Bean Day On The Farm

Another day planned on the Yambol City farm, but it had been snowing overnight as I woke up to a white Yambol City and had doubts whether any grafting on the land would be done today. All I kept thinking about was my lettuce seedlings I have planted two days ago. All the Bulgarians had planted their under home made clotches, mine were exposed to the elements, had they survived the snow?

Bean Day On The FarmBy lunchtime all the snow had disappeared, the sun was out and it was just like a summer day. So off I go with a plan for beans.

On arrival I checked the lettuce they were all in perfect order and now thriving in the rich dark chocolate coloured soil, this was a relieve - I had got away with it and previous thoughts of the first failure disappeared. The ground now was perfect for sowing, not too damp to work with as I hacked away at breaking up the soil ready for the laying of two sets of green beans. Within no time the first variety had been sown in five channels. This was done using the same techinique taught to me a couple of days with the potatoes which was to prepare a soft bedding and cover the seeds up making a grave like mound only this time on a smaller scale.

Bean Day On The FarmBy the time the second variety of beans were sown the factory was closing for business as the workers began to set off home, I could have stayed longer, but didn't want too overdo it. Most of the workers there tell me to just spend 20 minutes a day there, 'Leka po leka' they'd say, which roughly translated means little by little. I know there is no rush and always start off really slowly, but of course I'm English and after a few minutes it's 100 mph again over a four hour session. It's not even April yet when the real work on the land really begins - I'ts a good job I'm fit otherwise this could be very bad for your health, even fatal.

There was another 10 minutes or so before the factory locked up so it was out with the radish seeds and sowing a 4 metre line parrallel to the lettuce already standing to attention after two days in their new home. The radish don't take up much space and won't affect the progress of the lettuce crop. Jobs were now completed for the day.

Bean Day On The FarmAs I walked out through the factory gates onto the road where the Lada was parked, I could see the plot clearly. How lucky we are to have this to work on and get the rewards later in the year, the money our family will save on food will be quite substaintial during the coming year. There is also the additional produce from the village farmhouse that will stretch saving even further! Life just doesn't get better than this right now with 8 months of warm weather to look forward to as well.

Back home, Galia had prepared a simple meal of salad, fantastic bean soup as small glass of rakia and ice ridden ayran to wash it down. This is a life well worth waiting for.
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Why Move To Bulgaria? - World Blog Surf Day

It is World Blog Surf Day today (28th March) and Golden Prague has organised just that. A series of blogs written by expatriates especially for this special day. Essentially a world surfing tour from many expat bloggers telling why they are where they are.


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Why did I become an expatriate in Bulgaria? This is often a question asked and not an easy explanation either. There are so many reasons that this happened, but the main reason was perhaps running away from a previous life that had made me ill. It has taken some time to work out that answer and many other expatriates if they are honest with themselves will own up to that fact.

To know what I see and have now found in Bulgaria you really need to know the yearnings of the past so forgive a little history into why I live in Bulgaria

Every since I was a kid aged 6 or 7 years old I'd see a hill in the distance and I wanted to go to that hill. Later as a teenager in London the 70's, green living got a hold of me and the combination of wanting to be somewhere else and self-sufficiency was a pipe dream.

It wasn't until I was 46 that the opportunity came to pass. Owning and working a smallholding I thought was an impossible dream. England was too expensive, then Wales and Scotland became beyond my means and finally France, which was affordable during the 80's and early 90's was left too late and we were priced out there as well.

It was now 2004 and eBay was being surfed, a house was being auctioned and there was only 8 hours to go, and the price was under £2000 with no reserve. I thought it was a scam or a joke and followed the auction through. The house with land was sold for just over £2000! I didn't believe it, but did after I looked into other property in Bulgaria going for roughly the same value It was quite a revelation and an affordable opportunity that I thought had hit a brick wall.

Within 3 months of seeing this site I had done masses of research on Bulgaria, visited it and actually bought a farm smallholding online! Within 6 months of viewing that auction and indeed knowing where Bulgaria was, eBay I escaped the financial and rat raced rut that I was was living in the UK and was living as an expatriate there. It wasn't panic or a mid-life crisis, but a sudden realisation that Bulgaria and me just clicked.

