Yambol's Future - I Blame America

Yambol is changing day by day and not for the good. Most of the change is coming about from the younger generations and now from young parents who have young kids. The reason for this is quite clear. Young parents now have been exposed to western ideals and ways since the 1990's. Television and media, mainly from America has now had a big impact on this generation and it shows.


Everyday another incident examples the way of the west infiltrating into Yambol life. A trait of America is the graffiti that only a few years ago was no existent. It has slowly taken off with little signatures on walls that didn't infringe on personal or business properties, there was still the respect as to where graffiti was sprayed. Right now it is everywhere, on shop doors, apartment blocks, everywhere without any care to the privately owned drawing boards. This is disturbing news and the images graffiti clad towns create is remnant of a run down environment. With all these new building developments and investment in Yambol, the 'New Town' image is more than tainted with the graffiti defeating the object of uplifting the town.

Young children, the offspring of the younger parents are another major concern from what I see. I shops they pine for everything they see, and get it. If they don't get what they want the bawling and screaming starts until they finally get it. This is not a one off occasion but time and time again this happens. The attitude of the parents, mainly the women, remind me of what I left back in the UK. A spoilt race of children who already have lost respect for adults and real values. I have lost count of how many times these children just run around in shops, bumping into customers without any apology and the parents at this point are just focused on the shop shelves. Looking from this angle their commitment to being responsible for their own children in shops seems to be put into the shop assistant's hands as they try and limited the damage to goods they knock down with their bull in a china shop actions.

Teenagers now are learning how to use alcohol to get drunk rather than just a social aid. Only the other week Galia's son got the rough end of this with a lad who just drunk get drunk, and a fight broke out, with injuries sustained, from insults that were made through drink. This would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago but is now less of a shock in many Yambol teenage circles.

Obesity has been written about before but now seen in this true light with Bulgarian 'Billy Bunters' a common sight in Yambol, all the fast food given to them by their young mothers, which can be described as either pencil thin, full of make up and cheap copied western fashion or fat and full of fast food, either way most just don't bother cooking anymore and the pizza takeaway meal washed down with coca cola is tops.

There are other give aways to Yambol becoming a slave to American TV media and a classic example is the music scene. Rap with its the foul language and awful message is probably the most noticeable influence. The language is copied and used in everyday conversation and the black culture and fashion. Young Bulgarians in Yambol are losing their own identity as you see hooded, tat toed, chunky chain fashion all around. Even their walking is done in the same copied style with a slight lean into every other step.

All this leads me into thinking what will the future hold for Yambol as quite clearly this is here to stay. Well, for many living here they will carry on with things and move along with the change, I may have to re think is this what I came to Yambol for. This is just a fleecing thought right now and of course I can always go back to village life which will not change as quickly as it does in towns.


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A Yambol Hole

As we looked ahead to where we were walking as we made our way back home after a well-earned beer after work, danger beckoned. Galia and I stopped dead in out tracks with the site before us; even this Bulgarian woman who was basically un-shockable with the goings on in Yambol was quite amazed at what we saw.

In front of us was a gapping hole, over one metre in diameter and going down at least a metre and a half right in the middle of the pavement. Now we are used to broken paving stones, cobblestones that rise and fall and small holes in the road that are common place in Yambol, but this was different, this was a dramatic hole that had bad karma written all over it.

All we could imagine was some poor Bulgarian walking along in the pitch black of night, and it is pitch black at night in Yambol. Added to which, there were no street lamps in this particular area. So the Bulgarian would find them arse over tit down this mineshaft of a hole, which was basically was twice the size of a manhole without a cover. There was not the usual warning of a branch stuck in the hole, just a great big pit like a undisguised booby trap for unwary Bulgarians to fall in.

We paused as we stared at this sight, walked around it and just sighed. That was some hole we agreed, but like everyone else who would see it, never complains about it and it stays there for the next victim.

Galia did some thinking and she supposed that everyone in the area must know about it and it is only strangers in the area that are in danger. Therefore it's probably safe enough for the locals but protects them from strangers. Why would stranger come down to this part of town anyway, she argued? They are probably be up to no good anyway, so what comes around comes around.

The thought just came over us whether someone checks every morning to see what he or she have caught strangers in the trap from the night before. We both laughed ourselves silly with the thought of that as we walked off leaving the hole behind. It will be there tomorrow and the next day for sure.



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Bulgarian Quick Fit Fitter

Nothing particularly unusual about this morning in Yambol, the bright sunny outlook and glorious clear blue sky greeting as it did 90% of the time. What could go wrong on a day like this,? Every morning the weather set up was perfect for a good day. Today however, there was a spot of bad luck that came about as I made my normal crawl to the car at 7:30 to take Galia to work.

Looking at the tyres of the car is something that isn’t part of my normal routine, so why did I look at them this morning? I don’t know but I did and found that there was a whacking great big roof tack wedged into the tread of the front left tyre. It could have been there fore long as it wasn’t quite fully wedged in.

After surveying I tried to gently pull it out, I knew this was the wrong thing to do but then you feel pushed towards doing things like this even though you know you shouldn’t. It’s like scratching an itch you shouldn’t.

The tack got so far out and the hissing started, that was enough for me, I had to get Galia to work and just didn’t have time to do anything about it so the tack was shoved back in and the hissing stopped.

It wasn’t a good feeling driving knowing that the tyre was doing tap dancing along the roads of Yambol and the state of the roads didn’t do the tack embedded tyre any favours either. It was there and back with the stress tagging along, but we made it and I was back at the house wondering what I am going to do about it.

The tyres on the Lada were bought from a local small garage with the resident sole proprietor called Mitko, some 500 metres away. The plan was to go there and get the repair done, but it was before 8:00 so a wait was on.

