Introduction to 365 Bulgarian Tales

My first year in Bulgaria was recorded with an in depth diary, a very personal account and reveals many reasons why a new life had to be started there.

The UK and what happened in my personal life had made me a very ill person with the desperation of having to escape from there making complete sense.

These blogs are now going to reflect the day to day events, traumas and vicious learning curve on having to take on a completely different way of life on my own. It will also show how the feeling are felt about the people there and the development of relationships good and bad along the way.

This is the beginning of 365 Bulgarian Tales.

(It should also be pointed out that this monster adventure story was put to many publishing houses without success mainly due to the the 2000 pages it contained needless to say I am still hopeful this can be published.)

Bulgarian Small Talk

Bulgarians use a certain phrase of greeting almost as common as the Bulgarian 'Hello' or 'Hi'. The phrase is a leading question and a sure sign the that the Bulgarian want to spend time talking. Certainly in Bulgarian villages where talking is the main pastime the 'greeting' is used more often than in towns and cities.

"What are you doing?"

This is the greeting and question put to me and many others and of course you have to answer the question, which is a natural tendency.

The most strange thing about this question is that when asked is used just as an introduction for extended talk. It is so obvious in most cases what you are doing at the time of asking that isn't the reason for asking. Even so you still feel inclined to explain what you are doing and the talking starts.

Many instances of this can be giving, such as I have just enter the village shop to buy bread and beer. A good neighbour is already there and knows full well I go there the same time on the same days buying the same things but asks, 'What are you doing?' I of course explain that I am here in the shop to buy bread and beer and the talking carries on from that.

Another example walking down the street with a wheelbarrow full of muck on the way to the local dumping area as I walk on past another villager the question will come forward and it does,'What are you doing? I explain that I am taking some muck to the local dump and another chunk of my time immersed in village life is squandered away with more talking about the obvious in the first instance but the talking doesn't end there.

Furthermore, unless the question is asked by someone when you are talking to someone else in the first place - this also is a high probability - you also stop what you were actually doing, usually farmyard chores!

As mentioned already, on from this initial question the small talk usually continues in the same vein, talking about what we already know. Talking about what they know already is a Bulgarian habit for example we will be eating some home made village banistsa (Skalitsa Banitsa) and ask how it is made even though they have been making the same banitsa in the same village to the same recipe it every other day for decades but still ask!

They will ask whether I have tomatoes being grown in the garden even though they had seen them and talked in depth about them only a few moments ago and even helped pick some for this evening's salad but still ask.

They will enquire when am I going back to Yambol when they know week in week out I leave Sunday afternoon at the same time and personally say goodbye to them at this time and have for over a year now but they still ask.

The list of asking and talking about the obvious is endless which is another reason why Bulgarians talk so much.

So, let's recap on the phrase 'What are you doing?'
- it is a Bulgarian form of greeting
- it is not used to find out what you are doing, (they already know)
- it is used to get to spend more even more time talking
- it is verbal device to stop you and them doing whatever you were doing
- it is a Bulgarian trigger for everything to grind to a halt - again

And finally a Bulgarian equation of this can be made up as:

'What are you doing?'= (Obvious answer + More Small Talk) - Work.

Sofia Without Apples

Sofia a beautiful City with many attractions but walking around the city for some five hours there are things I noticed that this City lacking something. In the five hours of walking around and the thousands of shops that were passed, 80% of these were fashion and jewelery shops. The vast majority of the remainder were made up of fast food joints, restaurants, cafes and casinos!

It was with dismay that I peered upon shop after shop with total lack of interest in what was presented which essentially was materialistic matter. In all that time getting hypnotised by repetition of the same type of shops I did not see one single trader that sold fresh fruit or vegetables. In a country that has so much produce grown nationally I found this staggering.

The thousands of people here working and living in the city were all seen to be eating on the move with pizzas, sandwiches or cakes. It is no wonder the worry of eating habits are a concern in the Bulgarian City.

It seems that Sofia is obsessed with designer fashion and jewelry and personally I was quite shocked with this narrow minded trend of business lines based here. To a vast majority of the population who have money to throw away on this never ending source of material based luxury goods where you could spend a lifetime shopping you can't find an apple unless it is gold plated.

Why do I find this so disgusting or is it just me being so tied up an economy based on needs rather than wants living and non-materialistic world in village life on a smallholding?

Also, why do I feel that morally there is something drastically wrong with Sofia City in view of this?

Bulgarian Litterbugs

Rubbish in Bulgaria is all around us and this is a strong and quite off putting first impression many visitors get. This has been put down to a hangover form the communist era where you could be arrested and impounded from dropping litter in the street - what a good idea!

Since the demise of communism part of the freedom included the right to litter the streets without any recrimination and because they now have this right they exercise it to the full. This is more of a retaliation to the previous incarcerated system that went before and a habit now that has been embedded in countless Bulgarians who could be described as litterbugs.

The trouble is that the habits of the parents get passed over to the next generation and right now what I see is a confusion in littering habits. Schools teach ideals of caring for the community you live in but a different signal is coming from the home from their parents. It remains that the reason for towns and cities being 'clean' is mainly due to the street cleaners.

If you rise early before the streets have been given a going over you will see litter scattered everywhere but from dogs, cats and whatever else is around that have been into the big bins and leaving a mayhem of litter on the road and pavements. Included in the scavenging the previous evening are the Roma who sieve through the wastage for cardboard, plastic and metal for patching up their homes, selling on or fuel material for cooking and/or heating.

Even watching Roma children regularly searching through bins in town fast food joints, picking out left over food and walking off whilst eating what they found is common here. Quite a shock at first sight but all part of the how this Bulgaria runs on a day to day basis. This is quite a contrast or even a condradiction to the Roma who litter more than Bulgarian. You can almost certainly recognize most Roma homes by the litter that surround it, this is just how they are over here in Bulgaria with garden as rubbish dumps.

Things will change gradually with the introduction of on the spot fines that will come about in uniform with the EU, in fact back to communist policy.

It must be said that for may visitors to Bulgaria the litter spread around the country is quite an off putting factor and even now an annoying 'tut tut' is made when seeing Bulgarian folk thrown litter down without a thought. Perhaps one area of Bulgaria that doesn't appeal.

How can a population brought up on conservation and green living do these things? As mentioned earlier it may be that it is an abuse of the freedom they have been giving to do it...

Bulgarian Hearses and Zebra Crossings - Avoid

It's a bit like going round smashing windows so you can sell new windows but in Bulgaria it is a bit more morbid. The story unfolds.

Bulgaria would be a safer place without zebra crossings on the road. Anyone who has tried using them will know exactly what I'm talking about.

The worse thing about zebra crossings is it attracts pedestrian the passing traffic use this just like the spider attracting the fly to the web and when in pounce! This happens regularly and pretty soon you get used to it but one day it happened and the vehicle was a hearse. As the Zebra crossing was approached there was eye contact with the driver of the hearse, he was even trying to get business from an early death to himself as I saw he was smoking.

You have to step out onto the road to get traffic to stop but most time they don't. In this case I did exactly that and the big black estate slowed down, this was a signal for me to walk across as I did he sped up and I had to take a quick couple of steps back to avoid becoming his next horizontal customer!

As the car passed by me the driver was obviously on a mission for business as thick clouds of diesel fumes enveloped me as the engine laboured under maximum acceleration. Not only did he try and knock me over he was now trying to intoxicate me with the fumes.

When will I ever learn? - I must stop using zebra crossings in Bulgaria and always let hearses go by with a wide berth as they are on the hunt for new customers.

New Bulgarian Fire Engines?

Every day in Yambol the fire station is walked past and there always something happening there. A great comradeship of firemen work there and they have had a very busy time this year with the forest fires all around the area. Of course much of the time they just kill time and most occasions they are seen mustering around talking, working under the bonnet of a colleagues car, usually an old Lada, servicing something there. Before today I had never had a talk with any of them just a good morning and good day as everyone says as you walk past.

We were walking towards the town centre and Galia my Bulgarian partner stopped for the third time to speak to another friend. It's so hard to get from A-B with Galia who has friends everywhere. This friend works in the lottery office, well more like a stand alone trailer that had been furnished actually. She was in the street away from the cash desk talking with her brother who was a firemen and while the women chatted I chatted to the brother.

His proud grey mustache was the dominant feature and matched well with his grey fireman uniform on with an old style brass fireman's helmet high up on the sleeve of the jacket. He was a well built men as all the firemen are with hands Hulk would be proud of. He was straddling a very old Simpson moped I could see the cracks in the tire tread from age and a multi-coloured head scarf tied onto the headlamp to stop it falling off a typical machine Bulgarian ride around Yambol usually without helmets of course.

