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2015/07
Sunday 26th July, 2015
Category: 2015/07
Tags: Dryanovo walking Alfie DIY

I'm feeling quite amazed with myself as my new resolution to wake up early each day and to make the most of the cool hours is actually working! The alarm is going off at 6.30am and consciousness is following fairly soon thereafter. Of course it helps to have had a decent night's sleep beforehand which is why I always love to sleep out on the balcony for as much of the year as possible where it's cool and I can see the stars.

The one bug bear to this (literally) is the potential for mozzie attack, and so last year I bought a mosquito net which sheathes my bed and keeps me bite free. The problem with it though is that if you're just sitting up in bed then you find you have net curtain draped over your head, and also there's the potential for much entanglement as sheets and covers are moved around during the night. So this year I decided to expand.

I've been collecting net curtains from the second hand shops and these along with a purchase of garden nylon netting designed to keep butterflies from cabbages for example, gave me enough material to put my plan into action. I've fixed a sheet of the netting above the bed and then hung more of it all the way around the balcony to make a mosquito proof room.

For now the pieces are all just pegged together and tied up with string, but if it proves effective I'll then stitch it into a box shaped mozzie net. Not only can I get in and out of bed much more easily but I can also have the laptop in there to watch bug free films at night. So far it's working... fingers crossed.

One of the early morning tasks is often to take Alfie (and nine times out of ten Finlay) on a long walk. My favourite thing at this time of year is that most of the hedgerows are laden with little wild, juicy plums which make a delicious and refreshing snack along the way. Occasionally I bring home a bagful to cut up for the freezer too ready for a lovely winter treat of stewed plums and Neapolitan icecream.

Alfie has his own idea of 'refreshing' which involves mud, lots and lots of mud.

I think this is the official definition of wallowing!

One of the great things about Facebook (apart from all the cats and tabloid lies) is that very often you find out about events you'd otherwise have no idea about. One of the pages I follow is Dryanovska Probuda (https://www.facebook.com/dryanovska.probuda which, as the name suggests, posts events happening in Dryanovo.  This year it's the second annual Kolyo Ficheto festival, celebrating the works of this famous local architect who worked during the latter half of the 19th century.

Today at 10am there was a guided walk starting from the Kolyo Ficheto statue, pointing out notable places along the way. After waiting by the statue for half an hour I decided to ask in the museum if the walk was going to happen only to find it already had and the guide was halfway up the stairs in the museum.  As it happens it couldn't have been more ideal for us.

The guide, Nikolai, was a very friendly young man who actually runs the Dryanovo Facebook page. He's a final year student studying Cultural Tourism in Veliko Tarnovo, and is very passionate about tourism being a way to bring life back to Bulgaria and to ensure its thriving future.

The only other person in our little tour group was a Bulgarian photographer from Gorna Oryahovitsa and since both of them spoke very good English this was the language they conducted the tour in. We started off looking at the display in the museum which told the story of the rise in fame of Kolyo Ficheto and all the structures he had designed and worked on in Bulgaria. There were little scale models of many of these, some of which I recognised from Dryanovo and Veliko Tarnovo.

After this introduction we then headed off into Dryanovo so see some of the buildings in the flesh.

There was the St Nicholas Church

A house built for someone linked to the church

This building now houses art displays, including a selection by the 72 year old custodian who incidentally taught Nikolai at school.

We stopped off to look at the relief map of Bulgaria outside the school which, when it was first installed, featured actual running rivers, and then headed down a street famous for award winning cobblers, before arriving at the well known bridge where on 6th January each year crazy men jump into the icy water to be the first to retrieve a wooden cross thrown in there by a priest.

The other side of the bridge has points like the prow of a ship coming out from the bridge supports, and these along with the the smaller arched holes halfway up mean that even when the river is in flood the bridge stands strong. (As proven last year when the water reached the top of the bridge during the early summer).

After a quick look at a very quirky front garden which the owner had decorated with large models of bears and deer we then made our way back towards the museum. 

I was really pleased to have met Nikolai today. He's full of hope and belief in the future and wants to play a strong part in it, doing something he loves - sharing his country with others and inspiring the same love for it in the youngsters who volunteer their time to help with his projects.  Nikolai is definitely a good egg. How can you tell? Simple; everytime he came across a piece of litter on the ground today, he picked it up and put it in the nearest bin. How unique is that!

Friday 17th July, 2015
Category: 2015/07
Tags: nature stove

Celebration time as the most hated job of the year is out of the way, namely cleaning out the wood burner. It's not the pipes which are the problem; they come apart relatively easily and are cleaned by ramming a big spikey brush up and down them several times. No, it's the stove itself I loathe doing.

It seems deliberately designed to make cleaning as awkward as possible. There are tiny little vents and gaps all over the place which the hot air (and of course soot) can waft around, but which are too small for any brushes or even a hand to fit into easily. So part one of operation 'hideous mess' involves using an old flat metal bar, about a foot long, then reaching up to my elbow into the stove and rattling said bar up and down the side gaps trying not to breathe in the clouds of debris which come tumbling down.

Now suitable blackened I commence part two where I take a little wire brush and scrub around inside the stove where the fire is actually lit and then shove my arm into another tiny gap where I can just about waggle my fingers enough to sweep more soot off the shelf there.

