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

To save space, the most recent blog entry will have relevant pictures in it, but after that the photos will be moved to Flickr for storage, and a link to them added to the blog post. If you want to see all the photos anyway then visit the Gostilitsa Flickr page here.

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There is now a separate site with information on living in Bulgaria, including:

  • An introduction to Gostilitsa and all it has to offer
  • Day to day practicalities of shopping, paying bills, banking, insurance
  • Healthcare matters for people and pets
  • Public transport and issues relating to car ownership
  • Becoming a Bulgarian resident and learning the language
  • Tourism, public holidays, festivals, places to visit, hiking routes

Click here for the link.

Tuesday 26th July, 2016
Category: 2016/07
Tags: DIY festival VT

Each year in Veliko Tarnovo they hold an international folk festival in July, with participants from various countries all showcasing traditional costumes and dances. It's a very colourful event and the lively music and jazzy outfits are a real mood lifter.  This year there were a lot of participants from South America including some very fanciful figures from Chile.

There were two of these weird looking old guys and also a large black bird - you can see from the little girl's face that they were both fascinating and a bit creepy.  There were also these people leaping around (goodness only knows how they managed in the heat) one of whom I also nabbed for a selfie afterwards (such a child!)

After the parade along the main street, all the performers headed to the summer theatre in Marno Pole park where they held the concert which lasted for over two hours. Sometimes the performers came up into the audience, like the violinists from Mexico, though the place was so packed with people, even in the aisles, that there wasn't much room for them to get through.

This group from New Orleans proved very popular when they hurled handfuls of Mardi Gras beads into the audience after their performance.

Saturday was the last night of the festival and at the end of the show one of the organisers proposed to his girlfriend to huge applause from the audience (thankfully she said yes).  It always amazes me that these big events are put on for free though as my language tutor reminded me, no doubt the council claw back the money through local taxes!

This weekend there's some sort of medieval festival going on at the fortress, with archery, food, reenactments etc, so I might head along for that too.

The DIY is progressing nicely on the home front. I think I might have mentioned that I've varnished all the ceiling downstairs and then emulsioned all the walls. I then used some of the left over pieces of tile from the balcony, to tile the window ledges in the living room.

It was my first ever go at tiling and I must admit I was surprised at how well it turned out. I'm going to give it a coat of varnish too, and then it should be much easier to keep clean. The final thing will be to do the floor.  At the moment it's made up of the big irregular stone slabs which are commonly used, but which never look clean to me - always grey and dusty. So my (mad) plan is to first give them a coat of some kind of sealer, then to give it a hefty layer of white paint, and finally to use some sort of heavy duty clear varnish to protect the paint. Are your jaws almost on the floor at the idea of someone painting the lovely old-fashioned stone slabs? I know, but it's just so dark in the living room, and I have a vision of lovely bright whiteness with a nice big colourful rug in front of a cosy corner fire (when and if I ever get round to having a proper door made for it, which has been on the to do list for at least four years now).

Oooh, one more little bit of DIY, well, repair I suppose, was to mend my fly screen curtains on the front door. The edging where the magnets are fixed was getting very flimsy and tearing in places, so I bought some lovely red ribbon and patched it up with wonder-web and a glue gun.

Posh, eh?

Other than that I've fixed a leaky toilet pipe (hopefully - the silicon is still setting) and have added casters to my settee which weighs a ton and would have probably scraped all the coating off the floor when it gets done.

And finally.... a little volcano has appeared in the barn where Alfie has his kennel. It seems the bees who nest in the ground there have been busy again.

I wonder if I'm sitting on a honey well?

Sunday 17th July, 2016
Category: 2016/07
Tags: garden weeds hay harvest chimney

Worst jobs of the year: 1 - cleaning out the woodburner, and 2 - going into the loft to check on the water level in the central heating system. Guess which one I did yesterday.

