Weather in Bulgaria

Since coming to Bulgaria in 2005 the weather here has been a series of extremes - why is this happening?

The winter of 2005/2006 saw temperatures dip to minus 24 C something not seen for 40 years in Bulgaria breaking records along the way. Snow fall was here as expected but Bulgaria didn't stop working, just a few more bits of clothing put on with the wood-burners still not having to work to their limit as they are so effective in radiating heat.

Although water was frozen for much of the time, not just outside but inside, there was never a danger of being without water as the clean Bulgaria snow could be melted and used in place of piped and high level well water. In fact in Skalitsa no well water froze up as it lays 23 metres below ground level, even at minus 24 C the system pumped out bullets of ice that have formed in the higher level standing water in the pipes.

The following summer was normal by Bulgarian standards and although there was extended periods without rain the growing season was fantastic and everything thrived in the sub-med conditions waving around 30-35 C for most of the year. In fact from April to November the only real change in temperatures were in the evening when the sun went down ranging from chilly to cold.

The there was last winter, the mildest anyone can remember in Bulgaria, perhaps a couple of days of snow but just a sprinkle this time. Below freezing temperatures throughout this season was quite rare and even then, at best it only dropped to around minus 8 degrees. Of course the winter resorts being high up will alway get the perfect conditions for snow but on the Thracian plain just above seas level something just didn't feel right about the whole weather system.

You just know that a mild winter leads to all sorts of problems in the following summer, not least an invasion of pests and bugs that should have been killed off by the cold. And so it was, but that's another blog subject but you might be interested to read: Indoor Cricket in Bulgaria

So this year and summer where again record breaking temperatures reaching 48 C were not only reached but sustained over a few days in June. Without any real rainfall before this has now caused a total crop failure but not purely from the lack of rain but from the crops not being able to survive the intense heat from what the Bulgarians called African weather.

We are now just over midway through summer right now and temperatures continue to raise concern and today at the end of August 38 C was recorded.

Bulgaria like many other countries worldwide is experiencing extremes of weather but life in Bulgaria will adapt to whatever is thrown at it, it is that kind of country. They will deal with the crop failures and inevitable rise in prices of food from it. They will deal in in other ways with the lack of preserved food for the winter being the most resourceful people I have ever known.

Weather in Bulgaria happens and when in extremes there is no other place I know that I would rather be with the people who know how to deal with crisis situations. The Bulgarians have a history of dealing with these situations after all.

One last point - A friend of mine who was on duty in Iraq with the Bulgarian Army had to endure 67 C during the day and below freezing conditions during the night - I may add that is normal for Iraq! Now thats something to put into perspective.

Skalitsa Healing Stones - More Evidence!

It was August, schools closed and a breather for many teachers and families in the UK - There we were in Skalitsa not having seen two sets of very good friends for a number of years and would you know it they both decided to call upon me during the same week!

We managed to stagger their visits to my Skalitsa farmhouse not to coincide as we went about showing off our Bulgarian village and how wonderful life was here.

The first couple were a old school friend a Rock 'n Roll entertainer and part time school caretaker with his future wife a Head Teacher. Both were full of the stresses from work added to which aches and pains that show with ages approaching the big 50.

The journey to Skalitsa was a long one having to travel from London to the Midlands to get the flight, then travel another 4 hours from Sofia to Yambol before being picked up and transported to Skalitsa, but this was August and the only travel avenue open having not booked early.

Both in a strange place where not much sleep was had with many hours of talk and catching up on news. However some home-grown salad and home-made sliva rakia of course did help a bit!

The next morning a lack of sleep had affect as we walked the short distance to the healing stones as not only a remedy for the aching bodies but maybe as an experiment on the curative properties for hangovers.

We lay there for some 25 minutes and let the stones to their stuff and do you know, the hangover feeling was lost in a very short space of time. There wasn't just a spring in the village but a spring in our step as we walked down the hill toward the bar just 5 minutes away for a coffee.

To be quite honest these good friends of mine were stunned into silence in the strong Skalitsa sun confessing that it was like having their batteries recharged and joined oiled. We then walked to a local reservoir and had use of a paddle boat on the mirror waters after seeing the Alex and Julia the two ostriches on the bank.

These friends were still stunned with the beauty of the whole area and swear to return here for therapeutic affects they now believe the rocks possess.

The first friends were now off to the Black Sea Coast full of energy as I bring back my other friends one a College lecturer and his new wife a professional viola player. She in particular has many problems with her shoulder, well that comes as part of her vocation and is common with many viola players, myself included, until recently of course.

We took our viola playing friend to the rocks after a good night sleep and as she lay there she didn't want to leave as the warmth of the rocks just felt so comfortable with the knowledge of what had gone on before that may solve some problems. We finally left as we visited the 150 year old St. George Church in Skalitsa that was full of treasures just below where the rocks are situated.

Back in my farmhouse it was commented that she felt like she had been asleep for days and was fully refreshed no reoccurring twinges on her bowing shoulder and fully fit for the rest of the vacation here. Again comments on how beautiful the countryside was here and how lucky we were to live here.

It never fails to amaze that all that have been to the stones have come out of it at the very least full of life and more often than not free of previous aches and pains including now hangovers!

My friends have told me that they will monitor their health and report back on whether the improvements continue when they get back to the UK.

As for me, well nearly 9 months on and my shoulder still feels as good as new and with two more bursts of magnetic powers given from these Skalitsa healing stones this last week should continue with the added evidence to hand recently.

To read about the first experience with the Skalitsa Healing Stones the link is given here:

Healing Stones - Skalitsa - Bulgaria

Indoor Cricket in Bulgaria

For those who think that cricket isn't popular in Bulgaria, this is not the case. Many have been stumped as to why this year in particular many Bulgarian homes have been bowled over with the invasion of this cricket. indoorcricket.jpgExpatriates and holiday makers in the Bulgarian countryside have been knocked for six and some have been caught out or even turned it into an ungamely situation.

The cricket field is to blame as the hard and cracked surface without any signs of greenery have led to a very attacking formation all closed into the defense of the batmen on guard. It really has turned into cricket in the Bulgarian home.

Let me make this more clear.......

Many areas of Bulgaria and certainly, rural homes in the southeast of Bulgaria have been swarmed with black field crickets.

Many people including Bulgarians have been deep in talk about the problem and many are forced to spend out, (a rare occurance in villages) on poison to control the numbers that invade their homes. Literally bucket fulls of these creatures make their way int the home and buildings making it a nightmare for those who fear these relatively harmless insects.

This started around the beginning of July and has been caused by the very poor season of sunflowers, sweetcorn, and many other crops that should have been in their prime at this time. The poor field crickets, aptly named, now find themselves without their normal source of food such as seeds, plants, or other smaller insects. They are known to feed on grasshopper eggs, pupae of moths, butterflies and flies, even stealing webbed spiders' meals. This is conclusive evidence that crickets have a positive affect in the field of action.

So a lack of natural diets lead the Bulgarian field cricket community to find other sources of food and inevitably the homes and buildings are a rich alternative source for them where so many other foods supplies and insects hang out.

If you can imagine the areas of agricultural land surrounding tiny villages, especially in southeast an region of Bulgaria. The southeast of Bulgaria has the least density in population in comparison to other regions added to which being the most industrious in agricultural activities. These facts are a double whammer with the cricket problem creating an unprecedented situation where literally swarms of Bulgarian field crickets now have no option other than to look for other sources of food to survive.

Where does this leave the country dweller? Well the vast majority of these invaded household just sweep them away every few hours, cats, chickens, other wildfowl and mice love them for food so the outbuilding are pretty much taken care of themselves. The biggest problem is actually in the living area where of course in Bulgaria no livestock or pets or otherwise are allowed. This is a human problem and as far as the Bulgarian dweller is concerned just another chore to deal with as part of the daily routine. This has happened before in poor seasons and is accepted as part and parcel of country living.

cricket.jpg As for foreigners in Bulgarian wanting the Bulgarian life, well they are getting real Bulgarian country life it for real. The pretty little picture through tinted rose glasses suddenly disappears with this scenario but this is nature and sometime nature throws things as us that we feel uncomfortable with. It would be the same in their own homeland where perhaps country life could not be afforded but on occasion the same clash of natural circumstance may well prevail.

