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

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2018/01
Tuesday 16th January, 2018
Category: 2018/01
Tags: cows neighbour

Forgot to mention yesterday that whilst we were driving to the clinic we got to talking about Mitko who brings my milk each week. This particular Monday a total stranger came bearing my delivery so I wondered if maybe Mitko wasn't well. Deshka informed me that Mitko had lost his cows for two whole days and had gone looking for them everywhere! How is that possible, I asked, how did they escape? Well it turns out he just lets them out to graze as and when they like, without any supervision, and this particular day they headed out on an adventure. Happily he found them after two days but I'm wondering if the guy who brought my milk on Monday was from the other dairy farmer acting as back-up for Mitko's wayward herd.

 

 

Monday 15th January, 2018
Category: 2018/01
Tags: hospital snow neighbours

I hate getting older! No, not the wrinkles or not being able to stuff ten pounds of chocolate without serious consequences, but the aches and pains which become part of everyday life. Last week I had another manure delivery (my garden is literally a bottomless pit for the stuff) and since I knew the weather was going to turn a tad wintry I decided to get it all stashed away in the giant poop pen in the garden.

This decision was at about 4pm with very little daylight, but I gamefully got the wheelbarrow, fork and buckets out, and began shifting it. By golly it was heavy stuff this time! Usually it's well mixed with dry sawdust or hay and is relatively light, but this felt like shifting buckets of gravel. (I'm expecting ultra veggies from it once it's rotted mind you). I knew I was pushing myself as I really struggled to lift the buckets high enough to tip into the pen, and sure enough the next day my back went crazy.

For the next few days I had horrible spasms down my left side and laying in bed at night only made it ache more. Much of my clothing is now stained a vivid orange from lashings of tiger balm and there's a preemptive walking stick next to the bed in case of serious mobility issues. Naturally in the midst of such pain my mind begins to convince me that my spine is on the verge of collapse and is only being held in place by the giant tumor which is surrounding it (damn you Google and your easy access to medical horror) and I was determined to go and see doctor Diana on Monday morning to get x-rays and scans and whatever done.

Well, yesterday the pain began to ease back to its normal twingy level - panic over! Today I could put my socks on without having to hold my leg in place with one hand, and all is back to as it was before. It does worry me though. I'm only 54 - what am I going to be like in 5 years' time? I don't want to be unable to garden or carry in an armful of logs. Maybe I'll see the doctor next Monday.

I did end up at a hospital today but only accompanying someone else, not for me. Last night the phone rang and it was Baba Deshka who I know through the community centre. She's a lovely character, always very cheery and loving, and best of all she understands what it is to learn a foreign language and so speaks nice and slowly and precisely. She'd phoned up to ask if I was available today to take her and her hubby into Gabrovo as he had an appointment for a check-up and no one else was free to take them.

I did hesitate because it had been snowing all day and more was forecast for during the night - remember last year when my car was trapped in the garage for most of January due to the snow? I explained to her that it would all depend on my being able to get the car out, and that if it was impossible I'd phone her back.

At the time of the call the snow wasn't settling too much on the roads so I decided to get the car out and parked up on the street whilst I could. Having done this I draped an old blanket over the windscreen and hoped it would start okay the next day.

It was a good job I did that because this morning the snow was quite deep and I definitely wouldn't have made it up my lane.

We headed off at 2pm with me taking the opportunity for a free language lesson en route. We talked about her hubby and daughter and even discussed Bulgaria's possible adoption of the euro. I love it when I can hold mini conversations like that! Once in Gabrovo she directed me to the clinic (always handy to know these places) where we met her daughter. Whilst Deshka and her hubby were seeing the doctor I had a chat with their daughter (whose name escapes me) but in English this time, as she speaks it quite well and wanted to practise.

The check-up all done we drove off to drop the daughter home at which point she presented me with a beautiful patchwork square as a thank you. I was amazed and very happy as she's an amazing seamstress and makes the most beautiful quilts. In fact she just had two of them exhibited in England last summer!

Back at Deshka's she presented me with a huge carrier bag full of goodies (homemade tomato juice, a box of homemade biscuits, a pack of coffee and a huge carton of eggs from her chickens). How nice was that! And there was me thinking that this trip was my way of repaying her for the eggs she gave me before!

Thursday 11th January, 2018
Category: 2018/01
Tags: Kalofer Yordanovden Karlovo

January 6th in Bulgaria is celebrated as Yordanovden in remembrance of the time when Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan. To celebrate this event, it's common throughout Bulgaria for a blessed wooden cross to be thrown in a river into which men fling themselves to try and be the first to get the cross. The successful person takes home a year full of good fortune and blessings.

This year I headed to the town of Kalofer on the southern side of the Stara Planina range, where possibly the largest and most famous celebrations take place.

We set off at about 5am in order to arrive by 7am so as to get a good view point of the events but I was shocked when we neared Kalofer to see that there was already a steady stream of cars entering the town. We tried cutting up a back street to find a parking spot but were met by an oncoming procession of children and musicians - time for a rapid reverse! Once safely parked we made our way down the cobbled streets towards the river, amidst the increasing noise of drums banging, singing, cheering and general hubub which was strange and exciting in the pre-dawn darkness.

