Sunday, 27 December 2015

Where's The Weather Hiding?

This is our eighth winter here in Bulgaria, and it is true to say that each one has been different. So far this one has to be the mildest. I do hear reports that people are still sitting outside and enjoying their coffees in the sunshine. At the moment there is only a slight breeze, and if you are in a sunny spot it is still 16C. Our cats and dogs are enjoying it too. When we let them out, they go up under the barn and get their outside blankets and move them into their favourite sunny spots, and then build 'nests'. Well the dogs do, and then the cats try and gain the benefit by enforced sharing. Fortunately the dogs are very tolerant, and of an evening will even share the rug in front of the fire.

As far as I can remember this is our first non white Christmas since we have been here. The closest that it got to being one was the frost in the morning, the fog when it rolled down the hill, or possibly even the full moon. Everyone is able to move about freely, but I still keep a weather eye out just in case, as you never can tell. One good thing about it being so mild and snow free, our friends didn't have any problems getting to us for Christmas lunch. We might not go overboard with the Christmas celebrations for ourselves, but Christmas lunch is different. Out of habit much of the preparation work is done on Christmas Eve, so it is not then a mass panic on Christmas Day. Even goodies had arrived from the UK in midweek, so there would definitely be a taste of home with our lunch.

The day began well with everything in the oven that needed to be in there. Pots and pans were on the oven top waiting for their turn, which also included the compulsory Sprouts. Bits and pieces were in the fridge cooling and chilling, including the mandarin cheesecake with white chocolate. All cats and dogs were out in the sunshine, otherwise they would be trying to guard everything whilst supervising and getting under foot. All of a sudden the bell at the front gate goes, if it was our friends turning up early they could be plied with drink. It turned out to be our lovely neighbour from across the lane, with a freshly made Banitsa for us. I couldn't swear to it, but I am sure that our oven became related to Doctor Who's Tardis for the day. It seemed to be a never ending supply of things emerging from it. Fortunately there was still room for us all to sit around the table once various dishes of Christmas fare had been placed there. A minor logistical miracle that everything was able to be shoe horned into place, the table must have been groaning. I know that my stomach was by the time I had managed to sample a bit of everything, and maybe have seconds too.

One downside to the lack of snow, is that it removes one avenue of how to burn off some of those excess calories, which might possibly have slipped through, cunningly disguised as a Sprout or two, or perhaps it was the pigs in blankets. At the moment my snow shovel is close to hand, just in case, but is playing host to a few spiders and some dry leaves. So I had to resign myself to sitting uncomfortably and wishing I had a pair of 'Expando' trousers, knowing full well that on the Boxing Day it would be just as bad with the addition of Bubble and Squeak. The fires only seem to be lit in the late afternoon for a couple of hours, just to take the chill off the rooms, so the firewood piles are still looking very healthy.


Comparing this December to a previous year, it is surprising to see the difference. All four photos in this group are in colour, and it is easy to see how grey and dreary the usual winter sky appears. As of yet I have managed to resist temptation, and get the lawn mower out just to keep everything trimmed and manageable. Well, that's my excuse, and I am sticking to it. Despite stocking up for the usual winter siege, the cupboards and freezers are still full, we are planning a trip into town in the next few days just for a trip out more than anything else. I will have a go at trying to get the new Vignette for next year, maybe even redo the car insurance, a Post Office visit, stock up the New Year's Day goodies for when the village children come knocking and definitely a coffee or two.  Looking at the 10 day forecast the temperatures are set to plummet, so maybe Winter will put in a guest appearance. Hopefully we will manage to escape the usual icy road conditions though, still there is always the village bus. We can't complain about our weather though, because compared to the North of England and Wales we are having it an awful lot easier. So if you are in one of the affected areas, or have family or friends there, I hope that all are safe, warm and dry.