Then finally part three sees me lift off the little hot plate on top of the stove and again reach inside to swipe yet more soot off from above the oven. At this point my arms are totally black and despite my best efforts there are sooty finger prints all over the immediate vicinity. Having loosened all the soot it's now time to ruin the vacuum cleaner.

The poor thing gets shoved into various gaps to suck up all the junk I've just knocked down. This year I pushed it a tad far and it overheated and completely refused to start again for an hour or so (I know just how it felt).

It's not just the getting mucky - it's the transfer of that muck everywhere which is so horrible. The basin of soapy water turns to mud as soon as I look at it. The floor and walls get speckled. And everything generally feels black and smudgy and oily and grim! Ugghh, hate it!

The least painful parts are washing down the doors and giving the whole stove a general wipe over and then of course comes the lovely bit where it's all clean and tidy and ready for another winter of warmth and red glowing cosiness.

Now for all you inventors out there, this is what I'd like: A remote controlled wire brush, about the size of my little finger, on a long thin flexible rod.  How it will work is, I'll insert the brush into a gap and then switch it on, at which point it will be whirling round scraping everything it touches. With the remote control I can make it move up and down, back and forth until it's worked its way round each and every cavity. Then all I'll have to do is vacuum up the soot and job done! Any takers?

On a much more pleasant note there have been some close encounters of the amazing kind of late.  The other night when I turned off the light on the balcony to go to sleep, I was delighted to see three little fireflies wiggling their way along the mozzie net.  I'm not sure if they were tapping out morse code to each other but it was quite enchanting to lay there and watch the tiny flashes in the darkness.

Click here for a video

Out walking Alfie (and Finlay) the other morning and I decided to go back down to where the cascades are in the river which flows through the valley.  Last time we went there in May it was an easy trek but now it was hugely over grown with waist high grass and weeds. Poor Finlay couldn't see where he was going at all so he got carried several times mich to his delight.

In the place where I found the long wigwam poles there are now lots of saplings which have sprung up amongst the felled wood. Getting through here meant a delicate balancing act treading carefully on the fallen branches hoping that there were no snakes curled up underneath!

The wheat field has all been harvested so once we reached that bit it was easier going, and then another jungle expedition through the woods down to the river itself.  Once we were there it was well worth the effort of course and Alfie and Finlay had a great time crossing back and forth and investigating all the thousands of exciting sounds and smells.

On the way back we were crossing the river before turning back towards the field when I suddenly spotted Alfie studying something on the ground in great excitement.  When I went over to see what it was I saw a sweet little turtle (at least I think that's what it was) cooling his toes in the stream.

His shell was almost black as you can see, which is what makes me think it's not a tortoise as the ones I've seen are normally lighter brown.  Finlay was curious but a lot more cautious, and after we'd had a good study of it we let the little fellow continue his paddle in peace.

Little events like that really make the day special.

Thursday 9th July, 2015
Category: 2015/07
Tags: heatwave veggies vet

It's 6pm here and the thermometre still says 30 degrees in the shade. We've been basking in sweltering heat for several days now and moving out of the shade between noon and around 5pm is not something you want to be doing. I've been sleeping out on the balcony at night which is always delicious as the temperature drops enough in the early hours to make it comfortable under a thin blanket.

By dint of the alarm and sheer determination I've actually been up at 6.30am for the past two mornings. The idea is that I can get stuff done whilst it's still pleasantly cool and then idle away the heat of the day. The first morning I decided to take Alfie on a long walk down to the lake.

There's nothing quite like being out in the countryside with clear blue skies from east to west, surrounded by fields of crops and birds singing their hearts out in the early morning sun. Part way there we came across a lone stork in the middle of a wheat field, solemnly stepping through the waving stalks, dipping his long neck now and then to peck the ground.

Alfie of course was immensely intrigued by the bird and was desperate to go and chase it. To his credit he came back to me when I called him though I took the precaution of putting him on the lead until we were out of temptation's way.

There are some big combine harvesters parked up near the lake at the moment and in fact I can hear them chugging along in the distance even as I sit typing this. With the good weather they should have a bumper harvest this year.

The lake is still full of chuckling marsh frogs calling loudly to each other, and if you sit still for a while you start to see them pootling along with their heads out of the water, or dangling with their arms and legs sprawled out just below the surface. The edge of the lake was teeming with tiny fish which frightened Alfie a little and put him off going in for a swim (unlike the numerous mud pools we passed on the way which he loved to wallow in).

The garden has once more been tamed after a few days of weeding and strimming, and it's now time for me to do a little harvesting of my own. This morning it was spinach and beans which were picked, washed, chopped and blanched ready for the freezer.

It's great having the little gas hob now as it makes it so much quicker to boil water, and being able to work outdoors is a huge bonus too. After all, who wants to be stuck indoors when you can play outside?

The veggies were just done before I had to take Poppy off to the vet for her little operation. Having dropped her off I went and did a some shopping and then parked up in the shade to have a bite to eat. I hadn't been there very long before the vet phoned to say she was finished.

When I returned to the surgery it was like a cat version of 50 Shades of Grey. Poppy was spread eagled on the table with her arms and legs tethered by thin ropes to the sides. Don't worry, Poppy, I resisted the urge to take a photo. She's now wobbling about in the bathroom looking confused by everything and sporting a neat little green painted incision on her newly shaved tummy. She's allowed water tonight when she stops wobbling around and then wet food tomorrow. When she smells the Whiskas pouches I'm sure it will more than make up for any indignity suffered.

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