The next thing I know its 3:30 in the afternoon and it was a clickety-click to the garage where Mitko was hard at work with his head deep in the confines of an engine at the back of his garage. Mitko is a tall slim character aged around 30 years he wears chunky silver earrings and slightly greased back hair. He wears a pair of well-used black shoes, which are worn with the back ends folded down so they act like slippers. These would look stupid on most people, but not on Mitko it suits his laid back style. He is a gentle talker and never gets hurried. He always has time for everyone. After explaining the problem, he stopped the work he was doing and within the space of 10 minutes he had completed the repair and charged me 7 lev. I watched every step of the repair and knew the job was done professionally every step of the way. He went on to check all the other tyres for damage and check their air pressures as well. “Any problem with the car come and see me,” were his last words as I said thanks and goodbye.

Back home, the event was reflected on. Where would you get a service like that? You just turn up unannounced, he stops the job he’s doing then gives service second to none. Then give all the tyres a spot check and top up the air pressures. Finally, on top of all that charge a local Bulgarian price for the job. This is unbelievable compared to what I was used to in the U.K; I don’t even want to think about that now.



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Bulgarian Cart Wheels

The invention of the wheel has had a major impact in Bulgaria without the wheel Bulgaria would come to a standstill. Can you imagine Bulgaria without their carts?


Everywhere you look there is a wheel turning but not necessarily a round wheel. The come in all shapes and sizes circular in the main but can come in many varieties of oval and the occasional rectangle but these are generally gypsy owned and stationary.

Car and engine driven traffic aside, the wheel is the most practical means of transporting goods and personnel around, it always has been here. Carts, trolleys, bicycles all are used extensively and in the most practical way in Bulgaria.

You can find wheels on horse drawn carts here of all ages, some going back 100 years. The Bulgarian carts are the most useful means of transport and in most villages this is the only means of transport that still has its use. Many will still be working 20 or 30 years down the line, it's all down to cost, hardly anything other than donkey or horse feed and that's generally free if you cut your own.

I have a cart myself a fine specimen and also three old spare wooden wheels in my barn, one I gave a way to a neighbour who had a three wheeled cart with wheels roughly the same age. These are the wheels you see are put into posh gardens as a bit of garden furniture, very nice. There are no rubber tyres as the wheels that made with wood have a metal tread. There is less friction on these wheels and therefore less effort to pull by the donkey and horses. Yes, the ride is a bit rougher but less energy is used and that is always preferable to Bulgarians.

Many now use old car wheels on their carts, with pneumatic tyres, these are hard work to pull. Some carts have smaller a smaller diameter metal plate wheel with solid rubber tyres like those on young children’s bicycles these are perfect for riding through mud and a good alternative to the wooden wheel.

It is a shame that the old wheels are now fading fast and the makers of these wheels now almost extinct. I just hope the one-day they come back into fashion but they won't. The reason being that there are too many cars on the road now and car wheel will become even more plentiful. The age of the wooden handmade wheel will continue in a downward trend, pity, as they are so practical and efficient as well.



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Fishing from Luck not Judgement

We had guests this weekend at the Skalitsa Farmhouse, we had Galia’s eldest son Anton coming to stay with us and to be joined the next day with his girlfriend. The plan was to go fishing all together and have a fish Barbecue that same day in the evening.

Anton is a very handsome chap indeed, typical Bulgarian in every aspect I love the guy and like having him around. He is a talker and expert on everything but like so many other Bulgarians I am slowly realising that he is another Bulgarian maestro and the baggage that comes from this.

Today was Maria Day (Bulgarian Name Day) and the weekend break from work started off all so well as we arrived in Skalitsa. There was the non-stop talking from Anton and Galia for the whole 35 kilometres on this blazing hot Friday evening but that normal as I was now quite capable of contributing to the conversation in parts.

As we drove into Skalitsa is was the local shop that was the first point of call. Maria was there and it was Maria Day as we presented here with three flowers bought from Yambol. The shop was littered with flowers for Maria, all given by customers from their own Skalitsa farms and gardens except for our purchased bunch, which looked feeble against the fantastic array local flowers.

Onward to the farmhouse where we called met an Englishwoman here for three months who had just blown up the electric system. Anton of course was a maestro electrician but needed support as we took it upon ourselves to source other Bulgarian maestro neighbours. We found some spare parts and within the next half hour we had saved this woman a fortune in hiring cowboys and the massive chest freezer she had to the brim with food.

We finally got to our house and Galia spent the next two hours cleaning inside the house and Anton and I getting rid of all the expired tomato plants that had given as countless tomatoes over the last two months. The weekend break had started as we when to another neighbour who had a Maria living there for an all night session and bed at 2:00 in the morning after a night cap with Anton.

The next day was out fishing trip as we picked his girlfriend up from Skalitsa town centre at 7:30 in the morning. We were all here and the fishing gear put into the Lada and we were off.

Anton knows a lot about fishing and is not shy about it. We had been before and yes he is a real maestro at the sport but know nothing about where to fish. I remember last year travelling nearly 100 km and ending up at a place only 10 kilometres from Yambol because Anton insisted he knew the fishing venue but didn’t. We went round in circles for literarily hours and ended up fishing at my suggested venue. I had a gut feeling about today and knew that the same thing could happen. Anton is very insistent that he knows and he is right.

It is three years in Skalitsa and I have enquired countless time about where to fish around here. There isn’t anywhere in Skalitsa and you would have to travel at least 20 kilometres to the Rosa Village on the road to Yambol for the nearest public paid fishing reservoir. In the other direction anther 30 kilometres drive to the town of Radnovo to find anything and that was unknown territory to me with no guarantees. I was certain there were no public fishing place to be found locally. Anton disagreed.

Anton spoke with total confidence and his knowledge about such things is certain to bring us good big carp fish as the journey as we made was in my view just out of hope more than anything else. We travelled onward and upwards towards Radnovo.

We drive to village after village stopping and asking local folk where we could fish in the area. Each time their shoulders were shrugged and they didn’t know anywhere. I knew there wasn’t anywhere and by now were had gone beyond my local area knowledge and into villages I’d never heard of. Anton was still full of confidence that we would find somewhere and the two Bulgarian women with us just didn’t say a thing, it was not their place to be advising on such matters according to Anton.

