A Bulgarian Present - An Apartment

It is traditional in Bulgaria for the parents to provide their children with a home of their own this is normal. This is the main reason why mortgages are rare in Bulgaria the homes are passed down to the siblings without any need for them.

Today was such a day where this happened and the thoughts and emotions of the day were quite profound from everyone who was party to it.

Galia has two sons and two homes in Yambol, one home is the family home in Yambol where here mother and son who will end up with this home. The other is an apartment on the other side of Yambol which where many years ago she worked hard to pay for this over most of her working life, solely to provide for her other son. This is even more of an achievement being a single mother in Bulgaria.

How sensible that this tradition takes place and how unfortunate that the tradition is on the point of collapse, as the housing market prices have rocketed due to tourism, EU admission and greed, not necessarily in that order. The purchase of a new home in Bulgaria for Bulgarian children is beyond the reach of most people here without now the aid of the Banks who are laughing in the face of tradition here with their incessant need to control people and breed credit just for profit. No wonder there are so many banks in Yambol now, many Bulgarian need them to achieve their goal of finding homes of their children and can’t without them.

The tragedy is that the land and credit they can get from banks isn’t enough for property now as the price of an apartment is now longer commensurate to securing a loan based on wages here. Modern Bulgarian families now face the prospect of children who will become homeless when adults with their own families, will this lead to families sharing homes or finding work elsewhere and extended families fragmenting the very foundation of traditional family values in Bulgaria?

The other fact about Bulgarian families is that sensibly only have one or two children, this is purely practical in view of the responsibility that comes with parents. If you can’t afford to have the children and provide and set them up into adulthood with a home then don’t. How many other people in other countries look at this value when considering a family?

Back to the apartment that is now going to be handed over to Galia’s elder son, he has his girlfriend with him this evening. They called at the house at 8:30 it was dark and we all went see the apartment, which is now empty from the previous rent paying residents being ousted for this moment.

We arrived to be greeted by all the neighbours who were sitting out in the street talking. The smell of barbecued peppers and Rakia was strong but I couldn’t quite see where it was coming from, perhaps on of the many balconies that hung out of the small apartment blocks. It made my mouth water, even though we had had barbecued peppers to eat earlier that evening. It was a full 20 minutes before the talking stopped and we went inside the block.

Everyone is excited, Anton and Koyna for this was the first time they were to see the apartment. Galia as she was proud that all her lifetime efforts were now seeing a result in her son having his own home. Not least me as this was a totally new concept for me to see, a parent providing security for here son with the knowledge that she will be giving everything she has away. No need for wills to be made promising inheritance; this is all based on family trust and custom here. She will be looked after in the family house with her other son and future partner until she dies, he has the bigger share and therefore the responsibility of looking after his mother, just like Galia is looking after her mother in the family home presently. The idea of living in a home that you don’t own is something I find very hard to accept. The degree of family trust and a total materialistic stand off are the reasons that this happens here.

In the ground floor entrance was a series of brown painted metal post boxes as Anton checked his with number 8 written on it. He joked when he saw nothing in there saying that it will be full of bill for the apartment soon.

The basement of the block was explored, each apartment has a basement room for storage and we saw there were stacked metal shelves with lots of glass jars full of preserved tomatoes and peppers and old Russian Christmas decorations and a big wooden barrel that had some ancient wine in. On the top shelf was a new plastic covered single bed, something the previous resident had either forgot to take or will come back for as it is far too good to leave.

We finally got up to the first floor where the apartment was, before we entered Galia gave Anton the key and that was the formal acceptance of the apartment as a gift. He gingerly opened the secure front door amidst three other very individual doors in the hallway with hand made mats and slipper placed on them.

On entering the place was swarming with insects and a stale smell greeted us, but we were all beyond that as we explored the kitchen living room, bedroom and wet room (bathroom). There was a box room next to the kitchen and a sealed balcony with interconnections with the living room and bedroom overlooking the street.

