Reflections on Bulgaria

France beat Wales and the following weekend went on to lose (in a tight game) to New Zealand. The week in between was full of incident.  First we had 2 days of torrential rain where the Turks failed to turn up for work. Not surprising as they would have thought that they would have been working outside, in fact they had jobs to do inside (in the warm and dry), though it was sanding down beams (pretty boring). On the first day, David and I did all the unfinished, inside jobs. The local policeman who was making steel doors for the barns was also expected, but he also failed to turn up, as did the electrician, though he eventually made an appearance at 9pm. Looked around and said, “No problem.” then left, promising to return on Thursday.

The following day we spent the morning planning and decided to go into Veliko Tarnovo (the old capital) to get a petchka (woodburner) for the new downstairs apartment. We left at 1pm in the pouring rain. We visited e large builders merchant that David had never been to before, as well as Praktika and a specialist Petchka shop. We looked at dozens of woodburners. And then we looked at them again.We discussed at great length what the petchka was needed for and what features it must have and eventually David chose one that was on offer in Praktika. When the store assistant went to get a sack barrow to move the petchak he took just enough time for David to change his mind (several times) and we eventually left the store with the same model that he already had in the upstairs lounge. It took a mere 5 hours. As it was dark and still bucketing it down we couldn’t complete the other task we had set and that was to get a set of snow tyres (quite significant error as things turned out). We drove back in driving rain which turned to sleet as we neared Ritya.

I woke around 2 am to visit the small room and looked out of the window to see a covering of snow outside. When I woke at 7am, it was  3ft deep, there was no power, a lot of the trees had fallen over with the weight of snow on the leaves. No power meant no water as it could not be pumped from the well. Wading down the lane we discovered that the village was cut off by dozens of trees down. Though it was very picturesque and Christmassy. We dug out paths around the house, collected snow to melt for water and got a camping stove out and boiled some to make a hot drink. Later on, David got out his quad and took the chainsaw to start on the fallen trees. The power came back on, later that afternoon.

The following day was quite hot a a slow melt began. David thrashed up and down the lane to flatten the snow and drag some trees out of the way. He discovered that a snow plough had been and cleared a lot of it away, but couldn’t get over the little bridge outside the village. That afternoon we busied ourselves with indoor jobs.

The hot sunny weather continued for the rest of the week and the snow slowly melted, and the Turks turned up. We all set about digging a ditch from the house gutter downpipes into the field. It was very wet and muddy work as the ground was osdden and the melting snow insisted on using our ditch, at times we were digging underwater. Eventually after a couple of days the ditch was ready to take the pipes, and with only a few minor hitches, they went in  ok and worked first time (much to our relief). It helped to alleviate the water problem and the garden began to quickly dry out. The following day saw the pipes covered in sand and the new garden path edged with concrete.

The following days saw a new wall built and a steel door fitted in one of the barns. However, the policeman had fitted the door with the locks on the outside. David was in Dryanovo when they were fitted and I was busy in the field rebuilding a bridge over the ditch. The policeman had left by the time David returned and discovered the error. Being a policeman, I think he must have slunk off with embarrassment over his mistake. He later (by phone) professed that they weren’t finished yet, but didn’t give a date when they would be. The electrician eventually turned up on Sunday, his name is Vlado. He is Russian and quite a nice chap, very laid back. He worked for a couple of hours and then left saying he would be back tomorrow. This was particularly disappointing as we had channelled out all the cable runs and purchased all the necessary cable with all sockets and switches and needed the work finished so that I could plaster the rooms before Genya came home on Tuesday. He did arrive at 9am and worked until 7pm. I was plastering just behind him, it is funny how you get to know somebody really well when you do that. When he left I completed the last bit of plastering by 8pm.

David got up at 5am on Sunday and started to clean the inside of the house. He also finished at 8pm, so you can see how much of a mess it had got into. The Turks spent the day clearing up the garden, they finished at 4.30pm (luckyTurks!). We had something to eat, drank the last of the beer (no incriminating evidence for Genya to find) and then retired to bed as we were up again at 6am to drive to Sofia (I was going home).

