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.


Unfortunately I've been having an increasing number of problems with storage on this site, so I've decide to continue the diary section elsewhere. Click here for the link to the new site.  The old diary entries will remain here for anyone wishing to delve into the murky past

Saturday 31st January, 2015
Category: 2015/01
Tags: neighbour

Guess what I'm going to have for dinner for the third night in a row... black pudding!

A couple of weeks ago some friends and I put together a food order for stuff from the UK from a site with a special 30% off deal. Now normally I don't bother with getting food shipped from the UK as there are only a couple of things I really need from there (numero uno being teabags) and my yearly pilgrimage to the homeland is enough to top up my supplies, but hey, 30% off!! The bulk of my order was for bacon but I also spotted they had black pudding. Even in the UK I hadn't eaten this for years but it's something that I always enjoyed when I had it - usually as part of a heart-attack-on-a-plate fry up, so I ordered a couple of sticks.

Well the food arrived earlier this week and I kept a packet of bacon and half a stick of black pudding out to try. Holy crow are they yummy! So for three nights now (including tonight) I have had the delights of bacon and black pudding with a healthy squirt of ketchup as part of my dinner. It gave me an idea too for using the remaining hoards of cabbages still out in the garden... bubble and squeak! You can take the girl out of Dagenham but you can't take the Dagenham out of the girl.

It was my neighbour's birthday on Monday and appallingly this year I completely forgot about it (despite having written it in my diary after presenting her with flowers four days early last year). On Tuesday my phone rang and her name popped up on the caller ID. I always dread having to answer the phone to her as for some reason her Bulgarian sounds completely different to everyone else's and I understand very little of it, but on the other hand I wouldn't want to let her down if an emergency arose, so I duly answered.

She greeted me joyfully (and loudly) and told me to go round to hers immediately for a cup of tea. Naturally I was compelled to obey and, leaving the onesie I was in the middle of making out of a fluffy blanket spread over the bed, I went round.  That's when I realised I'd forgotten her birthday yesterday.  Ooops!

Her plan of course wasn't just for a cup of tea but to have lunch together and a good old chat (which consists of her talking non-stop and me making appropriate facial expressions and nodding a lot).  Her front room (where the typical Bulgarian bed/settees are) was even more strewn with remnants of material than usual and it appeared she was in the middle of dismantling an old raincoat to make something else from the fabric. She's also putting together a very sweet little national costume outfit for one of her granddaughters. There's a little black skirt to which she's going to add a border of fancy flowery material (from one of the remnants) and a little black velvet waistcoat complete with sequins, flowery pockets and fastened up the front by criss-crossed creamy threads.

As she was showing me these I managed to gather that she was telling me about similar outfits her daughters wore when they were little for special festival days celebrated at school. She often mentions the old days (as do all the elderly I suppose) and is clearly saddened by the decline in the quality of village life since the end of Communism. She mentions how in the old days the village was famous for its builders, how everyone had jobs, how her yard was full of animals - goats, pigs, a donkey, chickens etc - how the school building was full of children with many classes... 

Of course it's hard for me to have an opinion on this as I've never lived under Communism. I was brought up with the idea that it was all about having no choices, not owning anything, having to do as you were told or face being carted off to a salt mine! Clearly from my neighbour's point of view, and many other Bulgarians I imagine, it meant security and predictability. Knowing you would have a job, a home, food on the table and a bustling social community. I wonder, if Bulgaria was still Communist, would life be as she paints it, or would the changing world have brought problems regardless?

We had lunch together - fried eggs, slices of baked sausage, toast and tea made from the dried blossom of the lime tree (липа чай) with rosehips. The tea is quite tasty actually, fragrant of course but nice, and is supposedly a good remedy for coughs. The added rose hips giving a nice dose of vitamin c. For dessert we had a slice of moist chocolate cake which one of her relatives had brought round for her birthday.

Unfortunately, whether from my cold, or the high temperature in her kitchen where we were eating, or being talked at for two hours, or the fatty nature of the food, or possibly all four, I began to feel horribly queasy and just wanted to lay down somewhere quiet. Poor woman, I felt bad trying to wiggle away when she was sharing so much with me, but I made my feeble excuses and told her I hadn't slept very well because of my cold. Big mistake.