For us all the place was a home but needed a lot of work all the tile were falling apart in the kitchen area and the rest was just in need of a total stripping and redecoration, the place has never been modernised since it was built some 30 years ago. We of course will all work together as a family to get it into shape. Money was offered to help with this as the gifting goes on. But I feel that Anton was overjoyed as for the first time he has now a place he can call his own home, but of course this will be passed down to his children in around 25 years time. No need to die to give.

We locked up and reflected on the moment of handing over and what work was still to be done and ended up in a local bar where the owner is a Bulgarian television celebrity. Ivo Anton brother had just finished work and was invited there as well as we all finally sat drinking a beer or two in celebration of the day in which Anton was given an apartment as his home. A lovely end to a day of giving.

ADD: I just noticed the Christmas tree on the post in the middle of the lower picture, this is there all year round, not early for this coming Christmas!





A Bargain Bulgarian Lifestyle

It was with deep reflection last night thinking about what has happened over the last four years. Four years ago I didn't even know where Bulgaria was. There wasn't any reason for me to know at that point.


How did I find out about Bulgaria? Well it was an accident. It had always been a dream to be self sufficient with a smallholding, the intention was 30 years ago to do this in England, but got priced out straight away. Then the idea was to go to France, again this idea was always there but family and career held the plan back and of course, we were priced out again!

Then by a quirk of fate a search on eBay was made with the word 'smallholding' and a property came up in Bulgaria. It was an auction of course and there was only 8 hours remaining at the bid, without reserve, was a mere £1,800.

My instant reaction was of total disbelief looking at the property and land. I put it down to a scam but curiously followed the bidding to the close. The property was sold for just over £2000! It was mind blowing to me that conceivably you could buy a property for the price of a two-week family holiday, or the price of a jalopy second-hand car!

The seed was sown as I set about searching for other properties that were for sale and found that these prices were commonplace in Bulgaria. It was at that point that my whole world was turned upside-down and the opportunity to live a self-sufficient life on a smallholding came alive again. There was no way I was going to wait and be priced out again!

Four years on form that day I am now living a life in Bulgaria and produce most of the food we eat here. I have a Bulgarian partner and can now get by very well with the Bulgarian language.

The luckiest part of all is that I absolutely love Bulgaria, the Bulgarian people and the way of life that is led here. It is living in poverty but I’m happy and will never go hungry. We work together as a family and a community to make ends meet. There is never a time where you are ever isolated. In reality, it wasn't only a home I bought that I could just afford outright, but a bargain way of life of which no amount of money could buy.

Bulgaria is not for everyone though. Other expatriates who have come here have not settled as the only reason they are here is because it is cheap not because they like the country or the non flamboyant lifestyle. They may not be honest or brave enough to say so, but from what I see, that remains a fact.





Shoppe Style Cheese

Shoppe Style Cheese has its roots in Sofia. This delightful vegetarian snack was held back from being sampled until I had met Galia my Bulgarian partner. She took me to a Bulgarian restaurant in Yambol to try this dish out then asked me to compare with her own cooking. Both were excellent but Galia had the edge not least as it was made in the village of Skalitsa using all homegrown ingredients off my own farm.


The recipe is easy and makes a great main meal.

Shoppe style cheese Recipe

Ingredients:

500g sheep's cheese (serine)
40g butter
1-2 tomatoes
1-2 peppers
black pepper
paprika
5 eggs

Method:

Cut the cheese into five equal slices and place into butter-lined earth ware bowls.

Top with tomato slices, pepper rings and some butter,

Bake in a hot oven some 5-6 min. Break an egg a top of each bowl and add the remaining butter with pepper and paprika.

Bake until a crust is formed.

Serve hot,

Garnish with slices of tomato, parsley and a chilli.







The End of Egg Shopping Adventures in Yambol

It wasn’t that long ago when the thought of buying eggs in sixes only and nothing else considered before coming to Bulgarian was the norm. Them only to discover that in Bulgaria if you only need one egg then you can buy one egg, no problem and no waste.

