It’s exactly 1 year ago to the day that Toby and I arrived in Sofia from Abu Dhabi to start our “great Bulgarian adventure” in Ceno Alekovo.
So much has happened, we have met so many terrific and kind people in our village, in Svishtov, in Veliko Tarnovo, from Popovo :-), in and around Polski Trambesh and even two in Sofia – you know who you all are LOL. We have experienced wonderful help from nameless Bulgarians, laughed a lot, discovered a lot about ourselves, become much much closer as father and son, seen amazing beautiful things that could not possibly be duplicated by man and had a lot of fun just “doin’ stuff” every day.
In particular, we have enjoyed discovering and getting to know the people in our little village; Nydelka our dear and lovely neighbour who continually gives us produce from her garden and worries about us because Jane is not here all the time; Nikolai the welder at the bottom of our road; Penka, Sylvia and Nadka in the village supermarket who are always helpful, always have a smile for us and help us to learn some basic Bulgarian – repeating the same thing again and again and again because we are so slow!; Galia for introducing us to her wider family and as a result the wider village community; Nigel of course for still being there when we need building type stuff done or repairs or just information; George, who runs the scrapyard next door and who keeps every piece of agricultural metalwork he gets until I have seen it in case I might want it; Billy our reliable and hardworking laborer (and father of 7) who has kindly and patiently helped us – not only on our property and projects but also helped us to learn so much about the reality of village life for many Bulgarians in rural areas; Dimitar our totally trustworthy lawyer and his lovely little family; Ivan the village policeman (had to mention him 😉 ), Dimitar the Kmet (mayor) who always makes time to say hello and shake our hands whenever he sees us; Svetla the lady in the dry cleaners, Violetta the hairdresser (thank God she speaks English!!); Emilia who manages the Billa supermarket in Svishtov; the silent “Egg Man”, the cheerful “Honey Lady” and the “Singing Vegetable Lady” at Svishtov market; the feed store owner who never ever says a word and communicates by nods of his head, the labels on the feed bags and the numbers on his calculator – but who has saved us a pot of money; and many many others who we don’t know but who nevertheless acknowledge us and say “dobrotro” or “drasty” or “kaksi” whenever they see us; and to all the village kids (large and small, good and bad and in-between) who always say hello and practice their English on us – to our shame because our Bulgarian is soooo poor. Without all these people – in fact without all the people we have encountered in everything we have done and needed to do – the past 12 months here would not have been so much fun, so enjoyable, so eventful and entertaining, so humbling and so much of a growing and learning experience that is helping us to call Alekovo “home”.
One of the biggest things for me on a day to day basis has been experiencing the seasons during the year – something we have missed living in the Middle East for so long. Almost every day I can see real changes in the landscape, the garden, the plants and trees, the birds and wild animals, our livestock, the work that people in and around the village are doing, the changes to the pace of life, the amazing ever-changing spectrum of colour and light all around us. I have learned that I really only have to have my eyes open and make the time to actually “see” in order to recognise and appreciate the awesomeness and hugeness of the Creation.
One of the greatest joys has been being to be able to harvest and eat produce from our own garden. It has been many many years since I ever grew anything (over 30 years at least) but in the past year – even when I think I have not been very successful – we have enjoyed homegrown asparagus, potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, radish, kale, lettuce, spinach, melons, marrows, chives, parsley, dill, basil, carrots and beetroot – not bad for beginners! And the brussel sprouts are budding and purple sprouting broccoli is looking very good too much to our surprise! – it doesn’t sound much to those of you who are experienced gardeners, but for me it’s blinking amazing, and next year we hope to do even better.
If there are two big lessons that I have learned over the past year, they are…
(a) it is far better to work with nature than try to fight against it!
That can be as simple as getting up when the sun rises and going to bed when it is dark (yes, even in winter!), to having a nap in the afternoon when the temperature is at its highest, to letting weeds grow and provide free ground cover to protect some plants instead of constant weeding, to learning how, when and what the locals plant in their gardens! Also, relearning a little bit about the weather and taking the view – as Bear Grylls says – that “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices“.
(b) the real importance or value of time is not how/what I always used to think it was.
By that I mean there is a real luxury and pleasure in deciding to jump in the car and drive out to find a new place; or to take a walk and meet a cowherd who speaks no English but you get to learn a little bit about his herd, or to go to collect something and end up having a meal and meeting new friends; or to be really content with achieving just one useful thing every day with nobody breathing down your neck; and of course having the time to simply sit back and soak up the glorious surroundings (or the sensual warmth of the petchka after a hot shower when it is -20°C outside) just because you can. On the other side of that coin, there are days when it is necessary to work from sunrise to sunset, whatever the weather, to get something finished, because it really really needs to be finished – and that is equally fulfilling and immensely satisfying (and the cold beer that follows).