The ways into a home include open doors, gaps in poorly fitted doors, windows and cracks windows and window frames, through the foundations or siding. Other entry points are from attics and light fittings, chimney vents and poorly fitted ceiling coving. The typical Bulgarian home have many access points in the nature of their Bulgarian build therefore gifting their homes to these invading field crickets now making their way to the crease.

It has to be said that well renovated homes built to western European standards have much less of a problem and the only real prevention to be made is keeping the doors windows shut. This is not really any hardship it fly screen are part of that renovation and most fitting and fixtures should be relatively water tight against the straight walls and ceiling built with plumb lines in place. What these crickets have done is become a barometer as to how well your house have been renovated!

Other preventions can be put in place of course. The only really affective one laying powdered insecticide around the perimeter of the home and just sweeping up the remains each morning scattered around. Inside the house I don't like using poison so on the odd occasion I see one I use a rechargeable hand hover and give the contents to the chickens in the morning.

Fortunately this is a game of limited overs and the cricket season ends basically with the first cold night, the numbers will decrease leading up to this and all will eventually die with the first frost. Next year is another season where hopefully the popularity of cricket int Bulgarian homes will stay firmly on Sky Sport TV. Mind you, some prefer the Bulgarian insect type to the actual game!

The Bulgarian Door

A Bit about the Bulgarian Door

50 years or more, that's how old this Bulgarian door was on my newly renovated house in Skalitsa. It was a main feature and talking point to many a guest of mine and being the only entry point of the house and had been opened to thousands of other guests and closed in the face of unwelcome members of the community in its time.

Since buying my farmhouse everything had been replaced in the renovation except the wooden front door and the internal doors all of which has such history and character. The suggestion that the front door should be turned into new aluminum PVC version had been made not only by expatriate friends and family but from local Bulgarians. These Bulgarians have no qualms or sentiments about losing a part of the heritage of a house when it comes to practicabilities this wins hands down.

The door was ill fitted and the only security in place was a metal catch that swiveled across, no more than 5 cm in length, but it did stop the door from rattling in winds, that was it! The arched windows at top were of a glass off cut style all held in place by a couple of tacks but not sealed in between the joins. The varied multi patterned frosted windows having been recycled from other buildings at some point. The air flowed freely through the gaps, no need for a cat flap as the space at the bottom of the door to the floor was was enough if not for a kitten certainly for a rat!

I love my door

There was something about this door that I didn't want to let go of. It had been through two winters with me there and the big thick curtain that was hung in from of the door stopped the elements getting in and it felt Bulgarian and cosy. During the summer the door was tied back 180 degrees and kept fully open for superb ventilation through the homemade mesh door that did its job very well. As always in Bulgaria these things all worked and I really didn't see the need to have it replaced, am I really British?

Why change my mind?

My neighbour recently had his front door renovated it was stripped of decades old layers of paint had added a couple of new panels then finished off in clear varnish - the finished product was impressive for a Bulgarian door. This sowed the seed in my partner Galia's mind, she was determined to get me to change my door and the beginning of a plan was formulating.

The plan

The decision was made to get the replacement door not renovate the old one, I was quite upset in one sense but again practicabilities of a new aluminum door were overwhelmingly favoured, not least from a security factor, well around here that mattered little anyway!

I was going to make inquiries in Yambol town with a building company but was scorned from locals who now had taken the matter into their own hands. I had no control over what I wanted and knew there would be trouble ahead. I think it was from the fact that there was a aluminum window and door factory based in my home village of Skalitsa that impelled locals to get the business done from there. Not only that but they offered a fitting service as well. So the door was measured up ordered and a date set to fit it in.

Goodbye fair door, you served us well

Saturday arrived and the morning brought about two chaps from the factory with the door at hand. After just an hour the place was shrouded in dust, splinters and rubble as the men said goodbye. Goodbye!? Are they off to lunch or what? Surely they can't leave things as they are? Too right they can't - in other word they can and did. I was livid, the door was standing and absolute clutter, chaos and a total disbelief of the situation I find myself in.

Call that a job?

Now Galia being Bulgarian just couldn't understand why I was so upset, the door was fitted what was the problem? As I explained, there was exposed brickwork all around and more cat flaps in the seals of foam that was still hardening. Much of the plaster of the adjoining wall had come away leaving a door that seemingly could be blow down in the wind.

My treasured old door and netted mossy guarded door were stored carefully away before we started clearing all the mess the door installers had left. After and hour or so it look just as bad, the door now the highlight and without the distraction of clutter. Next step? We need a plasterer and we need one now as we were due back in Yambol tomorrow and the place isn't secure. Oh how I wished we had got that British building company to to the work - It would have been completely serviceable by now and we could send the rest of the weekend relaxing!

A Plasterer getting plastered?

We had in mind to tour all the cafes and bars of the village but found a plasterer in the first one we visited, good job we caught him as we though he would end up plastered himself. (We were to find out later that he didn't smoke or drink as it happens.) He was only that he said he could do the the job now - well there are around 400 plasterers in Skalitsa, they really aren't hard to find.

We had no materials and had to find the owner of the hardware store who was drinking in another bar, (he did smoke and drink.) We went back to his shop with us and opened up especially for us to buy the cement and plaster materials need for the job. It is Saturday afternoon a very hot and bothered Englishman running and driving around this supposed Skalitsian maestro on the pursuit of tools and materials for the job.

The weekend gone!

We finally got what we needed and the job commences well into the mid afternoon, the guy seemed to know what he was doing leaving our house at 10:00 that evening after we had fed and watered him. to be quite honest he did a good job as far as I can see, re cementing the demolition job beforehand and finishing off with plaster but it wasn't finished. He was to return at 9:00 on Sunday morning to complete the job - so much for a relaxing weekend for Gal and me.

Not only did he finish the job but he went around the rest the porch area repairing cracks and badly sealed plaster then went indoors to do the same in every room there.

It was now 4:00 in the afternoon and all finished but as usual the mess left was horrendous and another two hours went by cleaning at 100 mph as we had to be back in Yambol before dark.

Looking back

Before we left we both looked at the work that had been done, apart from the door it wasn't clinical by any means with it's typical Bulgarian style contours of wavering walls. Yes, it retained some character in shape and style of old Bulgaria but if I was any other British ex-patriot with British expectations I would not be happy withe the result and have the thing done all over again. Another Bulgarian maestro he may be but that would rather devalue the word maestro to many outsiders.

Would I have wished the job having been done by a British managed and British standardized company? Call me extrovert and liking living on the edge but for me, with my Bulgarian partner and friends knowing what to expect I am forced to say no. I am here to living and totally immersed in the Bulgaria community and if that's how things are done here, no matter how badly in foreign eyes, that's what I accept.

I understand fully the requirements of many who come here and the standard of work wanted. Doing it my way Bulgarian style for anyone else you have to be warned! Don't expect a job to be done the way you want it by employing local workers the job you will be letting yourselves into a nightmare scenario.

At the end of the day the Bulgarian door now is still a Bulgarian door made in Skalitsa and fitted by Skalitsa folk in Bulgarian style, never going to be perfect but that's Bulgaria!

Supermarket Slavery and Bulgarian Lemmings

Supermarket slavery to some may seem like a strong statement - but just ask anyone who has worked for these profit making monsters, me included. It is rooted right down the line their complete and prime objective to make money and total disregard for any humanity in the workforce.

Supermarket slavery goes deeper than the shop floor and the checkout girl with the grim face.... add Bulgarian lemmings and you have something called workforce manipulation in full flow!

Stories about Bulgarian being lured to the UK to work for pittance and live in squalid condition carries on regardless. What on earth possess these skilled workers, many with University education, to go and do work that Brits don't want to do. This picture of the the UK where the streets are paved with gold still stands in the mind of many foreigners who haven't been there!

Recent stories still hit the headlines one in particular where some weren't even paid for their services made under a false promises. Where do these unfortunate Bulgarian workers' get legal support? Where is their trade union? Who has their interests at heart? The only way this particular incident was resolved was apparently only through media attention. Where does this leave all other instances out of the public eye? Simple answer really it still carries on regardless.

