This just a quick update about our recent trip to Bulgaria (29 March – 7 April) – where our weather ranged from gorgeous baking sunshine to pouring (not torrential) rain – and temperatures between 6 and 26 degrees all in one day! No wonder we both came back with heavy colds. Excuse us writing this blog post instead of individual emails, but we realised just how many people have been asking about the trip and thought it easier to send out an email with a link to the blog – might even get a few more subscribers!
We arrived on Good Friday and met our dear friends Tony and Julie who were to share this trip with us. Thanks to Mrs SatNav we had a faultless drive from Sofia to Svisthov which took 4 hours including a stop for grub and tea. We arrived in Svishtov early evening and we think that the hotel thought that we were not coming! The owner was uncharacteristically unfriendly and pretended not to understand English (until we started talking about money or making complaints!) – the hotel saga is for another time (I will put it in the blog) but suffice to say that the location was gorgeous – in the woodland grounds of an orthodox monastery – we were the only guests, our first meal was AWFUL so we did not eat there at all but the beds were FANTASTIC!! Also the night porter (Mr Plumaar) was a real hero who found a way to boil us some water to make tea at 6.30 on the first morning!!
On the Saturday morning we drove straight to Alekovo and the house – only 20 minutes away from Svisthov. One of the most striking features of rural Bulgaria is the lack of traffic on the roads – most of the metalled roads are only one lane in each direction (remember that BG is the size of Iceland / Tennessee with a population of 7.5 million, many of who cannot afford a car, which is also why they [cars] are so expensive in BG). It was great coming back to Alekovo and we were really excited to see the progress made inside the house. We met Nigel (our Builder/Renovator) and walked through the house and saw all the work that had been completed over the Winter. The upstairs of the main house is effectively complete; plumbed, wired, new floor and floor/skirting boards and the upstairs bathroom floor concreted to receive tiles. It was great to see the completed roof and the lads were just finishing the varnishing/sealing of the soffits and fascia of the rook – it looks fantastic. Nigel has also plumbed in all the central heating in the main house. We also visited our friend Dicho who owns the supermarket in the village (just up the road, about 300 metres from the house) to say hello – it was great to see him and his wife. In the afternoon we drove on to Lomtsi, about 90 minutes from our village, to see our dear friend Joanna (who is house sitting there) and to attend a birthday party and expat gathering at the home of Paul and Tracy who have set up a small holding on a similar size piece of land. It was a great party and we (Nick more than Jane) enjoyed seeing how they were managing their land and animals.
We stayed over at Joanna’s and on Easter Sunday morning Nick led a small Easter celebration communion service which was a real joy. The nearest non-orthodox church is over 100km from Lomtsi. After a little snack (gorgeous cakes made by the delicious Joanna) 🙂 we then drove to Ruse, a wonderful and culturally oriented city so that we could walk along the Danube and have an early dinner at a lovely fish restaurant that we came to the last time we were in BG – unfortunately, being “out of season” the restaurant food and service was a bit of a disappointment but the company was great and we had fun anyway! After that Joanna and Nigel drove back to Lomtsi and we (Nick, Jane, Tony and Julie) put our trust in Mrs SatNav once again and drove back to Svishtov, stopping briefly at the Metro hypermarket to buy our own kettle for morning tea!
Monday and Tuesday were spent in and around the village and the house, measuring, talking through plans and options with Nigel and making decisions about the coming work. We had a delicious barbecue with Dicho and the two local guys, Jackie and Itsu from the village who are working on our house, on Tuesday which was great – the best Shopska Salata of the holiday (because we didn’t have salad with Joanna)!! Dicho was very surprised and pleased to learn that we plan to live in the village all the time (we have no where else to go LOL) as there are 4 or 5 other “foreign” couples with holiday homes in the village but they are usually only there for a few weeks each year. Our village has roughly 1000 people in total, but about half of them work/stay in the cities during the week and only come home at weekends or at the end of the month after pay day – a very different culture for sure.
It was wonderful being able to see and walk the complete perimeter and measure all the various bits of the land to get a more accurate and better feel for the size and shape of the property – so we have a better idea of what we are going to do with it!! It works out that we have 4,500 sq metres in total (approximately 1.2 acres) which is more than enough for our future needs, we think! We also marked/noted all the trees that are going to be harvested for firewood and have a much better idea of how we might layout areas for crops, livestock, etc. It was also (soppy I know) great to see some daffodils on the land the first day and fruit trees (cherries and apricots) in blossom – by the end of the week we also had patches of tulips, violets, bluebells, hyacinths and other unknown plants out in flower due to the good weather – very heartening indeed.
