Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Even More

There were also some herbs growing in various places. This was another opportunity to put into action our 'good life' skills. You remember the Good Life TV series from the 1970s? Ohhh......... well if you don't, you can see a selection from the video bar to the right. Incidentally, apart from the living off the land aspect of the series, the relationship between the snobby Margot and Gerry her husband, and the down to earth, but still middle class Tom and Barbara, paints such a contrasting picture of middle class English life, whereas here in Bulgaria there is no middle class, even though one is much needed to generate the economy. Anyway more about that next time.
There is a patch of Lavender plants running along the side of the house, in about the second sunniest place of the garden. At the height of the summer heat, when they were most aromatic and when we were most intoxicated by their scent, we gathered and then dried the stalks up on the third floor on the stair rail. Later they would be put into bags to perfume the cupboards and other enclosed spaces.

There are also many other benefits from lavender which can alleviate these conditions :-

Relieving anxiety and tension especially through massage
Aiding sleep
Natural chemical free alternative to perfume
Pain Relief
Muscular aches and pains
Headaches and Migraines
Menstrual Cramps
Acne/Dry skin/Sunburned Lips
Insect Bites

Divisil (Lovage) and Mursalski Chai (Mountain tea)

Drying the Lovage

By the other wall there was a clump of Lovage. There is a Bulgarian dish called Bop. I like that name. Bop is a bean casserole, and cooked with lovage is delicious. 

But the star of our garden herbs has to be a visitor from the Rhodope and Pirin Mountain. Although it was only a small plant, we made use of it by drying and making it into tea. I don't know how the herb arrived. Its harvesting is actually protected by law here. But it is endemic in Bulgaria and the Balkans and drunk all over Europe. Its natural habitat is above 1000 metres. Here we live at about 750 metres. It has various names such as Shepherd's tea, Olympus tea (in Greece) and Ironwort. In Germany it is known as Bergtea. 
Once again it has many curative properties:-

Reputedly protects against prostate cancer
Bronchitis and Viral Infections
Promotes elasticity of the skin
Anti aging 
Protects against the formation of free radicals
Anti oxidant.
It is known as the Bulgarian Natural Viagra.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

More Fruitfulness

As well as the planting of our vegetables ( ok the tomato is a fruit), there was a natural supply of berries which were already situated in the garden. I assume that they were planted by the previous owners, unless the bushes were there before that and they built the wall around them, which I find unlikely, but you never know. Anyway we had a crop of red currants, black currants and on the other side the fashionable Aronia berries, the now much published wonder food. Aronia, being native of North America, is known as Chokeberry. Not a very confidence boosting name I am sure you will agree but nevertheless

Black currants
we had a reasonable supply which we made into juice. It did taste very nice. Apparently Aronias are a very good anti -oxidant and reducer of blood pressure plus at least half a dozen other benefits. I found this list on the web :-

1) The aronia berry is a great source of antioxidants
2) The aronia berry fights against heart disease and other cardiovascular problems
3) The aronia berry helps prevent blood pressure from becoming too high
4) The aronia berry promotes a healthy urinary tract
5) The aronia berry has anti-inflammatory properties
6) The aronia berry fights bacteria and viruses, such as colds and the flu
7) The aronia berry strengthens memory
8) The aronia berry helps in digestion
9) The aronia berry helps the body produce good cholesterol
10) The aronia berry provides the body with essential oils
So there you go !.

Below I am drinking Aronia juice with breakfast. No, it is really not wine !


One of the activities I particularly wanted to get on with as soon as possible was planting vegetables. Being June when we moved in it was well into the growing season. The gardens around were already brimming with produce and we hadn't even started, but within a week or so we bought tomatoes, aubergines, leeks, peppers, onions, and courgettes. 
I cleared a patch of grass just beside the house where the early morning sun would shine and remain for most of the day. We planted most of the tomatoes there and the aubergines, with a great deal of hope rather than surety that we would be successful. The remaining tomatoes, along with the peppers we put in the sunniest place by the garage, where it got particularly hot from mid morning. Because we had to make do with the space we had, we also put the leeks and onions there. The zucchini went up by the wall on the other side of the house where there is more shade and where they would hold the watering longer....and we waited..... no we did not stand there day and night...just watered and kept an anticipating eye on our first agricultural venture.
I must say that although Bulgaria has very fertile soil, I was not sure about the quality in our garden and it was a case of ...well we've planted now let's see what happens.
One pleasure of mine in England was making hanging baskets. I brought some with me and we filled two of them with flowers and hung them on the front porch. This caused quite an interest as most people who visited had not seen hanging baskets before.
We were happy and surprised that within two weeks the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers were thriving. It was a bit dry for the onions as the soil was stony. The leeks were fine though and the zucchini were settling into a green display but with few flowers.

