Summer to Autumn

The end of a long hot summer and autumn spreads its carnival of colours along the valleys and wood lands. The mornings are dark and slow to stir the sleeping dogs that guard the houses of the rich and poor alike.  For the  Bulgarians, especially the older ones, change happens slowly, if at all. A life time of hardship and working with the seasons, eking out a living from the soil, has taught them that only good husbandry will carry them through the cold Balkan winters. Their animals, especially their goats, have an importance and status that is an integral part of their lives. If a village has a goat man or women then the day will start with the blowing of a horn to let the owners and the goats know that it is time to open their gates and start the day.  It is always first light and the goats mill around outside the houses grazing from the overhanging trees that line the road, waiting for the goat man to return . The sound of his horn can be heard around the village first close, then afar, then slowly back to the start by the time he returns like the Pied Piper of Hamlin he has his followers, some 50 or 60 goats that stream up the road, brushing past the carts and the four wheeled vehicles with the same indifference. This is repeated at the end of the day in reverse. In the summer it can be as late as eight o’clock before the goat man can be heard driving the animals back to their homes. But long before that, the dogs of the village will start barking in a cacophony of sound that bring the villagers out to wait the arrival of their goats who’s udders are full and are eager to be milked. I have seen the women, for it is mostly women that tender the goats, brush their animals with affection and care, removing the burrs from theirs coats that they have acquired from a full day in the brush lands around the village. The women will chat loudly to each other, some will sit on benches outside their houses and I’m pleased to say they sit on the bench outside my house, which I made just for that purpose, sometimes when I come out of my front door a little group of women will be sitting on my bench, each clutching a walking stick, their faces deep lined and burnt by the sun from a life time outside. They view me with some amusement and usually a kind smile and carry on talking till their goats come home.  This is their life and has been since they were children. Most of them have grown up under communist rule and some, not all , will say that they were better off  then, when the local schools were full of shouting children and the village was a busy place but for the way they live their lives, the daily routine of it has changed little, not so for their children, who have left the towns and villages to find work in the wealthy cities of Europe, eager to be part of the new world and embrace the things that we westerners take for granted. Sadly, there will come a time when capitalism and the pursuit of wealth will lose its shine and they will want to return to the towns and villages of their parents and grandparents only to find that they will be the strangers in the village, unrecognisable and unaffordable to them. As Europe teeters on the edge of economic collapse and countries like Greece and Spain struggle to stay afloat, it is difficult to see how countries like Bulgaria and Romania will survive but survive they will, mostly because the old ways are still very prominent and alive. So for many nothing will change and life will continue as it always has. I have added an album with a few pictures of faces and of the local school in my village that stopped being a school over night . This happened all over Bulgaria and it is one of the saddest side affects of the collapse of communism and the withdrawal of money and support from Russia. Please click on icon below.

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Changing Seasons and Thoughts from Abroad

The signs of autumn are clear; the colours are changing into a spectrum of light yellow to dark red and the swallows have all but finalised their last instructions to the young ones, imprinting the map of this whole area forever into their small but keen brains. The Bee-eaters, in huge flocks, clear the skies of bees and insects. Soaring and swooping, twisting and rolling like a scene from the Battle of Britton, whirring in delight at the unlimited feast set before them. Soon they will leave for the African Topics and we shall feel the loss of their beautiful colours, only compensated by the colours of the Autumn they leave behind. I find myself a little sad. I used to feel the same on the farm (High Cross) in Grassington when the swallows left and the Curlews and Oystercatchers were finally silent. Looking out on the beautiful scene of Wharfedale and it’s ever changing patterns of light that define the medieval settlements and Lynchets across the valley but knowing that the winter ahead would be long and cold and as in recent years, wet. The sharp crisp winters of 40 or 50 years ago are now a rarity but when they come there is nowhere in this world more beautiful than the Dales.

It evokes memories of my childhood lying in bed in the morning and praying that the silence and dullness in the air was indeed snow and as I scratched the frost from the glass with my fingernails it revealed, through the marks, a glimpse of overwhelming beauty as the garden of yesterday was now transformed into a paradise of untouched white virgin snow. The world I knew, now completely changed, nothing was the same. Staring out at the scene transfixed by what I saw, looking out at the familiar land marks no longer familiar, I felt a raising excitement quickly followed by panic.  I had already wasted time and if I didn’t move fast my sisters would beat me to the garden and I wouldn’t be first to break the meringue tops of the snow and walk the paths of the garden, nor would I be the first to reach the summit of Everest via the south col to the top of the apple tree. Timing was crucial my twin sister Janet would sense something, I know she would.  A lack of preparation must give way to speed and the risk of frost bite. A quick leap down the stairs avoids the deadly creaks that would wake my sleeping twin, into the kitchen unlocking the kitchen door and then out into the new world of white adventure. The cold air hit my nostrils and a blackbirds alarm causes a mini avalanche from one of the fir trees as the snow found its way down the back of my neck, round the side of the house breaking new ground and marking my territory with every step.  There in front of me, the big apple tree scared on every branch with penknife cuts and my own initials but now completely new and only vaguely familiar.  I reached  it’s trunk and brushed the snow from it’s reachable branches and satisfied myself that it was indeed my apple tree, my second home, my refuge. I climbed into its loving branches and sat vaguely uneasily in my seat of power and my Everest summit. I was indeed the first here and now could shout with delight and irritate my sister by throwing a tightly packed snowball at her bedroom window. I jumped down behind the tree and hid knowing that shortly my sister Janet would be following in my foot steps and I wanted to see her face when she realised that I was the first to explore this new world.  I slip backwards rolling down the bank and came to rest as a cold duvet of snow covered me. I felt the shear ecstasy of the day until the cold and the wetness seeped through my pyjama bottoms and the realisation that one of my slippers was missing. Janet appeared at the top of the bank “you stupid boy” was all she said and a perfectly aimed snowball hits me full in the face.

