Monster Banks in Yambol

Things have changed in Yambol over the last couple of years. Just three years ago this was quite a sleepy town with little shops, cafes and tucked away restaurants galore. The town had so much character from these quirky and individually styled little businesses that Yambol felt unique in this world of cloned businesses.

It is now 2008, three years on and now in the EU with all the uniformity that comes with it Yambol has changed. Monsters have appeared within its midst and is destroying the very fabric that once gave this town its soul.

What are these monsters? Well there are many forms of monster invading Yambol, 4x4 vehicles, Supermarkets, Tourists but the most prominent by their very nature and the locations you find them are the Banks.

When first arriving here there were probably about three to four banks in the town with maybe two to three cash points solely positioned within the confines of a couple of those banks. What do we find now? Just off the top of my head there must be around 15 Banks at least that have forced their way in the town. The number of cash points I have actually lost count of there are so many and not just at the banks. In small shops, garages, malls everywhere you look you will see cash points popping up like a serious outbreak of measles.

Bank are indeed monsters, evil monsters, they rob off the poor and give to the rich. Their whole principle is to make money like any other business but the way they do it is criminal. In a so-called fair society with democracy in place how can the principle of taking more money of the poor and rewarding the rich be totally accepted?

What we actually do is give banks our money and pay them for that. They get interest off our money and still charge you more on a monthly basis for doing that in Bulgaria. Who is the fool by using these banks?

When opening up a new account a couple of months ago I had to pay them money to do so! Paying them money to give them money! I was angry but the Bulgarians accept all the time that they have to pay for a service.

Paying a utility bill in Bulgaria through a bank is more expensive as you may the money owed then another bill for the bank giving the service. This used to be a choice but now it is common that the only way you can pay bills is through a bank – that is not short of extortion!

Many in Bulgaria have to get loans and credit, no mortgages, as they can no longer afford property due to the poor wages in relation to property prices in the town. The loans are for cars, mobile phones and repairs to homes. Those who need loans by the very nature of needing one are the poorer proportion of Yambol folk. They have to pay interest rates that are higher because of the relative small amounts they have to borrow. Again, this is yet another unfair system in place with the banking systems.

At the other end, if you have big assets the bank gives interest for keeping it in the bank. Who pays for this interest? Quite simply the poor with wads of money from the interest the little loans give them.

So the rise in the number of banks in Yambol is bad business ethics jumping on the bandwagon of extorting the poor.

The other side to banks is that they are sterile building with no character or soul. I used to use a lovely café on the corner in the town centre where sitting out and drinking lemon tea watching people walk past was a wonderful pastime. Suddenly one evening only a few weeks from doing just that, it had been replace by a bank! Another small white goods store, where I used to shop was another disappearing act replace by another bloody bank. There are at least three or four other shops that we use to love using and socialising in that has passed away and a monstrous bank in each case put in its place. How I hate what I see.

Yambol is becoming faceless with the rise of symmetrical characterless banks what makes it worse is they always take up town centre positions and are right in you face! How long and how far can this go on for. They say that progress speeds up as time goes on. More than ten banks built in the last three years, how many more over the next three years then?

Bulgaria’s economy is still very much cash driven but unfortunately this will soon come to an end before we know it. Good news for other Europeans here but such a shame a Yambol and other towns in the country loose their identity in the grips of the EU and Western influences.

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A Tour and Two Bulgarian Restaurants

It’s not often that we go to a restaurant in the evening as Yambol night life isn't really our scene. Don’t think for one moment it is because we don’t enjoy dining out, on the contrary, we love it. In fact it is a quite rare occasion that we venture out to eat, drink and dance. There are numerous reasons behind this, firstly, and probably the most obvious reason in the eye of our prudent Galia, is the cost. Relatively speaking it is peanuts to pay, even if sometimes some menu items are actually cheaper eating there than making your own. You still feel that you have to order additional accompaniments with most individual menu items and that’s where the economy is blown out of the window. In recent times we haven’t had peanuts to give and if we did we’d probably eat the peanuts! It actually leads to us not really enjoying the restaurant moments being very conscience of money being pay out for a luxury we can ill afford.

It is quite a common factor that when looking at the menu the food is not being looked at but the price. Whenever I see Galia looking at the list of what’s on offer her finger runs down the price on the right not the description of the choice of food. Invariably it is not always the cheapest that is chosen but the best value for money – there is a big difference.

The other reason for not eating out is quite often the hassle factor and after a long day of work the preparations for going out is not easy, especially for a Bulgarian woman who has a dress and a look for every occasion. Not only that her advice given to her Englishman invariably takes just as long as I change into an outfit only to be told another one should be worn.

This particular evening we had decided to go out to eat. We had just been paid and probably for the first time since living in Bulgaria we had a sense optimism of our financial future. This was enough to make a decision to go out tonight, even though we were both very tired after a long working week.

As mentioned, it is very rare that we go out and even rarer that just the two of us go alone. This evening, yet again this wasn’t to be as we were expected Galia’s son Anton and his partner Koyna to join us later.

Prepared and off we go treading the cobblestone streets of Yambol in this slightly overcast evening complimented by a breeze that had a feel of rain about it. Not deterred we cantered on with the original venue to be visited the Chinese Restaurant in the town centre. Not our number one place by any means, for a start it wasn’t Bulgarian but the food to cost ratio put it high in the rankings as a good valued venue.