I noticed he was holding a crash helmet and new he had mice in his home or garage! How did I know? Well this crash helmet inner foam cushion had been nibbled away and taken somewhere for their bedding exactly the same thing happened with my crash helmet stored in my garage.

After exchange of greetings and a handshake, I asked how business was and he said there wasn't much around now summer had ended but that was good new we agreed. He told me that is was a very exciting time for the fire brigade as they are due some new fire engines and he went about telling me about it.

The fire engines they use now are old and they need lots of servicing, not a day goes by when something has to be tinkered with or adjusted with these grand but ancient machines but they still are good workhorses and do the job that they were intended for. There were a couple of new modern fire engines coming from Germany soon and the old one will be decommissioned.

I asked how old the current fire engines were, he said he didn't know but he had been working there for 32 years and they were there then. Asking about the new engines from Germany it was found that his idea of new was very different from my idea, these were only 22 years old he proudly confessed.

Well that goes back to 1985 and if I remember rightly, back in the UK fire engines then and now hadn't changed that much in style and the German type would certainly be up there in that league.

We will see more of this friendly fireman now as he has promised to show me around the fire station and insisted he would take me up the lookout tower directly he found out I was scared of heights - The little devil! Added to which my Lada was welcome to visit the fire station if there is a problem as they currently have lots of time on their hands and will service it during that time.

The friendliness of these people never fail to overwhelm! Would I have met him without Galia my Bulgarian partner? Probably not.

Bulgarian Coffee Cooler

Bulgarians are so cool and uninhibited at what they do the practical apects of their actions just amazes me sometimes.

The is a coffee shop that open very early in the morning where worker will pop in and get a take away coffee. Every day I see many people but the coffee and either sit down int he seating area on the pavement waiting for the coffee to cool down before being drunk or just walk off with it.

Today there was a slightly different tilt on one customer I saw buy a coffee. He arrived on a typical loud and smoky moped with a helmet that seemed to have been knitted by his Baba Mama. Most people light a cigarette with their coffee and that's their breakfast, this thin and ghostly figure did just that but in the cafe whilst the coffee was being ordered.

The coffee in one bare hand and the other bearing a glove. His cigarette held by his thin lips but tilted downward he made his way to his moped. Now the coffee was too hot to drink what was he going to do. He said good morning to me and I returned the compliment and asked if the coffee was indeed hot - small talk and talking about the obvious is common with Bulgarians.

He confirmed it was hot and then wished me a goodbye as he started up his moped again. The next thing I know he was riding the bike into the distance, after a negotiated bounce from the pavement into the road with one hand the other holding both the hot coffee and cigarette as he made his way to work.

What a good idea for cooling coffee, should be cool enough after a kilometer or two!

Lotto in Bulgaria

There is a very good Bulgarian friend of ours who lives and works in Yambol. Her job is managing a lottery hut and I had an invite to check the place out.

These lottery huts are in the main prefabricated huts usually stand alone in spots in the town centre walkways or very near or in the centre of blocks (tower blocks.) Having passed these places many time I have only been inside one once with another Bulgarian friend who does the lottery weekly and has won once in five years and then it wasn't' much!

The purpose of the lottery games is to support sport in Bulgaria and many have the Bulgarian writing on the facade of the hut as 'Sport Lotto'

This is essentially the same as the UK with the options available for example 5, 6 or 7 numbers chosen from 1-35, 1-42 or 1-49. Of course the less probability of winning the bigger the cash prize.

It is a finely balanced though as to whether the lottery system here are good. As with the system elsewhere in Europe it is another 'tax on the poor' or in the UK we used to call it the 'idiot tax'. There is not a lot of business generated from what I see and from what our Bulgarian lottery manager tells us but then it is a National Lottery not local which is why it carries on.

Before I even entered the hut there was a bright green car half parked on the road half on the pavement and half blocked the entrance to the lottery hut. I was told that this was our lottery manger friend's car and thats where she parks every day. Well parking habits never die in Bulgaria so no surprise there.

It feels like I am going to enter a betting office and the sense of smoke and messy customers remains was expected but this was far from the case.

With the odds and options of betting scattered on the iron barred front window but as you enter the atmosphere changes directly you cross the threshold. There is a polished wooden cash desk with a window front and lovely scenic pictures all around. On a shelf where you fill out your lottery card there are pot plant feeling quite at home there. There are ashtray placed on the desk, again they had been cleaned out and shone in the sun that peers in from the front window. It has the feel of someones home and actually our friend treats it exactly that way. No litter of used lottery cards on the floor a spotlessly clean environment in which makes you feel very welcome.

All the time we were there, it must have been about an hour with all the talking we all did, not on customer appeared and it was around 5:00 in the afternoon on a bright sunny day - a time when people finish work and walk home.

Bulgaria - Like the UK 50 years ago?

Bulgaria is like the UK 50 years ago is a statement that keep coming up as a comparison.

Well I picked up this article from 'Housekeeping Monthly' published in the UK in 1955 - okay 52 years ago but close enough.

I found it very much true to form as to regard to the way women treat their husbands/partners in Bulgaria. Blokes have never had it so good, me included!

HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE


- Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

- Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

- Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

- Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

- Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc. and then run a dust cloth over the tables.

- Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by.

- Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

- Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

- Be happy to see him.

- Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.

- Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

- Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.

- Your goal: try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

- Don't greet him with complaints and problems.

- Don't complain if he ís late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.

- Make him comfortable. Make him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

- Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.

- Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

A GOOD WIFE ALWAYS KNOWS HERE PLACE.

The only Bulgarian thing missing in this article is the rakia and salad prepared laid out on the dining table after work - Oh, these are the days! - Ooops sorry - Those were the days!

The Village Hairdresser - Beware!

In Skalitsa we have a hairdresser and if anything is to go by she is not a good advert as she has a mustache herself. Her name is Donka an elderly Skalitsa woman has been running the business for 38 years and never had a complaint until recently.

Her surgery, sorry saloon, has not been decorated for 38 years along with the same chair. It is my opinion that she was the vehicle from where punk hairstyles were founded

When ever I get the chance I go there but only because she is my friend and being seen in the village. I doesn't matter as many others have the same style but don't complain so I don't complain. The cost was 1.50 leva for a short back and sides with little bonuses in as some sides are shorter than others.

The other service she offered men was a shave. Now I have never been shaved before by another person, apart from having my appendix out! This was a first for me and for a fee of 50 stotinki it is actually cheaper than buying a razor blade. Why doesn't everyone go there for a shave then? Well I was to find out.

A nervy man sat there with the old lady bearing a cut throat razor and that's just what I feared. The trouble is I wear glasses and am shortsighted so looking in the mirror facing me which is also 38 years old, I can't see what is going on without the spectacles. It really wasn't something I was familair as she proceeded with the shave.

Funny I mentioned surgery by accident earlier because it was a general anesthetic that was needed before thew process began. but I this was all new I thought this is how it was having a shave with a cut throat razor.

When she had finished home made rakia was slapped on my face (ouch!) and I was asked to wait in the chair while we talked. Then a damp cloth was wiped and I was free to go after paying.

On myt way back along the Sklaitsa streets as usual it took a lifetime to get there meeting friends and neighbours en route stopping to talk. The strange thing is they normally ask me where I have been and what I am doing but today they knew where I'd been this time so just asked me where I was going. I wasn't quite sure how they knew until I finally got home.

Looking in the mirror there was a blood stained face staring back at me it looked like I had been treated and subjected to the torcher of a thousand cuts but all in the same area. Well for 50 stotinki was at a cut price and that's exactly what I got. No wonder everyone knew where I had been.

Don't just ask me my brother went there a few weeks later with sideburns Elvis style on one side and the original Black Adder style on the other. His face also looked like it had been through a mincer, you could have made black-pudding with the amount of blood that was seeping out! The only difference between his episode and mine was that he complained!

I still go there for a punk haircut but never for a shave even though she considers herself a cut above (and below) the rest.

A final thought came around that hairdressers used to be the wounded soldiers butcher of war but surely that was more than 38 years ago.

Ugly Bulgarian Baby -Not!

In Skalitsa one of my lovely neighbours recently had a baby - I had not seen the new Bulgarian addition to the Skalitsa village for a month or so and found it quite strange in fact quite worrying.

It was a boy and called Alexander, that's all the information that came out from the family. On asking around why the baby was being hidden from public it was tradition that families with new arrivals were not to get visits from friends and families for up to a couple months from birth as this was deemed as bad luck. This explained a lot.

Then on a lovely summer day I saw the pram being pushed down the road past my house and as Galia my Bulgarian partner and I were also on the road walking the other way we paused to finally get a glimpse of the child. Now my Bulgarian isn't excellent by any account but I heard Galia say in Bulgarian that the baby wasn't very pretty added to which she said that the left eye was bigger than the right one! I was absolutely certain that this is what she said. Also, uncharacteristically, we only spent about a minute with Alex and Maria his mother, usually a conversation would last anything up to an hour especially after not seeing them for so long!