It has been just this year in supermarkets in Yambol that eggs boxes have been introduced in the egg bound refrigerated sections. Before that they all came in tied plastic bags and it was quite a feat to get the eggs home without being scrambled, that was part of the fun of shopping, for me. It was an event and an adventure buying eggs this way and broke up the boredom of everything being so easy. Call me a man wanting to live on the edge if you may, there is nothing better than a challenge, that's the appeal with the way eggs were sold.

It all began in new supermarket Kaufland, which had just finished being built. It opened on the edge of Yambol last year. The German supermarket monster introduced egg cartons, specifically design, and well designed I may add, for Bulgarian customers making life so much easier to take eggs back home with them. When I saw this my heart dropped, a big of Bulgaria had disappeared before my very eyes, I knew this was the beginning of the end of the flimsy plastic bagged eggs. Even worse now was the fact that you could not buy less than six eggs! The cartons were not for splitting Bulgarian folk now have to take all six. Europe has invaded and conquered were my thoughts.

What did Bulgarians think of this? Galia, understandably with her true Bulgarian mind, just for the life of her couldn’t figure out why I was so upset about the change. All she could see was the benefits of getting the eggs home unscathed. She also couldn't see the deeper turning of the screw where she was being forced to buy more eggs than she needed. She didn’t see the supermarket taking control of her budget on eggs.

I thought that was the end of the story, as other supermarkets in Yambol will now adopt the same packaging. It was only last week, the last bastion on eggs in plastic bags suddenly disappeared in my local small supermarket. Not a bag of eggs to be seen, just egg cartons sealed in plastic in sixes. There was just as much plastic there as was used as a bag the eggs before but now the carton is added which will end up as carbon in the atmosphere. Another sigh was made as I saw this moment of no return came about.

Was that the end? Not quite as I looked again last night at the egg section, there were now cartons containing just four eggs not six! This was a spanner in the works of EU dictatorship, I’m just waiting for a EU official to see this and put a directive on it as well as making sure that the Rakia duty comes in eventually.

The whole egg saga is of course purely contained to town shops and supermarkets; in the villages it is a different story as the eggs, even if delivered in sixes. These will be split for customers, besides, no one buys eggs in villages except the expatriates, but then they will ask for six and demand six anyway as they have been brought up on this.

Add:
Finally, the EU had caught up with us as I looked in our small local Vilton supermarket. this very day. All eggs were now in the cardboard containers in sixes! I have just experienced eggs packed as we used to know them here for the last time ever. This is a very sad day for me in Yambol.





Bulgarian Schools - First Day Back

Today is 15th September, it's the first day back at school in Bulgaria as the weekend saw many children back in the town of Yambol after many spending the whole summer with their respective Baba and Diado (Grandma and Grandpa) on the farms in the villages. And by all accounts having got feedback from many, loved every minute of it.


It was a word of warning from our own Baba who was crushing grapes by hand in the big barrel this morning as I set out to drive. “Be careful,” she said. “There are lots of children walking to school this morning,” as another vine stalk was taken out and discarded from the barrel.

True to her words the town was swarming with children, most carrying bunches of flowers. It is tradition that the first day back, the children present flowers to their new teacher. It is quite strange watching the elder boys walking the streets with flowers in their hands, in the UK they would be called ‘Pansies’, but here nothing of the kind, this is normal.

The first day is a day where the children get a talk from their teacher and head teacher. This particular school day only lasts a few hours as they are walking their way back home flowerless at around 10:00 this morning. Many parents of the younger children are in on the talk.

My work place is opposite a school, which has been inactive for months. It suddenly came back to life this morning on this unusually cold September day. It is really nice to have the area and the building full of activity again with children talking and playing sensibly during their break time. It is especially heart warming to see such respectful well-behaved children in this part of the world.





Yambol Bazaar Garden

The pavements of Yambol are, in a pretty bad condition, there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is caused by the vast amount of trees that are planted on pavements, whose roots spread like wildfire thriving in a perfect climate and nutritious Bulgarian earth. The second is the extremes of temperature from winter to summer added to which the heavy rain, which turns into street rapids, washing the already fragmented sandy elements of the pavement away. So it is no surprise to see paving stones and raised pavements throughout Yambol. In fact it is part of the town’s character and the town’s lower end bazaar by the bus station is no exception.