Now there are many things I regret in life, many based on not acting quickly enough, but moving here was the best solution for me and my lifetime ambition. I have sacrificed more than most can ever imagine to get here and many said I was crazy to make the move. To me now on reflection the poverty and simplicity of live here is the great appeal, it was only poverty based and a complex life based on mortgages and credit through a material based culture in the UK.

Many other considering it may prefer more 'up market' countries to move to. Bulgarian life is very rough at the edges for most people here, the infrastructure here is quite unstable. Politics is corrupt in the main and a sense of helplessness from the everyday Bulgarian know there is nothing they can do about it. Mafia infiltrated industry is the only reason it survives as it does here. There is four levels of living here, the rich, mainly Mafia based businesses, the town folk who work for a living and the old pension people in the villages. Then of course there is the gypsy community were in the main live on the fringe of Bulgarian society. Please excuse the generalisation, but that is how I see it here in a snapshot.

Bulgaria is it's own monster and you live and get on with the monster or you try and fight it from your foreign perspective. I gave up fighting the monster quite early on after meeting it face to face everyday.

The Bulgarian countryside is beautiful if you ignore the rubbish that is thrown everywhere. The wildlife and nature excels here and is a major attraction along with the Black Sea Coastal resorts, not totally spoilt from over development yet if you look around. And then there is the skiing resorts if you like skiing and can afford it.

The people seem to be very cold initially, but once you get acquainted you will have a friend for life who can't do enough for you. All you need to do is talk and the thaw starts straight away.

Finally, I am indeed luck enough to now have a Bulgarian partner whose family I know live with. This truly is the most Bulgarian of adventures one could get. A very simple life now is led day to day as that is how most Bulgarians live, on a day to day basis.

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Please now can you consider surfing onto Ricky Yates Weblog. He is an Anglican clergyman who moved to Prague to become Chaplain to the English-speaking Anglican Episcopal congregation in the Czech Republic. A great insight of this Chaplain Brit now living and working there. http://rickyyates.com/

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Yambol City Farming Begins

Yambol City Farming BeginsSo, the City farm was laying fallow in Yambol and needed more than just a bit of elbow grease to get it up and running into a food factory. This was the main reason I came to Bulgaria to produce my own organic food from the land. Now the opportunity had been given for me to do that locally and it was about to begin.

All my tools for growing were in the village farmhouse, there were a few tools in the factory outbuilding that I could use but the most important tool was the Bulgarian ralo (рало). This was a tool that every Bulgarian that works the land or garden has. It is one of the biggest discoveries for me since coming to Bulgaria and would never be without it as it is like a multi-tool for the land doing the job of a spade, fork, trowel, pick axe, axe, hammer and mallet all in one. I now have three of these, having spent 10 Lev on my third one to be kept on site of the City farm. I could quite easily write a post solely dedicated to this tool and how to use and maintain it.

The potatoes seed still in the boot of the Lada and my farming outfit along with the traditional blue dungarees and matching jacket, thick knitted Bulgarian socks fitting snugly into my Bulgaria rubber galoshes and I was off.

Five minutes later I was on site, they knew I was coming as a local resident who called Maria (surprise! surprise!) was waiting for me. She is a typical village woman who happens to be in town albeit the outskirts. In typical bundled layers of woollen clothing and headgear because there was a slight wind on this warm and sunny day she didn't waste any time in putting my potato planting to rights. What I didn't know was that she had been instructed to teach this 'green' Englishman how to plant potatoes. IYambol City Farming Begins thought I knew having done it in the village on many occasions, but I apparently hadn't a clue after extensive instruction from a woman who has been working the land for over 50 years in the same way she had been traditionally taught.

After just a couple of hours the potatoes were sown and the ground that had been worked looked just needed a couple of wooden crosses and would replicate a graveyard. Having said that, the amount of bones that were dug up was quite amazing, I assume they were human bones as they were fed to the numerous security dogs around that barked at any movements made from non-familiar faces.