Mention any kind of ailment and she immediately thinks I'm in danger of death and so began offering to share all sorts of medicine with me and telling me to go straight up to Dr Boteva who was in her surgery in the village this particular afternoon. No, no, I protested, really it's just a little cold, I just need to sleep for a while, as I backed out into the deliciously icy fresh air.

Back home I literally curled up on the cushions on the floor, relishing the silence and letting the queasy feelings subside. I felt better later on of course and went back upstairs to carry on with the onesie. Blow me if she didn't phone again that evening to ask if I'd been to the doctor and did I need any medicine! I shouldn't complain - it's good that she cares so much. The next day it was lovely sunshine but I didn't dare sit out in a t-shirt as I normally would have done. Had she seen me she would have pitched a fit over my complete lack of attention to my health I'm sure!


Sunday 25th January, 2015
Category: 2015/01
Tags: Babinden cat kennel

I'm suffering from an overdose of internet and TV at the moment due to having nursed a cold since Friday. Nothing major, just the usual stuffy head, sneezing and feeling hot one minute and cold the next, but I'm never very good with any kind of ill health and find that I swiftly end up vegetating and then of course the night sleeping pattern gets messed up and everythin goes to pot.

Quite a lot of folk seem to have been under the weather lately although it didn't affect the turn-out for the celebration of Babinden last Wednesday.  Babinden is the day when grandmothers are honoured and in particular we recall the days when they used to act as the village midwife. 

The community centre hosted the celebration which began with a little play about the olden days. I must confess it was difficult for me to follow what was going on but it seems that there was one mother with a recently born child and various people came to visit bringing gifts which were designed to bring the child good fortune in the future. I caught some of the words which were along the lines of 'may the child become a doctor when they grow up' etc and the gifts, which were mostly clothing, were displayed on a little washing line above the crib.

The midwife was sent for to participate in this ritual but she was busy elsewhere actually delivering a child which was then wrapped in swaddling cloths bound with brightly coloured cords. After this she came to visit the first child.

Food always plays a significant role in Bulgarian rituals and there was a special bread which was shared amongst the family members and the midwife. (I had a piece at the party afterwards. It was very moist but quite heavy and had a coating of sesame seeds and nuts. She tried explaining to me how to make it - no yeast involved - but I need to write the instructions down in order to remember them).

After the play the Babas sang a song and then a group of people from the special needs home got up to perform some songs. They'd obviously worked really hard at learning the words - one young woman in particular had a very powerful voice and carried the rest of the group at times - and a couple of them also did a little folk dance to one of the songs.

I've noticed that people often just chip in at these celebrations and this one was no exception as one old lady in the audience recited a poem which earned her a round of applause.

The performance over and all the chairs were moved to one side so that the tables could be put back in a long row ready for the food and drink. I helped move a few tables and then went to retrieve my jacket and bag from the side where I'd left them. When I turned back I was dismayed to see that all the seats along the table seemed to have been taken. How embarrassing! That's when I noticed there was another table off to one side with one old lady sitting there by herself. Phew! I squeezed my way across to her and sank into a seat.

The organisers were busy putting the food everyone had brought onto plates and sharing it out along the table. Ivanka (the old lady I was with) and I got our plate of buns and bowl of popcorn which we began eating. I couldn't help but notice that several people from the main table kept turning round to stare at me which made me feel horribly self conscious but I tried to ignore this and focused on Ivanka, asking her if she'd always lived in Gostilitsa (which she had) and trying to put on a brave face.

My attention was caught by some of the organisers up the front who beckoned me over. Maybe they wanted a hand dishing stuff out, so I went down there at which point I was steered round to the little table where the acting had taken place and told to sit there so as to be nearer the others. But what about Ivanka? I asked. She'll be all on her own. 'It's better that she sits alone,' they said, pointing firmly to the little table. I felt quite horrible at that point, firstly for deserting the old lady, but also because now I was sitting at a tiny little coffee table on my own, like a child whilst the grown-ups all sit together! Thank God at that point one of the Babas budged her chair along and made a space for me at the main table.

I peered across the room towards Ivanka who was happily tucking into the cakes and popcorn. Why does she sit alone? I asked the neighbour who had made room for me. She looked thoughtful for a moment and said, 'Hmm, how to explain...' And that was that! How strange. She seemed a perfectly ordinary, nice old lady, so why would she sit apart from everyone?