When we walked away I questioned Galia who said that it wasn't good to spent time looking at the baby it was a bad thing to do in Bulgaria. I then asked why she insulted the baby by saying it was ugly and other nasty things about his eyes. She said this was a custom in Bulgaria where you say bad things about the baby as it brings good luck - I was quite amazed and also amused with this.

The following weekend we met up again with baby Alex and mother Maria, I had the strange custom of telling the mother in Bulgarian that her son had ears like Prince Charles and a mouth like a horse! She thanked me very much as she walked off in another brief encounter!

Freshly Ground Coffee in Bulgaria

Everyday I see groups of big hefty Roma women wondering the streets of Yambol. Not what you think as they wear bright orange florescent jackets armed with a couple of traffic cones and a broom. They look like Roma witches as they make their way to work have you guessed what work yet? Cleaning the street and by jove to they do a good job. If it wasn't for the Bulgarian habit of dropping litter wherever they want they would be out of a job - remember that for the moment.

All this takes place before 7:30 as I usually walk alongside them from the Gypsy quarters in the north part of the town towards the town centre. They have a mustering point to start with something that resembles a Steptoe and Son junkyard with corrugated iron fence surround and well used steps they sit on leading up to the broom and cone stock room which is basically a lorry trailer. The steps are used as a seating place for their lunchtime break some 5 1/2 hours later. As I walk home for lunch I see bottles of beer being swigged at with used plastic bags on their laps as plates. As always the Gypsies are even louder than the Bulgarians it seems they are argueing all the time, that's not the case - they are just talking in their own way.

When they work in the streets of Yambol they are non-stop, picking every trace of litter then sweeping the dust left not leaving a speck behind as if their lives depended on it. Looking at them working you would think they pay was on commission or faced a deduction from their wage if rubbish remains were missed. I actually dare not think how little they get in the first place but know that minimum wages here is 180 leva month (around 15 GB pounds a week.)

This morning as usual I was following a group of four of these brightly clad Gypsy workers, why they are all obese is beyond me with the amount of walking they do everyday. One was sipping black coffee out of a small plastic vending machine cup. she took down the final sip and flung the clear plastic cup into the road! Now this was true Bulgarian style but coming from a street cleaner was quite bizzare at that instant. I suppose she would clean it up later that day!

For a fleeting moment I just didn't understand this, but then it made conmplete sense - Of course, this is the Bulgarian Gypsies ensuring there is always going to be work for them, essentially and action of job creation.

Bulgarian Birthday Party

This is Bulgaria and in Yambol we had been invited to a birthday party of one of Galia's friend who live just five minute walk from our house. I had been told that her husband was a hotel chef and that the food was to be scrumptious and in plentiful supply home made rakia to accompany. Actually the day had been a very bad day for me and to be quite honest I didn't even want to go but we had promised and Galia said that a few rakia in the evening would be good after such a terrible day.

The simple gift of a jersey and single flower along with a chocolate bar for their 3 year old son was taken as we walked the cobbled stones towards the house. This young Bulgarian family live right next to a Roma based neighbour hood as the live Roma music got louder and louder thinking that the music entertainment was already laid on thanks to the Roma. We turned into their street with the Roma street party in full swing and it was only 6:30 in the evening. This is a daily happening in Yambol in this area and heard from far and wide in this area. Again no one complains as the pulsating, heaving beat of the chalga was a privilege to have around - and free! I can just see many foreigners looking at the same situation and pulling their hair out. This is what happens here and to me I really can now start to see the sense in enjoying the situation rather than getting frustrated and stressed out with what before would be described as a invasion of unwanted sound in 'my space!'

The front door was approached, a red painted thick metal facade or a better term would be a barricade with no character stood before us. Well this is Roma territory perhaps even letter boxes would present a possible breach of security here.

From an outsiders point of view this was a dump of an area as the birthday house on the side of the Roma littered road that was in total disrepair, it looked like it had been ploughed up ready for winter. Somehow I knew that once inside the house it would be a complete contrast to the chaos outside just like the blocks, (tower blocks) simply beautiful well kept and very clean Bulgarian havens.

The was so true as we took our shoes off to walk on the pristine carpets and ceramic tiled floors you really felt the urge to skate on gave a heaven from hell feeling and a sense of sanctuary. The iron door was slowly closed and an antiphonal effect took place as the open air Roma concert gradually gave was to Bulgarian pop-folk music could be heard in another direction coming another room in the house.

Katia the hostess and Bulgarian birthday girl was given birthday greetings and was wished good health, good luck, good business and luck in love which is a traditional greeting after the initial birthday compliments. The gift were gratefully received and the formalities were over.

The inside of the house was completely modern, spotless with plain white walls and ceiling. As we were led into the living room area a table with food fit for a king lay both meticulously and symmetrically perfect. The snow-capped shopska salad taking the limelight amongst the other delights still in their virgin state!

Another Bulgarian couple turned up half and hour later, more friends, more talking, more food and drink and the party started for real. As always the woman worked around the men who only moved to have their pictures taken or change the music CD and the later only because the women wer in the kitchen preparing more food. To be honest that isn't entirely true, the husband like I said was a chef and all the food had been prepared by him before we arrived. This is very rare so I am told and backed up entirely with what I generally see on a daily basis.

It was now approaching 12:00 and the first occasion that the time was checked up upon, this is not important here it is how you feel and we were all full of food that just kept coming. Rakia with the salad, beer with the meat course (beautiful melt in your mouth pork with mushrooms and sauce moat around rice castle.) The dessert no less special, home baked sponge birthday cake - They save the candles for birthday during power-cuts. This was moist and delicious and a midway sweetness enough to satisfy these sweet-toothed Bulgarians but not too overpowering for me. All finally washed down with lemonade.

I said it was food fit for a king but I was worried about my Princess Galia that something would turn into a pumpkin after midnight only to discover it was my stomach was that something! The characteristic elements of a Bulgarian birthday party are the same as for any gathering of Bulgarian friends and family - food, drink, music and not least talk.

We left in the early hours of the morning and even the Roma party had run out of energy in the Yambol streets. It was only then in the dead quiet of the night with an almost full moon showing us the way home did the time seem important with work the next morning. But in true Bulgarian fashion we didn't rush home.

In Bulgaria? You'll do this soon!

Once you have been w while in Bulgaria you will be picking up Bulgarian habits, already some have been taken on board even without thinking about it. A few for starters...

- Wearing different clothes for different situations is a must!! One for the village one town and work and another for going out in the evening, all essentially Bulgaria and in the winter a different set of clothing for bed!

- Leaving food on your plate when you've had enough rather than having to finish it up like a good boy!

- Walking fast just never happens now - its taken a while to get to this stage though.

- Looking at my watch, well I don't wear one now what's the point on knowing what time it is in Bulgaria?

- Ending a conversation - very difficult!

- Getting a job finished, there's always tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or in some cases waiting for your reincarnation!

- Getting your Bulgarian friends to spend some time away from their GSMs, (mobile phones) impossible.

- Washing up or cleaning the home - THIS DEFINITELY IS NOT ALLOWED!

- Adjusting and enjoying a rakia and salad every single evening, all year round - Actually I don't know how I managed to do cope without this before living here.

- Not looking before crossing a road, (jaywalking) Tufty and Green Cross Code Man have never set foot in Bulgaria!

Not necessarily the top ten but many more where they come from...........

Cobblestoned Yambol

In Yambol over the past few months there has been much work and repair of the roads leading in and out of the town. In the main the side road have been worked upon. The main reason for this is the growth of the tree roots that spread themselves like giant underground moles creating rises and falls not only on the pavements but on the traffic bearing roads.

The Bulgarian way of doing this is by hand, there is no massive tarmac bearing machines with the job being finished in a couple of hours - the hands on job takes weeks but there is another reason.

Every road is being reconstructed with cobblestones. I really thought that the days of these types of road was coming to and end but it is thriving in Yambol. On a bed of compacted sand each individual traditional cobblestone is placed and sealed in place giving the arching patterns so characteristic of this form of road.

Whilst the repair and re-laying is going on there is absolute mayhem with the closed road but the beeping of horns, the shouting of drivers trying to negotiate their way up a two way street with a one way facility is very funny from a pedestrians point of view.

But then the pedestrians don't really have any consideration in any case as the pavement is totally block with stones and sand and walks up these road are either diverted into the middle of the road or high jumping over the bright yellow token tape. Pram and pushchairs have to contend with an assault course more suited to army training exercises. Do the they complain? No not an ounce as they make their way un-flustered through the obstacle set in front of them.