Yambol City Farming BeginsThe technique used for sowing potatoes seemed quite complex at first, there were many stages of preparing mounds moving half of it laying the potatoes then the fertilizer and building the earth mound back again and finally slightly flattening and smoothing the top. Alongside each elongated mound are water channels that had been made both in line with the mounds and channels bordering the length of the whole patch. Each channel is dammed at teach end creating an effective reservoir system when watered.

The afternoon session was finished with a simple task of planting 60 lettuce seedling simply using my index finger as a dabber. Once the soil had been worked with the ralo as a forking tool, the sold was very easy to work with. the biggest problem was lucerne, an animal feed herb that is perennial with roots dug in as deep as half a metre.

This was only the first session and will now be a daily trip for me on my bicycle as everything I need to farm is on site now. There is even more excitement looming as we return to the village farmhouse this weekend to tend to sowing sweetcorn and more potatoes on the land there. This really is a dream being fulfilled right now thanks to the generosity of Galia's family giving this land to us to work on.

NOTE:
Galia was there watching all this from the office window, this was her first outing for over two weeks confined to bed. It was a lovely day and good that she could get out and catch up with news at work. She won't be working for at least another few weeks and improving every day.
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Live Football on Bulgarian Televison

LONDON - NOVEMBER 03:  Emmanuel Adebayor of Ar...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Bulgarians love their football and here especially they love the English Premiership football. If you watch the sport news the premiership football updates feature high on priority in relation to other Bulgarian sports news. In the few shop that sell sportswear, the English premiership team shirts and novelties are mainly based around the English league teams. And of course the other main interest is the Bulgarian footballers that are exported to the English teams.

In the main Bulgarians support a team in their own country, not always local teams either. Here out family support CSKA football club this is a Sofia based team some 300 kilometres away. from Yambol. They also have their favourite English football team, usually Manchester United or Liverpool. This is the norm as these teams have featured in European Championships quite often and have a large world following in any case.

My previous experiences with Bulgarians and football was rather low key, watching a live match where the Bulgarian National team were playing, there was more interest in talking drinking and eating than watching the match. It's funny, but if I watch football match I watch it intensely, never missing a moment of action or non action as it turns out. Here they just tend to ignore the game for the most part. They just focus on the match when the crowd noise increases and this is the attention grabber. Then they know something exciting is about to happen, it happens and they turn off again unless it's a goal, a penalty or a sending off.

This Saturday afternoon I was back in Yambol as farm work had been rained off. Ivo, Galia's son called me into his bedroom. He wanted to show me a full crate of bottled beer he had just brought in. Not being in Yambol most Saturdays I had forgotten what happens here. CSKA and Manchester United were playing today and were live on television. Ivo is a fan of both of these teams. As well as CSKA and Manchester United playing, directly afterwards it was Newcastle Utd. against Arsenal. Anton his brother who supports Liverpool was expected here later along with another football mad friend. The beer was for us all as he had decided to treat us with booze and live football in his television.

Well how could I refuse what was on offer here with Bulgarian beer, live football from Arsenal and great company?

So seven hours later after much talk, jumping up every few moments and then groans when Manchester united lost, the Skalitsa banitsa I had made in the village that morning were warmed up and eaten between matches - It doesn't get better than that or does it? It does, then the Arsenal won and the all the beers had some how evaporated by the end of the match. An extended, but totally exhilarating late afternoon and evening with the Bulgarian boys was had. This was topped up afterwards with home produced chicken and cabbage stew made and served from Baba to soak up not only the pool of beer that had accumulated in our stomachs, but the results Ivo's sorrow and my joy.

It will be back to the village next weekend, hopefully with Galia who should be another week into recovering from her operation. At the same time, if I feel like a feast of beer and football there is always that option in Yambol every Saturday during the football season. How fortunate that watching your favourite football team live on television in Bulgaria doesn't involved getting a mortgage to pay for the view!

City Farm In Yambol Now On

We are lucky we live in the City of Yambol and have a village retreat, but anyone who has a home here knows that growing crops is a full time job from April onwards in Bulgaria. It is a sense of frustration that I can't be on the farm everyday tended to the crops, this was one of the biggest reasons for me coming to Bulgaria. Galia knows this and some wheels of motion were workng to get around this problem behind my back.