As we walked on we spotted another restaurant we hadn’t been to before called ‘The Bulgaria Restaurant’. Never having really noticing it before Galia suggested we try it. She hadn’t been there for at least 5 years so we entered and took a seat in the gardened section, even thought rain threatened.

It was 8:00 when the Rakia and shopska salad arrived on the table alongside a barbequed Serbian styled kyufte (herbed mincemeat) and sauté potatoes that have been subjected to a profusion of Bulgarian herbs. The food was gorgeous in a restaurant that had other eaters alongside with children playing amongst themselves without any need for adult supervision.

The trouble with excellent food is that you want to eat it, not only that, you want to eat it all now. The temptation to do that was getting the better of me but Galia was Bulgarian and had a lifetime of experience to nibble rather than eat.

An hour had gone and so had all the food and drink. Anton and Koyna still nowhere to be seen what were the options? Well in this society you are free to do what you want without being criticised or singled out so there was only one real option in view of what as wanted. ‘Another Rakia and shopska salad please!’ was the request to the waitress who single-handedly was dealing with every aspect of the restaurant, including the cooking! I don’t know how she manages but I do know she will be on minimum wages! Not a case of not being able to get the staff nowadays – what a refreshing turn of phrase that is.

10:00 arrived and the last remnants of the second shopska salad being tickled with my fork, still now Anton and Koyna! Suggestion was made that we ring them and tell them we’re going home to bed; we were falling asleep at the table at this point. Not only that, the wind had a chill to it as the darkness fell upon Yambol, still with rain in the air and we were, full, frustrated and freezing!

It was decided that when they did turn up we’d go somewhere else, the food was brilliant but we’d had enough and the place lacked Bulgarian atmosphere with the Michael Jackson, Abba, Elton John, Queen and Co. music now being repeated for the third time as it had accompanied us all evening. We missed the Bulgarian music and actually put a dampener on the evening. The crowds had dispersed either to their homes or further into town where the nightclub scene was about to start.

Almost 10:30 and the guys finally arrived but this is Bulgaria and normal for people to turn up over two hours late. Trying to find the waitress took a full 10 minutes, as she was busy preparing an excellently presented dessert. We paid the bill with her holding the plate of dessert in one hand and till operation in the other.

What were we to do now? We were stuffed stupid with food and Anton and Koyna hadn’t eaten since lunchtime. Do we go to another restaurant or find a bar or nightclub that serves food, or more to the point salad? What was about to happen was a bit of bad luck and good fortune at the same time!

Banks, God I loathe them as they spread their total necessity in Bulgaria at this present time, but that’s another story which unfolded this evening as we toured the town for a suitable venue fort he remainder of the night.

Now Anton, Galia’s son, is very mindful with a typical Bulgarian male streak right through him. He is a major knowledge on many things. If you have a problem or want advice he is there with the answer without hesitation but in true Bulgarian style, very convincing but not always the best advice as I recall when we suggested a place to go fishing one day and spent half the day trying to find it and ended up somewhere else instead! Was this evening to be the same?

Town Centre and the Chinese Restaurant looked at but it was too food orientated being a full blow, deep fried eating-house, the thought just made us feel sick so we walked on by to a neighbouring night club with bouncers galore.
It was almost 11:00 and as we approached these guys funny but I always think of the Guy the Gorilla that used to be in London’s Regent Park Zoo when looking at security workers. They all, five guys in total, had flashing neon name labels on their pristine black shirts as the leader of the pack was spoken to by Anton.

It was quite intimidating from a distance but as you speak to these guys in my experience they are as nice as pie, bored shitless and welcome any activity other than just standing there getting bored with each other. In this instance they also had some marketing to do with us. Anton and I were invited to go into the club and check it out for the girls before we register into the place.

There is a corridor, which was laid with a red carpet leading us some 20 metres up to a big black arched door. The impressive door had gold plated fitting polished so they shone in the chandeliered lighting it felt like we were entering a Royal Palace. What is it about Bulgarian doors? There is such a big variety in this country!

I was invited to turn twist the levered handle to reveal what was behind the door. The sight before us as the door slowly edged open was a room of glitter. The essentially ice blue light theme was from the home of the Ice Princess. Everywhere you looked was seductively lit with the big circular room having a semi circular bar. Around half the perimeter of the ‘ballroom’ type room, was another continuous bar with periodically positioned bar stools silhouetted against the blue fluorescent lit bar wall.

The music was loud but unobtrusive, conversations could take place here, but doubts about whether the sound levels would remain at 50 decibels later this evening. The other strangest thing about this place was it was empty! This is not unusual, as a trail of young and old pumpkins don’t arrive until after midnight and stay until breakfast is served in the neighbouring banitsa 24-hour bakery across the road.

Anton and I looked at each other and a nod of the head was exchanged between us. Yes, we both agreed, this most definitely wasn’t the place for us! Why? When asking whether they served salad the answer was, ‘No!’ How can you drink Rakia without salad? Don’t they know anything about Bulgarian tradition here? We trod back up the red carpet entertaining the bouncers with our reasons for not all going back in. I stress again, they really are the nicest people these Bulgarian bouncers, you do have to look beyond their exterior to find out though and not many do.

Nest stop was a past favourite last visited nearly two years ago called The Apollo with its big arched clear varnished door enticing us to enter. It was locked, with no sign of life; why is this place shut as we mentioned being shut on Saturday night isn’t good for business?

We continued the trek in the quest for a place home in on. The first was in the basement room under the Tundzha Hotel, live music and dance but it was full; we moved on to the next site within a stone throw across the main road.