What a wonderful day this was going to be.


Trip to Bansko

Bansko is the skiing Mecca for Bulgaria but unlike a lot of ski resorts out of season, it still manages to keep the appearance of a vibrant and active little town with Jazz festivals and Opera festivals in the main square to keep the tourist coming in and the local restaurants and businesses ticking over. It’s a beautiful place nestling below the beautiful Pirin Mountains. Although the cost of staying in the Hotels is higher than in other places (excluding Sofia) we stay at Kralev Dvor Hotel and it worked out about £18 a night for two in a suite and that included breakfast, so pretty good really.

I don’t think we would have gone if it hadn’t been for some new friends who took us there and drove us everywhere in a big four wheel drive thingy, including high in the mountains on some extremely rough roads to get to the amazingly remote bear sanctuary at Belitsa a drive of 22km on a road you could hardly walk on and the same way back but worth every moment there, we were the only people there apart from a few staff that were only too pleased the show us around. It is set in a huge area and the bears, after being rescued, live out their lives in peace in as near to their natural environment as possible. If you click on BEARS it will tell you more about them but be warned, it is upsetting.

The wild life everywhere is truly amazing and the mountains in this area are no different. On the way to the mountains we visited the Rila Monastery and on the way home we visited the Shipka Memorial

Both were amazing and if you want to see my pictures please click on the camera below


Water

 

 

Bulgaria is on the outer edges of the European communities, it’s not a full member but is doing it’s best to comply with the EU’s rules which wanted less corruption in the country and some sign that the money pouring in was going on roads etc. After a bad start where many millions of Euros were given to a contractor for road plant and equipment, only to find the contractor had brought old and unreliable plant, pocketed the bulk of the money and was no longer contactable. Eventually however the right plant was bought and the roads, the main roads at least started to be done. Interestingly enough the Bulgarians have a different outlook to most Europeans. Their view at the time was that there would be great disruption on the roads and it would take a decade at least to carefully manage the road system to coupe with the new infrastructure, this was way to long a time scale, so they decided that it was better to have total chaos for a couple of years and do all the roads at once and this is what they did and within a few years all the main roads were done and the country could get on with other compliances that the EU had put on them.  Next in line was the police force, for years if you were stopped for speeding, (which I have been) you would pay a backhander to the policeman, not a lot, maybe £10 and that would be the end of the matter, he would add to his wages, which at the time would have been about £30 a month (impossible to live on) and everybody went away happy, no paper work needed. This was seen as corruption in the police force and had to be stamped out. So now we have the situation where a bonus system has been introduced and the police get a bonus linked to the number of people they catch speeding and to make sure there is no corruption 3 policeman must be at the scene each one making sure the other is not on the take. Personally I preferred the old system, never did like paper work and for the EU to talk about corruption in Bulgaria is just so hypercritical and we’ll leave it at that.

Mains water supply in the country suffers from old pipe syndrome and bit by bit the main towns and cities have had their water supplies dragged into the 21st century, this means that a lot of the villages, ours included are often left without water for days and sometimes weeks at a time, especially in the summer months. Most villages have a communal well and a lot of the houses have wells of their own and I am lucky enough to own one. I have spent the last few days repairing it, the top needed replacing and all the mechanical parts, chains etc need replacing, plus a new bucket. The water table is 10 metres down and the depth of water is about 3 metres and although it has a romantic quality, winding down the bucket and winding it back up brimming with water, in reality it is hard work and exhausting for the small reward of a bucket of water. So a few years ago I invested in a draper pump which I bought in England. I now have it securely chained down the well with a strong hose and electric cable fitted to a switch at the top of the well and now at the flick of a switch I can have water (not for drinking) so now when the water goes off I can connect a hose to the outside tap and the to the pump and back fill the system , it is not a pressure pump so I have to be careful not to put too much pressure in the system, I do this by opening a tap somewhere in the house or turn the shower on and everything works fine as long as you don’t swallow any of the water. Eventually I will get a tank and make sure the water is safe to use but at the moment the water situation is under control… ish.