City Farm In Yambol Now OnIt was an excited Galia in her sick bed today who finds it very hard to keep secrets and couldn't wait to tell me this one. The good life got better in the space of 10 seconds of the news being told. I tease you no longer as the news is we now we have the option of farming and growing crops in Yambol and not just on the village farm. Let me explain.

Although off sick from work at the moment Galia works as a floor manager in a boiler manufacturing company which happens to be owned by her elder brother. The factory is situated in an industrial part of the Yambol and has grounds alongside the big new factory of which part is set aside for farming. This is managed by some of the workers who get food as a reward for maintaining the farm.

Let me just put more detail of the situation as it stood up unitl today. All our farming is done in the Skalitsa village farmhouse some 35 kilometres away from Yambol and all through last year to now it had just been weekend farming. This was very difficult, near impossible to keep up with the extreme heat in the summer. Watering needs to be done at least every two days and in really hot weather every day, this wasn't possible last year. We managed to get some crops out of it, but it was a poor year with the system of weekends only. The retreat to relax after a hard week of work was seeing us work 100 mile an hour to catch up with the work that should be done each day, we ended up more tired on Monday morning than if we hasdnt' had the weekend retreat. Added to this the cost of fuel to and from the farmhouse just didn't make it an economic venture.

City Farm In Yambol Now OnThis year I had intended to stay there four days a week, but that would be on my own, Galia would have to pay taxi fares to work and back and still there would be a 70 kilometre round trip that had to be made once a week. Besides that there was the fact I wouldn't see much of Galia.

So with this news, the answer to growing crops without expensive overheads and logistic problems seemed to be answered. What we would like is to start our livestock up again? I am at the factory every morning and evening dropping off and picking up Galia from work, so a little extra time there tending before my work starts would be totally practical. On paper it would work very well.

So, you can now see why I am excited, but at the same time apprehensive about leaving the farmhouse and letting it go to seed if this was taken up. I can see us being in Yambol full time if this does take place, not what I want, but work here in Yambol forces the issue. We just can't financially afford the fuel each week and not get crops to supplement our low income. Everyone is happy for us to be in Yambol and can't understand why I have such a great love for village life that has nothing to offer other than isolation. Every Bulgarian around me says it's not practical - They are dead right, it isn't practical seeing as there is now the opportunity to farm in the City. I count myself extremely lucky to be with such a kind and caring community and my yearning for village life I feel is a very small sacrifice to pay for this.

There is another bonus, perhaps now we have the chance to relax at weekends during the warmer weather rather than rushing around trying to play catch-up on the farm. This would also end the weekly disappointment and frustration that happened last year where we regularly found our neglected crops failing because they have been left for 5 days without water.

Right now there are just onion, garlic and the vines that are growing there, these don't need regular watering so they will be okay and the rest of the more senstive crop now are planned for the City farm. How lucky are we?

The bottom line is we can't afford to be sentimental here and reminded me of what someone mentioned to me the other day about living in Bulgaria, "Life in Bulgaria is not about living it's about surviving." This is very true and this is what we have to do to achieve that right now.

Two Tonics in One

With Galia at home starting the long haul of recovering from her operation there isn't a lot that I can do. I think she was quite pleased that she had a little rest from my attentions as I spent a night on my own on the village farm. There were lots of jobs that needed to be done, watering the seedlings that were sown last week and planting more onions and garlic and complete the pruning of the vines while the weather was fine.

All these jobs were done as I arrived back the following morning with many aching muscles and blistered hands. Somehow being in pain made me feel a bit less guilty about Galia being in pain - Strange how the mind works.

Two Tonics in OneAnyway, there was Baba who has her own problems with bad legs. She was told to rub apple vinegar on them which would ease the pain slight. So, on this Baba bumbled her way to the local shop and brought back a bottle with a picture of an apple on it. It was a funny sight seeing Baba with her trousers rolled up making her way to the bathroom to rub on the 'new wave' medicine.