I suppose it has always been this way and Yambol is well versed in dealing with this. It is just another minor point in the overall development of Yambol that remains a lovely cobble based town in many places. Well worth the inconvenience.

New Bulgarian Cowboys

It was Byal Kladenets (White Well) right next to the massive reservoir that runs through to the power station giving the whole region electricity that I found myself heading towards early last Saturday morning.

My brother had a scooter and from Skalitsa to Byal Kladenets which was about 12 km there was a mainly ploughed up dirt track lining the sunflower and sweetcorn fields filled full of failed crops this year. This actually cuts another 10 km of the journey is running on a main tarmac road.

Why were we going there?

Well we had to pick up two horses and transport them back to Skalitsa as I was to look after them for a few weeks before hopefully they are sold or looked after for the 4 months my brother is away.

As we made out way two up on a small scooter there was an apprehension about the journey there and even more about the journey back. My brother has a fear of horses and I only really have experience with a donkey and cart not these massive muscled animals.

We had heavy rain a few days before and as we left the road onto the track the slipping and sliding started, in many parts we had to get off and walk our way through parts. This was a real problem for us as only after a short while we wished we'd done it another day when the track had dried out but we were now committed and had to carry on.

A sigh of relief was breathed as we finally got to the village and paused a while before going to get the two horse that were grazing on the side of the hill. Genna and Sparky (the horses) were being looked after by a Bulgarian neighbour who was called to help being them in to be kitted out on the cart that was waiting.

This was the next problem, Genna somehow jolted away from the Bulgarian that was helping and ran free and away from where we wanted her. The next two hours were spend trying to catch here as she played games. Chasing her was obviously not going to work as the minds where working overtime as our bodies rested.

A lasso was the only answer as one was made up from the tethering rope. The plan was to get Sparky out on the fields again as Genna usually grazes next to him. Then if we get within a couple of metres of here we lasso her and job done.

So, we did exactly that, with the Bulgarian neighbours thinking that we were crazy as he just sat on his own cart and watched from a distance, we worked to plan. Every aspect of the plan worked as Sparky was made the bait. It was only a matter of a few moments and a well judged throw of the lasso as Genna approach and the job was as good as done. the Bulgarian neighbour watched with disbelief as the new cowboy maestros strode proudly past him with the two horses.

We kitted the horses up, Genna to pull the cart and Sparky to follow tied up behind then we were off on the track that had almost completely dried up with the now hot sun blazing.

It was a very tired horse that ended up in Skalitsa with another journey back that was far from relaxing on the dulating terrain but we were all tired but home and dry.

Bulgarian Police - How it is here

Bulgarian Police - How it is here

Bulgarian police had always seemed to me to be a bit of a perk job. Many of the children of Bulgaria when asked what they want to do when they grow up say they want to be a policeman, (boys of course.) It is the case that the police have major respect in Bulgaria from the Bulgarian public and the Bulgaria new generation. It is the case that Bulgarian Police are not strangled with the law governed and dictated by over kill morals.

A short vacation with my partner found the weather unusually cold and wet therefore beach and sea activities were restricted and the rest of the time in bed sleeping or dosing. A friend rang saying that she was seeing someone on the coast and we should meet up and party on. We agreed!

Her friend was a policeman working in Black Sea region and they duly turned up in the coastal village we were staying at some twenty minutes later and the party began as we met in a posh Hotel garden bar.

Christo the policeman was a man of typical Bulgarian build, short, stocky with a 'beer' belly, piecing blue eye, no chin and slightly graying hair neatly cut. His shorts showed thin calved legs without hair, I don't think they were shaved but his arms shown by his plain short sleeved shirt were definitely not. A pair of good quality brown leather sandals supported this man who just didn't stop talking. His GSM was in constant use and was used extensively for planning the party path for his newly acquired guests who he obviously wanted to impress.

As with most Bulgarian men Christo treated his girlfriend with a little disdain as he dominated conversations giving a one way converation most of the time - normal in Bulgaria of course. Even so you couldn't fail to like the guy who was a very confident bordering on the arrogant. Speaking a little Bulgarian myself we basically debriefing our respective resumes. We found that Christo and I both liked many of the same things, essentially all Bulgaria food, drink, football, women and life here in general. It was found that being a policeman was indeed a good life in Bulgaria and the perks are never ending. Not too dissimilar from being mafia sprung to mind but without having to look over your shoulder every moment of the day for the competition!

We had just finished a beer or two in the bar and I was asked to get provisions for the day as we were off to other coastal towns further south. Drink or not and in the company Christo told me that beer and driving can mix here but only in the villages as now high speeds are not reached - One rule, just don't' crash! So the car was brought back from the apartment and parked up and we were off on a party adventure in Christo's car - the first adventure began immediately - Bulgarian driving!

If you have driven in Bulgaria and seen cars that just flash past you regardless of oncoming traffic, well this was one of them, and was a perfect remedy for the the beers we had as it certainly sobers you up! I found that closing my eyes was the key to a less stressful journey as seeing what was happening really did feel like playing Russian roulette. There was a police check en route and a wave and a shout was given at speed to the police on duty, they knew Christo and his car as they waved him on excitedly.

We arrived at a shop in the town further south and found no parking spaces to save any walking, it had to be directly outside the shop that sold cigarettes. Christo was completely relentless in his disregard for others in his parking as it remain immobile in the middle of the road blocking all traffic behind. This didn't bother Christo in the least as the car remained there with a build up of mayhem from cars behind now queuing. A solitary man started complained outside the shop until Christo got out of the car and then he shut up recognizing him as the law. There was initially a few honks from cars held up behind but this soon stopped as Christo was recognized and the word went round. All bowed to the law here as he talked to everyone that he passed he seemed to know everyone here in this town. Swapping of conversations through people and his GSM was a continuous switch which was consistently made.

Cigarettes soley bought for the Bulgarian women as Christo and I don't smoke. Christo says it was bad for you and you die a slow and painful death from smoking. I agreed, but then though that might explain his driving, a quick and painless death preferred of course. It was now off to another place and the reopening of the road once Christo had driven off to the shouts of 'Chiao!' from shop-owners from both sides of the street.

This time the destination was a restaurant on the coast. A superb setting with blue skies, fishing boat going and cpoming in with catches from the crystal clear blue sea, then prepared and served up; I have only dreamed of locations like this before now. The preferential treatment continued as we were placed a prime positioned table and served before others who had turning up earlier due to Christo's status and respect here. A meal of the freshly cooked fish and more beer was served we were not allowed to pay. Then as Christo approached spoke with the cashier at the bar, all I saw exchanged was conversation!!

It was then off to a newly built hotel with its own bar and swimming pool. Free drinks all round as the owner nervously insisted, there seems a little fear in his voice. During this time we were then told that we have free apartments booked in another coastal town resort. As we moved off again under Formula One speed further down the coastal road Christo's GSM was in full use with further plans being made as we traveled.

We arrived at a luxurious hotel and was shown around by the owner. Then escorted to our complimentary room for the night. This was all an offering from the owner to his policeman friend Christo we were being treated like royalty as everyone bowed to Christo and his friends presence. Some locally caught fresh fish was brought along and offered to us but we just didn't have the facility to keep them overnight and declined. These were big healthy carp caught from local inland waters which I found strange in a place just 50 metres from the Black Sea. We were also asked if we wanted to go fishing tomorrow early in a boat that was ready for use. Again Christo declined as time was the factor but at this point I didn't know Christo's plans and that an early rise was out of the question.

It just so happened that the Bulgarian national football team was playing in the European cup qualifications this particular evening so the TV was booked exclusively for Christo and his guests. Not only that, a full compliment food and rakia was also booked to be laid on for the evening more gifts from the very generous hotel manager!

We freshened up in our assigned spacious hotel apartment and proceeded to party on spending a few hours watching live European football, downing two bottles of grape rakia and various Bulgarian traditional food alongside. Us men Bulgarian or not had everything we could ever ask for this evening at that point. Food, drink, live football and each with fantastic Bulgarian women - what a mixture of components and all free!

Non-stop talking was the main activity and was quite a distraction from me trying to watch he football. It was interesting getting feedback from Christo when the opposition scored. I had to actually tell him they had scored before he replied with 'normal' this was a typical Bulgarian reaction. The same reaction of 'normal' was made to the final score 2:0.

Christo had for many years accepted that most European sides were better than Bulgaria but I was taken back a bit by his lack of interest and emotions during the ups and downs of the match. Talking preoccupied the evening and football enthusiasm was well down the league of interest even well below rakia and food. Perhaps the taste of defeat was inbuilt in Bulgaria and they have learned not to get stressed up about it. He accepted defeat of his team with total resignation this was expected from him and other Bulgarians even before the match. This to them was inevitable anyway so what was the problem!