One of the most interesting shops in the bazaar is the hardware store. Its many goods displayed outside and even more variety of tricks of the trade in gardening and farming utensils inside, most of which has a deep fascination and some a curiosity. Today the fascination was distracted somewhat with what I saw outside the shop.

The fragmented paving stones outside the shop had been removed and there now was a cultivated garden with flowers now growing there. The shop owner approached me after seeing that I had interest in this ornamental patch. She asked me what I was doing. I explained that this little patch was of great interest to me but I didn’t understand why she didn’t grow tomatoes or other vegetables there, why flowers? She said that they would be taken and eaten by gypsies who hang around looking for work in the early mornings. Point taken.

So now outside the hardware store is a little garden with flowers, it remains to be seen if the local authorities get to repair the pavements whether this little Eden will stay. My own guess is it will remain as these little practical answers to problems tend to be built into the Bulgarian system at all levels.




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Skalitsa UFO Sightings

There are sometimes very strange happenings in Skalitsa during the night. Many a time we hear commotions of sound that can't be explained. Even when going outside to see where the noises come from there is nothing there to give reason for it. Also, there are the moving lights in the distance can be seen quite often. These varying coloured lights, from pale orange to red, two or more of these lights seem to rise and fall in synchronised fashion on the horizon sometimes moving sharply and other time just hovering.

These unexplained things happen is in areas where no one lives, it is out in the wild country where only nature and wildlife live. What are these goings on that we often witness? The thing is that because there is a scarce population here, most in bed asleep as they have to rise early for the farm chores, there are not many witnesses that admit to these. Furthermore, they would be deemed as mad if they were to report. So the strange phenomenon goes on without investigation.

This article was found recently which was officially reported and now lays in the archives of the unexplained. Was it to do with the healing stones there or is it linked to the sights and sounds we hear often?

Location. Skalitsa, Bulgaria

Date: May 19 1990

Time: night

Three women, aged 45 were walking along a street when they caught sight of three dark silhouettes standing about four meters in front of them. The creatures, which appeared to be made out of a thick black substance, walked quickly away from the women and disappeared into the moonless darkness. After a while a pulsating spherical object, spinning counter clockwise, popped up in front of the villagers who quickly ran away from the area without looking back.

Skalitsa Snake Talk

You see them on the Bulgarian roads you here stories about them every day in the village and to be quite honest most Bulgarians absolutely hate them. Were are talking about snakes. There are many varieties of snakes in Bulgaria, but two species are poison. Most that are seen are the non-venomous ones but they are frightening as they can grow to over two metres in length.

Now the reason I’m talking about snakes is that this last weekend we had our beloved neighbours Rosa and Sacho to sit with us in the garden on this very warm Saturday night. They work so hard it makes you feel guilty about stopping working yourself at around 8:00 in the evening! It is summer time and the work clock starts at 5:30 and finishes at around 9:00 in the evening. If you know about Bulgarians and what they call work then you know it’s not 100 mph throughout that time, but just doing things either at work or on the farm, it the duration that kills not the effort.

They agreed to come around at 21:00 but I knew that was not going to happen. So, I started some kyufte (minced hamburgers) on the barbeque at exactly 9:00 and Galia started making the salad at 9:30 both of us knowing that we had another hour before they turned up. Well I was wrong they turned up at 10:10, they were ten minutes late from their Bulgarian 9:00.

The talking eating and drinking commenced for the rest of the evening but the dominating talk was about snakes.

Rosa is absolutely petrified of snakes; no matter how big or small venomous or non-venomous she is 'out of her pram' just at the mention of them. Then there’s Sacho who just shrugs the fear by putting his head back and doing the traditional Bulgarian call of ‘Aaaaaaayyyyyy!’ This means lots of things but in this case because it wasn’t a very convincing call I know he’s not keen on snakes either.