We had now travelled 36 kilometres and we got sight of a few reservoirs. Again, after asking local people we were vaguely given directions but Anton knew better as I followed his lead. He just has no worries about anything and still totally confident we’d find somewhere. “No problem!” was the saying that kept coming more often as he valiantly tried to defend his maestro status.

We were now off track and into tracks suitable for donkey carts as we travelled further into the wilderness of the Bulgarian outback. It was another 4 kilometres before the track, which turned into prairie land came to a dead end. There was a swamp in front of us and we could go no further. We took a look around and found a larger lake a short distance away to we set up there and fished for an hour. This was illegal fishing but it was deserted here and no chance of getting shot, we were hidden amongst the tall reeds.

We caught a few but nothing big and Anton decided we should look for another place is the barbecue was to be a success later this evening. I was quite happy here but bigger fish was promised as I put my trust into his promises. After all he is the maestro at fishing.

We travelled back to towards Skalitsa stopping off for drinking water at the enormous power plant from which a complete community and village has developed for water. This place is another story!

Another 10 kilometres and we spot another reservoir this time with others fishing around it. We negotiate a very tricky path and steep gradient grassland down to the reservoir side and set up out gear there. This place was found by luck not judgement and even now I don’t think we were fishing legally but we weren’t approached at any point.

Fishing for the next five hours was fantastic as we caught much bigger fish here. It was a regular trawl of fish that came out which was then well hidden in a bucket of water under bushes in case of being questioned. This just confirmed that Anton knew we shouldn’t be here but we were.

Anton got a call that he had to work tonight so it was back to Yambol for him and his girlfriend this evening, no time for a barbecue but the fish would keep once de-scaled and gutted and that’s what I did after they were dropped off at the Skalitsa bus stop.

It was clear that Anton didn’t know anything about where to fish in the area but insisted continuously that he did. He would never for a moment say he was wrong; it wouldn’t be Bulgarian for him to admit this. At the end of the day, we got some fishing done but not due to Anton’s self-confessed knowledge but poaching. Anton would still attribute the success of the fish in the freezer from his own wisdom. And what to the Bulgarian women with us have to say on the matter? Nothing, they’d dare not question the authority of a Bulgarian male.

For more about Bulgarian Maestros try here: Skalitsa Maestros

Maria Day

It was early evening as I saw Baba take out of the small desk in the kitchen a small pamphlet; I knew exactly what it was. Every so often Baba does this, the pamphlet is a yearly calendar of all the religious and important secular day in Bulgaria. And the reason she gets it out quite often is that in Bulgaria these days come thick and fast.

It was not more than a couple of minutes after she had focussed and referenced here way to this months special dates when a great “Ah!” came about. “Outre, Maria Den” was the made in the next breath. Tomorrow is Maria Day, the second biggest day after Christmas she added.

Now Maria Day is a big one, not least because most of the women in Bulgaria are called Maria, but added to that the religious connection makes it even more significant. The mother of Christ was named Maria and this also is tied up with the day. A big day indeed and an expensive day Baba added as she counted six Maria’s she knew where she had to buy gifts for them.

Galia and I knew about this day coming up as we had already planned the gifts that were to be given to each Maria we knew, we had four on out list and all had been wrapped up and to be taken to the Skalitsa farmhouse tomorrow evening on out normal route to the farmhouse each weekend, beside three Maria’s we knew were in Skalitsa. There would have been five but sadly, out favourite Maria passed away last month. So, bedtime came as we looked forward to tomorrow, the15th August, a big day for all Maria’s and their entourages in Bulgaria.

It was another early rise and unknown to me there was a call to leave early this morning for work. Not only that we were to take Baba with us! “Why,” I asked. It was explained that we were to go to the church before work, as it was Maria Day.

We all drove off as I was asked not to go to the main Yambol town centre church, as it would be too busy there. Galia said that there would be hundreds of people queuing and we just didn’t have the time. With this, directions were given directing me to another church on the other side of town by the Tundzha River.

We got there and is was a place I never knew existed, far away from the active town centre this sleepy little area and the church tucked away within the community here was a big discovery. I parked up in the empty street, (no problem parking ever in Yambol yet,) and we entered the church grounds. What opened in front of us as we walked 10 metres to the church entrance was an impressive place of worship. It had some scaffolding a the front for some minor repairs to the fa├žade, but the scaffolding was shroud with flowers which enhanced the entrance.

We entered this grand church of St George, where the was the normal bureau selling candles on one side and a temporary table with a register for signing on the way out on the other side of the lobby, (not sure what that was for.)

The candles bought, one for Maria Magdalena and other candles to be lit with a prayer said for loved ones past and present. We then proceeded to enter the main forum of the church. This was just as impressive as the main St Nikolai Church in town! After lighting my candles and prayers said in secret, I took time to gaze around and take things in. The way to describe this church was busy. There wasn’t anywhere in the church that didn’t have something carved, painted or artefacts put there. From floor to ceiling was littered with frescoes, the ceiling frescoes in particular impressed as the spilled over going down the side of the high walls. There were repairs and restoration needed in some areas, but in the main it was a major surprise to find the building in fine form.

There was now a steady trickle of people coming in doing exactly as we did, young and old were seen here as we made our way out into the bright morning sun. Looking back the building was established in the year 1737 but the Turkish Ottoman were in rule then so it may have been a Muslim based place of worship. Underneath the original date were three more date all in the mid 20th Century. I can only guess that this was converted into a Christian church during those dates.

Galia was dropped off to work as Baba and I made out way back to our Yambol home to carry on the day’s work. We were all spiritually content at this point, but the Maria Day had just begun. What was to happen to the secular part of the celebrations during the course of the day is something else to look forward to.


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A Bulgarian Holiday, Heaven or Hell?

This weekend we went on a family weekend outing to the Black Sea Coast. By the time we got back I reflected on what was a typical Bulgarian experience. The moments that came and went convinced me totally that for foreign tourist with expectations of a luxury holiday could think again about coming here for one.