So football finished and well past 11:00 but that wasn't important. Even more planning had been made by Christo and next thing we know there was a shiny black Mercedes and young smartly dressed driver waiting outside to pick us up. and drop us at a discotheque at a neighbouring town.

Moments later and all feeling like Cinderellas going to a ball as we were transported and dropped outside a discotheque in a neighbouring town. What a fantastic venue it was a state of the art, all mod cons and all done on a massive scale. It was the sort of place you would expect to see public figures and show business celebrities. What was I thinking, there was a celebrity there, Christo and his privileged guests!

The entry fee was waived as was all the drink that was served to us throughout the rest of the evening. Christo was the VIP host of the venue along with the Englishman included as on his three guests as we were tagged with this status for the rest of the night.

Dancing drinking and more eating the night away we then then had the another chauffeur driven Mercedes driving us back to the hotel. This was not before having a little party with some traffic police on duty in the town, but again time doesn't matter here. You go to bed when you are tired here and we were at 4:30 am!

The next morning breakfast was taken on a beach restaurant only 100 metres away for the hotel there no lapse in VIP treatment as they were expecting us. No doubt Christo's GSM was in action again to prepare this earlier. Filled with a Bulgarian pancake breakfast and more beer (well it was almost midday) we soaked up the final moments on the other side of the Bulgarian coin.

Finally there was the trip back to out village apartment and Christo went on his own way back to work. He was still on his GSM talking an planning something else as he waved goodbye to us. We watching him drive of into the mysterious world of deciding what is right and wrong in Bulgarian daily life. Very much a case of looking through the eyes of Bulgarian community policing.

Two years ago it would have been difficult near on impossible to come to terms with situations such as this. You have to learn in Bulgaria how to accept things as they come along and not try and fight against everything. It would not have been enjoyed before and there would be a great deal of stress and guilt attached. This learning how to enjoy yourself and not feel totally indebted to people with their unbounded generosity and kindness is part of the culture here no matter how it is comes. Accepting this type of Bulgaria comes with time and you have to realise that is how it is here. Corrupt? Maybe, but what right do you have to fight it and what would that do? It wouldn't change anything.

It was a whirlwind 24 hours and a view of how the other half live in Bulgaria, from poverty stricken communities trying to make ends meet and now from the perspective of a community that find the good things in life come their way by job status and respect. All the time I was thinking what had Christo done beyond this role as a community policeman to get such treatment. The only thing I can come up with was for him to turn a blind eye on certain things that go on - I might be wrong but that's how it felt.

As for the Bulgarian police, well they are only human, perhaps too human in view of what was experienced. The respect and fear remains for law as seen here, furthermore works in Bulgaria for the main part anyway. It really is a case of hands on policing with the community as part of the policing system.

Community policing it may well be technically in Bulgaria, up and running very effectively as ever here - well before it was reinvented and failed in the UK.


Bad Brits in Bulgaria

From Novinite News Wednesday, 19th September 2007

Two UK nationals were given 8-month suspended sentences and three years to be served in probation for attacking policemen in Bulgaria's town of Veliko Tarnovo a week ago.

I was going to keep quiet about this but last week I recall an instance where I was walking home to get my daily Bulgarian lunch and reading a topic thread about the same type of thing hit a note.

On a daily basis en route to home cooked lunch, I always pass the police station in Yambol, this is also the place where you also get your residents permits from. This being the case occasionally you hear English being spoken as they make their way there from the town centre or hang around the area at lunchtime as it is closed.

This was one of those days where a family group with distinct English accents were picked up were making their way up the hill toward the police station. I tend keep my mouth shut on these occasions as the lunch waiting on the table at home would get cold if delayed. And in this instance I was very glad I did.

Bulgarian parking systems on the pavements in Yambol mean that I was forced to follow behind the English speaking people in single file whilst walking on and up the hill. This gave opportunity to overhear their conversation on reflection wish I never heard......

It was about get rat-arsed on the previous Saturday night at a stag night on the Black Sea Coast. They went on talking about smashing a window, trashing the hotel room they were staying in and roughing up the hotel manager who had 'the cheek' to complain in the morning.

They spoke with pride in their voices as the laughing followed the description. In the process their limited vocabulary was mixed with an infrequent variety of abusive adjectives. To add to this one of the foreigners was pushing a pram with a child in it - What a future for that child!

Now this is something that embarrassed the living daylights out of me. I just hoped and prayed that they weren't applying for a Bulgarian resident permit as they turned off toward the entrance of the police station. They should really be going there to face charges!

Many or most things that go on in Yambol are pleasant experiences but on occasions something shakes you up a bit. this was an instance but nothing to do with Bulgaria or the Bulgarians but undesirable outsiders who feel they have license to do what they want without fear of punishment.

So when an item of news comes in where punishment is given for this type of behavior it is actually good new but what did they get? In the case that was mentioned a suspended sentence - What is that in terms of punishment? Well nothing actually.

On a final note, this is very rare in Yambol and its surround. The instance witnessed was the only instance in all the time I have lived and worked here in Yambol.

Whatever the future holds with these people coming to Bulgaria the attraction of this region remains firmly in decent law abiding foreigners with a respect for how things are here.

Some Black Sea resorts however will always bring in summer madness from foreigners which is why I am so glad I live away from all this.

Well Behaved Bulgarian Bees

Bulgarian bees are very different over here as I found out yesterday as the grape harvest was gathered form the garden.

It was that time of year when the grapes, after the weather and starlings have had their share, were to be gathered and turned into the wine and rakia that makes up one of the the most renown traditions of Bulgaria. It was quite a fear that came over me as the grapes were approached, this was based on my previous experiences of bees and wasps 2000 miles away. Many a brave soul would run from British bees and wasps, they always had an attitude over there and something that lay in the mind every time one was seen in Bulgaria.

The humming bees became quite deafening to the ear as the hanging grapes were to be tackled. It was clear that part of the harvest was currently being shared by another winged species of thieves. They initially piece the skin of the grape and make their way into the sweet grape juice within. After which they buzz back to their hives and deposit the sweet content which turns out in jars in the Yambol market a few weeks later. I should have a stake in this honey made from my grapes as a good 10% of the crop had been impeached and taken away for profit to be made on it by someone else.

So a fear of getting hut by these bees was a contention that I was forced to subject myself to. I could wait until dusk and the bees go back in their hives to sleep but then it gets dark very quickly and this job was to take a couple of hours that wasn't an option. It had to be done now, no time early in the morning either.

Gingerly the hand went into bunches of grapes with bees hiding their feast within individual grapes, the buzzing more intense as I mingled further into the crop. After a few disturbances I found that the bees would realize that there was something going on and just let themselves drop off and fly away. At no point did any bee become aggressive, even it I accidentally touched one when reaching up they would still not turn against me.

It got to the stage where a system of gently tapping the stem from which the grapes hung prior to cutting would in fact clear that area of bees. It was a warning that the party was over and their food supply was now at an end. If I could speak bee I would swear they were thanking me and and saying goodbye see you next year.

Two hours of grape harvesting in an atmosphere not quite reaching swarm status but quite close to it in stages and not once did any bee act aggressively, furthermore no stings inflicted. What a nice kind bunch of bees Bulgaria has and what a difference from the nasty aggressive nature I had grown up endured in the UK.

A funny thought to end with but now with the grape harvest in all I have for the first time in nearly 40 years having learned again about the birds and the bees, this time without embarrassment.

Bulgarian Bikes and Roma Riders

Bulgarians and bikes, push bikes that is! What a variety there is but 99% are the cheapest bikes on the market from a point that Bulgarians just can't afford designer machines. For that reason top range bike are not available in the country as there is no demand.

To the Bulgarian if a bike works and does the job and is cheap or even costs nothing that the option to take. There are those who do have cycling as a hobby, a serious hobby in some cases, I know one particular man who is a fanatic cyclist with the top bikes and gear I see him out on the Yambol highways, this is an exception to the rule. Most cyclist here ride bone shakers and the variety of homemade bikes is fantastic it is almost like watching clown riding circus bikes. The most entertaining variety of bikes are the Roma riders!

The picture is now painted of cyclists in Bulgaria and it was one evening when I was walking home when a searing clutter of metal sound was heard, the sound that makes you want to cringe. Turning back I saw a Roma on a bike with the compulsory plastic box strapped with old string on the carrier full of cardboard moving very slowly along the harsh cobbled road. The cause of the clattering was the fact that the front wheel of the bike had no tyre, he was riding on a bare metal rim. I just stopped in my tracks and stared as this Roma rider slowly clattered past me. At the same time he was staring back at me as if to say what's the problem? Mind you there was still continuous smile behind that questioning look going on into the distance.