Minutes later there was a distinct smell of apple in the air as she returned with here trousers still rolled up and a great smile on her face, it was a smile of anticipation as she waited for the 'old wives tale' remedy to work.

Now it is well know that Baba's eyesight isn't what it used to be and we became suspicious that the aroma that was given off wasn't an acidic smell. We looked at the bottle and found out that is wasn't apple vinegar but apple juice she had bought and rubbed on! The laughter hit the roof as Baba gave a 'Nastrave' (cheers) and gulped a mouthful of the apple juice.

The laughter never died down as we went back to the shop a bought the apple vinegar version for real as Baba repeated the application once more with a definite vinegar smell in the for the rest of the night; evidence indeed that the right treatment was made.

It's funny how the story kept getting retold all evening and the laughter remained as strong as it was from the first realisation. Not only was the vinegar tonic working on Baba now but the legacy of laughter was a great tonic for Galia.
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Successful Operation - Now The Waiting Game

I must admit it has been a great worry when I had said goodbye to Galia two days ago before her operation. We both don’t like hospitals and it is usually us visiting others there not the other way around. Two days on and the operation was a success and the period of recovery is now on, the waiting game in pain. It is a great relief that things went well, but then she was in good hands with her cousin, who personally spent one and half hours operating on her.

We are so, so lucky that we had free VIP treatment in this brand new private hospital that stands by the River Tundzha and the beautiful Diana Park. The vast majority of Bulgarians attend the big main hospital on the other side of town, it is in very poor state of repair. Ask any expatriate who has been there and taken on the culture shock; they will take a big deep breath before they recall the experience. Without family working in this new hospital Galia would probably not had the operation and carry on with the suffering that had plagued her for twenty years. It is the other sick and suffering Bulgarians that we feel for, they aren’t in a privileged position to afford and receive such care as Galia had.

Galia is due back home tomorrow where I can pamper her to the hilt. It will be some two months before she can go back to work, but I know she will ignore Doctor’s advice and go back early – That’s Galia for you.

Finally, it is with sincere thanks Galia has asked me to thank everyone who sent get-well wishes and a speedy recovery. She was rather overwhelmed when I told her she had people thinking and praying for her all over the world. I am quite sure this had a positive affect on her mental strength to get through the last few days.

Thank you all again.

Operation Belt Tightening

Galia is due to go in hospital this tomorrow (Thursday) for another operations to be performed by her cousin. She has been sweating it out for quite a few weeks after her first successful operation and remains in a state of tension knowing that for many weeks afterwards she will be in great pain on recovery.

It has been difficult for Galia as she has had this problem for many years now. I try and tell here that for the first time in over twenty years she will see a light at the end of the long and painful tunnel. Like many Bulgarians Galia thinks of now rather than the future and right now she has to go through the biggest hurdle. It is quite hard to get Bulgarians to think ahead. It is the same with shopping, they will just get enough for today as tomorrow they will go out and do the same, they never thing ahead for the weekend.

The most difficult thing to come to terms with is my perfect health put alongside. I find myself apologising that I have no medical or health problems and that I wish I could take the place of her being ill instead. Galia I don't think understands that as she doesn't say much in response as it something that none of us can do anything about so what's the point in talking about it. She just says that I am very lucky not to be ill. I look at it as not luck but education and common sense looking after yourself that contributes to being healthy.

Galia has also had dental treatment on her teeth a few months ago having three large molars extracted. She was due to have another dose of treatment to have these teeth replaced, but hasn't entertained the idea due to the cost. To put ithe cost in perspective, it equates to over a month of Galia's wages. We live on a day to day basis, no provision for savings and the only reason Galia is having this hospital operation is that it is being performed by family for free. Without a doctor/surgeon in the family, Galia would not have gone ahead with this due to the cost. We don't have a dental surgeon in the family. Even so, we count ourselves very lucky as things stand, thousands of other Bulgarians just carry on with their suffering in poverty without complaint.