It was a Friday afternoon as the whole of Galia's family and a couple of friends made our way to a place called Cherno Morets about 20 kilometres south of Burgas. Earlier that day I had made a 70 kilometre round trip to the Skalitsa Farmhouse to get the big tent and blow up beds that we were going to spend the next two nights in. Yes, it was planned to be a weekend on a budget, the cost of a basic one-room chalet we were going to book originally was 7 leva per person, per night, far too expensive for our Bulgarian family.

Just before we left the camping equipment was stored in the garage, there had been a change of plan, another one room chalet cheaper was available at 6 leva per person per night and this was now reserved.

Three cars, my Lada being oldest and having the most character, took to the road, ten passengers all told. We decided that the low road was to be taken to Cherno Morets, as too many mad Mafia driven cars was a far too dangerous option on the Sofia Burgas main highway. So, with the Lada's one speaker semi-stereo radio blaring out Bulgarian chalga and pop folk we merrily chugged along in convey.

On this minor road, there were two thing to put up with, Mafia idiot drivers who had the same idea as us, to take the low road with less traffic and, shake rattle and roll on the roads that hadn't had yearly repairs done yet. It was very nervy driving but this Bulgarian family are well used to roads like this and not one complaint was made regarding this. It was only the sole English Lada driver commenting on how dangerous this was but the reply was always, 'No problem, just go slow and take it easy.'

After a halfway we stopped for a leak in the woods, a quick drink and a hand and face wash from natural spring water that was source at the bottom of a valley, which only the Bulgarians know about. We got there after a bumpy two-hour drive and were quite relieved at this point to get off the road.

It was found that there was a 3 leva fee for parking so we parked outside the camping grounds, right next to the ticket office. It's funny how the officials just don't care about us doing this as they waved in acknowledgment of our prudence. After all, they would have done exactly the same thing being Bulgarian.

The camping site was heaving with Bulgarians, not one foreigner in sight. Nine out of ten of the cars had Sofia number plates and nine out of ten of those Sofia registered cars were black and white. A further nine out of ten of those black Sofia registered cars were 4 x 4 monsters. One hundred percent of the owners of these cars had shaven heads pot bells and were of course Bulgarians! If they can afford cars like that, I thought, why the hell are they camping here? This thought stayed with me the whole weekend as the secrets of real Bulgarian camping on a one star camping site took a reality check.

In typically Bulgarian style the registration required us to fill in a document and hand over our Lichna Cartes. The details that had to be filled in on these forms were more than comprehensive; it took one hour for the forms to be completed and identities checked. No one complained, this was normal and to be expected. I just kept my own impatience suppressed, if no one else complained why should I? The thoughts about Brits, including myself a couple of years ago, took on another level of thinking; they'd be out of this place by now just with the procedure of booking.

We finally got to see our chalet and this is where the more than interesting Bulgarian holiday adventure started. We were number twenty as the line of chalets was passed it was obvious that these 'chalets' were just knocked up garden sheds but more was in store here.

In the front of the chalet was a seating area; this was filled with an estate car from the residents of the chalet next door. I was the only one angry with this, but when I complained the feedback was, we didn't have a car to park what's the problem? Such a fuss over nothing was the verdict given to me. We weren't going to use the area, so again, what's the problem? I wish I could think like they do and lose anger over situation like this, typical English territorial attitude.

The key fitted the chalet door lock but that was the only thing that worked apart from the beds. The veranda, made from wood panels was quite insecure with three of the wooden panels missing. This meant that you had to step over a gapping hole that reveals the sand based floor one metre below. It was a certain fact that sober Bulgarians as well as drunken ones would fall into this trap at some point during this weekend.

The door only opens to half a metre for two reasons. The fragmented washing line was strung across the face of the door and had to be lifted each time the door was opened and the fact that the door had dropped on its hinges and dragged and scraped itself to a halt after the half metre opening. Not only that, but nails were sticking out of the veranda planks like some torture apparatus. So if the door could opened wider it would be halted a few centimetres further with the door stop protruding nails; say nothing of impaling bare feet! Again a little laughter was made regarding this from the Bulgarian company, no complaints just amusement.

We peered inside after squeezing through the less than half opened door, the was a window at the other end for the room, this didn't shut and the plastic fly screen net that looks like it had had a chair thrown at it. It was ripped through and might as well have not been there with the hole that was gaping at us. The thought of mosquitoes during the night now took hold plus the fact that Bulgarians don't bother with anti-mosquito sprays, they just accept that mosquitoes bite for a living and let them get on with it. The trouble is mystiques faced with the choice of a Bulgarian or me for dinner; it's me that always the first choice on the menu!

Looking back at the door, not only did it not open properly, it didn't close either. The drop was such that the door just slammed against the bottom frame. Fortunately could lock but only because the locking metal block caught on the door frame, not the metal bracket it was designed to slot into! On the other side was a gap of at least 10 cm between the door and the frame. Privacy therefore was at a minimum here as passers by could see through the gap; we were a showcase on view for all passers by, especially with the indoor light on at night!

The four occupants, Galia her son, his girlfriend and I had to change clothes in the one room without any form of cloaking out bodies. All was revealed to everyone as no qualms of showing off our body’s entire incidental to getting changed! This was very different to any thing I had known before as I had been brought up on bodily privacy to others, even family! When I say all is bared that is exactly what I meant! No hiding place for anything but all done like it was normal. After a couple of times it was not even thought about as the frequent changing of clothes for different events, (normal in Bulgaria) took place without any embarrassment. This was a big learning curve for me to accepting this in normal with a grown up adult Bulgarian family.

The were two sets of bunk beds, both home made it was so obvious, no shop, even in Bulgaria would sell these beds and make a sale, besides it's the Bulgarian way to make not buy, especially in a one star camping site.

