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

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2014/08
Saturday 30th August, 2014
Category: 2014/08
Tags: MOT insurance Dryanovo Monastery

Yes it was that time of year again - the dreaded MOT and insurances.  For me the MOT here holds a rather different kind of dread than the one in the UK.  Gone is the worry over numerous points of failure and expensive new tyres, exhausts, suspensions etc., only to be replaced by a larger and much more specific fear; having to drive the car across a 100m pit all by myself without falling into it.  Okay so maybe it isn't quite 100m long, but it's certainly more than the length of a double decker bus and from where I'm sitting in the driver's seat of the car, the wheels only just manage to fit either side of the gaping hole.

There were a couple of vehicles in front of me but soon enough it was my turn.  First moving forward (slowwwwwly) until the front wheels dip into the rollers.  This bit was easy - just sit with the engine running while he does the emmissions test.  Next came the brake checks.  He sets the rollers running and then signals when he wants you to slowly apply the footbrake.  This was now repeated with the rear wheels on the rollers followed by a handbrake check.  Hmm... the handbrake.

I don't know if it's through being a driving instructor or just years and years of habit, but whenever the car comes to more than a short stop I automatically put the handbrake on, and I found myself doing this throughout the MOT much to the dismay of the tester.  After the umpteenth time of leaning through the passenger window and telling me to release the handbrake he actually picked up a folder lying on the seat and used it to cover the handbrake so I couldn't get to it.  "Why do you keep putting the handbrake on?" he asked. Shrugging sheepishly I told him I was worried.  "What about?" he said.  I pointed in front of me - "That huge hole!" This caused huge amusement amongst all three guys working there.

After more slipping and sliding (the car seemed to suddenly lurch to one side when I drove forward after the roller test) I had to try and stop with the wheels on top of a little ramp (no idea what for - maybe to weigh the car??) and then I had to wiggle the steering wheel back and forth while he looked underneath.  This caused the exact same comment as last year in that if the noise gets louder (he demonstrated the degree of loudness by banging on the car roof) then get it serviced.  Seriously, if the knocking was as loud as that I'd be getting it towed to a garage, never mind driving in for a service!

The final checks were the indicator lights and then it was all over; certificate stamped, new sticker on the windscreen, money paid and freedom for another year!

Buzzing with success from having conquered the pit of doom I then headed into VT to renew the car and house insurances.  This was all pretty straightforward although they couldn't find the old photos of the car on their system and the guy had to walk back to the car with me to take some more.  They also said that the 'excess' system has now been brought in and for mine it is either 5% of the repair costs or 100 levs, whichever is greater.  On the plus side though I seem to have some sort of breakdown cover thrown in including running out of fuel, towing to a repair place and even overnight hotel accommodation.  I might have to plan a little breakdown near the Black Sea sometime!

After such an action packed Tuesday I had a much more relaxing time on Wednesday down at Dryanovo Monastery.  It was another hot day, so having a lazy stroll down along the river to the waterfall was very welcome.  One odd thing we noticed though, whilst having a drink in the restaurant, was a large group of people in Indian clothing, some with red Hindu dots on their foreheads, having some sort of celebration by the river.  At one point we could see them all raise their hands in the air and make winding motions, almost like the sign for 'a film' when playing charades.  That's when it became clear.  It must have been the Bulgarian branch of the Richard Attenborough appreciation society come to honour the late great man with their own tribute to Gandhi!

 Millipedes in love

Sunday 24th August, 2014
Category: 2014/08
Tags: Shipka Monument Russo-Turkish war

Yesterday was the 137th anniversary of the battle at the Shipka Pass and also the 80th anniversary of the erection of the monument to commemorate this historic event.  The Shipka Pass was being held by 4000 Turskish soldiers but in July 1877 the Russian general Gurko managed to seize control of it.  In August that year, in response to this the Turkish general, Suleyman Pasha, attacked with 30,000 men against the Russians and the 7500 Bulgarian volunteer fighters who joined them.  Fierce fighting ensued and by late September a sort of stalemate was reached.  Russian and Bulgarian success elsewhere in Bulgaria freed up more troops who came to assist and on January 9th 1878 the current Turkish general at Shipka (Vessil Pasha) surrendered and Bulgaria regained independence.

A friend and I headed off to attend the festivities there in the late afternoon.  I almost thought we weren't going to make it when we were stopped by the police near Etara and asked where we were going.  I explained we were going to the Shipka monument, at which point he wanted confirmation that we weren't planning on heading any further south than that.  Satisfied that we were not, he waved us through. (Later we discovered that as the evening went on, both exits from Shipka were to be blocked until the celebrations finished, so maybe he was just worried we would get stuck en route somewhere).

The drive up the winding mountain road is very beautiful, surrounded by dense forest on either side with the occasional breathtaking sheer drop, and passing lots of spring water fountains where people were stopping to fill bottles.  We rounded a bend and there was the monument way up at the top of a steep hill, and at the bottom where we were, were lots of police, soldiers, kiosks and general busyness.  We did a u-turn and parked at the side of the road and then walked back towards the main area.

There was a stage set up at one end where, throughout the early evening, various groups performed with singing, traditional music, dancing and one chap who read an account of the battle with enormous passion.

  

The air was full of the scent of sausages, little burgers and other goodies, and as it was starting to spot with rain we decided to head to one of the cafes for some refreshments. The hot chocolate, sausages, cheesy chips and salad went down a treat over a good old chinwag.

We spent our time watching the various acts, having a wander round the area and of course having a few more snacks, then as the skies darkened we discovered that the President would be arriving to make a speech.