Tomatoes and Aubergines

It was not long before we noticed a difference in the zucchini. Two of them turned out to be cucumbers and frankly they were the most successful. Finally we only got two zucchini and several cucumbers...ah well. 
All the watering was achieved by connecting a water pump to a series of hosepipes and then immersing it into the stream that flows across from our house. Another new experience ! The tap water here is metered and also rationed during the hot dry months so the proximity of this water source is really welcome. Incidentally the sticks supporting the tomatoes and aubergines I found as branches at the side of the street. In the UK I would have bought canes but here there is another mentality which I have gradually acquired, as I said.
As the season passed our peppers numbered around one hundred. We had about three hundred tomatoes and fifteen or so aubergines. These were the most successful. As well as eating them immediately in salads---and they were so fresh and delicious, they would be used later in the year to make a variety of Bulgarian preserves which I will describe later.
Unbridled joy at our first tomato

Our Chili Peppers of varying heat

Tomatoes, Aubergines and a Cucumber

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Berbatov, Martin Petrov, Bolton and The Rudartsi Chorus

Even though we had a friendly reception from our immediate neighbours which made us feel welcome, while I was at home on my own during the day I would explore the village, which, in the hot weather, included a beer or two in one of the local bars. Cristo's shop and bar is just opposite the main mineral spring. It was here where a universal interest manifested The men drinking there in the afternoon, having heard about the 'Anglichanina', immediately on seeing me called out "Anglia...Berrbaatov...Manchesterrr Unitett", in strong accents.

As in Greece many years ago when I went there, everyone seems to think that if you are English that you support Man. Utd. assuming you like football in the first place, just because the rest of the world seems to do. I put them right immediately, saying NO! Martin Petrov ...Bolton (which is where I was born). This made a good impression and I was invited to drink at their table as a result. From then on this is how I have been known every time they saw me. On a visit to the Pools one of the staff there was wearing an Stylian Petrov Aston Villa shirt. So there is quite an English connection via the footy.

It was not just the football though. Wherever I went often someone would try to strike up a conversation. As I had learned little Bulgarian at the time, these conversations would be made up of several languages, depending on what they knew or I knew; my schoolboy French, nightschool German, English and Bulgarian. Almost everyone I, and we came across said hello, sometimes in English. I found this very comforting that they were so friendly and as a foreigner I felt at home. 
There was also a familiarity that I did not expect. When I used to live in the village of Chew Moor, near Bolton when I was a boy, my mother would take me for walks on summer afternoons. We used to visit a lady who used to sell orange juice. She also used to keep pigs. We would also go to the local farm along the cobbled lane to see the cows. I think you can imagine what scents (if that is the right word) and sounds filled those langourous strolls....and Rudartsi, with the pigs down our road, clucking hens and the proud cock strutting in the pen...brought back so many memories of the village where I used to live, with the addition of goats and sheep wandering across the road and fields.
There is usually an assumption that living in the country is quiet and tranquil. Well it is much of the time. But early in the summer morning, in fact I would say too early, what I call the 'Rudartsi Chorus' would start up. Somewhere close by or maybe in the distance one of the many dogs would start barking. As is usual with dogs, once one starts, another replies until throughout the village there is a canine conversation, argument or whatever it is, which I am sure we will never understand, resounding and echoing across the valley. But as someone who has lived near a railway, before long I hardly noticed the barking, just as I never noticed the trains. 
There are many stray dogs in Bulgaria, particularly in Sofia. In Rudartsi there are fewer and some are taken in from the street. Rudartsi is a village where people own summer houses, living here until the winter sets in, then returning to Sofia, and they bring their dogs with them. Owners also let their dogs wander for someone else to feed.  Others are seen continuously outside restaurants longing for food. In winter it can be really hard for them. A really sorry sight and one which needs to be addressed. A controlled programme of neutering these strays is necessary and the problem will only get worse if nothing is done. I am told that provision was made for this but it never happened. This doggy below we thought was a stray. We saw him regularly covered in dust and thistles from where he had been sleeping outside. Then suddenly one day he had been groomed, probably by his owner. Then in late summer he disappeared, maybe back to Sofia.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Decorating and Settling In