Next step was the communal toilets and showers, what did we expect to find here? Exactly what we expected a run down shed with geminately wet muddy floors that where skating rinks with flip-flops. The showers did have hot water but only if the sum shone on that day. On Sunday there was only cold water and all morning as it was overcast. There was also an added bonus with no water as the whole camping site was cut off for 6 hours. This might be a conspiracy for shops to sell more bottles water I guess.

Back to campsite toilets, the less said the better a the flushing systems didn't work, they were just sucked clean every morning with an industrial vacuum system, needless to say the best time to go to the toilet is before midday. Sitting down any later than that and you risk 'contact'. Part of the problem is the toilet paper (which naturally you have to supply and pay for so soiled newspapers originally in black and white now in colour spread form were a common sight) this is put down the basin and not in the stained plastic bucket placed by the side for that purpose. The bucket was used as target practice instead. On talking to the women of the party, the women's toilets were in the same or worse state than the men’s what with the extra accessories that women use!

It's quite amazing considering the torrid living conditions on this camp site, yet looking at these Bulgarians, they turn out immaculately presented, especially the women! It is often the case of fierce competition into who can get away with wearing the least material; mind you it was hot this weekend.

The restaurant we went to in the evening, and there were only about three to choose from, was a self-service joint. The owners were friends from Yambol and we got preferential service but it still took one hour to get from ordering after queuing to actually eating at the table. We brought out own home distilled rakia and soft drinks to save on cost, the Yambolian owners even put them in the fridge for us to keep cool as being Bulgarian and friends, they knew where we were coming from.

We ate drunk talked until the early hours of the morning and then moved into the night scene with a beach bar and the drinking and talking carried on but now with dance as part of the activities. All ages here! There were all Bulgarians here, not a foreigner in sight all evening. There are no inhibitions here as actual sex was happening all around the dancing and partying on the sandy floor. It all seemed a normal thing as no comments were or motions of offence made, everyone was just partying the Bulgarian way.

This was all new to me and the inbuilt English self conscious culture I'd been brought up on was of was now beginning to drop as the morning wound on. It was a steep learning curve as the women of the party went to bed to leave the men of the party to drink and dance on for no other reason other than to enjoy ourselves, something that I had apparently was missed until coming to Bulgaria.

Did I have a hangover the next day? Indeed, yes as I went for a shower before the cleaners had got there. And yes the toilets were in filthy state, but unlike old England after a night out there was no sign of sick anywhere to be seen! Much drinking had been made, but not to extremes or for the sake of getting drunk just to fuel the party mood. That was the strangest thing about this morning not seeing or having to smell alcohol-ridden puck.

It is quite uncanny that we knew lots of people here from Yambol, but they weren't on holiday they were here to work. Being Bulgarian they always had tie to talk to us even though they were working. After the season ends they go back to Yambol and work in their home town again or back to school or college. This is their holiday, work. But Bulgarian work isn't like work it is just enduring time for the most. Yes there are busy periods but for the main it is just sitting and talking with other working colleagues. The pay here in the Black Sea Coast is the big bonus, double or triple the money they would earn in Yambol and on the big 'posh' Black Sea resorts four or five times the wages plus tips from mostly foreign based tourists.

The Sunday, as mentioned earlier, there was no water and the only shower to be had was a cold one with no sun that morning. Breakfast was a major problem; well for me it was anyway. There must be two to three thousand Bulgarian holidaymakers here in this campsite and only one shop that sell banitsa, Bulgaria’s favourite breakfast. The queuing started at 10:00 and we got our banitsas at 11:30! What western European would put up with that? Again the comments of 'no problem, 'normal' and 'what's the rush' was made as I showed a slight impatience for what I thought was good reason. Waiting in lines queuing is a national institution that is accepted without quibble here, something I used to have major problems getting used to but because I am in a Bulgarian family now it is becoming much clearer that there is no point in getting frustrated and mad, it just doesn't help.

The worse thing about queuing in Bulgaria is that it is not a queue; the waiting isn't the most frustrating thing but the lack of order in the queue. There is a deep-rooted unfairness in Bulgarian queuing systems. Pushing is not the right way to describe the way Bulgarians queue, it's more of a 'Here's a space I'll fill it up’ factor about it. It's their thought that the space shouldn't be wasted regardless of where they get ahead of others that were there before them. There isn’t even any evil eye look towards the people who do this! These tolerant Bulgarians keep telling me, 'Getting angry because of waiting is bad for your health.' Just take it easy our turn will come eventually, my argument is we'll never get a turn if other step in front of us each time but that's normal here.

Living with Bulgarians is slowly telling me to move down a gear or two. Without doing this, dealing with things here would be hard or near on impossible as things stand. The totally different historical moulding has produced very different ways of dealing with things here the way they are. I can fully understand why so many other Brits come here and fail to deal with systems and attitudes here causing them to live an isolated life in Bulgaria and an external part of the community. I'm lucky to be helped and supported by my adopted Bulgarian family into understanding how they think and react. Also now, they are beginning to understand me in how I think and react as my communication improves with them.

'No problem' was quoted so many times this weekend that the impact from it now is totally lost. In the Black sea swimming and coming across jellyfish, 'No problem!' was the quote. 30 minutes later, the jellyfish stung three out of the five of us, even after the wounds were being tended to; 'No problem!' was the quote! Going for a shower and no water, 'No problem!' Then going for a shower and only cold water, 'No problem!' Noisy boisterous neighbours starting at 4:00 and ending at 6:00 in the morning, at least ten 'No problem!' and 'normal' were the quotes during those sleepless hours. 'No problem!' was continuous quoted when there was a problem!

After a stop at a restaurant in the neighbouring town of Sozopol, which was heaving with foreign holidaymakers, we drove back in the now thunderstorm and torrential downpour of rain. The thought of cold showers this evening on the campsite trickled into my head with many 'No problem!' comments being made throughout.

So the great weekend can to an end but not before reflecting on how many other expatriates would have like what we went through. It was a family occasion accepted and thoroughly enjoyed by Bulgarians because of their 'no problem' attitude and relaxed mentality as they come to terms totally to what happens, happens! That's the difference mentally for the same holiday from hell to many western European holidaymakers here and a holiday from heaven for Bulgarians!