Apart from that oddity it was a very nice party. I guess there were about 40 villagers there altogether and a few more arrived later during the morning. Once the new hall is finished it will be even better because there will be a proper little stage so everyone can see the performance clearly, and much more room for tables and chairs. Maybe then everyone will get to sit together without a problem!

Alfie has still been getting his daily walk, even in the wet weather, and sometimes he gets to practise not being terrified by out of the ordinary events. So far we've had some people nearby (Alfie is okay if I can get the lead short and just have him sit next to me until they're gone), something exploding in someone's garden (Alfie wasn't impressed by that), and meeting a flock of sheep head on. Unfortunately the sheep were completely blocking the path and of course they were more worried about us than we were by them, so they decided to abandon the path and forced their way through a gap in a stone wall and onto someone's land. At this point Alfie and I walked swiftly away and out of sight before we could get the blame!

He's been off the chain in my garden a few times and will come over when called and lets me put the chain back on (if left unsupervised he heads straight down to my neighbour's fence and wimpers at her dog so I daren't leave him untethered for long). The aim now is to get him to a stage where he is less frightened by strangers so that I can let him off the lead when we're out walking, safe in the knowledge that if we meet anyone I can call Alfie over and hold him until they're gone.

As I write this, Molly is asleep on the settee next to me, giving soft growls now and then as a reminder to the kittens who are also curled up on the settee just next to her. They've been spending quite a bit of time outside so on Friday I made a little cat kennel for them so that they will have a warm shelter if they need one once they're living outside all the time. It was much easier to make than Alfie's kennel, being a simple cuboid shape with a removable roof and a small rectangular entrance.

So far they're happy to go in it for a while but then they come out and just sleep on my outdoor bed. I have a nasty feeling that when I'm sleeping on the balcony next summer I will be sharing my bed with 3 cats and the mozzie net will be clawed to shreds. Oh well!

Saturday 17th January, 2015
Category: 2015/01
Tags: bank poop bin plastic bottle greenhouse

Would you believe after sitting out in a t-shirt on Sunday that Monday morning arrived with blizzard conditions! I'd planned to go to Veliko Tarnovo that day with a friend for a girlie day out and rather than miss out on the fun we decided to brave the elements undeterred.

I had something to pick up from Slaveykovo first so we headed off that way (very slowly, as the snow was starting to lay quite thickly) and then from there drove towards the main Dryanovo - VT road. Not far from Slaveykovo we saw someone trudging along the road towards Skalsko so I pulled over to offer him a lift. The poor guy was heading off to Gabrovo in the freezing cold to pick up a machine that was in for repair. He was happy to go as far as Dryanovo with us from where he probably had a better chance of a lift into town, or could maybe catch the bus. If it had been me I'd have left the machine where it was till a better day!

One of the things I had to do in VT was visit a branch of Fibank to sort out my e-banking. I'd discovered on Friday when I attempted to transfer some money, that I was supposed to have a PIN code which I use along with a random number generator when I want to make online money transfers. Apparently I had been sent the code in an email but when I searched back through them all the ones from December had already been permanently deleted (sod's law) so there was no sign of it.

The girl in the branch was very nice and put in a request for a new PIN to be emailed to me that same day (sadly she couldn't wave the 10 lev fee, but at least it was sorted)

By lunchtime the sun had come out again and the snow rapidly vanished, so we had a great time browsing shops and finishing our day with two humungous pizzas; mine did me for lunch the next day too!

That evening I checked my emails and was a bit surprised to see that the PIN code one hadn't arrived, even though the girl had told me it would be there when I got home. By this time it was too late to contact the bank so I had a bit of a worrying night waiting till banking hours the next day. I hate it when I can't get something fixed instantly and in this instance I was wondering if I'd have to make yet another trip to the bank, and even then there would be no guarantees. Needless to say I woke up at about 4am and, unable to go back to sleep, found myself curled up on the settee catching up with a few episodes of a soap opera and feeling very fuzzy headed.