As this will be the final blog of 2015, it just remains for me to thank you for your continued readership, kind words and encouragement. I hope that the coming year will be a happy and successful one for you, wherever you are, and may it be all that you wish it to be.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Ever Decreasing Circles

Now that we had got ourselves re-registered, and all legal by jumping through the required hoops, it was the turn of the car. Unlike the UK, where once the DVLA is notified about a change of ownership it then stays registered to the new person until they are told otherwise, it isn't quite so simple here. For one thing you can't just stick it in the post with the necessary payment, and then wait for the return of the new registration document. Here you wait in queue after queue, clutching numerous documents, as if the vehicle is registered to you by name then the registration document also has an expiry date. This is linked to the residency card, so you get a season ticket to the KAT and Immigration offices all at the same time.

We had to wait for the new Lichna Carta, to get a new date for when the vehicle registration would expire next. I don't think that those with vehicles registered to a company name have expiry dates though. Anyway, armed with our new residency cards we had another day trip to the KAT office, although it was in a different part of the building so we had different walls to contemplate in different queues. I say queues, but they are more akin to huddles, with people coming and going, so you never really know how close you get to the head of the queue until you somehow arrive there.

Our first task was to submit the old registration documents and explain what we were trying to do. So we entered into an office with three different serving windows, and waited patiently at one of them. We subsequently arrived at the relevant window and just as we handed over the documents the woman behind the window started nattering away on her mobile, and we were largely ignored. The documents were shuffled about on her desk for a bit, and whoever was on the other end of the phone must have taken a breath as we were told that new vehicle registrations were at one of the other windows. We politely pointed out that it wasn't for new ownership but for re-registration, but by this time she was back nattering on her phone. The documents were re-checked and she pressed a few buttons on her keyboard, and a piece of paper was spat out of her printer. She managed to tear herself away from her all important phone call, to inform us that we had to pay the taxation at the bank. having been through the similar rigmarole with the residency cards we knew the score and taking the new bit of paper over to the bank window we waited in another queue. The lady there was cheerful and efficient, and once I had handed over my 12 Leva, for registration taxes, we were given a receipt and signatures placed on the new piece of paper.

Armed with the new bit of paper, now with signatures on, and our receipt, it was back to the first window we were at. She was still on her bloody mobile. I couldn't see any sellotape keeping it in position, so I came to the conclusion she must have had an accident with either superglue or the stapler. Fortunately her phone call ended there, and she was fully up to date on the latest happenings in a soap opera, or something else of equal importance, and she was able to give us her undivided attention. Documents and pieces of paper were handed over again, then it was proof of insurance, and then Net's new Lichna Carta. With a bit of mumbling and a few more buttons pressed another sheet of paper emerged from the printer. We were then directed to window number 4. There is nothing like service with a smile.

So we headed for window number 4 which was at the other end of the building, and joined the huddle there. It seemed as though we were finally getting somewhere as a woman who had also been served in the first office, and who we had waited behind in the bank queue, was also there chatting to someone, and she also had similar documents to ours with her. Being in these queues and huddles the brain does tend to switch off, and none of us noticed that she had disappeared. Once I had noticed, I just put it down to too many coffees and the resulting call of nature. On the bright side it meant that we had shuffled forward an extra place. We arrived at the hallowed window number 4 and handed everything over, only to be told that we needed to go via the Traffic Police Office first. The mobile phone woman in the first office must have neglected to tell us that bit.

So off we wandered, down this dim and murky corridor, to join another queue. We discovered that the woman who had disappeared was also in this queue, but several places ahead of us. We made it to a door with a hole in it and passed the documents through, along with Passport and Lichna Carta (which after a quick glance were handed back). The remaining documents were stapled together and a stamp and signature placed on one of the documents. Then it was back to rejoin the huddle at window number 4. This time everything was accepted, we weren't directed to go anywhere else, but as it was getting near to lunchtime we were informed to collect the new documents at window number 6 in a couple of hours. After our own lunch (and feeding a couple of cats) it was back to window number 6, and another wait. Someone made the mistake of knocking on the closed window, and got told off for their trouble. Those who were waiting patiently, including us, were handed our new documents without any problems. Now we have new documents for the car, and for ourselves so it is just the annual vehicle safety check to be done at the end of the month. Thankfully that is a lot easier, and we avoid going round in ever decreasing circles.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Jumping Through Hoops