I’ve seen him before when confronted with one, he is a nervous wreck but his Bulgarian manhood is at stake as he tried to defend his fearlessness with them. We often joke about the snakes that Rosa is so scared off and when the topic comes up, and it does quite often, we ask whether it is big enough for barbeques doing the slicing action with our hands. Each time Rosa never finds this funny but we still say it every time with both Sacho and myself cracking up.

Today Rosa found a very big snake in her house. Sacho was summoned and on the scene within minutes but on their return the snakes had disappeared. This snake had been in another neighbours house earlier in the day. This was known as Rosa described the snake as being over two metres in length and slightly blood stained around the head, she though it had just finished a meal. This was not the case as Sacho was called to help at the neighbour’s house, in the kitchen; they were just as scared as Rosa.

Sacho plucked up the courage to get a long stick and whack it a few times to stun it and grab hold of its tail and drag it outside. Then in a lasso fashion he tossed it into the field giving actions sitting down nearly hitting Rosa sitting next to him in the process as he explained.

This thin man who stood well over 6 feet high, then stood up and put his hand another half a metre above his head showing how long this snake was. Just like showing me how big the fish he caught last year that had apparently shrunk in during the freezing process in his chest freezer a few days later, I knew this snake might be a bit smaller than he made out.



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Bulgarian Polecats - A New Look

Friday evening and we were sitting outside on the Skalitsa Farmhouse terrace listening to the complete silence that surrounded us in the dark. Then there was a little clutter in one of the outbuilding as we assumed that a cat was just making life difficult for the mice. The clutter sounded again out of the silence making it such an obvious noise. this sound it had moved 10 metres in further down the the big farm building nearer to were we were relaxing.

I knew it wasn't a cat but didn't want to get Galia stressed as she continued to turn her head towards the sound.

When I first came here any noise scared me, the reason for this was that I just didn't know what was causing the noise. Now I am much wiser and most sounds are accounted for in the country. This sound was the sound of a polecat, the European polecat. A common resident in these parts and the reason for many sleepless nights from the past.

I have caught a few in traps and killed them before, as they have stolen eggs from my chickens and killed chicks but that was in the past. I now know we have to live with them and apart from a few eggs and chicks due to my lack of experience not securing their environment properly. And a bit of noise, that now is no trouble as I know what it is; they have as much right to live here as we do.

This evening I knew the pole cat was about as we waited for the silence to be broken once again. To calm Galia I turned another light on outside the rear of the garage/outbuilding. There are roof tiles placed leaning along the base of the outside wall and little be known to us there was a surprise waiting for us.

Once again a little clutter by the garage now and as we turned to look, we saw a little head, not to dissimilar to a kitten's head poke out from one of the roof tiles. We just froze looking at this pole cat who did the same thing to us. There was some meat on the table we were sitting on and a piece was broken of and thrown toward the animal. The polecat didn't budge as the meat bounced its way towards it. We threw another meat morsel, which landed closer and the polecat walked towards it. It was now in full view and although I have seen these close up dead in my hands it isn't the same seeing it move gracefully with its streamlined body covered in dark brown silky fur with highlighted tints and a long bushy, rather untidy tail. This beautiful animal sniffed and took the meat in its mouth. and walked slowly back to its little roof tile hideout. We were quite amazed how bold this polecat was as we threw even more meat pieces toward it.

After a short while the polecat retreated and we didn't see it for the rest of the evening although we would have loved to. The subject of pole cats was now raised and Galia I found wasn't stressed as she sees these on a daily basis in the factory in Yambol where she works. She went to on to say that they were looked upon as good luck by the workers there and they shouldn't be hunted trapped or killed as it would bring bad luck. The Bulgarians view is that they should live as neighbours here both in town and country, they do more good than harm by keeping the mice population down and the price of a few eggs as reward is a small fee for their services. Besides that, they are handsome animals.

So, if you are disturbed in your house by scampering feet above or below your house, you know what it is a European pole cat. Don't put the traps out and waste your time looking to kill them, try and live with these beautiful creatures. I now regret trapping and killing these polecats before now and come to think of it I did get lots of bad luck after the event!




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