Another basement restaurant with live music, dance with enough atmosphere Bulgarian style to die for. But alas, as cut our way into the party scene it became quite apparent that there were no tables for us. Unlike on other occasion where they would bring another table in for you, there was absolutely no space to put it. We reluctantly moved back outside into the lit streets of Yambol and the antiphonal sound of the relentless Bulgarian traditional music in various other locations around us.

Across the road and past the street with the Dublin Bar a place really don’t like so many reasons. The Piano Bar, far too up market for our simple Bulgarian family group, the cost in mind again of course – habits of a lifetime die-hard. Another 100 metres and another restaurant peered in, full up and no music another one goes by the board.

Yet one more basement bar/restaurant, a loud actively dancing crowd greeted us on opening the double glazed, frosted windowed double doors. This was more like a dance club than anything else, the music was noticeable more than anything else Bulgarian chalga, pop-folk and traditional folk music rule here but yet again we couldn’t agree whether this was the place for us. It looked good here I must admit but there was another choice waiting for us a block on.

Now you may think that all this touring failing to find a suitable place was bad luck but think again. We had been walking for nearly an hour and the signs of hunger were beginning to creep in after many calories had now been burnt. As each place was rejected it was more of a relief for Galia and I as yet another walk was a fine solution to our previous gut-busting predicament.

So we venture out again to try Anton’s new idea with a short walk away we arrive at yet another door with a difference. This door was unusual in so much as it didn’t have any character at all! The lead up or should I say lead down to it was a flight of concrete stairs which then turned back on itself into another row with the same number, stopping abruptly facing the ‘unusual’ door.

This had to be the place for us after so much dilly-dallying in the streets of Yambol. Another set of double door opened in front of us and the ingredients were all there to savour. Solely Bulgarians, music, dancing, Bulgarian food and the restaurant/bar was filled with Bulgarian traditional décor – all original, non of this pastiche or spoofed thematic rubbish you find, I won’t mention he Dublin Bar!

There was a table for four in the distance begging us to take it and we did. The service was immediate by the typical young glamorous female waitresses floating around like busy bees to various honey pot tables. This now was the third salad of the evening, not a shopska but a cabbage salad served in a large bowl, which should last the duration here. Another Rakia and beers all round and we were now settled for the night.

There was interest all round here, not least the Bulgarian artefacts surrounding us. There was a dead stuffed owl right next to us watching. These are top three favourite items, dead birds, all usually perched in Bulgarian eating and drinking houses. Beautiful as most of these creatures are, they are most are shot not for food but ironically as decoration watching people eating one of their relatives, chicken!
The people around us are the most interesting, from all levels form young to old, intelligent to the dumb-minded. No matter what level of Bulgarian we have a sample within.

In the corner another bouncer his insurance is his looks. You would not entertain trouble with this guy as he makes his presence felt with his physic. I swear the muscles bound biceps his arms hold have a bigger girth than my thighs and I’m a fat git! It’s kind of reassuring though.

The dancing took on all sorts, who says you need to be able to dance to dance as I saw the stumbling going on, luckily the Bulgarian traditional dance has a fail safe method (designed for non-dancers) where every participant hold each others’ hands. This way if you stumble you have support by dancers either side holding you up. The steps don’t really matter to some it’s the taking part that counts. The dancing around the tables carried on all night.

There was a Bulgarian DJ and what a character he was. He had a refilling bottle of beer by his side at all times alongside a vodka bottle tapped into every so often. He loves his job as he dances behind his workplace as well as singing and commentating throughout the musical evening. The longer the evening went on the more agitated and extrovert he became – a showman to the last.

The music was varied and 90% Bulgarian coming from the DJ’s choice and requests made to him. By the side of the dance floor there was some live percussion being banged out a drummer. The Bulgarian music mainly consists of one type of beat and the whole evening this drummer, a man of small stature and growing by stature by the drink as each song went on. His enthusiasm and quest for getting totally ‘into the groove’ with the atmosphere led him to gradually shuffle his drum kit into the dancing floor to take a more central role in the party. There was a spotlight in the centre of the floor as he made a beeline to become centre stage and highlighted. He did this a couple of times a before being ushered back by the restaurant manager. He was hogging the dance floor, he reminded me of the over keen Band Master on parade in the film, The Dirty Dozen.

An evening of socialising with Bulgarians happened again but tonight the distraction of looking around at all these characters and taking in the atmosphere made my part in discussions minimal. This was not from a point of language but total fascination and the realisation that I live here with these people, this being normal life here. On this relatively rare occasion of a ‘night out’ the scenes and experiences had just bring home what happens out of hours in Yambol.

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Bulgarian False Economy

Bulgarians are one of the most prudent in terms of economical living. The countless ingenious ways they have developed to save their small earnings and pensions with the absolute avoidance having to replace anything by repairing is legendary.

Throughout all the time in Bulgaria observing the way Bulgarians achieve the height of economy but still live a very decent and comfortable life is something that many others from the western society should learn from.

With this in mind there is one exception to the rule and for the life of me I can’t fathom out why this is.

In Bulgaria, electricity is relatively the most expensive commodity that the populous have to pay on a monthly basis, apart from many gypsy communities who get away from not paying! (Another story!) With this in mind and me thinking I know bit more about how the average Bulgarian thinks just gets blow out of sight with what goes on.