We also got to meet our neighbours, a lovely couple who are both over 85 and still working the land by hand every day – this was very very humbling for us: they so wanted to tell us so much but they spoke no English and we spoke no Bulgarian and did not have anyone to translate – but they really made us welcome and showed us around their home and land, their animals, etc. They have an outdoor loo (spotless, like really shining) and one cold tap (outside) for their water and a two ring electric hotplate! That day, after touring their place and getting a lesson in Bulgarian plant names, we came away with the biggest pumpkin we had ever seen, jarred tomato sauce, chilli garlic and tomato sauce, lettuce, onions, garlic, preserved plums and apricots. On our last day in the village they came over and presented us with 21 eggs (not 6, or 12, but 21 – the week’s laying!!). Incredible generosity that we able to share with our friends – can’t wait to be living next door to them, really – but as I said it was very very humbling and a very raw, unglamorous, no frills insight into their way of life. Have to say that apart from the owner of our hotel 😦 everyone we met in town, in shops and restaurants and especially in the village were very very friendly and helpful and forgiving of our lack of Bulgarian!
Wednesday we went to the market at Polski Trambesh (great little seasonal market) for a look around and then on to Veliko Tarnovo to find a bathroom shop which sadly didn’t have the bath that we wanted, but it did have a very nice (DREAM) hot tub!! We did a few touristy things and found a couple of great artisans (a carpenter and a coppersmith) and Jane found a little oil burner thingy that had the EXACT colours she wants for the kitchen tiles!! After that the six of us had a great dinner in a new restaurant in VT and then (after resolving being blocked in the car park) we drove back 2 hours to Svishtov in pouring rain along the very narrow and at times un-made roads. But Mrs SatNav WAS perfect!
Thursday we headed to back to Ruse to do some buying – we bought the tiles for the upstairs bathroom and all the toilet/bathroom fittings for the main house and the pavers for the patio, getting a few bargains and a discount! All this will help Nigel to keep working on in the coming months. We also made lots of notes (and took loads of pics in the shops) of things we will need to get later, like indoor lights, outdoor lights, glass tiles, kitchen floor tiles (chose those), etc. etc. It was late by the time we finished and we ended up buying takeaway roast chicken and veg at the supermarket in Svishtov (Billa – a great little supermarket) and ate it sitting on our beds back at the hotel – it was delicious!!
It all seemed to have gone by in slow motion… so after packing on Thursday night we made a lazy start on Friday and drove back to Sofia with lots of stops (weather was gorgeous) to photograph the mountains and the scenery. Again, Mrs SatNav was on fine form so we got to Sofia safely and enjoyed the luxury of a decent hotel (Best Westin / Expo Hotel), a deep hot bath and an exquisite meal – BUT the beds were worse than HORRIBLE!!!! LOLOL. Saturday morning our friends Tony and Julie left for the UK and we flew out of Sofia later in the afternoon – ending up with a long delay in Doha before arriving back home at 5.30am Sunday morning.
While we were in BG we managed to make pretty concrete plans with Nigel about the work that will be carried out over the next 12 months and we also rethought the layout of the kitchen and utilities block completely and are developing new plans for that (which was fun!).
The picture gallery links below are just “quick and dirty” to show some of the sights and recent pics from the house/village for everyone who is interested. There will be lots more detailed or specific posts and more pictures on our alekovo.com website as we sort out our pictures, firm up our plans, make decisions and share some specific ideas that we have as a result of this trip – so feel free to go back to the site and visit it occasionally.
Our minds are full of plans for the future but slowly we are getting back into the “normal” routines of living and working in the UAE – a gazillion miles away culturally and lifestyle-wise from our future in Bulgaria – just can’t wait to be there!
To find out more in the weeks and months ahead and to keep in touch with our plans and the progress on the house (if you are interested) please SUBSCRIBE to receive our blog posts.
With lots of luv and thanks for all the good wishes, encouragement and prayers that we have received from so many people.
Nick, Jane & Toby