There are more shows that go on in the Bulgarian Biking World that have to be seen to be believed, balancing acts, one bike ridden by the whole family, trailers, dog powered bikes, even a one wheeled bike with a skate board wheels fixed on the front forks. Many bikes aren't actually ridden, they are just used as baggage carriers and by golly can they carry a lot. Added to all this most bikes (apart from the new ones) don't have brakes, they rely on the Fred Flintstone method - smoking feet!

Every day a circus act is seen from Bulgarian bikes and Roma bikers - Today was a bit different and with special act on display but I still I didn't have to pay an entrance fee to see it.

Bulgarian Toundzha Fishing

So I have eaten fish from the Toundzha before and that was a wonderful event. It was now time for me to turn hunter and provide for the family but this was no chore I love fishing but never seem to have the time for it!

This was a family affair as Galia's two sons teamed up with me to form a team of fish hunters prowling the Toundzha and their experience in fishing here, finding the right spots, using the right tackle and bait was the key to success. We all traveled by bicycle cutting even further costs on the free meal we were to catch and very much in the tradition for most Bulgarian coarse fishermen here. In fact a car would have trouble getting here in the position that we took up even in the dry banks that the Toundzha currently had alongside it

The place we found I know know but will not let on in this publication for fear of being over fished by others who read this. The bait was Bulgarian worms and no sooner had we cast the first fish was taken. The river has quite a fast flow but were we were there wasa poll of relative still water in a small bay so the fishing was quite easy without having to recast every minute.

The scenery here was outstanding with countryside in the front of us and the town's dominant white blocks behind us.

After about an hour we had at least twenty fish enough for a meal and a half as we began to pack our kit away. Many we threw back being too small and of course the big carp that got away at one point of the session - yes, really!

Just as we made our way home further up the bank we saw a couple of Roma fishing with homemade contraptions. I wanted to knowhow they set up this and asked to see their equipment closer up. they of course obliged with Galia's two sons looking on in amazement to the fact I wanted to know. what I discovered was more than fascinating.

The rod was a bamboo cane, there was no reel but just some old string tied to the end of the cane. I wonder how on earth they could catch fish with string as the line, this mystery was soon solved as they pulling the tackle out of the water.

At the end of the string was tied about a metre of fishing line and the set up of further tackle was made on this. A float that was actually a small dried pepper that had been painted to make it waterproof and the weights used to make this sit upright in the water were small metal buttons. The hook was the only commercial part of the kit with some sweetcorn as bait. Even more fascinating this was that they had caught bigger fish than us!

This was another truly amazing discovery of how things can be done here on the cheap and as we went back to hand over the fish to the women cooks I just couldn't get what I saw today out of my head. I just love this country, the people and its ways!

Bulgarian Toundzha Fish

Bulgaria never fails to amaze in every aspect and today was no exception in town of Yambol my Monday to Friday home. Yambol has the River Toundzha which hold a fascination not only from the point of beauty as it meanders through the town but from a point of practical uses. I was about to find out one of them this evening.

A hard day work had finished and a pleasant walk back home was made in the warm September sunshine that continues to dominate the weather outside my vacation dates! It was a good hunger that builds up every day at this time to find that dinner is always in progress in the kitchen on my arrival every evening just before 6:00. Well this is to be expected from Galia and her Baba Mama who through tradition have found it their duty to prepare food for the working men of the house. Galia's son and myself turn up at about the same time each evening and today was no exception.

As I entered the house there was something different about this evening, there was a sense of excitement and buzz in the house as I heard this distant sizzling coming from the kitchen. The area was approached and a smell of fish was in the air, my mouth was watering already.

Galia's had brought home some fish that he and his brother had caught from the River Toundzha today. I could see that they had already been gutted and minus heads, lucky old Alex another Bulgarian doorbell dog got these for his evening meal to hsi delight!. The very simple process was in progress of dipping the fish in flour and frying in a shallow pan of sunflower oil was all that was needed in the cooking.

Before long we had a plate of Toundzha fish ready to eat but where were the chips? A natural reaction to any Brit seeing fish on the menu. The answer was no chips but beer - but somehow fish and beer had this chalk and cheese feeling about it, this thought soon changed a few moments later.

We sat down to the fish dish and a glass of cold Shumensko Beer, soft fresh Yambol baked bread and raw garlic leaving yet again another taste from heaven in Bulgaria. The bones took a little negotiating but after a little while you gain the technique where the meat just falls away from the bone. This left sweet succulent meat that just melts in the mouth. The mouthful of fish was followed by a bite of the raw garlic and a piece of bread and washed down each tie with a sip of beer after a 'Nastravay!' It really was a quite like synchronized fish eating.

What adds to the celebration eating of this fish meal is that it was all free bar beer and bread. The whole meal cost around three leva for a sitting of four and still enough for another sitting! this is how it is in Bulgaria, making the most of natural resources around them, fishing for food is included in this.

Bulgarian Schools - Fashion Houses?

Those of you in Bulgaria today and up early you will have noticed something very different to the normal quiet Bulgarian streets of the summer months.

From 7:00 onwards this morning there were swarms of children making their way to school! They actually started the new school year on the previous Saturday which was a hangover from the working day in lieu form the previous long weekend public holiday.

Looking around this morning the childrens destination felt more like fashion houses than schools. With no mandatory school uniform in force, the trends of dress were spectacular to say the least. From where I'm looking the Bulgarian fashion is in good hands with the youth of today.

Colourful and interesting as it is watching the children catwalk to school, this is a big financial strain on parents who are subjected to the cry of wants from very fashion conscious children.

This all comes from various sources of direct and indirect advertising solely geared up for these impressionable ages groups. Because Bulgaria is still very slow to pick up laws on high moral grounds this may the be reason why the country haven't considered the introduction of school uniform based on discrimination of the poorer families who wouldn't be able afford to keep up with the latest fashion. This creates an unacceptable instance where there are those who have and those who don't a situation intolerable in the eyes of the modern western world.

Somehow though I don't think school uniforms will come into play in school at any time in Bulgaria. After all they had 50 years of uniform clad children pre-1990 and there's no going but with the taste of fashion freedom now firmly in place. And certainly the moral thinking behind the 'have' and 'have not' society in Bulgaria is fully accepted as what goes on here not without prejudice I might add - but that's how it is in real life.

An Early Introduction to Bulgarian Shkembe Chorba

Bulgarian Tripe Soup (Shkembe Chorba) was first sampled a while ago in Yambol at 2:00 in the morning. This was after a very busy evening with Bulgarian friends eating, drinking, dancing followed on by more drinking, dancing and talking in a local nightclub. Just as I thought the nightclub scene was over and time to go home we zig-zagged our way a non stop bar and was presented with another round of beer and in addition of a round of tripe soup!?

It was a real mystery as to why tripe soup was ordered at the time until it was explained that this soup was a perfect remedy for heavy heads after drinking sessions usually drunk in the morning for the morning after the night before!

For starters tripe soup went out of fashion decades ago in the UK and after this session all I can say is they just don't know what they are missing over there now. This was the resurrection of a dish for me that I thought had disappeared of the face of the earth. How could I ever doubt that the Bulgarian would continue to surprise me with their taste and food fashion that always remains very much at the doorway to heaven.

Shkemba Chorba was enjoyed to the hilt with fresh bread (there is a bakery open 24 hours round the corner of this bar) after adding dried roughly ground chili peppers, garlic, vinegar and salt.

Such a simple dish that touches all corners of the tongue taste buds resulting in a clearer head and constitution to walk home to.

I may also add that at no time does the descriptive word 'Drunk' portray evenings like this. Bulgarians generally do not get drunk, just more merry as the evening turns into morning. The Bulgarian company, food, talk and dance help enormously.

Shkeme Chorba is based mainly on chopped up calf stomach lining cooking in a milk based liquid with garlic, vinegar and chili peppers as seasoning.

The recipe has been sourced from my Bulgarian partner Galia and has been published here, just look for the recipe menu:

http://www.ourbulgarianworld.com

Rare Bulgarian Football Fanatics?

Football in Bulgaria is taken in a totally different way here. There are certainly fanatical fans at local and national level but this is from a tiny minority of Bulgarians. Sport in general from this small European country has a small following the reasons are that supporting a sport has no financial benefit to most people. They certainly have nothing to gain by going to sporting events or spending money on satellite/cable sports TV stations. Even the potential nationalistic emotions to on international sporting success is taken here with total calmness, placidity and restrain.

Speaking to a Bulgarian friend the other day I asked why he didn't have any sense of disappointment when Holland scored a goal against Bulgaria in an European qualification match on terrestrial TV? He said that football was of no interest to him and was the same to many other Bulgarians. He went on to say that they expect footballers to score two or three goals in every match and if they don't that where the interest ends. On any professional football front this doesn't happen and a sense over expectation from sportsmen leads to inevitable failure in their eyes. What he is really saying is unless the team is the best in the world most Bulgarians want to know and don't care!

