Day to day events mostly cataloguing my complete lack of understanding and common sense!

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2015/05
Wednesday 20th May, 2015
Category: 2015/05
Tags: travel Plovdiv

Tonight's episode of The Twilight Zone is entitled 'Premonition'.  It all began seven days ago in the quiet little village of Gostilitsa...

That Tuesday night, on the eve of my trip to the UK, I had quite an odd dream.  I dreamt that I was travelling on a coach which suddenly had to go into reverse due to some kind of obstruction on the road. As it reversed, it then accelerated quite hard and took off backwards up into the air. We rose quite high up but then the vehicle stalled and in that split second I knew we were about to fall sharply back to earth. In my dream this didn't worry me unduly, what bothered me was that I knew the sensation would cause my stomach to lurch violently and it was this that I dreaded.

Naturally when I woke up with the prospect of a coach trip and a flight ahead of me I was a tad concerned. Had I glimpsed things to come?

For those of you of a nervous disposition fear not. The fact I am happily sitting here blogging the tale a week later tells you that life has not taken a disastrous turn for me, however, events did bear an uncanny relation to the dream.

I should have known the trip was somewhat jinxed even before last Tuesday; the first problems arose on booking the flight way back in February. Usually I fly with EasyJet from Sofia to Stansted, but when I tried to book it, it appeared they were no longer doing that route. The only way into Stansted was with Ryan Air (yes, yes, I know there's no such thing as a flight for 50 feckin' p) flying from Plovdiv, so I went ahead and booked with them. Blow me if they didn't change the flight time twice within four weeks, so now I'd be arriving too late to use public transport and would need someone to come and pick me up. Not a good start.

Anyway, back to more recent happenings. Never having been to Plovdiv before, I researched the route and found that there were several buses a day from Gabrovo into Plovdiv itself from where I could get a local bus to the airport. Well, from where I thought I could get a local bus. It turned out that there wasn't enough airport demand to make this service viable anymore, however you could apparently get a train from Plovdiv to the village of Krumovo which is right next to the airport. Fine, I thought, I'll do that instead.

I trundled off to Gabrovo, the Friday before flying, to get a few last minute things and then popped into the bus station to buy my ticket.

"A ticket to Plovdiv for next Wednesday please," I asked.

"Certainly," she said, all smiles, digging out the relevant ticket book. "7am."

"Uh, no! I'd like one for the 2pm bus."

"Oh but there's only one bus a day leaving at 7am," she said, before adding that sometimes in winter there are more (why would people be more likely to travel to Plovdiv in winter??) but only the one in summer. Great! My flight wasn't till 9.30pm and no way was I going to be sitting around at the airport for 10 hours; I would find an alternative route.

Dashing back home for more Googling I discovered a (theoretical) bus from VT leaving at 1.30pm each day. This time I phoned the bus station and thankfully they confirmed there was indeed a daily afternoon bus to Plovdiv. All systems go again.

Wednesday arrived and with, as I said, the slight sense of foreboding after the dream. Did it mean the coach would be careering off the road at some point? Would the plane actually plummet from the sky? With everything crossed I set off.

The coach turned out to be a little minibus and since there were only about 8 passengers, I got the entire back row to myself. So it was off with the shoes and up with the legs for a very pleasant journey across the mountains with some gorgeous scenery on the way.

We stopped a couple of times for breaks (the whole journey was 4 and a half hours) including in Stara Zagora. I'm imagining that this must be one of the main routes across Bulgaria (or even Europe) and into Turkey because there were a startling number of signs written in Turkish in the villages and towns we passed, and at the roadside cafes.

Once we'd crossed the mountains the scenery became hugely agricultural with great fields ploughed and planted, rows of fruit trees covered in netting and enormous tunnel greenhouses everywhere, including in many people's gardens, all of which were themselves perfectly dug over and planted with veggies from the boundary right up to the front door.

Well, needless to say there was no crash and we approached the more industrial scenery of the outskirts of Plovdiv at around 6pm.

Luckily the bus station is just over the road from the train station and, after only asking three people for help, I managed to find the underpass to cross the road and headed up to the ticket office. Yes, you know what's coming.

"A ticket to Krumovo please."

"Oh no, the trains don't go there any more. The only way is by taxi."

What is this? Are they telling me that every single person in the Plovdiv area either has a car or can afford taxi travel everywhere? The airport was about 12 kilometres away and now the only route was via taxi. Hmm, the suspicious side of me thought that if the taxi firms had the monopoly then surely they could charge what they liked. Getting ready to summon fake tears and claim I only had 15 levs on me, I headed over to the one taxi in the car park and asked the driver how much it would be to the airport.  Seconds passed as he did some calculations in his head and then announced it would be 13 levs. Phew! Funnily enough it turns out he was from the village of Krumovo himself... shall I be cynical and say he must be in cahoots with the station ticket office woman? No, he was a happy chappy and stuck to the metered fare, and so after a short, if somewhat hair-raising drive (he liked to be three inches from the car in front at all times) I arrived at the airport.

I don't know how new the place is but it was certainly all sparkling and shiny and looked remarkably modern. Check-in opened and was fairly smooth (though not for the ones whose baggage was too big or too heavy and were sent away to repack or pay the fees).  There are only three departure gates all looking out onto the runway, and at about 9pm we saw the Ryan Air plane arriving and all the passengers disembarking.

We were now called to line up at the boarding desk, which we did, and waited to be allowed on the plane. And waited... and waited...

