Gorna for her appointment. Whilst waiting out in the car park I started pondering what subject to cover in my next blog. Then I remembered that I had done a photo blog from the village, so perhaps I could do something similar for Gorna Oryahovitsa itself, after all they do say that a picture paints a thousand words. So without further ado here is a small photo guide to Gorna.

Sitting above the town, like a silent 
sentinel, is a stone cliff.
Called, quite simply, The Stone.
From the top of The Stone, 
you can see out over the town.
Including looking out over the airport
Being a transport hub, there are many ways to get here.
Maybe you'd prefer to let the train take the strain.
Can you guess which is the village bus?

Then again there is always the bus
The Bus Station looks different
from outside
Sometimes the road system can be a bit confusing,
just wait until there's a roundabout here

The Municipality building
Put your Hands up for 
Gorna Oryahovitsa

Churches are a common sight
Some have different roofs or cupolas

Some mix in well with their newer surroundings

Home to GO Lokomotive, maybe not the Theatre
of Dreams but they give plenty of teams nightmares
The local museum well worth a look, once you
work out how to get in
You can see the stone from almost everywhere

Open air concerts? Step this way 
Perhaps you are hungry and fancy trying some
local fruit and vegetables
Maybe you prefer meats, there is a sausage named
after Gorna Oryahovitsa

You would be surprised at how many places
you can buy fruit
Sometimes its nice to have a stroll in the
afternoon sunshine

Or maybe go for a coffee

Plenty of trees for shade as you head 
for something to eat, or another coffee
Another claim to fame. 
The largest handmade
Bulgarian flag

The Central square is a great place to 
watch the world go by

Listening to the splash of the fountains in the
summer months 
Or trying to decipher exactly what is shown
on the mosaic above CBA
The best bit is at least three Ice Cream
stalls to choose from

Remember to stop for people using
pedestrian crossings

Especially when the crossing is next to the court house
A small church 
Watch out for Sleeping Beauty behind Lidl

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

There And Back Again

Yesterday started much the same as many other mornings, only it was early and I was awake. It was still dark outside, and even the birds were sensibly still tucked up inside their nests. We were rudely awakened by the alarms ringing on mobile phones. It was time to get up and make the final checks. As well as trying rouse ourselves with that all important first cup of coffee, we were running through a mental check list to make sure that we hadn't forgotten anything. As we were both making the journey we needed somewhere safe to leave the car, luckily friends 'volunteered' and also kindly took us in to meet the bus in Veliko Tarnovo.

The trip into VT was uneventful, dawn's fingers were slowly making inroads into the night time sky, and as we drove past we were even able to notice how work had progressed on the Funicular railway. Cases were checked onto the bus, and people were generally milling around. In one way it was quite nice, as it was still quite cool, and slowly you could here the birds starting to wake up in the trees and on top of the surrounding buildings. Seeing as how it was the only bus there it was quite a good guess that it was the one that we were meant to get on. So with a fond farewell to our friends we went and found our seats.

Seeing as it is a popular journey we shouldn't have been at all surprised to realise that we were sat across the aisle from another English lady that we knew. So the ladies were happily nattering away as the bus drove towards Sofia. Well they were happy until someone further back asking them to be quiet, I didn't notice anything being said about anyone else talking, or using mobiles. So we must have been on the no talking in English bus, imagine that daft o'clock in the morning and on the naughty step already. We had both brought our kindles with us , but neither of us could really concentrate on reading with the motion of the bus. The bus had left VT at 0615, and there was still a fair amount of traffic on the road. We noticed this, because we got right up close behind a few vans and lorries until the driver swung out from behind them and overtook.

When people talk about Bulgaria to others back in the UK, the stunning scenery is often mentioned. Travelling by coach, rather than driving yourself, does give you the opportunity to enjoy it all. Another good way to also enjoy the countryside is to use the train, which we will endeavour to do at a later date. There is still so much of this country to see, and explore, but if we drove ourselves everywhere we would miss things as we would be too busy concentrating on the roads. I have driven the route quite a few times but not since they have made the changes at a place called Dolni Bogrov. Now the road totally bypasses it, which does tend to make things easier. So at least that is one positive step for the Hemus Highway. One day it will be completely finished, and both ends will meet in the middle.