Most of the workforce are there in the food chain geared up to serve supermarkets with their massive profit margins. Why do they have gross amounts of profit? - because of the proven 'criminal' cost cutting exercises that go on further back in the food chain process.

Much of this goes on where sub contracting work goes on but who is responsible for the contractors who lure these workers? Much is unregulated and even now where there claims to be more mandatory regulation introduced. Regardless of this, history dictates that this 'immoral system' contrived by the pressures of profits will still continues due to the screw being turned from supermarket demands.

The supermarkets on the face of it may have a moral responsibility from the root of their profits to account for the treatment of indirect industries that make them so successful. Vetting can be made throughout the food chain process with a drop in the ocean to them in terms of investment needed to solve this.

It should be mentioned that would be a complete u-turn in policy from them as their sole aim is to make as much profit as possible which leads to this corner cutting and feeding off the poor, in essence turning a purposeful blind eye to anything that involves additional cost nibbling away at profits.

The money earned by and Eastern European workforce in Britain for unskilled agricultural work is between 3-4 Euros per hour. How on earth will they pay for their ticket back home on this let alone sending back any disposal income to families back there? It would seem they would be better of finding work in their own country as least they wouldn't go hungry!

With my ear to the ground in Bulgaria there is still this impression that the UK is rich hunting ground for 'loads of money' jobs. Even with negative publicity pushed upon them they are still like Bulgarian lemmings jumping off a cliff. The only saving grace to many is that they can't afford the flight to the UK in the first place.

Bulgarian Land Management

Land management in Bulgaria is easy and makes your visits here so much more enjoyable if organised with the help of the friendly Bulgarian community around you. A big concern for many is the maintenance of grounds whilst away from your property. What makes it worse is that many have taken on big areas of land to maintain no really taking into account that these need maintenance as well as anything else.

These are Bulgarian gardens and the growth rate of weeds and grasses is extraordinary especially during April to August. Unless there is someone maintaining your garden on a weekly basis or even a bi daily basis in the spring, the jobs become too great to cope with. This area of garden maintenance is another topic in itself - cultured gardens have no short cuts in terms of the required attention they need.

The main story here is to advise on the management of waste ground or fields that you may have alongside you property. To many this is a hay haven and food that is needed by many a livestock holder for using or storing for winter.

Many a question is raised into how much to pay a local to cut the hay on occasions just to keep it down, well this shouldn't be in question in most cases the feed alone should pay for the effort. If the local didn't cut his hay there he would be cutting it elsewhere for nothing after all. This is what my neighbour does on my vacant field, he is paid with the feed he gets, well on occasion he gets a rakia thrown in, but he gets that anyway!

There may however be another problem - perhaps the ground is not suitable for hay or such poor quality it isn't not worth cutting for animal feed. If this is the case and you have access for a tractor then twice a year this can be ploughed over, November and February respectively.

Everyone in your neighbourhood will know someone who has a tractor, your local mayor will certainly be aware of this. Ploughing can be arranged locally beforehand or during the November and February months when tractors are out and about ploughing other lands. All lands should already have access points for tractors, if would be very unusual if there wasn't, you will also have to ensure that keys for locks on the gates are left with neighbours.

The reason November is the best time for a plough is it is just before frosts set in for winter. this then will break the soil down over the in winter giving a fine tilth in the spring when plough again in February.

On the times you are over here in Bulgaria try to get this organised with your locals, it's not difficult but don't give in to being ripped off, better to leave it than pay over the odds.

It is difficult to come over for your holidays and have an overgrown field on your doorstep, many spend the first few days getting it hacked down, the secret is to make provision for this which in affect will extend your relaxing time on holiday.

Bulgarian Weather Talk

It may seem a strange to say but it seems the weather is talked about in Bulgaria more than I remember it being talked about in the UK! Bulgarian weather talk is the number one topic here.

You would think in the villages where farmers' crops depend of the weather the topic would be discussed more than in town and cities but this is not the case, it applies to the whole country. It is a Bulgarian obsession to comment of the weather wherever they are - even to the point of commenting of weather elsewhere in Bulgaria if there is nothing to comment on about the weather in their own area. On such a rare occasion where whole country has a weather where not much could be said about it they would talk about the weather they had previously or the weather that they are going to get or in many cases both!

The weather in Bulgaria is also very regional with the great diversity of land different climates are experienced from the Northern Balkan Mountain Range down to the Thracian Plains and then moving over to the East with influence of the Black Sea. So there can be more than three very different types weather in three different places in Bulgaria at the same time.

Regardless of the comments and discussions on weather this is where the similarity stops compared with the UK.

Whatever the weather in Bulgaria there is this really 'casual' way of dealing with it as things carry on as normal as with most things here.The weather doesn't, 'get to them' in Bulgaria as it is accepted very much as this is what weather we get so what's the problem!

I recall one day in my village working on the land where some serious dark storm clouds gathered overhead and there was I running around like a headless chicken putting things away and gathering up the hay that had been freshly cut earlier in the day so it could be covered with a plastic sheet before the rain came. Around me there were others working out on the fields, as I look up they had all stopped working, not due to the inbound weather but just to look at me running around like a Mad Dog!

The downpour came, like I said it doesn't mess around as the heavens opened. The hot Bulgarian sun returned after a short while drying everything out in the same amount of time it took me to put things back into place before the rains came. Bulgarian folk looking on were wondering what all the fuss was all about and why the waste of energy during that particular episode in fact it was a distraction from the current weather talk.

It seems like a strange contradiction to act so casual about their weather yet talk about it so much. The only way I can think to sum up the contradiction is where you may get two Bulgarians talking about the rainy weather - in the rain!

If you want to get involved in the community here in Bulgaria it would be very useful to learn some Bulgarian words and phrases about the weather. This would go down very well in casual conversation and would be an valuable tool to have which would be used on almost every ocassion you meet people here.

Yambol Fashion - A Funny Side

Bulgarian fashion is stylish to say the least. You can never fail to be impressed with the variety of chic clothing that is worn by the beautiful women so effectively fashioned out in the towns and cities here. The perfect compliment of beautiful Yambol women and fashion how lucky can yo get being a man here

Today something struck as very funny but by no means unique in how Yambol fashion is taken at just at face value here.

It was just a glimpse taken out of the office window this morning and there before me was a sight that made me laugh so much tears rolled down my cheek.

A very large middle aged mother was waddling down the down the hill towards Yambol Bus Station. She was dressed with a lovely over-sized type brown blouse which is the norm of wear for many women that adorn such a figure. Nothing strange about that I hear you say!

Just as the skirting of the blouse was flapping about in the warm Yambol breeze, I noticed some English text on the front of the blouse. It was at that point the humour hit.

It read:

Now this was quite funny in itself but any self-respecting middle-aged overweight Bulgarian mother would not choose this if she knew what the text meant and I am totally convinced that the purchase was made in complete oblivion.

Needless to say I don't think she'll get many customers!

There are many Bulgarian women here that could wear that garment and there would be queues - made up of course from only English speaking clients!

Mice in Bulgaria - Revisited

Mice in Bulgaria - Revisited

Mice in Bulgaria revisited has a double meaning. You will never really get rid of mice in Bulgaria, especially in the Bulgarian country regions. Once one clan of mice have gone other clans of mice will revisit. Whether they stay of not is down to the surroundings and environment, just like house Bulgarian hunting really.

mice.jpg Bulgarians in the main, especially in village locations of Bulgaria live with the mice and look at it as a minor inconvenience. They do try and take sensible steps with traps and poison but the odd mouse or two is not deemed a major problem. They accept that mice are a part an parcel of their living space, especially in the village locations and live not quite happily alongside them but content enough in any case. Rats are a different story and are looked upon in a very different light, this requires another chapter.

Mice in Bulgaria are very simple creatures and you have to put yourself into their frame of mind before knowing how to cope with them. Survival is the key element, not only from the point of an individual mouse but from a mice family perspective.

Imagine you're a mouse just out of nappies on your own with hormones running wild.... what do you need? Well let's list a few things for starters.

A warm, safe and draught free home
A food supply
A water supply

A family

This short list of basic requirements is not to dissimilar from our own needs therefore the problem of ridding you house of mice give us a slight edge as to changing the environment they would favour..

