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2013/03
Sunday 31st March, 2013
Category: 2013/03
Tags: belot

Happy Easter!! Except that the Orthodox Easter here isn't for another month yet, but feel free to send me some chocolate eggs anyway.  Last night at the bar I began my initiation into the world of belot.  This is the card game that everyone plays with great enthusiasm but which has so far been a complete mystery to me.  Todor did once try to explain the rudiments to me, but on hearing it was similar to bridge (which I have no idea how to play) and that the card values are all jumbled up, I sort of tuned him out.  Anyway, last night I was invited to sit and watch the experts in action in the hopes that I might pick it up.  Several hours later I had learned a few things:

You deal 3 cards, then 2 cards and then bid and then deal the last 3.

If everyone passes then you deal again from scratch.

9 and Jack are good cards.

Okay, so still a long way to go, but I am thrilled to say I was allowed to join in for two hands (under supervision) and got to deal.  I said 'pass' both times (the guy peering over my shoulder told me to).

I've now printed off various hopefully easy beginner's guides off the internet so I can start learning it properly.  Can't wait to win!!

Tuesday 26th March, 2013
Category: 2013/03
Tags: sound and light show spring Molly

22nd March is Veliko Tarnovo's special day and this year it happened to fall on a Friday.  There were various events planned including a free showing on Saturday of the sound and light show up at Tsaravets, the big fortress on the hill overlooking the city.  Luckily the weather improved dramatically on Saturday (Friday it had been snowing most of the day) and was bright and sunny.  I headed into VT at about 3pm thinking I could get a bit of shopping first and then head round to the fortress area.  Well the shopping bit went okay but I had completely ignored the fact that there would be hundreds of other people also wanting to see the show and consequently the hunt for a parking spot near the old town was a total waste of time.  After half an hour of this I made my way back towards the Mother Bulgaria monument and found somewhere to park up one of the back streets there.  

All this driving left me with a ravenous appetite (sheer greed and nothing to do with driving) so I thought I'd try the little kebab shop down opposite the City Bar.  There were various items on the board including small, medium and large doners (doner as in kebab, not doner as in giver of blood!) so I decided to plump for a large one.  I struck lucky.  It turned out to be one of the giropittas I used to adore when on holiday in Greece.  Soft warm pitta bread wrapped around chunks of tasty pork and adorned with a variety of other extras (I ordered everything except the hot chilli sauce) including shredded cabbage, onion, tomatoes, chips and a garlicky sauce... uhhh sheer heaven!  An entire feast for a mere 3.60 levs.  Armed with my rations I went and sat in the little park by the monument to eat it and watch the small party who were having wedding photos done there.  If you ever treat yourself to one of these doners then pick up extra serviettes.  It got decidedly messy towards the end, a bit like eating a Big Mac where you end up with 1cm of bread trying to keep the mountain of coleslaw and lettuce from tumbling out.  Anyway, with much finger licking it was devoured and I headed off towards the old town.

Between some of the buildings I could look down towards the Assenov Monument and watched several brave souls bungee jumping off the bridge.  Rather them than me; even if my heart could take such a thing I know my joints couldn't!  There was a great sense of excitement in the air as the crowds of people all headed down towards Tsaravets.  There has been a lot of revamping going on down there over the past few years and the area just in front of the entrance to the fortress looks really pretty with a few cafes, large tubs of flowers and old fashioned lamp posts.  Being March there was a large Martenitsa standing at one end too:

As the evening skies darkened several beacons were lit and a team of people dressed as in the olden days took up their positions.  The street lamps were turned off and the procession began.  Soldiers on horse back and a group of other people made their way down from the fortress.  I really need to read up on the history of this place more to see what they were re-enacting though I imagine it was to do with the fall of Bulgaria to Turkish rule and the subsequent liberation many years later.

Once the horse riders had gone the music began and a beautiful sequence of lights and lasers illuminated the fortress:

   

The whole show lasted about half an hour and if you ever get the chance I would definitely recommend going to see it.  Apparently there is a free show on most bank holidays as well as on VT day.