It is a common occurrence that once a month the electric bill is personally handed over to Baba, her hand shaking as she receives the letter. It not opened until she has gone inside the house and sat down. There is another pause and a deep intake of breath before she begins to even think about opening it.

Month after month the same procedure takes place, she knows that what that envelope contains is disturbing, upsetting and for Baba a major concern on her pension. She is responsible for the electric bills and more often than not it accounts for half of her pension income!

So this month is no exception, the letter containing the bill proceeds to be opened with intensification of the shaking hands and a face of grimace. The bill is seen and the predictable and loud groan of, ‘O Boje, Boje!’ comes into play just like the previous month and the month before that. On every occasion she is shocked with the amount of leva being asked for by EVN the electric company blaming them for the excessive cost of running their power into our home.

Now Baba may be surprise alone with the other members of the Bulgarian household but for me this is no surprise at all, in fact on the contrary. I see what goes on in this Bulgarian house; I know why these bills are the equivalent of the devil being delivered each month.

It is hard to conceive that the way electric is managed in the home goes against all the principles of economy instilled in this environment of tips and wrinkles. Even stranger is the fact that there is a major misconception in the relationship between how the power used to the bills received. It is a simple equation that they fail understand; the more electric you use the higher the bill will be.

Let’s have a few examples of the wastage that goes on in this Bulgarian household. Firstly, lights are left on all the time even in the daytime and no one is using the room. Fair do the bathroom has no windows and needs a light on but even that is left on for much of the time,

We have a desktop computer with hi-fi attached, this is left on continuously 24 hours, occasionally the monitor is turn off during the night but that’s it. The powerful hi-fi, to which it is linked up, remains on standby when not in use, which also drains away the power. There is also a television in the main room and it is normal for the computer hi-fi and television on all at the same time for countless hours. This is not just the young man Ivo’s idea but Galia does exactly the same when on the computer in Ivo’s absence. The added twist is that quite often a film is being watched on the PC, the music blaring out of the hi-fi and the television working overtime either. Ironically, as in all Bulgarian households, the triple-bulb lighting chandelier system in the room only contains one light bulb that illuminates the room small compensation really! Added to this are the computer game systems where the games’ base units remain on even when not being played.

There was a recent change to the front door bell, the doorbell dog Jessica has now moved on and a wireless doorbell installed, using a socket. Sign of the times eh! Small item I know but it all adds up especially in many Bulgarian households where so many friends and relatives call and use the bell. No day goes by without at least 10 visitors a day using the bell and continuously if no one is there. We even use it to let Baba know we are back from work or shopping just because it’s there. Over a month the doorbell could be used up to 500 times! Like I said, it all adds up.

The hallway has two lights, one for the outside and a fluorescent green light inside. Both are on every evening as the streams of visitors come and go. Many night they are lit all night as Ivo’s night ventures go on to 2-3 in the morning – not drunk I may add jus at socialising with friends in a town centre of a friends home as they do without the need for drink.

The boiler for hot water, which essentially is a water storage system, is not on continuously but just heated up for 3-4 hours a day for evening showers. This again is not the best way to do it and being thermostatically controlled unlike lighting and other power sources it would be more economical to leave it on ticking over. There used to be an electric extractor fan in the bathroom linked up with the light but now, a small blessing in economy, it doesn’t work since a new light switch was installed (DIY of course.)

Into the kitchen and another massive source of power to be wasted. Another extractor fan over the oven and hob is used every moment cooking takes place. It is also run as a cigarette smoke extractor as Galia smokes under the canopy, so considerate of course.

The oven is an old electric sucking machine that takes 20 minutes to heat up both in the oven and on the electric hob. The cost of just heating up Baba linden herb tea in the morning is excessive as it take nearly half and hour for one litre to boil the saucepan of water. This is done twice a day. The oven is used more or less every day as Baba cooks for us all with two to three hours for baked item and stews etc. on the top hob on for anything up to 5 consecutive hours.

All this oven and hob work still goes on by Baba even though we had bought a microwave placed right next to it, but Baba doesn’t understand how it works! She only knows how to make popcorn with it and that took three months to learn. Galia and I now make out tea and coffee in the microwave, 2 minutes a time, some saving there now as we both took 30 minutes before on the hob.
There is a television in the kitchen/dining area, this is on much of the time and when not, remains on standby throughout. A typical scenario last night when watching Bulgarian Music Idol where the computer was working the television being watched by me and Baba watching the same programme in the kitchen area on the other television even though she could see the other television where she sat! All lights on and hi-fi on standby, the oven working with the extractor fan on and hall, garden and toilet lights on. A situation not uncommon every night but without Ivo there who was out working; he will add to this by using the hi-fi at the same time

Even now at 10:00 in the morning with only Baba and me present, the computer is on, the television is running the hi-fi on standby along with the smaller television in the kitchen. The hob is on boiling chicken soup therefore the extractor is on and the bathroom light running without a soul there.

Along with the countless mobile phones (GSMs) and hand held games that constantly used and therefore need constant charging we now have a good reason for high electric bills.

Being a guest of the family in this house it is not for me to dictate how they run their affairs, I just advise where necessary and observe in the main. But how strange it is to see such waste in one area and on the other hand so much care, thought and attention in others. Understanding how Bulgarians think with this in mind is a complex business.

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Gardening in Bulgarian Graves

It was quite a vague memory last year when we visited an enormous graveyard heading a few kilometres south in the outskirts of Yambol. It was a particular Saturday in May where everyone in Bulgaria tends to the family graves and it is an important day, as the memories of loved one are remembered and respected.