Most Bulgarians just don't look upon their diet as anything else other than tasting good, and it does. The cholesterol and calorie counts are incidental. Unless Bulgarians actually participate in competition sports, there is hardly any that do aerobic fitness. The men concentrate on muscle building but that's not really aerobic exercise.

The fittest and most durable people in Bulgaria live on the smallholdings in the villages. These hardy people work manually day in day out and out of those village smallholders the fittest are the women who work harder than the men.

Back to Galia, she will be off work for two months, she has some sick pay due, but it will be much less than she would normally earn so we will have to tighten our belts even further for a while. We are also lucky that the weather should have warmed up over the next few weeks so the heating bills should be nominal right through to the autumn.

We all hope Galia gets through this okay, nothing is worse that being in pain and ill. There really is an end of this in sight now, but for now in the Bulgarian way, we will just take things on a day by day basis.

The Tattoo Returns For Love

Tattoos are now the subject to talk about again. Many Bulgarians have them. A visit to the Black Sea Coast in the summer will verify the popularity of tattoos on many Bulgarian olive tanned skins and in the most discreet places. They are just as popular on women as men and on the increase. Many shops are closing down due to lack of business, but the tattoo studios continue to thrive as I saw for myself last Friday.

Galia and I have completely different ways of showing our love for each other. I am very open, my heart is worn on my sleeve and I am not afraid show my love for her anywhere and everywhere, that's me. There is a lot of love I have to give Galia and sometimes it's quite overpowering for her. On the other hand Galia is very reserved with her emotions, she chooses odd moments of affection, but for the most doesn't make any exhibition of it. Sometimes the lack of returning the 'happy skippy love' that give fills me with a little sense of insecurity. I know there is nothing wrong with our relationship, but the different ways we show it are I'm sure mainly cultural differences.

The Tattoo Returns For LoveI got one of these insecure feels last Friday and there and then decided to get Galia's name tattoos on my forearm. The whole process from the first thought in my head to having the tattoo pierced into my skin took two hours. 10:00 that morning the thought of having it done and before 12:00 I was back in the house with the competed tattoo in place. Well that's me all over, no messing go for it while the iron is hot. If I had thought too much about it, it probably wouldn't have happened. One thing is for sure, as long as there is love in this world tattoo studios will be safe from the effects of a recession.

I decided not to tell Galia until we were alone in the village farmhouse later that evening. I find it quite hard to keep secrets, but managed to keep my mouth shut until we had the table prepared with shopska salad accompanied with homemade rakia sitting next to each other with dimmed lighting and a roaring wood burner. The Tattoo Returns For LoveIt was at that moment that the secret was unfolded to Galia. She was gob-smacked and shocked as tears ran down her cheek. We embraced and at that point I knew that all my insecurities that were just stupid fabrications in my mind, they were there for no reason at all.

She is Bulgarian, I am English and we show our love for each other in different ways, that's all. We talked about it and knew that it wasn't only the tattoos that will last forever, but our different cultural loving relationship.

A Night of Rockets and Rocket Fuel in Skalitsa

It is the third night in a row where the partying is going on, but this time in the village of Skalitsa. Tonight is the night where homemade flaming rockets are propelled skywards and into neighbours property, all tradition at this time of the year in Bulgaria.

I attended this ceremony three years ago and there was more of a crowd then. The Bulgarian community in this part of the village has dwindled slightly caused from either death from old age or moves to the City. There used to be 10 Bulgarian families living full time in our village street, now there is only 5, such a shame that the trend is still this way. There are no families now that have a new generation living in the street. Another ten years and it could become completely empty of farm working Bulgarian.

The fact that there were only 5 families that took part in this evenings customs did not detract from the excitement that was felt. This was a special day in the small community, a day where the routine has something different about it. An hour out to have fun and uplift ourselves spiritually as spring will be upon us soon.

A Night of Rockets and Rocket Fuel in SkalitsaThe weeks before, we have been carving the wooden homemade rockets and they have been put out on a window ledge to dry out. The tails are made from slivers of the wood and this is the part that is set on fire.