The first step it to ensure that all food in the house is not left out and floors are kept clean and free from food. There is no particular favourite place for mice in houses as each room has its own attractions.

The kitchen or kitchen/dining room it well known by mice for scraps of food or plentiful supplies from cupboards that don't have stocks containerized effectively. Tupperware and glass containers are the answer, not only does it prevent mice gnawing away at cardboard based containers it helps keep the food stocks fresher for longer as well. I invariably use these plastic or glass containers to store food direct they are bought and stored away, all recycled of course!.

Kitchen draws are another favourite haunt where mice can find resources they need for their home. Drawers or cupboards where tea towels or aprons are kept should also be stored away thoughtfully and checked periodically. Mice look upon this as a good bedding or bedding material if not there making the drawer their home, for their own homes elsewhere. If the draw is not opened for a couple of weeks that is time enough for a generation of mice to have been brought into this world with the help of your tea towel/apron material. Of course the likelihood of this is less if the food source in the kitchen has been sealed off in the first place.

Bread bins seem like an obvious and practical place to store bread but many types are not mice proof and the remains of crumbs invariably stay there for ages. If you do get a bread bin try and get an actual bin with a tight fitting lid and not a flap designed one. Make a habit of tapping out old bread crumbs for your for your neighbour's chickens each time a new loaf is placed in.

Keep plastic bags stored in a containers with a sealed top, plastic is a favourite bedding material for with the added bonus sometimes of traces of food still left in the bags, i.e. bread crumbs, etc. Not good tactics for putting mice off from coming in.

Bedrooms are another good place to find bedding naturally, it a bedroom! But not just for us, men and mice alike want the best conditions for our homes and beds. Again look in the bedroom drawers and wardrobe shelves as sometimes the mice gain entry from the back of the furniture where the material is maybe just hardboard or plywood, easily nibbled for entry.

Mice can squeeze through the most minute gaps and using filler to seal all the gaps can reduce risks, a great deal needed in the case of many Bulgarian styled rooms. Again this is another problem that mice will look at an seek alternative easier entry points elsewhere.

You need to bare in mind that mice will also seek new places to visit and search for suitable places that can provide the list mentioned earlier. So even though you may not have mice now it is always going to be open for investigation at a later date. The secret is to keep one step ahead and make the environment unattractive to inquisitive mice on their constant quest for raising their families.

Bathrooms and toilets are usually mice free as they are usually tiled and free from wood based fitting and food isn't usually found there unless you leave traces dropped eating your meals on the toilet. So there shouldn't really be any worried there. Towels and spare toilet rolls stored usually are untouched but there could be a problem in airing cupboards where these are sometime kept, especially int he winter. Put yourself in their position, what a lovely place to raise a family and worth doing a bit of commuting for food and water.

Living rooms are also a favourite haunt for mice, sofas and settees are sometimes looked as a either a place to nest within or just a supply of material, perhaps the foam stuffing or cotton based covers. These are attacked from the back with the runways along the skirting board and even in the wall paneling. Again sealing the gaps that they can gain access is a option and making sure that the seating areas do not have dropped food laying behind and under the cushions. We all know how this can sometimes be overlooked. When vacuuming alway make a point of covering the settees and sofa cushion confines.

Use the long adapter extension that comes with the vacuum to get into the crevices that food (and money form visitors if you're lucky) hide.

tomjer6.jpg If you have dogs or cats this doesn't always prevent mice in fact in many cases attracts them! Why? well there are so many instances where dog or cat food is left out only to attract the mice naturally of course. There is a free food source just waiting, just think of 'Tom and Jerry' and you will see why this is so, Tom is always around but so is Jerry, the food source is always there!

As is the case of dogs... as ex pats dogs (and cats) in the home means pet food in the home on the kitchen floor and lays there for hours on end. Even with the bowl empty there is sure to the traces of food left, more than enough to satisfy a few mice fro an evenings feed. The secret is to feed the animals and take away, clean and store the bowl until next feeding time. Your pets soon learn that feed time comes and goes at certain time during the day, or even more Bulgarian, feed your pets outside away from the house. Water of course should always be available.

Just a short point about traps, they don't work, they are not sensitive enough, precarious to use and quite often just attract the mice with the food bait which is taken off the trap and their there the next day looking for more! Used outside, it catches hedgehogs, sparrows and other non vermin creatures in but no mice!

Moving on, it remains that all these procedures may still not guarantee your house being visited by mice and that where the insurance plan comes into play. Not pleasant but the trump card is the poison!

Place mouse poison at all times in places where mice would tend to investigate. Under kitchen drawers, behind fridges and freezers and right at the back of food cupboards at ground level in the kitchen. In the bedrooms, under the bed, behind wardrobes and dressing tables. In the living area behind the sofa and cabinets also behind hi-fi units with trailing wires, another favourite bedding source for mice. finally at the back of the airing cupboard if you have one.

Finally keep some poison laid out in the attic, again bedding there is usually very attractive to mice and just another precaution in place.

There is a a whole new chapter to the problem of mice in garages, outbuilding and livestock areas and this actually does link up with mice in the home. A degree of mice in these places is the norm it is just a case of laying the poison out of the reach of domestic pets. In my garage I use a couple of heavy Bulgarian slates leaning again the wall with poison behind. They cannot be moved by cats and solely accessible by the vermin. this was done in the barn where the hay and straw is kept, checked once a week and topped up if necessary and it works for me.

Can I also point out that this out of home system works very well for rats and many time the poison bait has suddenly completely disappeared but I am safe in the knowledge that this has been taken away by mice or rats and a generation will not return. But there will always be this search by other vermin on their search for suitable places to live.

Skalitsa Maestros

In Skalitsa getting something done simply, without any fuss is impossible, in fact I would say that would apply to the whole of Bulgaria.......

Another weekend on the farm to catch up on farm chores which was compounded with the rain we had this week meant that is was going to be a busy time, no time for guests or relaxing the weeds have bolted and the growth on the vegetables meant that extra supports had to be administered to the tomatoes, peppers and redirect the pumpkins who had now decided to sprint into other vegetable areas and were in the process of strangling them!

Because of the heavy rain and wind some plaster had come away from part of the main farmhouse building's outside wall and needed re-plastering. Now these are things I avoid firstly because I know nothing of plastering, I don't even know what is involved in mixing up some plaster, I do know that the compounds are cement, sand and water but quantities are a mystery. After today I was to become that much wiser not just in knowing a bit more about it but to keep my mouth shut!

Galia my Bulgarian girlfriend knew more than I did about plastering as she went about surveying the damage, it wasn't much perhaps half metre square needed seeing to. Being in Skalitsa and a Saturday meant that material might be hard to come by so it was friend and neighbours in Skalitsa that needed to be called upon. Galia said they were bound to have some materials at hand as it is always the case that nothing is wasted here and left over cement and sand would have been stored in outhouses for future use by every household - guaranteed!

I knew this was never going to be a case of getting the materials, getting advice of how to mix to make the plaster and I knew for certain I wouldn't be allowed to do the work myself! Oh how I knew this.... It was going to be a job that would take a day, as the saying goes, 'In Bulgaria you are lucky to get one job day in a day!'

Off to my neighbour Sacho to ask where materials and know how can be sought. It was now his mission to get the job done as some clattering could be heard as he entered his old garage which used to hold a Lada but now sold to the Roma for metal! Clatter, clatter, bang clatter then silence! A little creak of the big wooden garage door as he appeared with bucket full of sand. As I looked at it, it looked very much like shingle, I thought about this being put on my wall and how it would never match the existing texture. Then I though about Bulgarian mentality and how fashion and style doesn't really come into play when DIY repairs are done it is purely practicalities and whatever repair material happens to be around at the time. Worrying times.

So sand was here, where could the cement come from? Off we go to the local shop where lots of questioning was made, in particular one Roma chap was questioned and responded as they always do when small business with a possible money making scenario could result. He was in fact apparently rewarded with a beer as he found a source of cement from a house not too far from here. Off we go not before getting a couple of plastic bags from behind the counter from Maria the shop owner.