Today arrived the third Saturday in May where the tradition is again held. As reminded by Galia some weeks ago, I knew it was coming up but now have a better understanding of the social significant.

This year we had the whole household travelling with us as we made our way to the shops very early in the morning. The reason being that is was a very warm day and when tending the graves the humidity would not affect our Baba Mama too much. As Baba said, ‘We didn’t want another addition to the graves today!’ She does have a good Bulgarian sense of humour with no taboo subjects.

Before we left, a big bottle of water and a couple of Bulgarian gardening tools were put in the boot of the Lada. As with all occasions we all dressed neatly but practical clothing, as we knew we were going to get a bit dirty with the work ahead.

On arriving at the supermarket, only because it was on route to the cemetery. Outside the supermarket was a ‘fast food’ takeaway shack. Not the global chemical crap fast food as you know such as McDonalds (I even hate typing that name!) but Bulgarian traditional food served up before your very eyes. We had to wait for the food to be cooked as I was left watching the maestro chef at work. Galia and Ivo moved on to do the shopping in the supermarket with Baba quite happy and content left behind listening to traditional Bulgarian music in the Lada with the windows rolled down on this beautiful day.

There were many sweets and snacks bought but no flowers strangely enough but I knew why there weren’t any flowers but I misunderstood the sweets and snacks even before I was told. As for the ‘fast food’ for four, well I thought it was going to be a long morning and we would have a picnic in the graveyard! I was wrong again.

We were laden and off again with the breeze form the speeding Lada cooling us all down again. It was only a short drive as we entered the car park of the cemetery. There before us must have been about 30 different flower stalls from the static stalls to the individual with a bucket. This market wasn’t licensed by any means you could just turn up and sell your flowers to visitors. Only then did I realise why Galia didn’t buy flower in the supermarket.

The car park had allocated white lines marking out individual parking lots but typical Bulgaria, they were hardly used, every driver parked on the other side of the road where the flowers stalls were. So practical as they didn’t have to walk the 10 metres form their assigned parking spaces. Being English I of course conformed and parked neatly between the white lines only to be blocked in by two cars following me who did it the Bulgarian way! Did I get annoyed? A year or so ago I may well have but now only with myself for not being as practical as the other drivers.

The flowers were in abundance and the choice and variety immense, this makes it much harder to choose as we wandered up and down the numerous sellers’ presented floral treasures. Because there was so much competition with the number of traders the prices where unbelievably low. So much lower in price than the supermarket, and the quality far higher here so know you know why this was the place to buy. It is so refreshing to see this success in competing with supermarkets!

Next stop was the candle stall as these were to be lit used later as tradition stands firm here. You couldn’t get these candles in the supermarket as they are uniquely bought in Bulgarian churches, graveyards stalls and possibly bargain 1 leva shops scattered around towns in Bulgaria.

We were now all ready to go into the graveyard but why did we see so many cars parked outside, last year all the cars drove into the graveyard and parked there. It wasn’t’ long before we got annoyed as to the reason why. Just like many other things that are happening here, a money making scheme was put in place. They now charge a 1 leva entrance fee for each vehicle to enter. Two years ago it was free to park anywhere in Yambol but barriers went up and charges asked for everywhere now. This is what it is becoming in Bulgaria now and a sense of injustice was felt by all of us as we paid the fee and drove on. It was too far for Baba to walk as the graves were at the far and of this enormous park; we had no choice on health grounds.

The first grave was found as we parked up took the water, garden tools, candles and some sweets and snacks. All made sense bar the snacks, why did we bring those out? As we made out way to Galia’s first husband’s grave, we passed another family out tending to one of their relative’s grave. The snacks were given to the said family and they returned with food for us in exchange. So, the snacks bought and were used as an offering to others as part of the tradition that continues. It makes sense now. What a lovely notion, complete strangers exchanging gifts as part of an ongoing ritual. It was so uplifting to be part of this.

All the gravestones are very similar in style, even going back 50 years the style hasn’t changed at all. Every stone has a framed portrait of the person laid to rest and the usual name and dates they lived. No epitaphs are inscribed. In fact that again was so refreshing to see where every grave was in the main equal in status. You may get an occasional sculptured bust of one or two individuals but generally all the graves are simple and kept to traditional dimensions and stature. Communism ideals still remain for the dead no doubt and why not? We are all equal at this point.

The grave was now tended to, weeds cleared, fresh flowers laid, candles lit and put in place and prayers said by each member of the family. I stood to one side and didn’t interfere with the rituals that went on. It was just good that this still goes on and that memories and respect remain paramount in Bulgaria.

The candles usually had a wind proof device used in typical home made and practical Bulgarian fashion. Big oilcans were placed upside-down and one wall cut out making an ideal windproof environment to place candles. The top without the lid was now facing down onto the grave’s earth, a perfect base for the candles to be planted and stand up; the candles were yellow, long and thin and easily push into the ground.

We visited three other graves in different location, Galia’s father, Uncle and Grandparents graves. Baba mentioned she wanted to be laid to rest with here husband as we tended that particular grave and went through the rituals.

We had three generations of family here with Baba, Galia and Ivo, the three representatives present. Yet again how wonderful it is to see such a close-knit family that reinforce the tradition on this third Saturday of May.