The banks of the river were already heaving with crowds and TV cameras, with a snow machine pumping out clouds of fake foamy snowflakes into the air and various drones buzzing up and down above the river.

I soon got separated from my friends and decided that maybe the only way to get a view of the river would be to walk along with all the men. Eventually they had to reach a point at which they could walk down into the water and hopefully I'd be able to see something there. The procession was very slow and everyone was literally jammed together like sardines, so it was more a case of being swept along in surges and trying not to trip over the potholes rather than actually processing. The men who would be wading into the icy waters were all easily identifiable as most were dressed in traditional costumes. Some looked wide eyed and terrified, whilst others were barely able to walk due to the phenomenal amount of wine and rakia they were necking as they made their way along.

Now and then the singing and chanting reached a crescendo and my whole body felt like it was echoing with the noise... "Bul-gar-i-a... Bul-gar-i-a"

Finally we reached the entry point and as luck would have it there was a little gap between some of the people standing on the wall overlooking the river, so I was able to shove my head through and see the action.

Some of the guys strode in merrily like they were paddling at the seaside in August, others you could see gasping with the shock of the cold, and one or two only walked a few yeard before turning back and climbing out. One of those was a father and son (perhaps about 10 years old) and after a few brave steps the boy shook his head tearfully and pulled his dad back to shore. I don't blame him. I put my hand in a bucket of rainwater the other day whilst filling a watering can and my bones were instantly aching from the cold!

Further along the river the water is dammed to make it deeper, and that was where all the men were dancing a big 'horo' in the water (maybe the proximity of bodies and the amount of wee after consuming so much booze on the way, made the water a bit warmer there!).

After the last of the men had got in the river, the crowds thinned a bit so I was able to walk back along the street near to where the horo dance was happening, though the volume of foam snow still being pumped out made it hard to see much at all.

I headed back up towards our car, hoping that my friends were doing the same as I still hadn't found them at that point, and passed many a wet chap stripped down to a pair of grubby grey undies being dried off by family and friends before being whisked away in cars hopefully to a hearty hot breakfast and a blazing log fire.

There were big queues of traffic to get out of town so we sat in the car and had some sarnies then headed off to follow a little off-road track which would take us to the neighbouring village of Vasil Levski. It turned out to be the most beautiful route, not least because of the clear blue skies, but also due to the perfect view of snow capped mountains in the background, and wide open grassy meadows on either side of us.

There were an astonishing number of large flocks of sheep around too, one of which we followed for quite a way through the forest, accompanied by their shepherd who came across to say hello and to wish us 'Chestit Praznik' or happy holiday.

I must admit I struggled to follow all that he was saying but he mentioned his friend who works for the Balkan National Park in some animal protecting capacity, and also talked about how the youth of today don't have that connection with nature that people of his generation had - they're all too connected to the internet instead.

On such a beautiful day it was easy to feel that he was lucky to have such a job, walking across the gorgeous landscape beneath the warm sun, but the reality is that he probably lives very poorly and has to endure being out and about in much less favourable conditions. He had three huge dogs helping with the flock, kind of like giant collie/St Bernard creatures, all very placid and completely at one with the sheep which they seemed to guide just by mingling amongst them. All three looked to be in superb condition too which was a credit to their owner.

We stopped off along the way just by an area where all the trees were taken over by mistletoe. I think it's the first time I've seen it growing in such abundance - great big round clumps, full of berries, and such an intense bright green against the brown of the bare winter trees.

I pinched a couple of sprigs though I'm hoping they only grow on live trees and that all the wooden beams in my house aren't covered in green balls next winter. At the moment they're hanging up in the shed as it said it might be possible to dry them by hanging in a cool dark place. I was tempted to shove a berry in a pot of soil and see what happens but I doubt the locals would be thrilled if there's a sudden outbreak of mistletoe sapping the life out of all the precious trees in the area.

After Vasil Levski we headed along the main road into Karlovo to see the Suchurum Waterfall and the old part of town. Unfortunately the waterfall wasn't flowing very strongly due to the lack of rainfall, but it was still very lovely and seems to form a succession of quite deep pools as it makes it's way down the narrow gorge. We climbed partway up the side of it, but it would make a great hike to follow it all the way up if possible.

The old part of town had lots of brightly coloured buildings many of which had a little tile plaque on the wall outside, all bearing this same symbol:

It was even etched into some of the stones making up the street. According to one source no one knows where they came from, they all just suddenly appeared overnight, but maybe that story's just a sneaky tourism ploy.

We ended the day in the restaurant of a small hotel for a bite to eat before the long drive back over the Shipka Pass and home. I was unbelievably shattered when I got in, and literally fell asleep on the settee for a few hours before then dragging myself up to bed and sleeping again for many more hours. Thank goodness I hadn't had to do any of the driving!

We're going to Pernik in a couple of weeks' time to see the Kukeri festival, though we'll be staying there for a couple of nights too, but I can't wait! I'm determined to start seeing more of Bulgaria and all the richness of her customs and traditions.

Click here for photos for this blog entry.

 

 

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