As much as I love living here in Bulgaria, there are certain things which still frustrate the hell out of me. One such thing is the bureaucracy. Don't get me wrong, everyone has to deal with it, and it makes no difference if you are Bulgarian, a Foreigner or even a Martian, although sometimes the depths and levels do seem to vary. It is something that we have had to get used to over the years. As a foreigner, irrespective of the fact that we came under the EU umbrella, we had to form a company to buy a property. We could have brought an apartment which would have got round that, but the company was needed to buy the plot of land that the house actually sits on. Now we have the company, each year we have to submit tax returns, even on a non trading company. At least now there is no such requirement, and existing companies can now be dissolved. The problem being that everyone seems to have a different interpretation about this, and guidelines are very sketchy to say the least. Maybe I am a bit old fashioned, but if it is a legal requirement then we will do our best to comply.

Just recently we have been facing our own confrontation with officialdom, and no matter how well prepared you think you are, something will have changed. For those familiar with these blogs, you know where I have been. Once again it is time to get our long term residency sorted out. So we have been making trips backwards and forwards to the Immigration Section of the dreaded KAT Office in VT. I thought that I was doing so well by trying to pre-empt things. The company formation document had been photo copied twice, the same with the property deeds. Our passports had been photo copied, as had our private health insurance cards and policies. I even had my pension document copied and translated into Bulgarian. As far as we could remember the only things left to do were a couple of documents from a notary, two saying that neither of us would claim any form of social security payment from the Bulgarian state, and one saying that I would financially support my wife. Armed with all of these bits of paperwork, separated into two piles, we thought that we were fully prepared to face the rigours of Mrs Grumpy Bum, and her sunny disposition.

I have often thought that Mrs Grumpy Bum is much of the trouble in the Immigration Office, as she has always been awkward and unhelpful. Even when she was doing her job, you always got the feeling that she thought she was doing you a favour. That is by the by, because when we went to the little window, Mrs GB wasn't there, instead it was a very pleasant young lady who actually smiled when handing over the renewal forms. These were duly filled out, and together with our document packs, which we had prepared earlier, and expired residency cards, were all handed back through her little window. In return we got another couple of bits of paper so that we could go and pay the fees for the new cards. So far so good, the receipts for the fees were then taken back to the little window so that they could also go with each relevant pack. The helpful lady was off for her lunch, so we were told to come back in two hours. It all seemed relatively painless, and even the notary documentation had worked out cheaper than previous times, could this be a relatively frustration free trip?

Of course not, that would make things far too easy. To confuse matters even more, my documentation was fine, but the problem was with Net's. Has she got a pension? No. Has she got a Bulgarian bank account? No. Well how does she live here? I said that I financially support her, and one of the documents from the Notary declared that. Ah!!!!! That was the old system, it changed recently. So why didn't the Notary inform us that the requirements had changed? Then we asked if it was possible to see a Supervisor. She came down and tried to explain that while everything would have been fine before the change, now it wasn't. So what to we need to do to resolve this? Can she open a bank account and stick 1000 Leva in today? The 1000 Leva can go in and once the document from the bank is complete it can come back out again. It all seemed a bit farcical, all the more so when we know full well that there are those who have never even bothered registering in the first place. While all of this was going on I was handed a piece of paper with a date on, but no explanation. The other option was for half an hour every 90 days Net would cross over into Romania, and then come back. We said that we would sort something out, but it wouldn't be that day. Some things are certainly sent to try us.