The departure time of 9.30pm came and went and still we were standing there, looking at the plane on the tarmac which now contained our suitcases but no passengers.  Then one of the check-in staff came over to tell everyone to sit back down as there was a problem. At this point I figured 20 minutes or so, but once we'd all sat down they told us the truth. As the plane had been coming into land, a bird had struck it on the wing and now they needed to wait for an engineer to arrive to check the plane and make sure it was safe to fly. Our earliest departure time would now be 1.30am. The collective intake of breath from all the passengers was audible.

Now I'm no aviation expert but I have had the misfortune of hitting a bird whilst driving a car. The effect was something akin to someone shaking a pillow full of feathers in front of the vehicle. Poof and it was gone, and not even a blood stain on the bumper as evidence. Could a bird really have damaged a plane wing so badly?

Well there was nothing to do but wait. At 11pm they handed out 'your rights as a passenger' leaflets which worryingly mentioned hotels and alternative flights. I had to be in London for a training day on Saturday - would I make it!?  At 11.30pm we were all given 5 euro vouchers for refreshments which cheered everyone up. Not because we needed refreshments necessarily but hey, freebies! 

The refreshment desk must have made more money in that one night than they normally do all month as everyone carefully did mental calculations between the drinks, crisps and croissants to work out exactly what they could get to spend as close to bang on 5 euros as possible. At least it kept us entertained for a while.

Armed with a hot chocolate, bottle of Fanta and packet of chocolate chip cookies I went and sat down again, watching the engineer out the window as he climbed up and down the ladder checking the plane's wing (and possibly, in true Bulgarian style, patching it up with var and duct tape and arguing with the pilot who is claiming his wife's second cousin's husband from their village could have done the job twice as well in half the time).

Just after 1pm the happy news came that the plane was fit and well and we would indeed be flying. I think we did in fact take off at 1.30am but I'm not sure as I was semi comatose at that point.

So, was my dream a premonition? Well the plane didn't stall in midair, but an unfortunate little birdie did, so I'm saying yes!

Next week on The Twilight Zone...

Saturday 9th May, 2015
Category: 2015/05
Tags: community spirit

One of the things I most enjoy about this small community is the way people help each other out all the time. Recent examples would be Gancho going to collect all those plastic bottles for me as soon as he found out about my greenhouse project, Mitko the milkman risking life and limb to climb up on my roof to replace a couple of broken tiles and then saying he didn't want any payment, and another friend bringing two truck loads of hay round to help my veggie patch along.  Today has provided more little gems of community spirit. 

My old neighbour came round this morning with several pots of tomato seedlings and a bunch of pepper ones for me (the peppers will be very handy as I only managed to germinate 7 good ones) and in return I took my hosepipe round to her so she could give her potatoes a good watering.

Later on some friends called round to borrow a long scaffolding plank, which will be used to cross a stream on the sponsored walk tomorrow, and then promptly spent a couple of hours sorting out a leak which had developed from the cold water pipe leading into the washing machine.

This was all sorted just in time for me to give another friend a lift to the bus station after a rather nasty accident prevented his partner from driving.

Then there is the friend who very generously will be taking care of the garden and pets whilst I'm away in the UK, and to whom I hope to return the favour some day.

To help and be helped so freely does make for a secure and contented existance.

Thursday 7th May, 2015
Category: 2015/05
Tags: St George's Day bottle greenhouse

Temperatures hit the 30s yesterday, but Alfie has the right idea about coping with the sudden heat:

The glorious weather was ideal as it was St George's Day here in Bulgaria; one of the most celebrated public holidays. Here in Gostilitsa a traditional swing was suspended from a big old tree in the school grounds, along with a human sized set of weighing scales:

 Putting up the swing

 Me at the weigh in (those scales need callibrating!)

Everyone gets to be weighed and then to have a go on the swing. I thought the weighing was to check the swing could safely hold you, but apparently it's part of the bestowing health ritual (or at the very least a wake-up call to start eating more healthily). By taking part in the festivities, people in the past believed they would have a great harvest that year with many healthy new animals, abundant crops and lots of grapes for the wine and rakia production.

 

Some of the villagers and children were in national costume, and although I'm not Bulgarian, there's something about seeing children continuing the traditions which fills you with enormous pride.

Along with the village celebrations I decided to have some friends over to share a meal which would include the traditional roast lamb which is eaten on this day. Keeping with the Bulgarian theme I thought I'd have a go at making a cheese and spinach banitsa (a very popular dish made with lots of layers of filo pastry). Dock leaves were substituted for spinach and I must admit when it came out of the oven I was very impressed with the results:

Some of it was eaten for lunch along with the lamb, bread rolls, salad and stewed peaches for pud, and the rest was finished off in the evening when some other friends came round, though they had rice pudding instead of fruit.

The empty plates and full stomachs voted the food a success so banitsa will definitely be on the menu again. At least with my little corner of uncut weeds I have an unlimited supply of spinach substitute:

The collection of clear plastic bottles has been building up nicely so I had a couple of afternoons washing, cutting and threading them onto canes to make the second wall of the bottle greenhouse. It's mostly for the plants in winter but I couldn't resist putting it in place and creating a nice little conservatory type area for sitting in:

 

The final stage will be making a shorter wall to go across in front of the enclosed tubs to give them all round protection, and the addition of a bit more clear plastic sheeting to make it all completely wind and waterproof. When the sun shines through the coloured wall it gives a lovely tropical greenish hue to the whole area - I can see a fight developing between me and the plants in winter as it could be a gorgeous little sun trap to sit out in!

I like adding decorative touches to the garden here and there, and so far there are some painted stones, snail shell designs, painted terracotta pots, a decorated gourd and now the big glass bottles are being coloured to add to the collection. I also found some little flat slate stones down by the river to make labels for my herb garden, complete with girly glitter:

Need to find some very long stones for coriander and lemon thyme though!

 

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