Nearly two hours had gone by and the morning was drawing to an end as we reach a Roma house calling for attention, strange but Roma house don't normally have dogs as alarm bells and the security of the home is non existent along with the produce on the land, nothing a home with a flimsy bit of material as curtains for doors and windows, no glass or wood in site. I found it very strange that we were to come here for cement as quite obviously the house hadn't seen repairs for many a year, in fact probably since the Roma had been here. Why would cement be here? A Roma man came out looking like he'd been asleep for a thousand years, his thick black hair stood up from being slept on and he stunk of alcohol as he mumbled his way towards us. A few comments were exchanged and we were on our way to another house, so my wondering why cement would be here was at an end it wasn't but another false rumour that the previous Roma got a beer in Maria's shop for nothing!

100 metres later a Bulgarian home was called upon but the little white fluffy but well voiced dog was calling the owner well before we reached the yard gate. his place was immaculate as we spoke for another 10-15 minutes. It was quite apparent that cement was here but that wasn't enough for the owner. He was apparently a maestro in plastering terms and after hearing of the dilemma the Englishman had now joined the party on a mission to sort the problem. So now a very heavy bag of cement in hand which I wasn't allowed to carry as I was English was taken from his very well organised workshop.

On the way back we met another maestro who confessed that he knew better than them regarding plastering and he joined now an every growing convey of maestros on the way back to my place, but no that wasn't the case it was back to the shop and a sit down.

The Roma who was free loaded a beer had gone as we spent 30 minutes talking about the job in hand and concluded that now wasn't a good time, it was lunchtime, it was hot and we would tackle the job this evening.

I insisted that I pay for the materials and do the job myself as they had now also told me that you need 1:3 ratio for sand and cement. Insisting fell on deaf ears as the contrived as plan of action as my home this evening.

So it was midday, all the materials had been gathered, the know how had been passed on and the wait was now on for cooler conditions... Half a day gone but progress had been made.

Jessica the doorbell dog sounded off at just gone 6:00 as Sacho turn up with the same bucket that was filled with gravel before but now I find that it is full of sand! He explained that he graded it by using a sieve that looked like a stretcher they bring onto football field to carry off injured footballers, (an non injured Italian footballers).

Moments later Jessica sounded off again two maestros had turned up and a friend, not quite sure whether he was a maestro but the chances are he was. so there were now five men, myself included ready for the job of covering half a square metre patch. I knew what was to happen next!

Sacho started the business as the rest of us watched, he used my wheelbarrow to make the mix done slowly and methodically. He adding a bit of washing up liquid with the mix that one of the maestros told him to do, this apparently was so that the cement was easier to mix, good or bad tip I don't know but it was added after much debate of course.

Galia was working full time providing refreshments, it was hard work watching after all but that's how it is done here. the next stage was to rid the wall of loose bit and spray on some water for the the cement to stick. This was also done solely by Sacho with advice and pointing coming in from all angles.

A little pause took place as more talking went on before the maestro who provided the cement now took over the waiting cement. He had his maestro tool with him and started slapping the cement in the areas it was needed but not before checking again the consistency of the mix adding a little more water to the mix.

Four still watching on as the maestro told them to stop the continuing advice that was coming from lesser maestros. Ten minutes later the job was complete and a nice smooth finish. This however was in contrast to the speckled finish of the rest of the wall. This did not bother the Bulgarian present who all stood back admiring the work that had been done.

How on earth could I complain, the whole things hadn't cost me a stotinki, I hadn't
lifted a finger to help in fact it felt more like I was in the way!

The trouble now was that they had spotted other areas of my wall that needed repair and my garden patio that was in dire need of being re-cemented. I don't have a say in the
matter as they planned to do this next week and were already organizing more cement and sand supplies to be brought in from Yambol.

Another Bulgarian trait was leaving a mess! We appreciate the help but it took longer to clear up the mess they made that it took to repair the wall, but like I say how on earth can you complain.

Could I have done this myself in the first place? Well no, but I could now with the experience of so many maestros and advice all the way along. In Skalitisa everyone there is a maestro in everything but some are better equipped than other in certain areas. For me if I was a normal British ex-pat I would be up in arms with the difference in finishes compared to the rest of the wall but I'm not.

Skalitsa Village -The Facts

The village of Skalitsa is located in Southeast Bulgaria. Its nearest towns are Yambol and Elhovo both around 30 minutes drive from the village. Both these towns are thriving and continue to be rejuvenated by popularity and investment from many foreigners and Bulgarians.

Skalitza is one of the larger and more important villages in the area and is an up and coming attraction with available investment from Europe into the infrastructure and facilities there. There has been a major clean up and fresh look in the village with the school having been renovated and money other public building having been given a face lift. There is also brand new theatre/concert hall that opened in the village centre last year that attracts National and International artists and performers from around the world.

It has everything you need in the village including two garages, post office, a doctor and dentist surgery, two veterinaries, a chemist, a variety of grocery/food stores, a clothing shop and a beautiful orthodox church which celebrated its 150 anniversary this year. During the summer months, (and there are many of them) there is local produce sold from stalls in the village centre park - yes it has a big public park in the village centre as well It also has a unisex hairdressing shop many bars scattered around in and around the village as where you can get snacks.

Skalitsa also has its own bakery, window double glazing factory, metalwork factory, wood-processing factory and around the village many new vineyards have been planted from private investment. Bus and taxi services run regularly from the village centre.

It is not widely known but Skalitsa is famed for its healing stones which are geographically positioned at a point where two magnetic fields cross. There is only one other place on earth where this happens! Research has been made on the site along with media attention all which presents evidence of the stones having healing properties for arthritis, rheumatism and various other related and unrelated ailments.

There haven been two sets of film makers in the village this year, one film crew from Hollywood USA, choosing Skalitsa for its magnificent setting on a raised rock base within the Thracian Plain. Skalitza actually mean little rock. This was chosen over other Balkan countries including Croatia, Romania and Former Republic of Czechoslovakia, the Skalitsian scenery could not be compared with!

Why not spend some tie there in my farmhouse in Skalitsa which is for rent.


With out the support and professional guidance from Phil and Margarita Rose and all the staff I would not be in Bulgaria right now.

I bought my house from them blind which goes against ever principle of buying abroad. Reams of information about hte property I chose was sent online to me the UK. Even the advice from was exactly that - don't buy blind! I was very insistent though as they did they utmost in filling me in with everything about the property and the area. The countless questions that were answered honestly and all within a few hours of being asked was extensive. When I finally got there the property was exactly as I expected, I had the house of my dreams made real online!

Their hospitality when I first visited Bulgaria was fantastic in fact Bulgarian, everything was catered for, transport, accommodation, solicitors, banking, renovation, car purchase, tax, utility bills, telephone connections, and much, much more.

Even having a major car accident Phil and Margarita were first the scene sorted out the police, insurance matter and even offered me their own home for convalescence for long I needed. There are many other instances of support well beyond the call of duty to many clients.

Most Estate Agents give a good service until you have competed the purchase then back off. go beyond this and it's not just for me, they do this for every client.

What can you do to thank this company and it's people for changing so many people's lives for the better? How can you repay the kindness and overwhelming support given in helping to settle over here? And where can you ever get this kind of treatment not only in Bulgaria but worldwide?

My vocation is to tell people about what life is like here and what goes on. This is something that many people should know about. Be very clear in you head that I don't work for and remain a free agent saying what I feel under another company. If I had something bad to say I would say that as well.

The statement from the home page of their website tells exactly what they continue to do.

A Bulgarian Company Established In 2004 and Managed by British and Bulgarian People living in Bulgaria.

Our mission is to help you buy, rent or build a property in Bulgaria without encountering the difficulties and disappointments sometimes associated with the process.

Browsing through our site, will help you to learn more about the Bulgarian real estate market.

We offer a large range of properties including Villas, Houses, Apartments, Business Premises, Building and Agricultural Land.

We provide the fully professional, high quality service you will need to ensure that your property purchase and renovation work is completed with the minimum cost and effort.

"The essence of Bulgarian Real Estate Online, is to make buying property and settling in Bulgaria as easy and enjoyable as possible for you."

All of us at Bulgarian Real Estate Online are not only committed to guiding you through the process of choosing and purchasing your property, but helping you with all the little things (and the big things) that you will need for a holiday home, permanent home or investment in Bulgaria.