The piece of paper with the date on was when my new residency card would be ready for collection. The next day, while we were at home, we had a phone call from the Supervisor. Between them they had looked through all of the rules and regulations, and because we were applying for a renewal, not an initial issue,Net's documents were OK. However with my declaration that I would financially support her, they now needed a translated copy of our wedding certificate. We have previously tried to get this done, but because a lot is hand written, we always got the 'no-can-do'. So I deciphered it all, and printed the copy out so that the official translators could do their bit. Finally that bridge was crossed, so when I went in to collect my new shiny residency card we could hand in Net's paperwork.

So this week it was another trip into VT, so Net's paperwork could be submitted and my card picked up. They tried to get us to pay for Net's card again, until it was pointed out we did it last week and the receipt was in her file. How odd, there it was. My card was handed over, it wasn't the photo card style one which I had surrendered, it was this useless white thing. It looks as though a child has made this at school using a John Bull printing kit. It is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. There is no photo on it, no personal Identity number, and you are meant to carry your passport at all times. You can't open a bank account with it, register a vehicle with it, it is a complete and utter waste of time. Not only that but it costs 11 Lev a time.

The photo ID Long Term Residency Card is completely different. Not only can a bank see that you are who you say you are, but it has that all important personal number which officialdom likes along with other useful information. Which means that you don't need to carry your Passport round, and worry about losing it. To get mine done, so that it will be ready to pick up at the same time as Net's card next week, that has cost another 40 Leva. I did have to pose for a new photo, and I was caught pulling faces at the camera. Oh well, at least it gave the woman taking the photo a laugh. Once upon a time people didn't need the useless white card, but went straight for the photo style one. Sometimes progress is not always in a forward direction. So next week we will be making a 3rd trip there. Hopefully we will even be able to register the car as it is in Net's name. If a vehicle is in an individual's name the registration expires when their Residency Card does, but if the vehicle is in the company name there is no expiry date. After having been here for more than 7 years now, under EU legislation (or my understanding of it) I should have been issued a 10 year Residency Card. As is often the case, each region will interpret the rules and regulations differently. So it has gone on when my Passport is due to expire as that is earlier. So it has been a lot of faffing about for a Residency Card valid for only 30 months, and even more faffing about for a useless piece of white card knocked up in an after school club.

You have to keep smiling though, or else you would be sat in the corner staring off into space. The good news is that the pros far outweigh the cons with regards living out here. One thing we have noticed is that they are not really interested in a person's private health insurance policy, all they want to see is a valid European Health Insurance Card. Which isn't valid if you live here on a permanent basis. So how many hoops would you like to attempt to jump through today? Sometimes I feel just like a performing Seal.          

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Autumn Sneaks In

The summer seems to have disappeared, and autumn has arrived to take its place. I am one of these people who can't decide which is my favourite season, but it is either spring or autumn. Once again preparations for winter are already underway, and living in a small village these little jobs seem to take on an added importance. Having been here for seven years now, we are coming up to face our eighth winter, and each one has been different. Hopefully we learn from each, and our preparations take on a different order of priorities. Now that Net is back from the UK, things are a lot easier with both of us doing things, and Net quite rightly is the foreman in charge.

While we still had the sunshine, it was a matter of getting the garden ready. The last of the winter vegetables have been picked and stored. Hazelnuts and Walnuts have been collected by the bag-fulls, and even my first ever home grown Sweet Chestnut has been harvested. So maybe the wind had knocked it off, and all I had to do was pick it up from the ground, but harvesting sounds so much better. The outside tap has been drained down, and isolated, but with the tap left in the open position just in case. Rubber grips have been fitted to outside door handles, and their inner counterparts. I have been sent up in the attic, and up on the roof, to find and repair any damaged roof tiles, and check for any other damage which could lead to leaks. That is one problem with the temperature extremes we have here, tiles do crack every so often, so it is always prudent to check them over when its dry. Not only that but, you do get some lovely views whilst stood up there. The transition between summer and autumn seemed to happen just overnight, one day it was shorts and t-shirt weather, and the next it was jeans and a sweatshirt.