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Bulgarian Spaghetti

I was with much surprise to see what delights greeted me at the dinner table this warm but balmy evening in Yambol. Never a day goes by where something just does the opposite to what you think is going to happen.

Only yesterday, when doing our daily shopping, Galia asks, “Would you like spaghetti tomorrow evening for dinner? I never disagree with Galia in shops it is a dangerous route to take. So the answer given is a question, “Do you like spaghetti?”

We decide that spaghetti is the meal for the next day as it is put into the basket. The strange thing is I’ve never had spaghetti cooked for me before by Galia. The occasions before have been pasta spread with sugar to sweeten and eaten for breakfast. This pasta-based dish is a normal breakfast meal only second to a coffee and cigarette in Bulgaria.

The spaghetti was Bulgarian spaghetti bought not from National Bulgarian pride, but the decision based purely on price. The cheapest is best is the saying here.

My expectations as to how the spaghetti was to be turned into a meal were never in doubt. Galia had worked in Italy so she must be aware of the process of perhaps spaghetti bolognese. No more was thought about it unit the call to the kitchen table this evening.

There on the table was a small earthenware bowl of cooked spaghetti. That was it, a bowl of spaghetti on its own. In the middle of the table was chopped sausage, sirene (white goat cheese), mayonnaise, margarine and an open jar of tomato and pepper sauce.

It was a do it yourself spaghetti dish. I watched and copied in turn Galia who added the ingredients one by one on to the plain spaghetti. It took a good 5 minutes for all the components to be added and mixed; then the fun started.

As with all Bulgarian meals we have on this table, the sole eating utensil is usually a fork, or a spoon with soup dishes. Today the norm was again just a fork. The struggle to eat the meal was quite an episode, the call for a Bulgarian baby's bib was nearly made by all. Luckily, we were all had our eating clothing on so no clothing spoilt this evening. The most frustrating thing was that the food tasted so good it couldn't’t be shovelled in your mouth quick enough.

Why did I ever think that spaghetti would be cooked and served Italian style when I was in Bulgaria? Well it was Bulgarian spaghetti after all. This was better than any Italian spaghetti dish I’d had before. I had also deduced that the Bulgarian sirene added made all the difference.

If ever you buy spaghetti in Bulgaria, buy the Bulgarian make, it's just as good if not better then the Italian brands, fresher, obviously being local. Then of course, the result of being a local product means it's cheaper!



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Leka Rabota; Leka Sichko

Hot, sticky but better than being cold, that’s how it is in Bulgaria right now in August. Everything slows down to a standstill in this weather and why not? What’s the rush?

That’s the attitude of every Bulgarian I know right now. They’ll go to work, slowly, and once there the pace remains slow, like I said it’s hot sticky and there is no sense in busting a gut under these conditions. The Bulgarian bosses and managers who employ all these slow paced workers are of the same opinion. “Leka rabota!” (easy work) they would say when the work force comes into work in the morning. Of course they have no other option other obey that greeting from their peers and do just that, work slowly.

I remember a quote from a worker when he asked me what I like about the Bulgarian weather. I gave him his answer saying that the long hot summers are great and the winters are sharp and short. His version of Bulgarian weather was “It’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter!” Well he had a point but I mentioned the fact that where would the rakia come from without this Bulgarian climate. He didn’t have an answer to that one and just grinned and shrugged his shoulders; he knew this was an important point.

So too hot in the summer it may be but that all depends where you are and what you are doing. In Yambol the temperature is raised by the fact it is a town and has a town climate. It is much closer and hotter in the town, there is never any breeze on really hot days and if it is going to thunderstorm or floods it will be in and around the town area.

In the villages that are more than 5-10 kilometres away from the town the weather during the summer is magical, the breeze that runs over the Thracian plain and the lack of pollution just make it so much fresher, less clammy and a joy to be in. The village folk still work very slowly all year round but that’s how it has always been. It’s not because of the weather but due to their culture and tradition. No rush whatever the job, even if you were bleeding to death, there would be no rush on!

So in Bulgarian, the Leka Rabota phrase is currently very popular; Leka Sichko (Everything easy) is even more popular, but not quite as popular as the all year round phrase “What are you doing?” (See Bulgarian Small Talk)


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Yambol Sparkling Wine

It was a special occasion today, Galia and I had been together for exactly two years, it was officially out second anniversary together. We thought it would be nice to have something a bit special this evening to celebrate, Bulgarian style of course.

Work had finished by 6:00 as we when to our local small supermarket Vilton just around the corner from the factory work place, it is often the place we go before getting back home. Daily shopping buying enough for the evening meal and the following day breakfast and lunch is normal in Bulgaria.

Once in the store Galia is in charge for two reasons, she is a woman and she is Bulgarian, her vocation is to prepare the food for her man. This is something I still have to get used to this but I relent because there isn’t any other way, she is on home territory and I totally respect that. I count myself very lucky to have such a hard working and caring woman as a full time companion.

I didn’t take too much notice of what was bought, a box of non-Nestle chocolates, naturally, Bulgarian salami, and a bottle of sparkling wine. Well this was a kind of anniversary so the treats were on.

It was back to our Yambol home and the evening meal prepared and cooked by Galia, it has to be n=mentioned as it was absolutely superb. A chicken/rice moussaka styled dish with cheese, yoghurt and egg topping was savoured and the wish for the meal never to end was the thought all the way through. This is another recipe to consider publishing as I have never seen or eaten this dish before.

I was reprimanded for attempting to do the washing up, yet again, as we retired to the front room and the view of the colourful flower laden garden. The table was already laid out with the sliced salami, and opened box of chocolates, wine glasses and just having been brought in was the bottle of sparkling wine, which had been in the freezer for an hour.

It was the pop of the cork and the celebrations began with the ‘Nastravey’ call ringing around the room. This delicious sparkling wine was fantastic, just as good and any champagne. Then, we had the offering and taking of the chocolates. We settled down for another couple of hours talking, eating and drinking.