Another thing about Bulgaria is that if you want some work to be done, then there is usually someone you know who has a friend, or who has a brother who has a friend who will do it. It is the way the tradesmen operate, recommendation after recommendation.
When we were helped to load the furniture into the garage we were helped by friends of Mihail who were furniture removers for that day.  The decorating was done by these same friends minus Marijuan but plus Mishako, another friend, who has a talent for being practically multi-talented, not only decorating, but putting things back together, erecting washing lines and climbing up poles sideways with arms at 90 degrees. Genny, apart from being a plasterer is also a fire eater in such festivals as Glastonbury. Quite a varied group.
The decorating process began a few days later when Joro came with all his colour options for us to choose, also helped by the artistic Velina. We went from top to bottom, notes were taken and all was set for the temporary family to take residence and start work. Yes it was a residence. I have never known this in England. Apart from occasional nights back in Sofia, they all slept in our house in sleeping bags on the floor and worked very hard as it was a big job. Several times they worked after and once till to get the job done. Can you imagine that in the UK ? 
All this took place during the Euro 2012 Football Finals. We would all sit on the terrace with the TV standing on a cupboard we had brought outside, cooking on the outdoor grill, with plenty of liquid refreshment. 
Meanwhile we spent our time getting to know the village. It was obvious very early on that just about everyone knew an Englishman had moved into the village. Everyone seemed to know me. I was even getting people I had not met telling me that I had a letter to pick up at the post office, and others saying "hello" in English. As they say about villages your every move is known even before you do it, but I found it so encouraging that there is a general 'keeping an eye on things'. It does help to go shopping locally and being seen in the centre very often. 
While Margarita was at work I began to start work on the garden. Our garden is blessed with a beautiful array of roses of many colours. Unlike in England where they bloom and fade, with perhaps a second show later, they continue blooming here until late autumn.
Bulgaria is in fact known as the 'land of roses'. The Valley of Roses in the centre of the country around Kazanlak exports its rose oil to world famous perfumiers.

However, as a contrast to all the pleasant work in the garden, there was also a considerable amount of unwanted rubbish to be cleared, or at least things we didn't need. I must say that prior to moving from the UK, I would have thrown things away without thinking. But there is a mentality here, probably borne out of the lean times of the past and also, I think, of a practical approach to daily life, that thinks twice before dumping anything. This rubbed off on me very early on. We had no canes to support our newly planted tomatoes, but I saw a pile of pruned trees in the lane, sawed them up into lengths and used them. Whatever is thrown it seems can be used by someone else, for something else. 
The restaurants and bars in the village might be natural places to socialise, but the metal containers which serve as the local dumps are also focal points. There is no recycling here so everything goes to one of these containers and the rubbish tipped out weekly. But before that everyone gets a pick. I put some old plastic sheets beside the one just down from our house, I went back for the rest and the sheets had already disappeared when I returned. Gypsies make regular rounds of these bins looking for metal or whatever they can use or sell. It is quite an industry.

I mentioned about the lack of recycling and as you can see these containers are certainly not the prettiest things in the world. But are they uglier than the plastic bins crammed into every house frontage in the UK ? I would say they are uglier but they are placed here and there so they do not dominate the streets as in the UK. The fact that much rubbish is piled around them before it is collected looks bad though. The picture below brings home a reality. What is taken for granted in the rich west is another story here !
Gypsy boy searching through a container in Sofia

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Move

Rudartsi is quite an extensive village spa, spread along the sides of a valley which is dominated by the Vitosha National Park. It is about 25 kilometres from Sofia and about 14km from Pernik.
Surrounded by nature, with mineral water springs and tremendous views, Rudartsi is really beautiful. The main attraction in summer is the swimming pools complex, fed by the mineral springs which flow from the mountain. The complex is situated in the centre, a few hundred metres left of the road from Pernik, When you see the circular Mineral Spring Building, by the few white fruit and vegetable units, turn left there. There are three pools and also a restaurant, snacks, waffles, an ice cream stall and bars. 
Rudartsi also has several restaurants and, just as you enter the village from the Pernik direction, a wonderful little home made bread shop, which also sells dough, milk and yoghurt.
There are marked paths up and over the Vitosha Mountain, 2390 metres at its highest point which is the Black Peak. Well marked signs point you in the right direction, also at various places, stations or huts where you can rest and cook. If you want to walk up there in summer, I suggest you start very early because of the heat later in the day.
When, as I said, we were looking for houses in various places and we decided on Rudartsi, I was pleased that Rudartsi is, as I say "on the Greece road". It is only 160 kilometres from the Greek border. Rather than having a south facing garden in England, we now have a south facing mountain. It is surprising how there is a noticeable difference in the weather compared to the north side particularly in autumn and winter. The sun shines a bit longer and the air is often clearer with blue skies, when Sofia is misty and cloudy. 
Minibuses operate every hour to Sofia (30 minutes) and Pernik (20 minutes) which begin their route from Kladnitsa, which is the next village higher up the mountain. You can drive up to Kladnitsa and begin your walk at a higher point. Or you can just sit there and enjoy the views of the the distant Rila Mountain, the highest in the Balkans at 2925 metres.

