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2016/02
Friday 26th February, 2016
Category: 2016/02
Tags: nature walk Yantra

Earlier this week we had two absolutely beautiful days with temperatures up in the mid twenties, so I decided to take Alfie on a longer walk on the east side of the village, to see if we could find a circular route.

I'd already had a look on Google Earth, and it seemed that we might be able to follow the river Yantra for a mile or so before cutting across country to head up onto the ridge to the north which we could then follow back towards Gostilitsa.

We started off just across the road from the lane which passes my house and then turned onto the fields near the old cutlery factory. These fields are often used by grazing cows it seems, as the path was well churned over in places with hundreds of hoof prints.  Luckily though, despite having had a solid day's rain, just one day of sunshine had dried it out sufficiently to mean you're not slipping all over the place in mud.

After a steady 40 minute walk we reached the river Yantra, just a bit further downstream from where the dairy is. At this time of year it was flowing pretty fast and in some places swirled in a complete circle around boulders and into mini bays along the bank.

In other places it flowed smoothly and quietly past little sandy beach areas. In one place the soil had been eroded back behind several trees which just showed how strongly the tree roots hold their little patch of land together.

After a while the river almost doubles back on itself in a giant loop, and the path begins to wind its way up the east side of a hill. It was pretty much in the shade on this side of the hill, though the ground was still full of emerging spring flowers, including these white violets which I don't think I've ever seen before.

We stopped for a break as we neared the top of the ridge and had lunch. Alfie was pretty thirsty here in the sun and I hadn't thought to bring a separate bottle of water for him as I sometimes do on walks, so he had to have some of mine. It was only when we started walking again that I discovered another little stream just 100 yards away where Alfie could get a drink, and soon after that we reached a spring water fountain, so, no need to ration the drinks!

Up on the top ridge you could see along the valley to the neighbouring villages of Chukovo and Denchevtsi and to houses even further away - possibly Vetrintsi.

The water from the recent rain lay in puddles here and there which meant I got a beautiful view of this animal track, which I think could be from a badger.

Alfie of course had his own use for the puddles.

It always amazes me that he can come home caked in mud, yet the next day look lovely and clean again!

We reached Gostilitsa not far from the Bella Terra guest house, but cut off down through the fields again so that Alfie didn't have to go on the lead.

In total a walk of about 5 miles though with possibilites for many extensions as the paths we were following often continued further in different directions, and all this literally on my doorstep. Amazing!

Thursday 18th February, 2016
Category: 2016/02
Tags: Trifon Zarezan Yalova Ponuda

February sees two major celebrations in the village each year, one for the guys and one for the gals (though these divisions are not adhered to of course).

On the 14th of February, St Valentine is sent packing in favour of St Trifon, patron of vine growers and wine makers. On this day the first ceremonial pruning of the vines takes place, and libations offered in order to ensure a good grape harvest in the coming year.  Oddly enough for the past two years the weather has been extraordinarily warm and sunny on this day, enabling us to have a beautiful outdoor celebration.

This year we made our way to the top of the village again, to where the Bella Terra guest house is located. Two of our party are caretakers of the property which enabled us to have use of the benches, crockery, cutlery etc, and to have some music via the TV folk music channel.

Once gathered at the guest house we then headed into one of the nearby vineyards for the ceremonial pruning. In Gostilitsa it is traditional for a man to cut the vine, and then a woman pours some wine, made from the previous year's harvest, onto the cut stem.

After this we used the cut off pieces to twist into small wreath crowns which we all wore.  Then it was time for the all important shared feast to which my contribution was a home made loaf of bread with what was supposed to be a bunch of grapes design on top.

I perhaps should have stuck the grapes on after letting the bread rise, but it was well received anyway. Of more interest was my delicious salty butter which they didn't bother spreading on the bread but simply ate off the fork!

Whilst we were there, several other parties of people came along, all heading to their own vine patches in this part of the village, including this guy who wanted his picture taken with his friend Slavey.