The wardrobes have been swapped over again. The lighter summer clothes and footwear have been put away, and heavier clothes and boots have taken their place. Rugs are now back down on the floor, especially near the doors where the cats and dogs traipse mud and leaves in. Their winter beds are now out and aired, they definitely approve of this although they probably think that job should have been first on our list. Each time we go shopping extra pet food is bought and then stored, we can get most things at the village shop but pet food isn't one of them. The same is true for any tablets and medication which we might need, although some of the locals have worked this out and in an emergency (or what they call an emergency) they come round asking for cold and flu sachets.

The car has been checked for anti-freeze, winter screen-wash, snow shovel, blankets and other such bits and bobs. The winter tyres are fitted and with plenty of tread. We have checked that our telephone and internet packages are as good as we are going to get for over the winter months. I did pre-empt matters slightly by getting the extra sports channel on the TV from the start of the football season, my excuse being that I wanted to test it first. The good news is that it works. Travelling about you do notice the leaves changing colour, and taking on their autumn hues.

In some areas the leaves have already dropped, but in our village they are still steadfastly clinging onto their twigs and branches. Even in the next village, 5kms away, piles of leaves have been raked together and are then left to smoulder away. The smell of burning leaves in the autumn always reminds me of my Grandfather, and how, as children, we used to help him with bonfires in his garden. As the afternoon gets later the smell of smouldering leaves is replaced by wood smoke, as people light their fires for cooking and heating their houses. It's not too bad providing that there is no mist or fog, as that tends to hold the smoke at a low level. We have lit our gas fires a couple of times so far this autumn, but not the wood burners yet.

We do have a nice stack of cut and split wood left over from last year. That has spent it's time up under the barn, making sure that it is nice and dry for when we need to use it. I did have a bit of a fuss and palaver trying to get a fresh supply of wood for drying. Like normal I went to the Kmet's office and placed my requirement, and was told the price per cubic metre, and that it would be delivered the next day. It wasn't. Then I was told that delivery would be this week, either Monday or Tuesday. Not so much as a twig turned up. I thought that rather than waiting in the hope of a delivery, I might just as well go into town and pay the bills. You've guessed it, while I was out the wood turned up.

So as soon as I got home it was a quick change into work clothes, and start shifting it from the lane outside the house, in through the gates and start building a neat stack beside the driveway. Luckily before I had even moved a cubic metre, our neighbour got home from work. He didn't even stop for a coffee but started helping me shift these logs. Then his wife was out helping, then his son and then his daughter. Between the six of us we managed to get everything moved before it got too dark to see what we were doing. Thank heavens for neighbourliness out here in Bulgaria, back in the UK I know one neighbour would have pitched in and helped, but the others would probably have been too busy. So now we have a big stack of logs under plastic sheeting, even though Sirius seems to think it is there for his benefit. He climbs up on top of it so that he can look over walls and bark at anything that he sees.

So autumn is here, and our winter preparations are coming along nicely. We might well have what the locals call a 'Gypsy Summer' yet, if we do that will be an added bonus. If not, then we haven't lost any time, and we don't have to rush to get things finished. Our year long task of collecting books to read throughout the winter months is still ongoing, but having kindles does make things so much easier.


Monday, 31 August 2015

A Saturday To Savour

The weekend just gone is one which I always look forward to. The leaves on the trees are just starting to change colour, from their summer greens to their autumn tones. The evenings might be cooling, but the days are still hot, and often there are no clouds in the sky. Although these are good enough reasons in their own right, neither of them are the reason why I hold this weekend in such anticipation. The main reason being, that this weekend was the Rock Fest over in Mindya, and this year we had arranged to go with a couple of others from the village. Despite being eagerly anticipated, Sod's Law dictates that something along the way will try to throw a spanner in the works. This time it was Net waking up with a raging toothache.