Mineral Springs

Rudartsi Pools, also known as the Beach.

Vitosha Mountain

So the day finally arrived. On 10th of June we took a taxi loaded with bits and pieces from Sofia. Winding our way through the pass that leads through the mountain we arrived in Rudartsi.
It was such a relief that we were finally there. The previous owners had been very kind to let us store my furniture there and they had moved out the previous day in order to make it much more convenient for us. I don't think it necessary to describe the detail. Suffice to say that our house, like most in Rudartsi and many in Bulgaria for that matter, is three storeys high. It was quite an exercise to walk upstairs and also back down carrying whatever. My thighs certainly knew they had done it. We did not bring everything in immediately though because we had arranged for the interior to be decorated. 
So after dinner, we spent our first blissful night, marvelling at the stars through the open window, to the sound of the sweetly flowing stream outside and a lone cricket clicking away in the warm evening.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Gurlo is a very quiet place on the other side of Breznik near Pernik and not that far from the Serbian border. We travelled on Saturday afternoon up the main road from Sofia to Pernik. The road is wide and cobbled with the tram line running parallel on the other side as you leave Sofia. Fortunately, our friend Joro chose to slip into another section which also runs parallel on our side, which wasn't cobbled, so it was a smoother ride.
In late afternoon we stopped at Breznik to buy fruit, veg, and beer which were really cheap. Then along empty roads passing wide open green spaces, and down to the house. The house had been snow bound all winter--the coldest and snowiest for fifty years. 
But now in the bright sunshine, with crickets chirrupping and birds twittering, it was an idyllic spring scene. Above the soft green hills the moon was already rising as we prepared for another Bulgarian custom, that of outdoor cooking. 
Outdoor cooking/barbecue...whatever you want to call it happens in Bulgaria throughout the spring and summer months and well into the autumn if it is warm enough, because of the dependable climate. If you travel around you will see most houses have a stone barbecue with a chimney built into it. Also usually a canopied eating area. 
Our BBQ was started burning small pieces of wood which reduced to charcoal after a little while. Then green peppers were roasted, followed by meat and toasting the bread. We sat under the outdoor canopy in the garden. With plenty of salads, crusty bread, wine, beer, rakia and rock music on the stereo, it was while before I noticed it was getting quite chilly. No going indoors though....just a pullover first and then a coat and we were out there till about 2.00am.

It was here during many "cheers" (nasdravay) and glass chinking that a particular Bulgarian word was used repeatedly. I had heard this word many times during the previous week or so. It seems that this wonderful word underpins the whole Bulgarian language. It crops up in conversation it seems, every few minutes. or sometimes seconds or even the end of phone calls, just before the end of phone calls, in the middle of phone calls, at the beginning of phone calls..... when you want someone to come with you, when someone is leaving, when someone is thinking about leaving, when they were thinking of leaving but are being persuaded to stay, when someone is leaving but they change their mind without any persuasion, when someone is not paying attention or daydreaming, when they are going for drinks, when they bring the drinks, when they want you to buy the drinks or it's your turn, when someone is arriving, on the phone before they arrive, when you are pleased to see them, when you want them to do something, when you don't want them to do something or do something else, when you say cheers, when you encourage, when you make a slightly slower movement than people are expecting, when you don't do what they thought you were going to do, when you are loading the car, when you are displaying enthusiasm, when you are unloading the car, especially when someone is waiting. I could go on.....I think ????  but I hope you get the picture. 
The word is 'haide' pronounced 'chaide' with a 'hk' generally sounding like 'ider'. Sooo.... as the night grew darker and the moon and our eyes shone brighter, it was "ider nastravay" many times, until we could not stay awake any longer.

On Sunday morning we awoke to a shining blue sky and hot sun. After breakfast it was on with the hats, necessary under the strong sun, and time to plant this year's tomatoes. It felt good to work the land actually using tools I had only seen on tv from days past, except for the rotivator that is.
We planted several rows, and enjoyed an outdoor lunch. It was then time to leave the tranquil setting, so in the afternoon we made our way back to Sofia and to the apartment. Along the road in Gurlo we passed several Stork's nests perched on top of conveniently placed telegraph poles, convenient for the storks that is. 
There is so much nature to enjoy all over Bulgaria. Where we were moving to, Rudartsi, is no exception.