It is quite strange but at no time was there any sombre atmosphere or anyone upset during the whole morning. It is as if they had come to terms with the death a long time ago and this was more of a celebration I memory of their lives rather than a mourning event. As we drove on our way out, then Ivo joked saying that we had to pay 1 leva to get out of the cemetery.. This may be the case next year Baba added.

We got home and it was all out clothes off to be washed as we had a change of outfit and the day’s routine went on as if nothing had happened earlier. The fast food bought earlier was now laid on the table with beer and eaten and yet again the food, the company and the life here continues to be idyllic in many areas of moral grounds.

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Bulgarian Tattoos Forever

It was always a fear that one day a tattoo would be stabbed into your skin and it was there for life. Many have ad the misgiving and error of judgement for a fleeting moment full of regret but have to live with that decision indefinitely.

Somehow tattoos are ripe in Bulgaria, there are countless Bulgarian friends and acquaintances bearing tattoos it is a growing fashion here. For the foreigner in these lands bargains are to be had with the prices of professional tattoos being freely available.

Last year my brother, who over the years has built up an enormous amount of tattoos, decided to try adding to this in Bulgaria. Not only was he over the moon with the price and quality, he wanted to treat Galia and her son Ivo for finding him the tattoo artist and thank her for the help whilst he was here.

Ivo was already christened with a few tattoos but Galia was as this point tattoo free but was adamant she wanted the gift therefore took the gift gratefully as she went through the painful process. It was a simple black inked, five separate Chinese characters setting out the word ‘Galia’ located and scribed vertically on the top part of here back. She was more than happy with the gift and the tattoo now standing proud will draw much attention over an indefinite amount of time.

This was a year ago and the tattoo has become part of Galia’s character and that’s where I thought it might end.

Now Galia recently said she wanted another tattoo and booked it in to our unplanned schedule that following weekend but I had forgotten all about it by the time the weekend arrived.

So its Saturday, no work, a beautiful warm sunny day as we decided to go for a walk in the town. First stop was the tattoo shop to remind me of what she said earlier in the week. She really was going to get another tattoo then but I should have know, she always does what she says she is going to do.

The shop was a small but modern in a terrace of other small shops just one block away from the mainly pedestrian based walkway through Yambol town centre. There were Venetian blinds from top to bottom of the big windows preventing us from looking in; the shop was closed.

The times of opening were laid in easy to read Bulgarian and on Saturday it was a 10:00 start. We had arrived 15 minutes too early but I knew that this was all Bulgarian time and the decision to wait there was a bad one. Galia of course was used to waiting and had no qualms just standing there, me, I always had to be doing something and it felt like a waste of time just waiting. I felt we should get on with something else and come back later. Galia won the case of course and the waiting took hold of us.

During this time we were greatly entertained by drivers coming up this narrow side street to try and enter the main walkway into town. Today was not a good day for doing this as there was a much respected policeman waiting at the top end of the road loving his work and authority by telling drivers they couldn’t access the road. The reason was it was end of term for the school with an open day. With the crowds of parents and school children, traffic was basically banned in that area. Kindergarten music was blaring out in the public street as I remember last year, it was a party atmosphere in town today>

The funniest thing about the redirection of traffic was there wasn’t any signs or indications that the road was closed. It was as if this was done purposely to give the sole policeman the satisfaction of personally sending cars back down the single-track road. Of course most had to mount the pavement, scrap the bottoms of their cars on the high-rise kerbs. Delivery vans were the most entertaining as they literally bashed their way reversing bake with other smaller vehicle lined up behind then having to get out of their way by whatever means.

Still waiting and watching a another entertaining show of builders 100 feet up working on the edge of a new apartment complex being built. They were within centimetres of their death without any scaffolding or perimeter surround. It made me very nervous watching as they hammered and sawed their way around dicing with danger. One slip and they fall to their death I kept thinking.

Waiting there certainly wasn’t boring with these going on around us. But 10:00 had gone long ago as the shop-owner next door saw us waiting. In between his never ending trail of children and parent customers, (the long-haired heavy metal merchant had a balloon shop and as mentioned it was end of school term and many balloons being sold) saw us continuously waiting there. He rang his business neighbour who said he would open at 11:00!

Still with much Bulgaria under my belt I doubted very much whether he would be there at 11:00! We went off to do other things rather than wait another 30 minutes.

Arriving back at 11:15, the blinds were up but the shop was still closed. We waited again for another 30 minutes at least before he finally arrived with a big box for his balloon shop owner. It was now almost midday and had finally we got served and the process of getting the tattoo Galia wanted came about.

It was a major surprise and complete loss of words when Galia said she wanted my name tattooed on her forearm!! I questioned why on earth would she want to do that? The simple answer came back ‘I love you very much!’ It was still very hard for me to accept that this was what she was doing so it went ahead, like I said Galia normally always does what she says she is going to do.

The Chinese symbols were looked up on the Internet and printed out. Than a transfer was made form the print out and printed on the arm in the appropriate place to be tattooed. A couple of reprinted were made until the positioning was made and the needle was prepared.

All over the walls in his studio there were certificates of the award this tattoo artist had achieved. Apart from the certificates of qualifications in the art he had won major competition held in Sofia; best of the show 2nd best in the show and 3rd place only last year. He is obviously held in high esteem to anyone who cares to look at these awards. It was reassuring that Galia was in safe, talented hands.

As the third session of waiting took place a man came into the shop with a coca cola bottle and asked if he could see if he had won a prize by looking up the cola web site. The owner gave a quick shake of the head, (that means yes) and he gaily went surfing for the site to confirm he had lost; well what did you expect.