So time was spent rummaging through the medicine cupboard looking for painkillers, and hoping that I still had antibiotics left over from having root canal treatment done. Painkillers were easy to find, but my antibiotics seemed to have disappeared off of the face of the earth. So it was a day on the couch down in the cellar for Net, even with painkillers if a drink was too hot it all flared up again, the same happened if the drink was cold. Tepid tea is not highly recommended, but it seemed to work. By the afternoon if Net jumped up and down I am sure that she would rattle. The good news is that by mid-afternoon things had started to ease, but perhaps the Rock Fest would be a bit much if things flared up again. I was told that I could still go, which meant that I didn't have to phone people up and cancel at short notice, so that was a bonus.

Another added bonus to this weekend was the football on the television, for once Crystal Palace were being shown live. Possibly because we were facing the defending champions. Even though Chelsea have not had the best of starts this season, all of the pundits were predicting that Palace would face the backlash as Chelsea tried to get their season back on track. I watched the first half, and it was highly entertaining, and ended up as 0-0. At that point I started to believe that we could come away from their ground with a point, as they were not getting things all of their own way. I couldn't watch all of the 2nd half due to being picked up for Mindya. So after a final check up on Net, and a final check on the scoreline, we headed off for Mindya.

This year was the 7th Rock Fest to be held at Mindya, and after this weekend I have been to 5 of them. The 1st one we were not even in the country, and one of the others times we had to take some people back to the airport in Sofia, so our attendance isn't too bad. Each year there are more and more people attending. It says something that a Bulgarian village can constantly hold a music festival year after year, and in all of my visits there I have never seen any trouble. I can safely say that Mindya makes the bands and the attendees feel most welcome. There has to be an awful lot of organisation which goes on behind the scenes, possibly as one festival finishes preparations are starting to be made for the following year. Most surprisingly it is all still free to attend, how long that will last is difficult to say. If you are in the area next year, and have never been before, I can highly recommend it. I knew that it was going to be busy on Saturday as soon as we arrived in Mindya, as we had to park a lot further away.

It was still light when we arrived, and the first group were already on stage. We found somewhere where we could all find each other should we go off for a wander, especially for doing those important beer or food runs. The bands might not be household names to you or I, but they love what they do and do it with enthusiasm. It might not be Rock'n'Roll but there was even a chap playing the Gaida, that would be the Bulgarian version of the Bagpipes. Very haunting music as the moon rose higher up into the sky, even if it did seem oddly out of place.

Many might wonder what I considered to be the highlight of the evening. There was a good cover version of Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love', but for me the highlight had to be a group called 'Tortilla Flat'. They were enthusiastic, they played well, and they interacted well with the crowd. So much so that one young lady, who might have had too much fizzy pop (or sun), joined them on the stage until security managed to usher her off.

Two minutes later she was back in front of the stage with beer in hand. So no-one wanted to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the evening. We didn't have as much trouble with mosquitoes as we have in previous years, maybe the smoke from a nearby food stall helped. Perhaps that was why the bands periodically disappeared behind a cloud erupting from the smoke generator on stage. Soon it came time for us to wend our way home, unfortunately we did suffer a collision with a bat as we got to the other side of Gorna. It can't have had its radar switched on, or it was too busy chasing insects attracted by the headlights. I am already looking forward to this time next year, and hopefully toothache will not spoil things.

It was after 1 by the time I got back indoors, and curiosity did get the better of me. Had we managed to earn a point by keeping the match at 0-0? To my pleasure we had managed to win 1-2, little old unfashionable Crystal Palace had managed to spoil another celebration. Even though only 4 matches have been played so far that has put us into 2nd place, who would have thought that before the season began? Even though I was trying to be quiet, happy dogs have no such consideration, and a now awake Net told me that her toothache just disappeared 3 hours previously. That just capped off an wonderful Saturday. Good music, good company, an excellent football result and a pain free Net.

Of course music festivals attract all sorts of odd characters, some more photogenic than others. I'll let you guess which one is me.