During this time music was played on the glasses and a discovery that made the evening even better than it already was. The sparkling wine, I thought, had travelled down from Sofia, this I remember from times before when the sparkling wine was bought, and very nice that was as well. On closer inspection this sparkling wine was actually local, from Yambol.

Vinprom-Yambol was the big local winery producing this excellent drink. I was overjoyed with that discovery along and at a price of 2.10 Bulgarian leva was a steal. That’s what happens to prices if local produce is bought. This won’t be the last occasion this particular brand will be bought, but we will have to wait for another special day. In Bulgaria the special days are frequent so the wait will be a very short one!



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Leftovers for Gypsies

Gypsies have a role to play in Yambol, they are the group who feed on the left over of Bulgarian. The have no qualms about this as you see the big wheelie bins being scavenged throughout the day by roving gypsies. Not only adults but whole families who go on Yambol treks on a bin crawl.

Each member of the family donning an improvised holdall for the reusable goods they find. The holdalls are indeed themselves recycled material ranging from a simple used supermarket plastic carrier bag to a large dirty duvet covering often with a branch of a tree to swing it over their shoulder like a blown up version of the seven dwarfs going to work. Plastic, wood, metal, food you name it they have a use for it. The food is usually eaten there and then and sometimes saved by stuffing it in their torn pockets.

They have a very useful role to play in the clean up of Yambol, ironic when you look at their own homes that are shrew with their own rubbish on their doorstep. This is rubbish that has been recycled at least once before and just left, there is no need to spend unnecessary energy moving material that serves no purpose so it stays there.

The extra cost of utility services to take away and dispose of the rubbish the gypsies remove would be a hefty sum so it is with some consolation to Bulgarians that the gypsy community is actually subsidising their household tax by doing this. This is incidental and not a conscious favour to anyone else other than themselves of course.

There are drawback as the gypsies don’t only take the recyclable material for the waste disposed of from Bulgarian households but they take the wheels from the wheelie bins a s well leaving many bins permanently tilted by the side of the road.

I have seen gypsy children ripping the rubber tyres off the wheels only because stealing the whole wheel was too much of a job for them. On one occasion I saw a Lada with a wheelie bin as a trailer, these can't be bought privately!

It's a clean up service they provide that help the environment, but again is incidental to the way the gypsy lifestyle affects. They are not doing this to 'save the earth,' but purely for saving and making money for themselves. Where there's muck there's brass as the saying goes.

It is a fortunate Brit who sees all this going on on a day to day basis living next to the biggest gypsy community in Yambol, it just makes each day even more interesting.


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Handbags for Bulgarian Men

It is noticeable that the men in Bulgaria have a certain fashion tend at the moment. It is summer and most just wear T-shirts (usually with American motifs, phrases and occasionally swear words written on) a pair of short and sandals.

It doesn't matter where they are on holiday, working, shopping, eating in a restaurant, that's the normal attire come what may. The type of T-shirt and short depends on where they are for example; at home they will change their clothing into an older T-shirt, short and flip-flops. In a restaurant they will wear their best T-shirt short and leather sandals. This is the Bulgarian way in warm weather.

But this is not the main reason that brought my attention to their trends of fashion it was the accessories they carry around.

Now Bulgarian women love their handbags, the men love their handbags as well although it's not called a handbag. It is called a shoulder bag which technically is a handbag with a shoulder strap attached. Incidentally these were first used during the second world.

You will be pushed to find any Bulgarian man with a T-shirt, shorts and sandals not donning a shoulder bag. The reasons are quite plain from the Bulgarian practicability point.

The pockets on shorts are really quite useless for anything other than perhaps a tissue. If you sit down with anything in your shorts pockets you will stand up and walk off leaving the contents behind. I personally have lost lots of money doing this, especially getting in an out of car and sitting on sofas.

The Bulgarian man does not want to lose money that's for sure, not only that most Bulgarian men carry their Licha Carte (identity document) with them at all time. They can't afford to lose that. The other item that is always carried is the mobile phone or in many cases mobile phones, many Bulgarian own more than one due to the inconsistency of signals from different hosts. Where can they put them?

The shoulder bag is the complete answer to all these problem of carrying baggage. I have concede that I spent two years without one and lost many items in that time. The reason for this was quite simply that I thought it was a bit 'poofy' going around with a handbag on my shoulder. But practicalities overcame me and over the last year I too have purchased a shoulder bag, and carry all my personal baggage just like other Bulgarian men. I also now have a fine collection of T-shirts and shorts for every occasion and in town it fits in well with another clone of fashion walking about.


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Bulgarian Herb Pasta Recipe

Introduction


This was originally given to me by a lovely neighbour in the village of Skalitsa. She is a very proud Bulgarian Baba Mama who she grows all her own herbs including all those required in this recipe. She always uses dried Bulgarian pasta which is just as good as any expensive Italian imported product. Bulgarian is best she always says, but there is a sneaking suspicion that price has a lot to do with it.

The bland taste of pasta is brought to life with the herbs and the strong flavour of olives. The herbs also add to the contrast of flavours and texture that match so well. in this particular recipe.

You don't have to be in Bulgaria or have Bulgarian pasta to make this dish, any pasta can be used and either fresh or dry versions. Fresh herbs are always going to be better, but dried is almost as good.

Ingredients

300 grams dried pasta
225 grams butter (margarine is never as good)
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon fresh savory
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 large sliced black olives

Notes: Substitute one teaspoon for on tablespoon if using dried herbs.

For dried herb advice click on Use-of-dried-herbs


Method

Prepared the pasta by cooking following given instruction.

Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat then stir in the garlic raise the temperature to a medium heat and cook until the garlic turns soft. Bring in all the herbs and stir.

The cooked pasta (after draining) should be put into a large bowl. Add the herb and garlic buttered mixture and gently fold it in until fully mixed . Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and you're almost there.

Finally, cover the top with the black olive slices. Serve.