A few moments later another customer entered, it was Katia, with her son another friend and daughter, whose birthday party we went to last year. Greetings given and goodbyes not before a catch up on the news in the middle, the tattoo artist fully involved in the conversation.

The waiting now over and the tattoo complete cling film was taped over the fresh ink injected area which had to remain for an hour or so. We paid 40 leva and went to celebrate with shopska salad and a drink outside in the warm lusciously green gardened area restaurant where the table for two was especially put in the shaded of a tree for us next to a fountain.

So the tattoo complete and still I am lost for words with my name on Galia’s arm. Well Bulgarians certainly don’t have any problem about expressing their feelings.

And me, I know I’m here with Galia for as long as that tattoo stays……

Box of Bulgarian Chocolates

In almost every shop in Yambol you will see displays of chocolates, the biggest space being taken up by Nestlé. Now I hate the Nestlé Company, for many reasons of principle but many Bulgarians hate Nestlé for the very simple reason that they are more expensive.

This scenario applies to the boxes of chocolates that are very well presented to the bypassing shopper right at eye level with Nestlé strategically placed at the most accessible level, always! It seems that they have an over-riding dominance and control over everything to psychologically drive customers to buy their products. Galia is no exception as I quite often remind her of the reasons why she shouldn't buy Nestlé, Nestlé's press-ganging tactics to fill their pockets with profit fail at this point.

Most Bulgarians have a sweet tooth, you can tell by the state of many Bulgarian teeth. In fact the only reason many Bulgarians don't eat sweets and chocolates are due to the fact that their teeth and gums are to the state of awful pain when eaten or they haven't any teeth to dispose of the harder variety of sugar based goodies.

It is a fact that whenever out shopping the whole point of the towering boxes of chocolates is to sow the seed of a reason for buying them. They look so attractive with their tinselled ambience and the supposed contents replicated on the box cover. This gleaming due to being varnished for the picture on the box, they aren’t really like that inside; you would suffer if you ate the one that was originally pictured on the box! How ever could anyone not have a reason not to buy a box? And so it becomes a compromise we succumb to buying a box but not Nestlé.

The time taken to for us to choose which box of chocolates, is quite bazaar. Galia will look and initially point to a Nestlé product and be reminded of the moral grounds fro not buying them. Then she will ask me which we should get. I choose, but without thought of course I'm a man. Galia will subsequently get her own back and correct me in my decision as invariably my choice it too expensive, so we are back to square one.

It is one of life's mysteries as to why someone asks you which one should we pick and then say no. This refusal to go along with your choice is 100% certain, why ask in the first place? Why not just say I'll choose, as you are always wrong with your choice. This just doesn't apply to Bulgarian women but is a worldwide female observation.

So the chocolates are bought for whatever reason and are taken home but they don't last long. As we all know there is always a reason to celebrate something in Bulgaria, whether a birthday, a name day, numerous other religious festivals, a day marked as a National holiday from a point of Bulgarian historical landmark dates, the list goes on. Then there is the pig slaughtering day, lamb day in spring, even a chicken day! All these are where chocolates are used either as gifts or a token of giving out to receive guests.

Strangely enough the chocolate treats are not bought and eaten from the point of just wanted to eat them, there has to be a reason for them to be offer out in Bulgaria. This was discovered one day as suddenly the pang for chocolate came about as the box was taken from the larder.

Ivo, Galia son, was there as the box was unwrapped, the lid lifted to reveal the treats then the arm stretched out to present to him first. His response was, 'What was the occasion?' The answer was hunger for chocolate but this wasn't a celebration in itself and he refused to take one on that point. Galia explained to me that chocolates offered by Bulgarians are only offered from the point of justification in a form of special event.

My point of argument was the fact that we had the box of chocolates in the larder was in itself a celebration. This was argued even further to the accolade of the box of chocolates in stock wasn't a Nestlé brand! With this debate over and conveyed in my best Bulgarian, we all eventually took a chocolate from the box to celebrate that very principle. After all, it is the Bulgarian way and nature of the people to seek celebrations and this was another found today.

This evening just like every evening, we do our little bout of shopping and yet again we find another box of chocolates within the confines of shopping bag. These will be eaten once more but not before the talking our way into finding and excuse to do so prevail. The state of Bulgarian teeth from chocolate and sweets; another story!

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Bulgarians Selling Property - How They Think!

It wasn't long ago when selling property in Bulgaria was rare. Even beyond perestroika. The population in the main had no real reason to sell their homes. The rule was it was passed down to the next generation before the elders had passed away. Effectively most families lived in the same home for many decades and it is normal for three generations to be living under the same roof.

There would quite often be a town and village house in the family for those fortunate to have been granted town citizenship during communist times. These where given to families from the state where work brought them to the town areas. At the same time the village family home still remained in the family and worked or eventually left abandoned in more recent times due to a new generation seeking jobs elsewhere.

During the 90's a million Bulgarians left to seek their fortune new pastures such as Spain, Germany and America leaving many properties to be managed and kept by their now aging parents. Moving into the 21st Century the elders who were left behind now reach the age of either not managing their properties tot he state of total disrepair or in other cases the returning more wealthy generations of Bulgaria who had made a good living abroad return to care for them, quite often moving them into apartment accommodation into nearby towns. This creates ghost villages and thousands of village property abandoned and in disrepair.