I had donated an old Lada tyre as fuel for the bonfire that was needed as the centre piece on the side of the road outside. This was set on fire and a signal for us all to venture out with our rockets, a stick with a point end to fix the rocket on and a thicker stick in which to is hit against to propel the rocket, hopefully skywards. Cigarettes, wine, rakia and in my case a box of chocolates to pass around as it was my name day was still being celebrated.

A Night of Rockets and Rocket Fuel in SkalitsaThere was a great sense of a close knit community as the homemade rockets began to be knocked upwards, well most of them were, this was a hazardous activity, especially for beginner such as Galia who had never attended this village based tradition before. Blazing rockets on occasion would rush past your ear to the laughter of all who witnessed it.

The tradition is to call out a name and dedicate the rocket to a person you love and care for. Many names were called out as the rockets took off. A jug of wine and a bottle of homemade rakia was passed around, then the act of jumping over the fire which also traditional then fell upon us, Everyone had a go including the three Babas who were in attendance.

A Night of Rockets and Rocket Fuel in SkalitsaAfter the rockets had all taken off and landed and the Baba Olympics were completed, we were invited back to one of our neighbour's homes for a feast that had already been laid out for us. They knew it was my name day and had prepared this for me without us knowing about it. We couldn't refuse and another evening, the third night in a row of partying was on with rakia or rocket fuel as some have described it, continuing to freely flowing into our frailing bodies, this time with TV based Bulgarian music to accompany.

Today is also meant to the eve of longest fasting period of the year. In essence today was the last day you are meant to eat meat and drink alcohol until the arrival of Easter. That's some 50 days! This of course is a tradition that 99% of Bulgarians find hard to adhere to. I can't imagine any red blooded Bulgarian and a British expatriate with half Greek Cypriot blood in him abstaining from home produced meat of rakia for a couple of days let alone 50!

Big Rock - Big Snake?

This was the second evening in a row that we were in a Yambol apartment with song, dance, food and drink, the hangover from the night before still hanging we started off at around 5:00 with today the 1st March being the Baba Marta Den (Grandmother Marta Day) and the name day of those whose name has attributes to the name Marta, so it was my name day today as well (Martin). The whole of Bulgaria celebrate this day with song, dance, food and drink, well actually just a bit more than normal working days.

There were Bulgarian friends here tonight who we hadn't met before - all men! Silva, the hostess could be called middle aged, single, free and remains a very attractive proposition to many men who cross her path. Even though she has to care for her Baba which is a full time job, she is living life to the full right now, and deservedly so as she has worked very hard abroad over the last few years. She has been married twice before, but the Bulgarian men never lived up to here expectations. She was the life and soul of the party yesterday night and kicked off again this evening with more of the same.

There was no Dimco and Poliya tonight, but instead local neighbours mainly from the same block apartment. Dimco had left his guitar behind and this was taken up and used this evening from another Bulgarian guitar playing talent in the room. Three hefty Bulgarian men took up most of the bed sofa space. Like typical Bulgarian men they were all short and stocky, built like weightlifters. All I kept thinking of was three Humpty Dumpties sat on the wall!

It is normal that Bulgarians look deadly serious when you first meet them, but as you get to know them they start melting and become very warm and friendly after a while. This was exactly what happened this evening. A slightly nervy start, which was based on taking these guys at face value - They would scare the s*** out of most people if you met them in a dark alley! In fact a great deal of the evening was spent talking about why they look like they do.

Their names were Yordan, Avram and Nikolai respectively, all gradually warmed up with rakia and great Bulgarian food they found out that I jog 4 km everyday. All three couldn't understand why I jog to lose weight. Explaining that it was good for your heart not to be 'fat' was laughed at as they stood up and compared stomachs with each other, then their philosophy came out. Being slight in build equates to being weak, it is the Bulgarian way to be large so people are scared of you when you walk the streets. Being large is being strong and confident so yo can hold you head up high and not be scared of anything that comes your way. They believe that fitness is important, but alongside the big build. They asked who would win if I picked a fight with any one of them - I was no contest for them I agree.

As I thought about what they were saying. I explained that I have a different build that their Bulgarian bodies and that if I was to work on being as large as they were I would be in an early grave. Their argument was to do fitness in the gym or which they all do based around lifting weights.