Conclusion

Yet another example of the simplest homemade food being the best tasting and the best for your health.


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Bulgarian Women Sweepers

It is a fascination in Bulgaria that I see most women having a passion about sweeping. This seems to be a National pastime in Bulgaria for the female species. No men are aloud in that domain and woe be told any man Bulgarian or otherwise that tries it, I’ve been there.

Every day first thing in the morning the Bulgarian household sweeper (the female species) is there early in the morning before the heat gets up, doing the business. It happens everywhere, in the garden, the yard the public street and in the house. A familiar sound that wakes me up every morning is the sound of women brushing and sweeping everything in sight.

I feel sorry for the ants. Every day they leave little mounds of earth or concrete in the yard from their underground nests and every day the concrete and earth is swept back into the hole they had dug. They never give up though the next morning the same routine takes place; neither ant nor Bulgarian women ever surrender form the battle of mounds.

Sweeping is a very proud activity for Bulgarian women, their pride is maintaining a clean environment for the household and especially for the men who would not doubt complain if the home wasn’t swept, or would they? I don’t think there has been and instance where they have had to complain; the women are brought up on this chore and don’t think twice about it. Even the new generation Bulgarian women still has this compulsion to sweep. I see it everywhere I go and in every home I visit.

As the summer turns into autumn the activities outside gets more frantic with the fall of leaves and what a fall as there are so many trees in Bulgaria. They make a return to sweeping at least three times a day during the height of the fall.

The sale of hand sweeping brushes is in good hands, as they are used regularly and have to be placed at least once a year. Many of course are made within the Bulgarian homes from twigs from bushes; these are excellent for sweeping leaves as I found out when one was presented to me from my Bulgarian neighbour when on the farm in Skalitsa.

When we go the farmhouse at the weekends, the first thing Galia does is dust and sweep the house out then sweep the big yard, only then after the sweeping chores is anyone else allowed to go into the house. This is to me a revelation after experiencing the habits of many non-Bulgarian women with reference to house hygiene, there is no comparison. This was another major factor that make life here so good, people that care about cleanliness of the home, something I just worked on alone before.

This compulsion to sweep is a strange phenomenon even though seeing it day in day out women sweeping the street. You know a few moments later the area just swept will be again covered in concrete dust, leaves and other flyable litter as the wind picks these up and places them there. But, they will return in this undying effort to keep the areas in and around their homes spick and span.

I take my hat off and bow to all Bulgarian sweeping women in this instance.




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A Perfect Bulgarian Day

Today was a wonderful day in Bulgaria what's more nothing went wrong all day. As far as days go here most are a joy but today it was Saturday we we at the Skalitsa farmhouse and there wasn't much to do on the farm. The only chores were picking the ripe vegetables from the land.

After a lay in to 9:00 and then baking Skalitsa Banistas, a bike ride was taken from Skalitsa to General Toshevo and back with the scenery en route absolutely stunning on this clear sunny day. I couldn't help noticing the sliva trees full of sliva along the main road.

Colours from bright yellow, rose, red and purple it was like sweets on a tree. Then there were a few trees with the big victoria plum type fruit, I couldn't resist stopping and picking a few to bring back to the farmhouse as the sweetness just hit me on trying one. There is nothing like just going out and picking free fruit better not only that fresher and better tasting than anything you can buy in the shops.

After an exhilarating bike ride it was a little sleep mid afternoon, something that most Bulgarian do but I still have trouble getting into that routine.

The evening brought out the barbecue as Galia and I for once didn't have any visitors this evening. An evening alone with good food excellent home made grape rakia I made two years ago and Bulgarian music from the radio. Both Galia and I agreed, the end of a perfect Bulgarian day

The end of a perfect day for relaxing but looking around most of my neighbours do this most of the time at weekends during the summer. Well the men do anyway.


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Ping Pong verses Tennis

It was a total disappointment pulling my onions up this weekend. They were worse than last year and last year was bad!

What was the reason behind the failure? There were many reasons but the main one was I was only there once a week over the last three months. Guests were staying at the farmhouse over those months and it has been a struggled to get there to tend to the produce with the rush on each time I was there.

This year I grew then the Bulgarian way with trenches made and the sowing of the sets made on the slant of the mound. The water is held in the trenches and they should have done really well. This Bulgarian heat during May and June really saw them off as they needed watering every two for three days, not once every seven.

Then there was the timing of the planting, they should have been put in during March to April, I was in the UK thinking about putting them is at that time. This couldn’t be helped as things turned out.

As the row was picked I was reminded of ping-pong balls; that was the size of the bulbs that were coming out. In fact they weren’t much bigger than the sets that were put in, perhaps just doubled in size for most. It was a feeling of failure on my part but there isn’t anything you can do about it, you need to be there most of the time to have success, what did I expect. And there is everyone else saying, you can buy as many onions as you want with the money from renting the farmhouse. But that certainly wasn’t any consolation to me; it wasn’t the money but the waste of time and effort put in and the 70 km drive each week trying to resurrect the dead.

So with my tail between my legs we went back to Yambol Sunday only to have salt rubbed into the wounds by stopping off at the roadside in the village of Roza. A man was standing there with a 20 kg bag of onions selling them to passing traffic. These were the size of tennis balls as we took a closer look. Then we were invited to look in his garage where there were at least 100 netted bags stacked, again all the onions were tennis ball sized and as firm as you can get. It was with a deep heart that we bought one of these sacks, put it in the Lada and drove home with it.

Galia was very happy, they were being sold for 50 stotinki per kg and in the market in town they were going at a leva per kg. I suppose that’s the crunch of it. As we spoke about this, it was made quite clear to me that if I was a Bulgarian I wouldn’t have bothered going back each week tending to onions that ended up as ping pong balls. What was the point? In the end I had to agree and to be quite honest made me feel better. The only problem in the first place was my English attitude to die for a pointless cause, even when I knew that the hope for successful tennis sized onions was over in early June.

So next year will I bother if guests are staying at the farmhouse? Mmmm, I’m still thinking the English way!


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