We all stayed up there till mid afternoon and then headed down to the main village shop where Nadia, the mayoral candidate, was waiting to welcome us with more wine (most of us also opted for a coffee and some water!) and we all sat around a big long table together.  I'm sure St Trifon felt suitably honoured and will help produce plentiful supplies of vino later in the year.

The next day there was great excitement in the village as people from the TV channel Nova TV were coming to film the celebration of Yalova Ponuda.  Because of this, more volunteers were requested to dress in national costume in order to guarantee a good turn out, and yours truly, along with two other Brits, was one such volunteer.

We went along a few days beforehand to try on our outfits and to be given a quick run through of the planned events so that we knew what would be happening. Very unexpectedly we were also given an actual role to play - that of village women giving ritual loaves to a new mother in order to wish her good health.

Monday morning came and we were there for 9am to get changed and to be ready for the program which was going out live at 9.30am. Incidentally the program in question is called 'Na Kafe' (at the cafe) and is a daily morning show aimed at women, and features interviews and articles on fashion, children, health and so on.

To complete our outfits someone found big pink plastic flowers to clip to our hair, then it was out into the square for scene one.  This is the part where the women find men and lift them into the air (translate this as 'just off the ground' after all, most of the ladies in question are into their 70s) under threat of carrying them off to their doom unless they buy their freedom.  The men all comply and hand over some levs, after which they are let go.  Baba Reina (she of the splits fame for those who read this blog regularly) was the main one being interviewed and explaining what was going on whilst the rest of us did the actions. After lifting some men there was then a bit of dancing and the babas sang some songs, whilst Deshka used two maize stalks as a pretend violin (the exact significance of which I have yet to decipher from the interview). Two of the babas were supposed to be a young couple: one had a baby strapped in a sling across her back, the other was dressed up as the husband, and looked just brilliant, complete with curly moustache!

 

This was part one over and part two was to take place up in the ethnographic museum in about half an hour's time.

One little area of the museum was done out as the home of the young couple and told the part where various villagers visit the new mum bringing her symbolic gifts.

Before this though there was the fertility ritual, which is what Yalova Ponuda was mainly all about - encouraging matchmaking in the village and the production of offspring, something which was essential to the prosperity of the village.  In this ritual herbs are heaped on a shovelful of glowing embers and the smoke wafted between each woman's legs, thus removing any 'evil' which might be causing the lack of children!  The interviewer was mighty keen to 'be done' which makes me wonder if there was a reluctant boyfriend/hubby back in Sofia somewhere, not yet keen to play daddy.

The first gift for the new mum was a tray of walnuts which were to bring the wish that her new child would never be afraid to speak out. Then it was our turn to give the bread along with the words 'Take it, bride, for health.'  Luckily the interviewer was well away with her microphone at the time.  There was a bit of confusion as the host of the show back in the studio didn't catch what had happened with the bread and asked to see it again, so once more I thrust the remains of the loaf at mum who tore another chunk off. 

The final part showed what happened if men tried to sneak into the room when the Yalova Ponuda rites were taking place. Apparently they got a pot of dried peppers tipped over their heads - the original pepper spray!

And now, for those who want to see it in all its glory, here's the link to the TV show. The village is featured at the beginning, and then again at the 21 minute point along the video clip.

 

Thursday 11th February, 2016
Category: 2016/02
Tags: food

Feeling hungry? Here are a few of this week's offerings:

Banana and raisin pancake cooked in coconut oil. (Dress rehearsal for Shrove Tuesday). 

If you ignore the beef stock cube this could be vegetarian! Peppers stuffed with a mix of lentils, carrots, onions and lots of spices.

And finally a first for me - home made bread.   

  

Following a friend's recipe this bread was remarkably simple to make and actually tasted good. It was still tasty the day after too and hadn't gone rock solid like I imagined it would. Warm bread with salty butter and organic honey. Delicious!

 

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