Some people cannot comprehend or grasp the amazing and huge context in which we are now living and how radically different it is to anything in our past. Our new lifestyle and perhaps our changed world view may sound very romantic, idyllic, over-simplified, even wistful or naive. But the reality of living here is definitely more simple and uncomplicated than I ever imagined it could be and I am so grateful for that.
Despite having lived outside the UK since 1994, we definitely feel that we are making Bulgaria our home. We are certainly not looking to make it “a little bit of olde England” neither are we looking to be part of any particular enclave of “foreigners” just to feel good, have company or to define who we are and what we are doing. We feel that we made the right decision to setup our “forever home” here in Alekovo. We are really enjoying learning more about (and from) our Bulgarian friends and neighbours, as well as from people we meet wherever we might pass through or go to. We certainly haven’t done many touristy type things in the past year and I’m sure that we will continue to concentrate on getting to know our local area more as we do or need to do the ordinary, mundane day-to-day “stuff”.
Jane writes: “It seems impossible that a year has past since Nick and Toby moved to Bulgaria to begin the final phase of the development of our future home, finishing off the building works on the main house and developing the land for the livestock and raised beds, orchard and pasture for human and animal feed. I try to visit as often as I can and have managed several pretty regular visits including during Eid last October when our good friend Tony and Julie joined us, Christmas when Dad, Ash and Dave came and even 2 trips this July, one of which was a bonus as I got a whole week off for Eid this year. Modern technology is a wonderful thing as well as Nick and I keep in touch on a daily basis with WhatsApp and Skype, although it doesn’t make up for the real deal.
I have been in awe of what Nick and Toby have managed to achieve over the last 12 months with the orchard, forest, raised beds and kitchen garden, not to mention the pigs and now the chickens. And I know the dogs are thoroughly enjoying their wonderful freedom and space to roam, be dogs and look after us and the property. Eating our own produce is truly amazing and adds a different dimension to any meal! I quietly envy the two of them all the freedom that comes with doing your own thing, when you want and how you want and making your own decisions. Although Nick will say he always asks me first before he does anything, lol! It sure beats working in an office every day and I look forward to the day that I can join them full time. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved in the past four years and I am sure we will have many years of happiness in our ‘retirement’, living the ‘good life’ in the beautiful Bulgarian countryside in and around Alekovo”.
Of course, in all this I have missed Jane immensely (and she tells me that she has missed me just as much 🙂 ) but we have been lucky that she has been able to make fairly regular visits and as always, the brilliant technology of skype means that she has been able to see pretty much everything we have done, or in some cases what we are doing in real time, and be an increasingly active participant in life in Alekovo. Not too long now before she will be here permanently!!
I have to give a special mention here to our son Toby who is living here in Alekovo. Without him here much of what has been achieved would not have been physically or emotionally possible. We do both do our own thing a lot of the time but being able to work on projects or the land or the garden together and learning from each other and sharing a lot of experiences has been wonderful and I hope it continues to be like that. Thank you Toby!
So now the next year begins for us. Winter wood is on order. Family visitors, including my newest grandson, are coming to enjoy the glories of the late Bulgarian summer. Autumn and winter are rapidly approaching and so better (more informed) preparations have been, are being or need to be done – whether that is in the kitchen, the storeroom, the garage (got to get the car to fit!), the woodshed, in the barn and live stock areas or in the garden. Our first livestock slaughtering is on the visible horizon (November and/or December) and new livestock will be coming with some meat goats in October and hopefully, if all the signs are right, our first piglets in November.
Thank you to all our family and friends both real and virtual (virtual friends that is not virtual family LOL) and to everyone who has helped us in the past year, and those who have subscribed to the blog, and all the people that have liked and commented on the FB posts about our place and what we are doing. And especially the very helpful members of the Poultry & Livestock and Seed Swap Bulgaria groups on Facebook who’s wisdom and generosity of knowledge and advice has been particularly helpful. We look forward to sharing the next steps of our journey with you over the coming year!
A quick note: Just in case any of our subscribers have tried unsuccessfully to read a previous post called “Update on the “straw mulch” experiment”, I have deleted it as I realised there were no pictures and the text was only half done (and half baked!). I will be posting a new complete version soon.