Anyone who knows about football will be fully aware that the game is not just about a couple of individual footballers scoring lost of goals, it is far more complex than that. This leave me doubting that my Bulgarian friend know much about the game anyway with statements like that. Furthermore if he wasn't interested in Bulgarian football that would provoke more evidence of his lack of knowledge and understanding of the game. Another 'Bulgarian Maestro!'

It just goes to show that there is a big difference in the way sport is viewed and felt here. Certainly sport is not a way of life here unless you are part of the of game. Many football followers in the UK have this fanatical side to them which is part of their culture. I might add that British culture might well be lacking without football as part of it. It may be so that the UK and other countries need football, Bulgaria at this point doesn't and it would be no great loss to many without it.

A recent forum posting shows another example of this recently:

http://www.ourbulgarianworld.com/index.php?option=com_smf&Itemid=254&topic=480.0

Just to add to this, there were some English speaking Bulgarians who contested that Bulgarian are quite passionate about their football and noisy with it contrary to my experiences. There has now been an invitation to join these passionate Bulgarian football folk on the next game due. We will see whether this will change my view of the matter.

An Ill Wind That Blows In Bulgaria

Smoking is a habit most Bulgarians have and being a non smoker I put up with it as part of the culture here in Bulgaria. Being an ex smoker it is often the case that you never really loose the want to smoke - this is the case here.

Since moving here, a total of three cigarettes have been smoked all instances fo this have been after quite a few rakia. Each occasion was regretted the following morning with the stagnant breath hanging around being fueled by the smoked lungs. It just takes one cigarette to cause this morning after affect.

It has only been on very rare occasions that the evenings are spent with non smokers, usually foreign visitor strangely enough who come from non smoking policy based lands abroad.

The real reason for mentioning about smoking in this blog is the certain fact that wherever you sit the wind blows smoke into your face. Every single occasion without fail, in the garden, in the home, in restaurants, waiting in queues, even lying on the beach it is a certainty that the wind direction has it in for non smokers!

What is also guaranteed is that many other non smokers have the same problem and can relate very clearly to this - just ask one and see - Bet you 10 stotinki they agree!

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Bulgarian Weekend Holiday at Bulgarian Prices

It was a national holiday in Bulgaria from Thursday 6th - Sunday 9th September, a four day weekend what could we do?

My car had been smashed up therefore we had no transport and with the repair bills due, no money to spare either. We deserved a holiday the last one we had we were ill for three of the days and rushed around for guests the rest of the week. No real rest-bite for us at all. We needed a break! What are the options with 100 leva we had put aside for this occasion?

The Black Sea Coast was a option and we found that getting to Bourgas only cost 4.20 leva each by train - a return journey of over 200 km for less than 4 pounds! That was the first stage as the tickets were bought.

After looking at the weather forecast we were well naffed off, it said that the three days we had booked were cold and forecast rain! All year we had sizzling temperatures and only the odd day of rain. Now the only three days in the year we could call a holiday it changes! However we were still very excited about sleeping for three days if the forecast came true! Quality time together ALONE also was a major factor.

Having scanned the internet for cheap apartments in the coastal village and found quite a few that were only charging 8 leva a night each. We could spend three nights for 24 leva each all with en suite bathrooms, TV and sea view balcony! This particular village was some 25 km from Bourgas and we guessed the fare would be around 3 leva each for a bus to the apartment location. The total sum for travel and board was 62.40 leva.

All went according to plan apart from sharing a taxi with another couple from Bourgas train station to the village location and still on budget having only paid 6 leva for the both of us to travel the 25 km - Don't try this at home folks!

Arriving at the apartment that we booked on the internet only to find that we were shown two other apartments in other houses in the street, we declined and was shown the actual apartment booked but it was only 100 metres from the main coastal road. A lovely laid out modern apartment with air conditioning but the noise from the road even with close double glazed units was too much.

We left and went back to the bus stopping point to seek further accommodation from owners looking for client getting off buses there. A couple of inquiries and we found an owner who had what we wanted and still on budget for only 8 leva per person per night.

The owner led us there talking all the way along about how expensive it was to holiday for Bulgarian nowadays and how the foreign tourist have pushed up the prices of property and rent in this village over the last few years. The room when seen was on the third floor of a converted house and had an en suite bathroom, TV but no air conditioning but this wasn't important to us. The room was immaculate with snow white sheets for the comfortable beds and balcony with a sea view and table for evening meals and drinks - the en suite bathroom had a powerful shower and a great view of the sea from the side window but only sighted by a male toilet goer though - think about it!

What more could we ask for at 16 leva a night for the both of us. There was also a fridge in the corridor we had access to the quaint village centre and through to the lovely sandy beach was only a five minute walk. This location had everything you could ask for in a resort including some lovely restaurants and evening entertainment.

The weather was indeed cold and the rains came no time on the beach or in the sea due to this. Apart from a little walk around and the second evening a restaurant getting lost and soaked in the pouring rain tying to find our apartment, the rest of the time was spent in bed sleeping or dozing. Then a phone call from a friend changed the last 24 hours spent there and we were certainly glad of the sleep we had up to this point! Another story though!

To finish off the next day, we got a lift back to Yambol from our friend and donated 10 leva towards petrol, saving even more on the fare back. The whole four days and three nights including travel, food, drink, entertainment and even a little souvenir to take back, we still had change from the 100 leva for the both of us from start to finish! Even on a Bulgarian wage a good price to pay for a long weekend on the coast!

Without Bulgarian knowledge foreigners here would find it quite difficult to copy the cheap system we used, the Bulgarian language is the main obstacle and the fact that most people we had to deal with didn't know I was English - I have learned to keep my mouth shut at critical moments, usually when deals are done with apartment owners, shop owners and taxi drivers.

Bulgarian weekend holiday at Bulgarian prices? Yes but we are lucky to have disposable income for this, many other Bulgarians don't! We are indeed fortunate people here in Bulgaria.

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A Sorry Dog Tale in Bulgaria

This is a true but very sad story about British Dog owners and Bulgarian country folk with one loser at the end, the dog.

A British couple had set up their new dream home in a small remote village in the midst of farming people, very much like thousands of other villages scattered around the Bulgaria countryside. Livestock roaming the streets was common place in these types of areas, all calm, peaceful and living in harmony with the community system that worked.

Traditional ways of keeping dogs in Bulgaria are very different to that of British ways and this primarily was the heart of the problem. The British couple remained adamant that their dog should live with them very much in the British fashion. It was allowed to run around the countryside, live and sleep in the house and essentially be treated as part of the household. It would often be let out to roam free in the streets and fields outside the boundaries of farmhouse and grounds until not before long the sad sage began.

A elderly woman neighbour had called round to the house complaining that the dog had attacked and killed many chickens from her farm and blamed the British couple for letting the dog out to roan free. The matter was resolved simply by the old woman being compensated with money to replace the chickens and a promise from the British couple to not let the dog out in the future unsupervised.

The dog was now confined to within the boundaries of the grounds, still without being tethered or tied up. It was only a matter of time before the dog found escape routes with the massive area of land and continued began to chase and worry sheep, goats and poultry in the area. The Bulgarian owners had full justification to continue to complain but the British remained firm about how the dog should be allowed freedom regardless of the stress it was causing to local livestock. The dog was apparently obedient when the owners were there but not when they were absent.

Subsequently with the owners absence on other occasions, more local chickens were killed and more monetary compensation made but this really wasn't the way forward as far as the Bulgarian locals were concerned. They were living in fear of the next attack and the worrying was affecting the sheep and goats milk production and the British couple refused to accept that the dog was not under control in their absence.

There remained this insistence that the dog should continue to be unleashed at all times in their absence and no compromise was sought as they felt they were morally right in the way the dog should be brought up. No real regard was made to the loss of local Bulgarian livelihoods that were being caused by this dog. This couldn't carry on where there comes the part that brought the matter to an end.

The British owners were away again for a few days and on their return they found that the dog had been poisoned and lay dead on within their own grounds. The calculated consequence from the Bulgarians point was one less worry for them and their stocks now safe. From the British couple there was now bitterness and suspicion to many of their closest neighbours and the house is now up for sale for a move to another village.

The mayor and local policeman were approached regarding the matter with a shrug of the shoulder response, there was nothing they could or indeed would do about it!

The question is raised who is right and who is wrong added to which some might say was an inevitable end in Bulgaria.

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Alternative Medicine in Bulgaria

Alternative medicine is practiced all round the world, not least in Bulgaria where traditional remedies mixed with a little superstition are believed to work effectively as they have done through many generations.