I'm thinking of auditioning for the role of 'plucky Victorian urchin'.  I only cleaned the stove out about a month before I stopped using it last spring, when the stove suddenly produced clouds of smoke in the living room which is usually a good indication that the pipes need brushing out. So I wasn't expecting there to be much build up this time.

I always start at the top and disconnect the flue pipe from where it enters the wall on the landing which leads into the chimney outside. I did this as normal and began brushing away into the pipe with the spikey chimney brush to dislodge the soot. To my amazement every brush movement brought heaps of soot out of the pipe and onto the landing; there was no end to it. I got a torch and shone it into the pipe which fits into the wall and saw to my horror that the main chimney at the end of the pipe was absolutely chock a block with soot. It must have been about three feet deep in the chimney! No wonder the stove had become smoky.

I went outside armed with a dustpan and brush and a bin bag to put the soot in, and removed the round cap at the base of the chimney. Soot instantly poured out all over me. Disregarding any attempt to get it to pour neatly into the bag I just reached into the chimney and dragged out dozens of handfuls of soot straight onto the path.  A few jabs up the chimney with the brush soon brought another cascade down and when it was all swept up it half filled the bin bag. Note to self: every time you clean the stove, remember to empty the chimney itself too!

Two hours later and the stove was all scrubbed out and reassembled ready for next winter, and I took myself out into the garden with lots of soapy water to try and clean off the mess.

I wonder if I can pay someone to do it next time.

Finlay the cat was pouncing around wildly amongst the sweetcorn the other day which usually means he's found a mouse or a lizard to torment. This time though it turned out he'd caught himself a bird, and unfortunately it was one of the beautiful golden orioles I love to see. It was already dead and looked huge sticking out of his mouth as he rolled around pretending to kill it over and over again. Unlike the lizards the bird didn't go to waste and a short while later this was all that was left:

Poor little oriole.

Can you see something else in the top right hand corner of that picture? Yes, the abominable bindweed strikes again! I told you last time how it had decimated one of my new raised beds, so this week I started fighting back. I decided to empty said raised bed and then put a double layer of black plastic sheeting under it - surely bindweed can't break through plastic can it? I had the idea of removing all the roots from the soil in the bed as I emptied it, but a couple of spadefuls later I realised just how dreadful the problem was. Although there may be only a dozen or so little shoots of bindweed on the surface, beneath the soil it was a total tangle of white roots. The whole bed was absolutely riddled.

This bucket is the result of sifting maybe two cubic feet of soil.

So what I did is remove some of the soil from the bed, and then stacked the rest up at one end so that I could gradually slide the plastic sheeting underneath the frame, and then shovelled the soil back on top of the plastic. Now I can sit in the bed and sift the soil a section at a time, but also hopefully any roots which do start sprouting leaves again will be quite loose in the heaped compost and might be easy to pull out complete.

Luckily the other two beds haven't been as badly affected though they will also get the plastic treatment come autumn when the crops have finished. I'm also going to try and systematically kill off patches of bindweed in the lawn, especially the ones nearest the veggie patch so maybe they won't spread as much. The only thing I need to be very careful about is not piercing the plastic at all and of course being 100% vigilant at nabbing the first sign of any bindweed regrowth.

One of the crops which did manage to survive despite the bindweed was the parsnips. I've got two more patches of them to harvest and have already sampled some with my dinner. Very tasty!

I've heard that you're supposed to leave them until after a frost to improve the flavour but that's another 4 or 5 months away and it'll be like chewing twigs by then. They tasted fine to me already so I'm going to harvest now.

Speaking of harvests. The other day I got a phone call asking if I could spare a bit of time to help out with a hay harvest in the next village. My job would be to drive the pick up truck between the barn and the hay field rather than any actual hefty work, so I went along for a couple of hours in the morning.

I had one go at heaving a mound of hay onto the truck which nearly killed my arm, and then left it to the experts.

Once so much was on the truck, Annie would climb on top to help hold it down and to evenly stack the rest as Dimiter (in the picture) heaved more and more up there. I was amazed at just how much hay could be balanced before we then slowly swayed our way back down the track for the off loading. My reward for volunteering was several nice bales of old hay left over from last year, which the goats won't eat.