Up until 10 years ago there was no realisation that the abandoned properties were worth anything. Then the droves of foreigners came and put an every increasing price tag associated with these homes. There had always been a supply now there was a demand and that's exactly what happened here.

More recently the supply of property for sale is still around but the demand has fallen. It seems that supply will always outweigh demand, which is why the prices of property in small villages will never spiral upwards out of control. If near a major town or City then they will of course be more valuable due to location in a commuting sense to both the Bulgarian and foreigner alike.

Many of the Bulgarians who choose to make a killing with selling their, 'spare' village dwelling spent the proceeds on luxury items such as a car, white goods and media equipments such as plasma screen television, etc. The availability of ready cash is something very new to most Bulgarians and the prestige of being able to actual own something that before was only seen in TV advertisements was grabbed at the very first opportunity.

More recently there has been more prudence with selling and in many cases prices they ask for are way above anything ay foreigner expects, especially is the new middle-aged generation have control of the sale. They have wised up to the value of property now and regard it as an important family asset that will now potentially be looked at as an investment. The learning curve has been travelled and now getting a property that is 'going for a song' is becoming much rarer.

The Bulgarian concept of owning a house that is now longer used by the family has now changed from thinking it has now real value and is surplus to requirements to an heir waiting to be tapped upon. The thoughts and expectation is to wait for foreign investors to come along and offer them far in excess of anything they could have expected five years ago. Even with the glut of derelict houses standing unsold the waiting game is in progress - it wasn't before.

So, how Bulgarians think of property now is very much the way many westerners think, the table have turned in view of most being taken for a ride in terms of the true value of their properties. In fact many foreigners as now looked upon as mugs rather than the Bulgarians in the recent past. How quickly they learn.

Amateur Real Estate in Bulgaria

It never fails to amaze me how many Brits come here thinking they can quite simply make a living by selling houses to other Brits.

Time and time again they start with the principle of by giving a professional service and not ripping them off with massive profits. They confess that they are not in it for the money but just to help other and make just enough to live on.

The countless number of people who have done this and failed is quite amazing and they still come. The is one very big reason they fail - there is not enough demand in the market. Bulgaria is swarming with so called Estate Agents from the mightily to the individual working through eBay auctions from their laptop in a bedsit in England. There just isn't enough business to go round.

This applies to most parts of Bulgaria, where are the tourist areas such as sea and ski resorts have been flooded with new property developments which have risen in price too quickly and now we find there is a glut that can't find buyers for love nor money. what's more there is now a growing resale market competing with new property which adds to the glut.

Then there are the 'away from the crowd' properties and from personal experience there is and always has been an uncountable figure of these types of properties for sale most of which aren't livable for many overseas clients.

To all these location in Bulgaria you need to add to this the fact that the pound has fallen, almost to devaluation levels, some 20% against the Bugarian leva and the 'credit crunch' in the UK there are no buyers coming over to buy nowadays. The current market for selling houses is probably the lowest since the 'boom started' You only have to look at the big established Estate Agents to find the barometer level of current business, they are all struggling.

There is another fact that many that come over here do so with one thing in mind, its cheap. They don't really like the country and it has lots of rough edges and massive complications to do with almost anything you want to do. Certainly the language is a tremendous barrier to most and to be quite honest many couldn't be bother to have a stab at it anyway. It is off putting trying to do anything here without a little foundation level with the language.

Market research is the main foundation a business is formed and entertained. If the idea of a business of selling houses to make a living here does go forward it can't be done without this and initial funding. Not least having had some form of training or experience in the housing market to draw upon, preferably in Bulgaria which is so different and to most other places.

Right from day one in the country I see expatriates thinking they have Internet connection they know many houses for sale and these are the only ingredients needed for a business. So they go ahead with the promise of cheap properties with an added promise of small fees for the service they provide - and fail miserably or at the very least continue to make no profit or plough money into a bottomless pit - another sign of bad business acumen.

The problem lies also with the fact that it isn't just the amateur entrepreneurs that suffer but many of the people who buy from them. So many things can go drastically wrong with deals with the property market here. As mentioned before, it is very different from anything most people expect and get back home.

Now I don't confess to be any kind of expert in the property market but I have had much experience in owning and running my own business and I have eyes and ears that take on what is happening here. It still is quite unbelievable that so many people have the same idea that is destine to fail even when giving advice telling then that - not just from me.

The draw of potential profit made from selling houses here is the the main attraction. It is quite feasible on the face of it to sell three or four houses a year and this would be enough to live on. Maybe so, but where are you going to get these buyers? How much money do you need to invest on advertising, transporting clients for house views, airport pick ups, arranging hotels/accommodation, detailed descriptions of the properties and not least a massive written up library of properties to choose from. These are just a few of the overheads where in the main you wouldn't get any return from them. Some folk just come here for the tour and pampering from Estate Agents without any intention of buying at your cost!

The language, (mentioned again) the conduct and Bulgarian ways from the vendors, bankers, solicitors, notary and various utility offices that business needs to cement itself to. The very idea that a Bulgarian company owns the property is a strong reason for many to not consider buying here at all.

What hasn't been mentioned too much about are the Bulgarians who want to sell their property where ever, in a city, a town or a village. It is very wise to think about the way they see things before entering into a buying contract or taking their property onto your books to sell. This indeed is another chapter that will be taken up at a later date.

The property market here is landmine for those who don't know much about it, so tread very carefully. this applies to those intending to set up an Estate Agent Business and the few who still want to buy here. The advantage is always going to be on the buyers side such is the current economic climate.

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