We fully understand your fears, your expectations and the challenge that it is to become established in this wonderful country.

"We are not just estate agents. We are your friends in Bulgaria."

Do not hesitate to Contact Us for friendly advice and help on all aspects of investing and settling in Bulgaria.

"We Will Help Make Your Bulgarian Dream A Reality"


Skalitsa Banitsa Recipe - Now World Recognition

Skalitsa Banitsa Recipe - Now world recognition

This is probably the most famous Bulgarian recipe bar shopska salad and with the pastry now bought in a ready to use form from shops is very simple to make.

This particular recipe was given to me by my Bulgarian neighbour Rosa who is also local nursery schoolteacher. It is as far as I'm aware only local to my village Skalitsa which has in my totally unbiased opinion gives better results than the original National recipe. Hence the name 'Skalitsa' Banitsa

Ingredients Needed

All the ingredients are readily available in most villages and every town and city in Bulgaria.

skalitsabanitsa.jpgOne packet (500 gm) of filo pastry
3 eggs
1 cup Plain flour
1 cup yoghurt
1 tspn Baking powder
Sunflower oil
Sirene chopped up (Bulgarian white cheese)

If you are not in Bulgaria you can use self raising flour instead of the plain flour and baking powder and feta or cottage cheese (adding a bit more salt) instead of sirene.

Step by Step Method

- Turn the oven on to a temperature of 170C.

- Put the eggs, flour, baking powder and yoghurt in a bowl and mix well together and put to one side.

- Unwrap the pastry and lay all the sheets on the plastic wrapping on the work surface.

- Lightly grease a baking tray big enough to take the width of the pastry when rolled up.

- Trickle oil over the whole area of top layer of the pastry and then dribble the mixture randomly over the pastry.

- Sprinkle sirene evenly over the oil based pastry.

- Roll two layers along the length of the pastry and place it on the baking tray - Make sure you roll the pastry very loosely.

- Repeat the same process until all the sheets of pastry have been used.

- If there is any mixture left over brush the top of the parcel rolls in the tray, if there is none left brush some oil over the tops of the skalitsa banitsas.

- Place the tray in the now hot oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Suggested Serving

These are best eaten hot or can be reheated or eaten cold later in the day. I make mine every Saturday and use them reheated a couple in a microwave for one minute every morning for breakfast.

A Good Bulgarian Tip

To get the oil evenly spread over the pastry - pierce a small hole in the top of the sunflower oil
plastic bottle cap and use it as a squeezy bottle.

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Bulgarian Ways - Make don't Buy

Things you see, hear and experience here in Bulgaria just go on educating you all the time. This was another instance where an absolute resistance to spending hard earned cash for something that was needed could quite easily be avoided by recycling. Baba Mama shows the way to prudence but there has never been any other way for her.......

After a hard day of work I returned to my Yambol home one afternoon and there was our Baba Mama 83 and still a spritely woman for her age sitting on her donated office swivel chair. The hard plastic wheels had fractured many years ago from an office somewhere once. Baba was smiling as she saw me come through the squeaking metal garden gate. Sitting there under the warm Yambol sunshine she was holding a very gray coloured crocheted dress on her lap. The dress was old having seen countless decades of none wear. It was a hand made dress and had come in an out of fashion many times since first being crafted together with skilled female hands.

I didn't think much of it at the time, I thought she was repairing the garment but did wonder why this thickly crocheted garment was being repaired now when we have many more months of hot weather and no need for such clothing! And why was it being taken out now after all those years of non wearing

An hour or so later she was still there tinkering with the dress as I see lots of wool thrown around the yard being collected and stored in the cracks in the concrete by the ants on the ground. Now it looked like she was taking the dress to pieces and my curiosity now was triggered as to why.

She said she was going got make a crocheted table cloth as we needed one for the dining room table to protect the table top from hot dishes. I still just didn't get it at that point thinking that she was taking a seam out of the dress and perhaps alter the shape somehow to form a circle or rectangle table cloth.

It was now, after nearly two hours of plucking out the seams that held the garment together, it was put through the process of being un-crotcheted, by which I mean that the wool was being unraveled and turned into a ball of wool. It was at this point that i realizes this was going to be crocheted again from scratch into the needed table cloth. - A full four hours elapsed un-weaving the dress and the result was a very large, almost football sized ball of wool that any giant cat would have loved to play with. Here was tablecloth material ready for crotchet action and it had taken half a day to get to this stage..

The very next day, after work I sat at the table to find that the tablecloth crocheting had been started by Baba Mama and it would be some time before the completion of the job, perhaps a couple of weeks or so. As with all Bulgarian time is the least important factor here. It might take up to a month or more to get the table cloth with countless hours of work involved but that's how it has always been.

It is a fact that this recycling go on without even thinking about it by Bulgarians. Certainly the thought that I needed a table cloth would instantly draw up a plan of a trip to the shops to buy one! But not here, we need something we'll make it form something else.

Somehow it reminded me of the comedian Jack Dee where when as a kid he wanted a train set for Christmas but money was scarce at the time so his Grandma knitted him one! It had me in 'stitches' at the time but now there is also a certain reality about it in Bulgaria

By the way all the plucked out cotton and wool was collected from the yard placed in a big metal paint pot, which has been salvaged many years ago.. This had other easily ignited material in as tinder for the winter petchka. - Buying firelighters or for that matter a metal bucket to store firelighting material in has never entered her head in all her 83 years.

Yambol? - Why?

Where is Yambol.....?

Yambol if you look on a map is tucked away in the countryside in the southeast region of Bulgaria. Yambol doesn't stand out and hit you between the eyes in terms of the size and strategic position in relation to other towns and cities in Bulgaria. Yambol actually sits on the Thracian plain with a few undulating hills scattered around. The River Tundzha flows through the town sourced from the Balkan mountain range to the north.

How Yambol came to be.....

Yambol actually means, 'eat big' and if you have been here and seen for yourselves the industrious Bulgarian production of food both in commercial and private area. Having regularly been described as the Garden of Eden Yambol, certainly lives up to its name.

It is a unique fact the Yambol is the only district that is named after a river. Therefore the so called Tundzha District has Yambol as the administrative centre of Yambol Province. The Tunzdha is straddled by Yambol as it flows through the town and the impressive park so close to Yambol town centre.

Historically the area which is now called Yambol was inhabited since Neolithic times and was the location fo the Thracian Royal City of Cabyle. Today's Yambol was founded by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293 called Diopolis or 'City of Zeus' Through time the name eventually arrive at Yambol but not before being named Diampolis and Diamboli.

During the middle ages the Bulgarian Empire made up from the Slavs and Bulgars arriving, contested the fortressed area with the aid of the Byzantines. This finally succeeded into Ottoman hands after a prolonged siege in 1373.

The Ottoman saw Yambol as a centre which had an important role to play within the built up Empire. Yambol became part of Eastern Rumelia after being liberated by from the Ottoman in January 1878 by the Russian forces with the unification of Bulgaria in 1886.

Throughout many centuries of Turkish Muslim based rule the predominant religion remains Eastern Orthodoxy with a number of churches being present. There also still are Eastern Rite Catholic and Protestant religious buildings, as well as a 15th-century mosque.

A bit of trivia as well.....

Yambol Peak on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands is named after Yambol. An 'Antarctic Place-names Commission,' was set up 1994 by the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute. In 2001 the Commission was affiliated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria. Many locations are therefore named after Bulgarian towns.

Back to why Yambol.....?

Yambol is consider by some to be the 'Real Bulgaria' where traditions and the past still have a major say in the living here. At the same time the town has had a major influx of investment in recent times. The tourism in the town has brought about more demand for facilities and night life including a number of modern apartments and luxury hotels. This is now a boom town for business and property investment.

So what has Yambol got that is so attractive to Bulgarians and foreigners.....?

Many people love the tourist destinations in Bulgaria for holidays and breaks but either wouldn't like to live there or can't afford it, so they look elsewhere. what are the options? Buy away from these areas at a fraction of the cost and at the same time have a better environment to live in. Better for less, who could not take this up? Holidays and breaks a short drive away whenever you want. An hour or so away you have the Black Sea Resort, a couple of hours in the other direction you have the skiing resorts. It's not only for being relatively close to vacation locations, there are other reasons for living in the Yambol region.....