Well the argument whether a big or athletic build is better went on most of the evening. I suppose the past and fighting for you country has something to do with it, it wasn't that long ago, two or three generations that Bulgaria was a land of warriors fighting for their Independence, there was no need for athletically built Bulgarian in hand to hand combat. But then on the other hand coming from a health conscious background myself, it is an inbuilt goal of mine to be fit and not overweight.

The other argument they had, but wasn't proved this particular evening was that you find bigger snakes where there are bigger rocks!

A Night Of Song And Dance In A Yambol Apartment

The plan was a trip to Galia's cousin who live in an apartment block on the other side of Yambol City. We were meant to meet up with another cousin Poliya and her partner Dimco. We met at the St Nikolai Church at 6:00 where Nasco was armed with a guitar. The walk to the apartment was taking a trail that followed the River Tundzha for about 1 kilometre. It was a walk that had it's dangers at the broken path under our feet was negotiated in the failing light of dusk without any street light to aid us.

We arrived and took the robust elevator with the bare wall that slid past us as we rose the the third floor. All four of us only just squeezed in as it was designed purely for loving couples. We entered the apartment which had no heating other that a little oil based radiator in the spacious main living room. The room was laid out with the typical Bulgarian with a food laden coffee table surrounded by the sofa bed and a running television with Bulgarian pop folk divas singing and flaunting their beautiful bodies to tease and steal our male instincts to watch.

As the evening started we knew it was going to end in the early hours of the morning. I had brought along 1 litre of rakia and Dimco had also brought 1 litre of his home made rakia that was crystal clear. Now I was fully aware of the strength of my own golden coloured rakia, it was around 42% proof and I knew how much I could drink in an evening. The trouble was that I didn't know what strength Dimco's rakia was and traditionally he drunk mine and I drunk his. I know now that it was much stronger that the 42% proof that he was drinking and less smooth, it had a moonshine quality that certainly took the shine of the moon on our way home in the early hours of the morning!

The food as always was excellent, mainly potato based with three dishes of mashed potato and garlic with a carrot top, Russian salad and mayonnaise based boiled potatoes. Then there was the meat, smoked chicken, smoked ham, salami and highly salted and herb covered pig skin. Unshelled and salted peanuts and of course dark Plovdiv made Bulgarian winter beer, Yambol produced orangeade and cola and the two bottles of homemade rakia to wash it all down with.

It wasn't long before the guitar was strummed and an evening of home produced music was filling the apartment block. I knew most of the tunes, as we all lost our inhibitions and just hacked them out. There is something about just letting yourself go and singing no matter how bad you are, now one cares as long as we are all enjoying ourselves. The drinking talking and singing went on and on and on. Our host looks after here Baba who is a bit senile, but of all the singers, she was the one who had the most beautiful voice and often sang perfectly in tune with her renditions of a descant roles throughout.

Was there something missing? Yes, the dancing, but it didn't take too long for the evening to bring about a curtain call fro an impromptu danced sparked off by the beautiful women there this evening. As I was about to get and and join them I was stopped by Dimco who insisted that the women were here to dance for the men to watch as we studied the swerving, juggling bodied of women only a metre away from us. Dance Bulgarian style here is bordering on the erotic as the women purposely tease their bodies to the seated men, just like the Bulgarian Pop Folk Divas. Dimco and myself just enjoyed these moments of watching without any guilt, the women were enjoying us watching them as much as we were enjoying watching them!

The evening was over too quickly as we found out that things didn't turn into pumpkins after midnight. In fact the evening was such a joy for us all that we were invited to do the same thing 24 hours later. And did!

There was a price to pay though as I woke this morning with a hangover. I haven't had a hangover for as long as I can remember. Dimco's rakia that I was drinking was the culprit, I drunk far too much and it was far too strong, next time I'll add some water to it to bring it nearer the 40% mark.

We hadn't done things like this for a long time and it was such a pleasure and lots of physical contact with hugging, kissing, holding and general letting yourself go, without any fear or inhibition!

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