The Village

 

Burya (Storm)lies roughly in the middle of Bulgaria, 100 miles east of Sofia and 20 miles west of Veliko Tarnova.  It is a typical rural village, which once was a thriving community and would have had a population of about 2000 but since the collapse of communism and the withdrawal of Russian support; the young have left for foreign shores, the big cities of Europe being too much of a temptation to earn a decent wage and a new way of life. The result of this is, the small towns and villages around Bulgaria have very few young living in them and numbers have fallen by at least 75%. Burya is no different.

Communism gave the people of Bulgaria free oil, a library in every town, a job ( though no real choice of what kind of job)  a holiday for everyone once a year and a house in the country to grow their own produce, oh and a car inspection pit in every village, very, very useful . Most properties had enough land to feed a family with plenty left over to sell at the co-operative markets for a little extra cash. The older generation still come from the larger towns at the weekends to work on their gardens and produce, some of the fruit they will use for their traditional alcoholic drink Rakia  which will give you a headache like you wouldn’t believe but will also run your car if petrol is unavailable.

Burya has a library, a municipal council office, a couple of shops with a bit of a bar outside, a church, not sure which denomination but it looks nice, a large school which is now over grown and looking a bit sad, a resident goat man (Mustafa)a resident cow women (don’t know her name)a bit of a timber yard (very useful) and more than it’s share of dogs!! We are surrounded by wonderful neighbours who cannot speak a word of English and as we speak no real Bulgarian (yet) communication is a little difficult and involves a lot of use of the hands and repeating English words several times in the vain hope they will suddenly understand you.  They are very kind people and very generous with the little they have, always bringing us bags of fruit and various vegetables. We know most of their names but over the years have added our own names to the different characters, for example our neighbour over the road we call bow legs for obvious reasons, then there is old man who comes and calls at the house and often cries about his loneliness (that is sad) then there is farting women who come down the road on two sticks and we always check which way the wind is blowing before giving her a hug (not to tight) One of my neighbours called Meter introduced his wife as Avanka which I thought was a bit harsh, till he explained that was her name and not an insult. Ivan and Irene who always cry when we leave but not sure if that’s love or relief at our going.

Life in the village is slow and seems to roll with the seasons and I hope they see us more and more as part of their community and not just the odd English people up the road. 

  


The House

We’ve  been here two weeks now and this is the first day that the heat has eased off a bit. Temperatures have been crowding 40c and the last couple of days have gone over that. We have been starting work early and finishing about 1 o’clock , after that it was too hot to be out in the open, so we either found work in the shade or worked in the house. The garden was not so bad this year because our friends Dave and Jane had Strimmed it every now and then, otherwise it would have been like a jungle but it still needed some serious strimming. A large fruit tree in the orchard had come down during the winter and needed to be sawn up with the chain saw, which at least had the bonus of leaving us with a month’s supply of logs in the Autumn if turns a bit chilly.

I made a garden bench which Andy Marston (friend and woodwork teacher) would hopefully give me at least an A for, Okay Andy Design Technology.  I have spent  today repairing the well, which now sports a new  wooden cover and sliding hatch. Talking of water, we have had a couple of days without water but it’s back on now. One year we had three weeks without water and it was then we realised the importance of having a well and with the pump I brought out from England, it isn’t a complete disaster when the water goes off, so we are going to look after that well. 

Seem to have a family of Pine Martins either in the barn or somewhere near the house, we have seen them a few times and I managed a few pictures of them in the fading light (See in Photographs), some nights they get onto the balcony and start making a bit of a racket, we used to sleep with the window wide open but the thought of a Pine Martins hot breath on your face in the middle of the night is a bit unnerving, so we brought some metal mossy netting and set it into the window frame and  that makes us feel a bit more relaxed. 

The bird life is as always quite amazing, the sound of Golden Oriels fill the garden as well as the sounds of young shrieks calling for their parents. The Bee-Eaters come in huge flocks in the evening to have a feed up before roosting for the night and the sound of their whirring fills the air.  


Getting Here

Burya is the name of the village where we brought the house some 6 years ago, Burya translated means storm, it is situated about 100 miles east of Sofia and 15 miles west of Veliko Tarnovo about the middle of the country. We chose this area because we had some friends who had brought a house here and it was near the mountains and looked a bit like Yorkshire. It is roughly 2200 miles from Grassington in Yorkshire to Burya, it is a bit less if you go through Serbia but I chose to go through Romania because last time I went through Serbia we had to wait 5 hours at the border and then they relieved us of 85 euro because they said we hadn't got a green card. I lost my temper and came close to punching one of the guards, anyway the long and short of it is, we don't go through Serbia any-more. We  have made the journey to Bulgaria many times and although it is a long drive, there are parts of the journey that make it worth the effort. Last year we discovered Gyor in Hungary  and returned there this year and although we are not normally city people, this has to be one of the most beautiful cities on route and for a very small amount of money a good hotel can be found very near the centre. I don't want to sound like a travel agent so I will just put a link to some of the pictures I took when we were there and you can judge. Click HERE