Unbeatable countryside and country life.....

The villages and countryside around Yambol are unspoilt and life there remains the same throughout the years unaffected by globalisation, western materialism and modern living. The horse and cart lifestyle working on the land for a living rules. For many this is exactly the reason for coming here to go back in time and live in the heart of this unaffected environment. But of course many don't want to live the Bulgarian way with the unaccustomed basic accommodation many lacking basic facilities, so they renovate their homes to western standards. And of course, all this done so affordably paying local prices! This is a major attraction in its own right to many and for good reason.

Yambol itself.....

Yambol is an attractive town in itself from a hill coming over from the nearest town of Sliven it looks like San Francisco with the domination of white buildings. It has all the facilities you could ever ask for yet at the same time retains its close knit community where everyone knows someone walking down the street. You will see people talking to each other all the time if they happen to walk past. Greetings are made all the time in the streets of Yambol everyone has time for everyone else. This is a family based town where different generations going out together in the evening and weekends just for a walk. You will see Yambol's impressive natural park snaking by the Tunzdha River park full of Yamboltsi families together through all seasons.

In the Town.....

A range of Hotels right up to 5 star are available in Yambol and a big choice of restaurants which serve food not just the excellent Bulgarian cuisine but a choice International dishes. A wide range of shops and supermarkets are now firmly established in Yambol and you don't have to worry about closing times, many don't shut until well into the evening.

Of course if you want City life then perhaps Yambol might seem to you to be a little tame.... but all the same nightlife here is busy to say the least with taverns, bars and nightclubs open all through the night. There is a big choice Internet cafes here all around the town, a casino and a sex shop if you need one, it has it all!

Yambol boasts a Grand Theatre, concert Hall and cinema, museums along with a library and two big bazaars at either ends of the town. It have main a main line rail link to the rest of the country and a Bus and Coach station which does the same. Taxis are two a penny here and most drivers are as honest as the day is old, although always best to go through the routine of agreeing the price if you don't see a meter.

The linden tree lined boulevard with its many street bound cafes tucked all the way along is a feature of Yambol that sticks in you mind when you are away along with the impressive mosque that dominates the town square where many a local and National events are held - too many to mention here.

Who lives there.....?

The biggest bonus of any town wherever in the world is the people who live and work there. A town is not built from brick and mortar but built upon the community. You cannot put a price on decent people but you don't have to in Yambol. These Yamboltsi are warm, hospitable and have no qualms at all about foreigners mixing in their community. It does help to keep this so by doing some homework on the customs and language, many who don't, don't really deserve to be here!

Safe as safe can be.....

Finally, you're safe here, you won't get mugged or robbed on the streets at night and the Yamboltsi kids are a joy to to have around the town. Everyone respects their town and environment which make it a wonderful place to be with the knowledge of this in mind. Very little vandalism or graffiti shrouded buildings. However try to avoid Roma areas north of the town and take sensible steps avoiding going out on your own in the outskirts or quieter areas of the Yambol.

Any bad points.....?

Yes a few, (these of course apply to Bulgaria as a whole and not solely to Yambol.)

Bulgarian driving and parking habits, administration/red tape/jobsworth attitude, lack of orderly queuing systems, (quite rare to have to queue here anyway) and foreign guests here without any respect for the very different Bulgarian culture here!

What was the original question.....?

Oh yes, why Yambol? - Answered I think!

Skalitsa Man from Eden to Heaven

Things change and this week there was another chapter closed in the road I live in Skalitsa. Another member of the Skalitsa community passed away last week, my closest neighbour Dino. He was 73 and fell asleep in the field of sweetcorn never to wake. A very peaceful ending for a man who never stopped working all his life but always had time for people. His wife departed some 10 years ago now is joined up with him again in Heaven's garden having both spent their lives in the Garden of Eden.

His family are working his farm now but on a scaled down level whether it carries on as a farm or whether it gets put up for sale and turned into an ex-pat home is up in the air at the moment. But as trends go this is what is happening in the villages. He had helped me personally no end with learning the ropes of farm life and took me into the community with such warmth and friendliness and I miss him being there now.

Dino was a man of small stature, he have a severe curving of the spine hence he was bent forward permanently, quite common in many older generation smallholders. Never really found out what the cause of this was whether inherited or from the labours of the land. He was well known to everyone as are all the people who live in Skalitsa. It was quite strange about Dino's relationships with most other folk in the village but they never ever commented on whether they like him or not. They didn't have an opinion of him he was just Dino and nothing else. Of course everyone talks to everyone else all the time and Dino was no exception and often villagers on their way past his farm they would pause to sit on his bench outside his farm talking sometimes for hours as the sun sinks down the Bulgarian skyline.

The produce Dino had on his farm made him completely self-sufficient bar bread, lemonade, gas and electric. He works very hard never having taken a day off in his life, that's a fact I found out when speaking with him one evening. His farm is large and livestock comprehensive with every food on his doorstep. He makes money out of his livestock and together with his feeble 80 pounds a month pension makes ends meet. Not a day goes by in the three seasons where free is gathered food for his animals from neighbouring community shared lands. Once a week the accumulation of muck is taken away by his horse and cart to one of the Skalitsa village municipal dumps, namely an allocated field up the road!

Rakia and wine was made on an industrial scale with his own distilling system in one of his outbuildings. I remember him taking me in to see his rakia making in action, he had 10 x 120 litre barrels full of sliva fermenting away, the fermenting fumes could have knock you out there and then!

Many an evening no matter what season he would come around with a small bottle of homemade rakia and tomatoes either fresh or bottled depending on the month and we'd sit in or out and just talk. It was the case that he considered my rakia better than his as by the end of the evening it was always my bottle of home made rakia that has seen it's way to the bottom and his untouched. It took quite a while to realize that he was a skilled master at poaching other's rakia by praising it! That's all part of his make up.

I always remember him asking me for 1000 leva for a Lada car as he said his horse was too old now - this was asked for not as a loan but a gift! He thought that this Englishman was lined with gold after seeing the inside of my house with what I thought was very humble personal belongings. Even until the day he passed away he was sure that I had more money than I needed and he never gave up asking me.

He used to swear a lot, I knew this solely from the tone of his voice, routine first thing in the morning and last thing at night and a sporadic basis in between these times. The reason being that his sheep and goats never did what he wanted. Most evenings he was chasing them up the path by my house trying to get them back into his pen and I often wondered in his wisdom why this wasn't solved many years ago. I asked him this very question and he would just shrug his shoulders and not give me an answer then carry on where he left off, yes he's Bulgarian alright!

Quite often when the flocks of sheep and goats come by and fleece off to their well trodden ground back home Dino would have forgotten to shut his big farm gate and flocks of sheep and goats wonder in his yard to eat his hard earned hay for his own herd. I used to watch this with humour from my kitchen window as I knew at any moment after, the swearing and cursing would start and the waving and beating of his stick to get them away from the free feed and back in to the road. Again, after all the years he has been here working why does this happen? I don't bother asking as I know what the answer will be...

The day before he passed away I was helping him pull up his broken water pump, service it and put it back down his well. This is the least I could do as it served me well when I had no water in the first few months here in Skalitsa. It now worked perfectly after six months of non operation. He was a very happy man at this point, he had his well water back and of course it didn't cost him anything to fix, even more reason to be happy.

He loved having his picture taken. The very first time I gave him a print of himself, (sitting on the rubble that had been dug out for my septic tank.) I went to his house a few months later at Christmas and in his living room this photograph was the only picture in the room sitting as the main feature on his side cabinet. This make you feel so humble about things you take for granted.

Dino was part and parcel of the character of the the street and now he's gone his cursing and nose for good opportunities to poach rakia will be missed. His companionship will be sorely missed but most of all the simple fact that you knew that he was there all the time, it may seem quite strange thing to say but that how it feels.

So as another chapter unfolds, the old population in villages are gradually being faded out and no one to carry on the farming tradition. Towns and Cities give the call of money to the new generations and you can hardly blame them for seeking a 'better' living for their families. Opportunities in towns, cities and other EU countries for that matter now are ever increasing and the villages leaving a void to be filled. These homes are turned into holiday or retirement homes for ex-pats in the main, others are bought and just left to rise in price but vacant.