What is normally a car park area was fenced off by soldiers and lighting and sound systems were tested in readiness.  The weather was incredibly changeable - one minute dry and warm, the next great swathes of cloud wafted across, completely obscuring the hill, amid ominous rumbles of thunder and the occasional burst of rain.  Resolutely we took up a good view point along the road and waited for the man to appear.  It was a long wait!

At one point a cavalcade of official looking cars swept past but didn't stop - perhaps with the amount of mist here they hadn't realised they were actually at the Shipka monument!  There were surprisingly few people standing where we were and we began to ponder the reasons.  The best theory was that at the end of the speeches the soldiers would about face to fire a gun salute in our direction!

Finally we heard the distant sound of a marching band and then the National Guard came marching past in their splendid creamy white uniforms with red trim, and hats with a huge feather at the front.

 (Click picture for video of the band)

They all paraded into the fenced off area and were followed by regular troops bearing torches.  There was much barking of orders and brandishing of swords and then finally the President, Rosen Plevneliev, arrived.  His first task was to inspect the guard units, and after he'd spoken to each one in turn they all gave a very odd loud cheer while he walked to the next unit.  It sounded very rugby clubbish and more like a jeer than a cheer, but impressive nevertheless.

Speeches ensued, reminding everyone how their ancestors had fought tirelessly and selflessly for the good of their country (take note government!) and then there was a military roll call during which everyone's attention was diverted by the appearance of a drone camera drifting overhead complete with red and blue lights.  Very X-Files!  (Click here for video).

 

The solemnities continued with the playing of the National Anthem and at one point we all had to kneel down, whether out of respect for those who gave their lives, or as a general mark of allegiance to the country I don't know.

The festivities culminated with the monument being lit up by a great firework display which was the perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable evening. (Click here for video)

In my mind such pomp and ceremony are great things for any nation, and keep momentous historical events alive for future generations.

Thursday 21st August, 2014
Category: 2014/08
Tags: cheese spiders

Just call me Miss Muffet!  Monday the milkman brought 3 litres of milk for me to have another bash at cheese making. His advice was to just leave the milk in a warm place for a day where it will first become like yoghurt and then curds.  As is the norm in Bulgaria specifics were very vague.  How warm, I asked? He shrugged and said warm like in the sunshine.  Hmm, is that general sunshine (that particular day was a bit cooler than the norm), or blazing hot August sunshine, or literally nuclear explosion centre of the sun type sunshine? Ah well, I thought I'd give it a go. To kick start the 'sunshine' I gently heated the milk and then wrapped the saucepan in a towel to keep the heat in. 

Several hours and a few reheatings later there was absolutely no change at all, not even a hint of yoghurty thickening.  Mr Google informed me that if the milk is very fresh it can take days for it to turn this way, and being of the impatient sort I decided to abandon this plan and go for the addition of an acid to separate the curds and whey.  Temperature is the big issue I think with the success (or otherwise) of this, and having no cooking thermometre I can only guess.  So I opted for a 'steaming but not boiling' temperature and then threw in the juice from half a lemon.  Ooooh curds began to form, so I once more wrapped the pan in the towel and left it for a while. 

Disappointingly there were only a few curds when I checked so I added the other half of lemon which improved the situation but the whey still looked quite milky.  Once more Mr Google was consulted where I came upon the as yet unheard of notion of adding epsom salts!  It seems that this separates the curds and whey very quickly and efficiently, gives a good yield and, if you don't use too much, doesn't affect the taste at all.  Now luckily I have plenty of epsom salts in the shed as I bought a big bag for feeding the tomato plants, so I swiftly dissolved a teaspoon in some water and then poured some of it into the warm milk. Ah, MUCH better! The curds gathered in a lump and the whey was definitely much clearer as it was supposed to be.

Once the curds were all strained out I had quite a nice portion of cottage cheese which had no adverse taste at all.  Success!  From now on I will be making epsom salt cheese I think and they leftover whey still tasted quite sweet and milky, so maybe I could use it up on the cornflakes instead of just dumping it on the compost.

Now Miss Muffet wouldn't be complete without her spider and I have a little tale to tell about one.  It concerns a beautiful, big wasp spider who spun a web on the lemon balm near the front gate and sat there for several weeks.  She really was quite a stunning size and we had the silent agreement that as long as she stayed there, well away from the path, then she was welcome to live in the garden.  Well a few days ago I suddenly noticed her web was looking a little tatty and she wasn't sitting in it.  In addition to that a strange object had appeared on the side of the gate, like a giant seed pod:

Could the two events be connected?  Sure enough a bit of Googling (I'd be completely lost without Google) confirmed that it was indeed the egg sac of the wasp spider, where all the little spiderlings would hatch from but would also then live inside during the winter before leaving home in the spring.  Now I must make it clear at this point that I am no fan of spiders.  I don't mind the spindly daddy long legs type ones as they don't look savage and are useful at catching flies etc in the house, but anything more solid swiftly gets shown the door, and if it can't find the door it has a quick meeting with Mr Shoe.  So what I did next seems a little hard to believe.  Knowing that the gate is about to get demolished in the next week or so to make way for a brand new one, I carefully cut the pod from its webby suspension and went to find a plant over by the wall to attach it to.  Once I'd hung it there it seemed to be swinging around a lot in the slightest breeze so I then went and collected webs donated by various other spiders around the porch and used them to try and bind the pod more securely to its new position.  Yes, I was attempting to save an entire generation of wasp spiders!  I shall keep an eye on the pod and will be intrigued to see what hatches from it and whether I can resist the urge to greet it with a can of Raid. 

 

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