The trip from VT to the central bus station is almost non-stop. We did have the normal, apparently, stop outside of Troyan to let someone off. There are buses which go via the airport, but they are not really convenient for those flying by Easy Jet, as the times are a bit out. We had taken our own breakfast with us. By which I don't mean I was cooking bacon and eggs in the aisle, and neither was Net throwing milk over cereals as we flew past another 'slow' HGV. We had taken drinks, fruit and biscuits, even I can't make too much of a mess with them. Alright I can, but I just put it down to a natural talent or gift. It's not everyone who gets challenged to two falls, a submission or a knockout whilst trying to open a pack of biscuits.

From what I could see most of Sofia looks to be undergoing major roadworks. Traffic is flying at you from either side, to your front and also behind you. Most of the commercial type drivers seem to have been culled from the ranks of failed Kamikaze pilots. So there are taxi drivers, bus drivers, van drivers, lorry drivers and tram drivers all aiming for that one spot that you are currently occupying. I know that I haven't done city driving for a while, but it all seemed quite manic. In a way it was a relief to get to the Central Bus Station, as at least you could have a quick breather before getting into a taxi and facing phase two of the dodgem car rally, and go from the bus station to the airport.

Hopefully most people will be aware of various, how shall we put it, less than honest taxi drivers who operate at these type venues. Going through the Bus Station we were asked to follow a bloke to a waiting taxi. I don't think so, we went out the front and got one from the taxi rank there. The drivers stay with their vehicles, they don't go inside and tout for trade. Always check that the taxi you opt for has a meter, that is actually running, at the end of the journey you get given a receipt. You should also see a current tariff of fares, and the taxi driver's ID licence. Have a quick look to make sure the bloke driving looks a bit like his picture. Fortunately the OK taxis seem to be OK.

The drive across Sofia was just as manic as the drive in, but we arrived at Terminal 1 in one piece, and in plenty of time to do the baggage check ins. I left the ladies as they were going through the customs type bit as my mission was complete. Now all I had to do was the trip in reverse. So it was another taxi from the airport, doing battle with the traffic and arriving unscathed at the bus station again. I decided to book the tickets not only for my return journey to VT that day, but also for when I have to do it all again and go and meet the ladies at the airport. The girl at the ticket counter even understood my Bulglish as I ended up with the right number of tickets, on the correct dates and at the correct times. I even had enough time to get round the outside of a large slice of pizza and a medium coke. A full fat, high octane coke for me, not one of those semi skimmed fat free cokes.

While waiting at the correct bus stop someone tried flogging me some dodgie perfume, so in my best Bulgarian I just shrugged and carried on eating my rapidly diminishing pizza. Oh joy of joys, even though it was a different coach, it was still the same driver, although this time he seemed to have a co-pilot. The co-pilot seemed to be in charge of the in flight movies. They might have been great but you would have needed binoculars from the back of the bus, probably even from the middle. The air conditioning was almost on, I could here the fan but warm air was trickling out of the vents, which seemed to defeat the object somewhat. Needless to say, as I am here writing this, I arrived back in VT in one piece. Rather tired, warm and sweaty, but in one piece. I even had enough time to book my next ticket up to Sofia. At this rate I will be qualifying for the frequent flyer bonuses.

The animals were pleased to see me, although I'm sure that it had more to do with the idea of me doing their tea. The house was a bit fuggy are having been shut up all day, and I took the chance to get back into just a pair of swim shorts (apologies if you are eating for that mental picture). The only downside to a packed day was that on the way home I picked up a puncture. So that can be attended to when I next go into Gorna. I am wondering if it might be a prudent measure to wear a blindfold when I do the next journey there. Then again in the words of Corporal Jones "Don't Panic", although I'm sure that "They Don't Like It Up'em" could also be utilised driving through Sofia.