I felt compelled to write about Dino and so I have but this epitaph could have been written for many other older generation Bulgarians in villages throughout the country.

Bloody Starlings! (Bloody Sturnus vulgaris!)

Bloody starlings too right! The weekend had arrived and the crops this year are very poor indeed due to the intense heat and lack of any rain. The overhanging grapes indeed looked like they have hangover as the bunches consisted of various sized grapes unlike last year where they all were bursting with health and urging the owner to crush them.

So a poor harvest but at least there was going to be some sort of harvest, I thought. Looking under the trellis I saw that many of the grapes had fallen onto the ground, most consisting of the ripened grapes. I fed these to the chickens thinking that the wind or the little rain we had in my absence this week must have blown or knocked them off respectively.

Whilst lying down at lunchtime with the windows all open, as all Bulgarian do here, there was a commotion of noise outside. not being able to relax I upped and view the cause. As appeared outside a great clutter of flapping wings took course and a split second later a flock of starlings flew out of my vines. They are ugly and ungraceful birds as well which compound the anger, 'Bloody starlings!'

Now I have seen these birds in England but in Bulgaria they seem to be twice the size, and presumably twice the appetite for my grapes. I felt that they were rubbing slat into the wounds of the poor harvest to turn it into a non harvest.

Thoughts about how to prevent this happening only led one immediate remedy, make the vines untouchable. I could cover the whole area with netting but there are two problems with this. Buying netting on a wholesale scale with the area it had to cover and the fact that this was an English way of solving the problem, something that didn't usually work over here.

Speaking to my Bulgarian neighbours for advice was the immediate next step, they should know. At this point I wondered why this problem wasn't here last year, I couldn't remember having to think of solutions then. Maybe it's because I'm here only at weekends last year I was on the land most of the day and evenings, it could be that.

I should have known that speaking to my Bulgarian friends about this problem they would come up with the most Bulgarian way of dealing with it. A shrug of the shoulder and advice that was given was very difficult for me to come to terms with. The answer was to do nothing! They commented that there is enough for everyone and when they are full up they will go away! Had they seen numbers in their thousands flying around the land, were they aware of the wastage that gets left on the ground knock off by fluttering around. Somehow though I knew the answer would be based around letting nature to the business....... it is so Bulgarian to do that.

For a Bulgarian it is how they are and how they think that is so different. I often think, how can they not be besides themselves with the thought of the thieving starlings taking free picking
and they do nothing? It was added that the crop wasn't good anyway so why am I worrying? Well, this didn't really make me feel much better. the difference could be between getting a little wine and getting no wine, that's a big difference to me.

The rest of the weekend was spent trying to come to terms with the Bulgarian way of dealing with these bloody starling, do nothing. But every trip into the garden was followed by a big clap of the hands and a shout of, 'Bloody starlings!' A drop in the ocean seeing as I am to leave the place for five days and let them get on with it, why do I bother why I am there, to a Bulgarian it is looked on as wasted energy and anger that shouldn't be there. It is so hard to think like a Bulgarian, but they are right and the advice is probably the best I will get - in Bulgaria anyway.

Sirni Zagovezni in Bulgaria

One of the favourite festivals in Bulgaria is called ‘Sirni Zagovezni’ meaning ‘Shrove Sunday’ or ‘The Great Lent’. This comes around each year falling on a Sunday some seven weeks before Easter.

I have experienced two seasons of these now. It is a time of celebrating the beginning of spring and a period of fasting, in fact the longest fasting period of the year in Orthodox tradition. This means abstaining from meat, dairy products, (fish once a week is allowed,) no traditional dancing and no marriages to take place until Easter. This fasting does still go on but the food is too good and too tempting here for me to even consider joining this part of the ritual.

Many villages and towns have the traditional ritual of building of large bonfires and this was no exception in Skalitsa. There is either a communal bonfire normally or individual groups made by neighbours on their own. The fires would be built in higher areas with the belief that this would prevent hailstorms striking in the areas they are lit. I live high up on the high ground of the village so just outside my house was a good place for this.

The preparations for this festival are made by hand carving wooden rockets and laying them out to dry for a week or two so they are tinder dry for the day. This was really tough on the hands and my efforts only managed to get three carved. One of these is pictured below. These rockets would be launched after being set alight from the bonfire once fixed onto launching sticks. They ‘take off’ by the rocket is fixed to one stick and beat against another projecting it up to 100 metres in the air and over neighbouring houses. Just as each is launched, a name is shouted out and that rocket subsequently dedicated to that person, family, friend or lover!

The rockets are collected by young Bulgarian maidens and whoever collects the most will be deemed to be the fairest in the town or village. The young male pilots of the rockets therefore usually aim their rockets at their favoured maiden’s home to make it easier for them to find. This is a tradition where both young and old gather. The bonfire is the place where in the main asking for forgiveness is given from the young to the old; a time to rid everyone of past quarrels. This is traditionally a time for the younger members of the community to respect the elders.
Jumping over the fire is another part of the ritual usually performed by the younger members of the community, although many older members have been known to have a go and some of them did this cold Sunday evening! It is said that the farthest jump would give that young man a wife in the autumn, but all attempts will give good health to participants for their efforts. I had a go but let others beat me in distance as I didn't want to get married again! When the rockets and jumping have finished, and probably the wine and rakia almost finished having been passed around while in progress, it doesn’t stop there. This after all, is the last day of feasting and dancing prior to the fasting period so it is back home for Bulgarian apple bobbing, wining, dining and dancing until the early hours, for in the morning brings about a focus of the body and mind until Easter. Well to be quite honest it was a good start as I didn't fancy anything to eat in the morning!

Healing Stones - Skalitsa - Bulgaria

Healing Stones in Skalitsa now have played their part and to me is no longer rumour... I digress. Getting old is something that we have to live with and what comes with that is aches and pains. A bit of rheumatism has been playing hell with my shoulder for the last month having to have painkilling injections to ease it up. - Now in my village of Skalitsa there is an area where stones lay on the side of a hill on the outskirts. Ever since choosing this village as a place to live one of the reasons was for the rocks that are said to have healing properties.

I had been told that a few years ago a professor from Sofia have been to the site and concluded that there are indeed some magnetic crossing point activities that are present in the rocks and in fact that there are only two places in the world where this phenomenon occurs. There has been a thesis written up on it and I am in the process of trying to find it.

So, Sunday January 14th was a very warm and sunny day and both my girlfriend who had a painful night with her shoulder decided to take a walk and try the healing stones remedy.

We spent about one hour lying on a big rock that had been warmed up by the midday sun. There didn’t seem to be anything strange happening when we lay there but amazingly all our aches and pains disappeared! Now whether this was the cause of lying on warm rocks or the healing qualities of the magnetic fields made us feel a little skeptical.

It is now a day later and still both of us are pain free even on this coldish morning. We intend to revisit next weekend weather permitting. That is assuming that our pains have returned!

Right now we are more convinced than before that these stones have healing qualities and many locals swear by visiting them is they are in pain. One thing is for sure, it is more effective than any other medication that we had taken before for the relief of pain!

Frozen pipes in Bulgaria

The 2005-6 was the coldest winter in Bulgaria for twenty years! How do you cope dealing with the potential of frozen pipes in your home?

Keeping the taps dripping 24 hours a day is one suggestion that works quite well. Throw in a haystack or two into the shaft over the water meter access if located outside as in many Bulgarian homes is another that is effective. Turning the water off and drain off the pipes is probably the best if you aren't there for long periods is another good tip. The suggestion that you put antifreeze in the toilets overnight was another tip that someone gave to me, not a Bulgarian tip, but this doesn't really appeal to me. Anything involving chemicals just doesn't fit into Bulgaria ways here unless a last resort. Any more tips that can be taken on would be useful, before the cold weather hits preferably

This method was tried out recently and worked a treat:

Turn the mains water tap off, leave the taps open and then flush the toilet. This obviously applies to those not staying in their house, perhaps away for the winter to warmer climates. It works as the amount of air in the piping system copes with the expanding water that turns to ice leaving no fractures! Again, this worked as it has been tried and tested.