An excellent start to this year's mulch collecting!

Sunday 10th July, 2016
Category: 2016/07
Tags: garden flight

I've been back in Bulgaria for over a week now, slipping back into the lovely summer routine of sleeping on the balcony at night and pottering in the garden during the day. Actually there was a bit more than 'pottering' for the first couple of days as the weeds always go mad during the warm wet months of May and June and the so called lawn was waist high. Thank goodness for the industrial strength strimmer which soon scythes through everything!

I was really gutted to see how much bindweed has invaded the new raised beds, especially the one nearest the lawn where the weed completely battered my emerging carrots. The layers of cardboard and sheets that I'd put down under the raised beds have just rotted and the bindweed has come through crazily so it's time for a re-think.

I've now bought some black plastic sheeting, and what I plan is to empty the raised bed soil onto a tarp (so I can sift through it with a magnifying glass and pick out every trace of bindweed root) and then put down a double layer of black plastic under the raised beds after giving any weeds there a hefty dose of weed killer. Then the newly sorted compost can go back in the bed and hopefully the bindweed will be unable to break through. If that fails I can see me concreting over the veggie patch and putting raised beds on top! I will win!

Alfie seemed to have turned another of the beds into his personal lavatory whilst I was away as it was well dug over and full of poo instead of leeks and beetroots which were growing there when I left. I've cleaned up the area and re-sown leeks and beets which are already poking through. I've also put a wire grid over the top so Alfie can't get in.

Between weed and animals it's amazing that anything has grown, but lots of veggies have battled on including some amazing parsnips (already sampled with roast dinner tonight), onions, carrots, courgette, spinach, tomatoes, cabbage, beans, peas, squash and one lonely chilli. I also have a nice row of potatoes which are all from one potato that went to seed back in May. I sliced off all the eyes and planted them separately and they've all made plants.

The Brexit referendum was at the forefront of my mind back in the UK and naturally I, along with most other expats around Europe, was wondering what the consequences would be for me. Being back here I feel normal and more distant from the turmoil back home, and from what I have been reading it seems I have a good chance of maintaining my right to live here which has quelled my worries. Interestingly reciprocal health care rights would no longer exist and so my Bulgarian health card (equivalent of the UK EHIC card) would be invalid in the UK and I would need to take out travel insurance before travelling back there. I should also get on with exchanging my driving license for a BG one whilst it's still just a matter of filling out a form rather than having to take a test. These are minor things though; maintaining my home is all that really matters to me.

There was an interesting incident on the flight home which I'll relate to you. I was among the first to board the plane at Gatwick and as soon as I did I could hear someone at the back of the plane screaming 'Nooooo, nooooo' over and over again. At the back I could see there were a couple of people seated and a man kneeling on a seat facing the person who was screaming. My first thought was that it was someone with special needs who was overexcited about the prospect of flying, and that the person kneeling was their carer. More and more passengers filed on board and still the screaming continued unabated. Was it perhaps someone with a phobia about flying? Were they attempting some sort of kill or cure therapy for them? There were mutterings amongst the passengers about the prospect of facing three hours of this racket and I was glad I wasn't one of those seated in that immediate area. Then the truth was quietly passed on by one of the stewards: The man screaming was an illegal immigrant who was being deported back to Bulgaria and the people with him were the police escort.

Fortunately as soon as the plane started taxiing he quietened down, probably realising that there was no way he was getting off the plane now, and things calmed down. As we were queuing up at passport control in Sofia he was led from the plane and taken off into a side office. He looked very young - early 20s at most - and was holding a small shopping bag of belongings. Some people mentioned he was a refugee, perhaps with a fake passport or something which had enabled him to fly in the first place.

It made me think that if I find myself in that position - put on a flight back to the UK and unable to reside in Bulgaria - I too would be screaming 'no', and trust me, it would be for the entire three hour flight and beyond!


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