Bad luck and stress that comes with it is a part of life no matter where you are and dealing with it is done in different ways. In Bulgaria there is treatment that is made in from alternative medicine sources, bordering on the edge of witch doctor theology.

In Bulgaria this is widely believed and practiced and for the second time since since living here I have found the need for the practice to be administered from the local practitioner in my Skalitsa village.

It came to pass that my English guests have come to stay and we all caught a virus and were ill for three days. Added to this my car had broke down and we had to use taxis. Then to add to a trilogy of disasters the car was smashed up on the way to the garage to be fixed after our guests had just left to go back to England. So the week of vacation left us totally drained from illness, the cost of taxi fares and now the cost of car repairs. The stress of the whole week had got on top of us. It was decided that we travel to Skalitsa and get treatment for this the Bulgarian way.

Having gone through this procedure before it was familiar territory for me, but this time I knew what it was all about before the process, this wasn't the case first time round! Before, I was taken there by my neighbour after crashing another car, not really knowing why until some months afterwards when my Bulgarian language picked up a bit and then understood.

As the appointment was made, we decided that as well as my partner and I our neighbour was to go as she had found a snake in her kitchen that very morning. She had a phobia against them resulting in a very stressed Bulgaria woman in need of therapeutic help right now.

We need to take 2 leva each for the services and a piece of lead. The lead was found for my neighbour as she had a Bulgarian fishing ledger weight that was still made from pure lead. From my own fishing tackle, the weights although looking like lead were in fact another compound of metal. Lead weights of course have been banned in the UK for a number of years now so we had to travel empty handed in the hope the Maria the healing doctor had a spare supply at hand.

We arrived twenty minute late, but this is what happens here and Maria was ready for us with the bottle gas and cooking plate supporting a big table spoon in the middle of here living room floor. Beside the now flaming gas cooker there was placed a small white bowl of water and a screw topped plastic container which held a supply of lead. We were in luck, the lead supply was in stock and the process could start.

I was first in line and placed on the chair finding myself watching some lead being place into the spoon and held over the intense heat. It wasn't long unit the lead had turned into a molten state and this now in the spoon and the bowl of water was picked up and placed over my head. A chant was whispered and the spoon touched three sides of the bowl before the lead screeched out a cry as it hit the water. It was then back to the heat for a remelting of the lead and the same process was done another twice above my head.

The same treatment was then moved onto the the chest as the melting of the lead, the chanting while tapping the edge of the bowl and the return of solid metal from the water treatment was actioned but only done twice in this area.

The final process was done by my legs where at one point a sizzling piece of lead jumped out of the water missing my bare foot by a couple of centimeters and scorching the rug laid on the floor. This rather shook me up thinking what could have happened! This was repeated four times by my as the lower part of my body apparently had high stress levels.

Each time the lead was picked out of the water it was examined and repeated it the shape of the lead warranted another session in that particular area. It was clear that from the shape that formed that there were problems at the lower end for me hence the process being repeated again and again.

Afterwards the now very warm water from the bowl that the lead was poured was transfered into a glass and I was asked to take three small sips. This I duly did knowing that it was probably contaminated with lead, but this is Bulgaria and Bulgarian ways and traditions were respected.

Whilst Maria turned away to pour the water into the glass to drink a payment of two leva was placed on the floor by the stove and was picked up whilst the sipping was going on. I remember before that the exchange of payment was made whilst each respective party wasn't looking.

My partner was next and no less that five repeated processes were done above her head, there were obvious problem there. My neighbour followed on as I observed trying to discover the types of shapes the lead resulted in to cause the process to be repeated or move on. It seems there the was definitely a jagged and sharp characteristic to the lead to cause a repeated administration in the same areas of the body and a smoother finish when moving on further down. All were asked for the three sips of the water whilst the payments were being exchanged and presented the lead in wrapped newspaper afterwards.

Because my partner still had problems with the lead over her head another follow up form of practice was taken up. Maria took a handful of salt crystals in hand and sprinkled some over her head whilst another chant was whispered. Again this was done at least three times before Maria was satisfied that the treatment affected.

The wrapped up lead were now to be placed under the pillow for three nights and then thrown into a river for the lead now full of the owners' stress should now run downstream never to return.

It is with interest that the Bulgarians truly believe this practice to work and part of this the unwavering belief of the process. This of course is another major contributing factor of process actually working through physiological channels of alternative medicine.

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Bulging Bulgarian Buses

Having been without a car this weekend it was the return to using the bus from Yambol to Skalitsa and back again this weekend. This is something I used to do regularly but haven't for quite while as I looked forward to the experience once again.

One thing I noticed was the fare remained the same as it was two years ago, 3 leva each way for the 35 km trip. The difference now it that the a mini bus was used instead of the old fashioned coaches which I had to pleasure of using these were vehicles that should have names, such as Colin the Coach or Barry the Bus. It is such a shame that they are being decommissioned out right now. there are still a few about but not on our route today.

The trip to Skalitsa was as expected, a Friday evening and the last trip of the day -packed to the hilt! Many passengers who didn't force their way to the front of the queue just had to stand bunched. There was no fear of falling over from the rolling minibus negotiating Bulgarian pot holed town roads, they were packed so closely together and couldn't move let alone fall over!

We were lucky, Galia was Bulgarian and a furthermore a Bulgarian woman as she managed her skillful Bulgarian technique of pushing in to the front, then saving a place for me once on the bus. I still can't bring myself to do such things with the 'ladies first' culture till embedded in me.

A stuffy journey it must be said but we arrived with only a short walk to my farm as the driver took us almost to our doorstep as the bus drivers do over here.

The journey back on Sunday afternoon was yet another experience that stick in the mind and something I had not encountered on this scale until now.

We were told the time of the arrival fo the bus was 4:30, it didn't arrive until 5:00, not surprising as 4:30 is another way of saying 5:00 in Bulgaria! There were at least 15 people waiting to get on the bus and the bus was fully laden with passengers including those standing all from from the previous town of Topolovgrad and village en route!

Do we now have to resign ourselves to staying in Skalitsa for another night? This was my immediate thought and I was quite willing to accept that for an early rise tomorrow morning. Other Bulgarians including Galia waiting had no such thoughts. GSMs was working overtime by the bus driver and moments later another minibus turned up, this one was empty and we duly boarded it. It may well have been waiting in the wings of a Skalitsa side road in case the demand exceeded supply as was the case here.

Both minibuses left following each other fully packed even at this stage with more standers than seaters. I knew that there were another three villages to be stopped at en route were more passengers were to be picked up and we were traveling in full capacity right at this moment! How will they cope?

Well the first village had 6-7 more people as the shuffling back went on with the existing standing travelers. It was at this point that Galia and I were beginning to realize that this was quite funny but only because we had seats. If we weren't seated then our smiles would have been wiped off completely especially with the smell of body odor coming from some of the standing population now definitely cuddling against their will!

Another village and more shuffling back with 5 more loaded on I didn't think this was possible as the minibus like a mobile can of sardines made its move again at a slower rate than before and for good reason with the overload it was now carrying.

The last village stop was Roza, the biggest village and the biggest number of travelers wanting to board for Yambol. There were at lease another 10 wanting to step on, surely this was not possible? More shuffling and a further four passengers boarded. We could see there were others now sitting on other's laps as Galia sat on mine freeing up another seat. Others however who didn't know each other refused to do this. One child was then put on the driver's lap and the remaining passengers sitting on the boarding steps and others leaning into the contours of the front window screen and sitting on the side of the ledge of the driver's dashboard!

All was now fixed together like a jigsaw puzzle when suddenly there was a shout from the back of the bus as it began to slowly move off! Someone had fallen asleep and had just woken up, he wanted to get off at this Roza stop...... Apart from those sitting on top of each other in seats, the whole bus had to disembark to let this old chap off and then reposition themselves as before. It was a humorous moment for all, you could tell as the atmosphere took a lift with the humorous side of the whole situation.

The bus now approached Yambol and the roads driven over very carefully not least because of the child helping with the steering!

We arrived a the bus station with a certain disbelief that so many people could fit into a minibus - Another Bulgarian experience which could have been much worse if I hadn't been with Galia who forced herself to a seat in the first place!

The strange things was everyone seemed to accept that this happens and gives cause for me to think that this is now a regular situation for these travelers. What compounds matters even further are the wads of luggage people take from the villages where all the produce they have grown are taken back to their apartment in the town with the minibuses having no provision for this. We were no exception with three big carrier bags full of tomatoes, peppers etc gathered from the farm.

I would recommend this type of journey for anyone purely for the reason of appreciating you current form of transport and having some degree of sympathy for Bulgarian travelers without cars.

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