Nine o'clock came and I logged onto the bank website and their live chat facility. This should be fun, me trying to explain in Bulgarian about the non-arrival of a PIN code! Well somehow I managed to get my message across and the guy at the other end checked the files and found that they hadn't yet received a new PIN request from the branch and reassured me it would probably all be done by the end of the day. I asked him if maybe it had been sent to the wrong email address but he checked and confirmed that my email was the one they were using. What if no email arrives by 5pm, I asked (still in stress mode), at which point he said not to worry, the online chat stayed open after that so I would be able to get through for further help. Okay, I said, fingers crossed (which in Bulgarian  incidentally is 'thumbs pressed') which made him laugh.  I tried to not worry too much and resisted the urge to check my emails every five minutes, and in fact felt so tired after getting up early that I ended up snoozing on the balcony for most of the afternoon. At 5pm I indeed had everything crossed and pressed as I opened my emails and felt a thrill of pleasure as there was the one from Fibank titled ebanking PIN! Result!

Alfie and the kittens continue to make the days fly past. Alfie has been going out for a walk each day during which we practise him coming to me when called. Today for the very first time he actually came out of his kennel, tail wagging, and came right up to me to have the lead put on him when I said 'walkies' in my best Barbara Woodhouse! Usually he loiters in his kennel and only comes out when I give the chain a quick tug. As we set off for our walk he was bounding around very excitedly so clearly he has begun to learn what this daily routine entails and enjoys his chance to catch up on all the 'sniffs' he can find.

The kittens have been spending quite a bit of time out in the garden too, mostly on the patio but Finn has started venturing a bit further now. They both still lack the animal code of behaviour and will just stroll up to Molly or Alfie uninvited which earns them a quick rebuff. Thankfully Alfie hasn't made any attempt to snap at them and will simply give a good solid bark and stand barring their way which makes them freeze, hair standing on end until they feel it's safe to back slowly away. Finn was quite funny today as I heard him give very tiny retaliatory growls to Alfie before backing off. Poppy is definitely more timid and will often run back indoors if there's a noisy car out in the street. My favourite thing of all though is when Finn wraps himself around my neck and gently grooms my hair with his paws and tongue (a session which usually ends with him being rapidly removed when he decides to get a better grip by embedding his claws in my scalp).

Having four animals around does mean that there's a lot of poop to be cleared up each day, especially from the kittens funnily enough. Am I feeding them too much? They seem to fill the litter tray at an extraordinary rate! Anyway, I read on the internet that you can in fact compost down animal waste so long as you give it much longer to decompose than normal compost in order to destroy any nasty worms that might be lingering. So with this in mind I bought a big plastic bin with a lid and today I punched a few holes in it and secured it in the ground up near the ordinary compost. I plan to put the poop in there along with layers of wood ash from the fire (to smother the smell) and hopfully the worms will come up through the holes and start breaking it all down. Actually I chucked a few earthworms straight in to the bin for good measure - if there's such a thing as reincarnation I really don't want to come back as a worm, at least not one that gets thrown into a poop bucket!

One of the things I like to play around with is recycling - or is it upcycling? Anyway, reusing junk to make new things! And some months ago I came across entire greenhouses made from plastic bottles. This seemed the perfect project for me as I could use the greenhouse to put the patio plants in during winter and perhaps to bring things like tomatoes on quicker ready for planting out in spring. But first I needed to collect plastic bottles... a LOT! The websites mentioned something like 1500 bottles for one greenhouse but I figured if I could first get enough just for a wall to enclose the end of the patio roof, then I could add smaller panels of bottles as time goes on until a greenhouse is done. I've collected a few sacks of bottles already and this week I set about the process of turning them into a wall:


First I remove the labels, cut off the bottom and rinse them out.

The website says to thread them onto a long bamboo cane but as I don't have many I'm going to use string instead and then use shorter canes/branches to support the structure.

Once the bottles were threaded to the right length I pull the string really tight, wind it round the neck of the end bottle and then put the cap back on to hold it secure.

I got 6 rows of bottles done and made a small frame just to see how it would look. For now I've just tied the rows of bottles on and then put a short cane across the middle to stop the bottles buckling outwards.

And here's the first panel!

It was actually really windy the day I finished it so it took quite a battering but considering it's only roughly tethered to the patio at one corner it stood up perfectly well. I've realised that although the green bottles will be perfect for the patio wall (partly it's there to provide shade for me in summer) I will need a lot more clear ones to allow enough light in for plants, so now I need to get the word out for everyone to start saving 2 litre water/pop bottles for me. Or maybe I can train Alfie to retrieve them from the bushes when we're out walking. Fetch, boy!!


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