(Click for short video clips of the show: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3)

Last night Andrea invited me round for dinner - a steaming hot bowl of chunky homemade vegetable soup with bread and some cherry scones and cream (bang goes day one of the summer diet!) It was a lovely evening as she always makes me laugh and we had a good giggle playing cards, scrabble and of course having a good old chinwag.  I'm always very glad I live at the bottom of the village though; it makes it SO much easier going home afterwards.  When I got home I discovered that perhaps Molly shouldn't be shut in the house for an entire evening in future:

From her very timid mews and the way she watched me from the foot of the stairs I'm pretty sure she was regretting her fun!

Saturday 23rd March, 2013
Category: 2013/03
Tags: bar village birthday

Yesterday was малко Димитър's birthday (Little Dimitar).  So many Bulgarians share the same name that they all seem to get a nickname attached for ease of reference.  So, there could be a big Ivan, little Ivan, funny Ivan, bad Ivan, Ivan with the cows, taxi Ivan, Ivan who lives up the street but not that Ivan... the list is endless.  I digress.  Little Dimitar is one of the many chess experts in Nikolina's bar and yesterday he turned 67.

Nikolina had prepared a meal for him and some friends so when I arrived at the bar I was invited to join in.  Such is the Bulgarian generosity in wanting to let anyone join in the celebrations (well, maybe not quite anyone, but more of that later).  We started with a salad made of pickled cabbage (which is actually a lot nicer than I imagined) and pickled gherkins.  To toast the birthday boy I had a microscopic amount of whisky, and we all raised our glasses to wish him much health and happiness.  The nice thing about the way Bulgarians eat is there's no rush.  You nibble a few mouthfuls, have a sip of drink and talk and talk and talk.  Or listen in the case of Tony and me.  The next course was a bowl of chips (lovely tasty ones too) and a fish in a tomato sauce.  It looked and tasted like some kind of pilchard to me though it had quite a lot of big bones in it.  I asked what it was called and was told 'Skumbria' - a fish with blue stripes and tiny sharp teeth which lives in the sea.  Hmm, I was none the wiser, not being a fish expert.  When I googled it later I discovered that skumbria translates as mackerel.  It was very strong tasting but again nice to nibble at.  There was also a big bottle of wine which I tried.  I forget the name of it but it's a pale greenish colour and is called white wine with something or other, which Nikolai told me was herbs.  It was quite odd tasting, sort of a bitter aftertaste and reminded me a bit of Greek Retsina.  (Nikolai, who has worked in Greece a lot, tells me that Greek women only use Retsina for cooking - it's just the tourists who are forced to drink it!)  They asked me what I thought of it and I politely said it was so-so which made them laugh.

Still more to come; plates of meatballs and sausages, bread, popcorn and little slices of salami.  Having already eaten before coming out anyway I was absolutely stuffed though that's not to say I didn't tuck in to a few handfuls of popcorn and some of the salami.  There was a big box of chocolates for sale at the bar so we bought that as our contribution to the table.  

I mentioned that maybe not everyone was welcome to join.  About halfway through the evening a couple of policemen walked in and as soon as they spotted the party, asked whose birthday it was.  Someone began to say it was Dimitar's and there was an immediate undercurrent of groans.  After the police left it appears that since, by tradition, the birthday person is the one who treats everyone else on the day, everyone thought the police were hoping to cadge a free drink or two from poor Dimitar.  No such luck.

As well as the birthday group there was a big bunch of youngsters in there.  Some I know from various work they've done for me - Vlado, Macho, Toncho - and others I recognise but don't really know.  They're all very friendly and sociable together with no signs of over the top rowdiness or binge drinking that has become such a familiar scene amongst youngsters in the UK.  Is this because everyone knows everyone else in a village setting and friends and neighbours are like extended family members who would quickly speak up against any inappropriateness?  Is it that the youth have more of a sense of their burgeoning role as adults? I don't know, but I like being part of a society where one minute you are celebrating a 67th birthday and the next you're swapping card tricks with a 20 year old.

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