The Journey to the airport started well. We stopped for a drink just outside the city and everything continued well for a  few more miles and then we were in a jam. After crawling along for half an hour we discovered that the problem was a lorry broken down. To make things worse 20 meters after it was a broken down car (probably overheated while crawling along). We still crept along at a snails pace (and time went by) for a few miles to come across some gypsies pushing another broken down car among the traffic. Thinking that at last we had passed all the hazards, it was disappointing to creep along a few more miles to discover that they were felling trees all along the carriageway. After navigating this, we at last broke free and raced to 50 kmph and were soon at Terminal 1. I quickly said goodbye to David and raced to the check-in desk. I was the only one still checking in and was soon through security to the departure lounge.

I was due to fly out at 12.25pm with Wizz Air and Genya was flying in at 12.50pm with EasyJet. I saw the EasyJet flight land while I was boarding the bus to take us to the plane, but unfortunately didn’t have a chance to see Genya, before I boarded the plane. I slept most of the way and caught the train home from Luton. Sue picked me up at station.

There is a phrase: “No problem.” It has a different meaning in Bulgaria. In the UK it would mean, you can forget about it, the person has seen this before and is capable of completing the task to the standard required and you will be pleased with the result. Bulgarians use this phrase a lot, you hear it all the time. It means, they can see that there will be a problem, they have no idea what to do about it, they will attempt it using any tool (whether appropriate or not) and then look surprised when you point out that it was not what was asked for. After all, they are satisfied with the result.

Bulgarian/Turkish workers: own no tools. Electricians do not possess, pliers, pincers, screwdrivers wire cutters etc. Plasterers do not own any of the equipment necessary to carry out a plastering job, even labourers do not posses footwear or clothing suitable for labouring tasks, they don’t even possess gloves let alone any tools. They have to be provided with them. And, when they have finished using them, they drop them wherever they are at the time. Ask them for one of the tools they have been using, usually means a search of around 15 minutes before it is found or you give up and get another out of the tool store. When the snow arrived we practically had the contents of a hardware shop hidden under the white stuff for nearly a week.

Papa: He is the older of the 2 Turks. He has often demonstrated that his isn’t very bright, but he is extremely enthusiastic and hardworking. I like Papa a lot, even more so when he called me Papa until we discovered he was a year older than me. From that time on he gained the title of Papa. Papa has tried to torch himself on a couple of occasions. On one cold morning he attempted to start a small fire with a full can of petrol. Not surprisingly it detonated, blowing the can apart, causing a mushroom cloud and a singed Papa. Unfortunately I was inside and missed the fun. I also missed the occasion when to dry his wet fleece he placed it over the new woodburner we had bought and seemed surprised when it burst into flames. Unfortunately I was working outside at that time.  One time, it took quite a lot of persuading that when I was building a wall I was quite happy putting a trowel full of mortar onto the brickwork and expressed no need of any help. He insisted on heaping spade fulls of mortar onto the bricks and looked pleased with his effort as I scraped large amounts of excess off.  He spoke no English and understood no English profanities, not matter how loud. I know no Bulgarian insults. When ever David or I were cutting a pipe carefully to size, we had to be wary of where Papa was, as he loved to help out by stepping on the pipe as you were on the last cm or so (to help of course), usually the pipe would be the right size of course, but now have a Bulgarian chip out of the edge instead of a nice English straight edge.

Restaurants: Bulgarian food is nice, I enjoy it a lot. I love cheese. Bulgarian dishes all contain cheese. They do, read any menu and it has either white cheese or yellow cheese. I do not see the purpose of yellow cheese, it tastes of straw, you are supposed to be able to cook with it but when you do, it turns to grit. It is foul and should not be labelled cheese, they should use it for filling in the many pot-holes on their roads. When uncooked it is so chewy that it will wear away your enamel before being  able to be swallowed. The white cheese is wonderful, it is a Feta cheese. It tastes lovely in salads, with chicken, in soup, on pizza or on anything. It is the one Bulgarian cheese that I like. However, there are only 2 cheeses and they are named by colour.

Waitresses: In a Bulgarian restaurant do not expect the dish you have ordered to arrive at your table. Do not expect your starter to arrive before the main meal or even dessert. Certainly do not expect the vegetables to arrive with the meat course you have requested. Why this kept happening was revealed to me when I read the Wizz Air in flight magazine on the way home. In a section describing the various destinations they serve, they outlined several tips for each. For Sofia they also noted what I have just said and in their research discovered that Bulgarian waitresses bring to the table the elements of your meal as they are cooked, it is a Bulgarian oddity. It is bloody weird having a salad arrive instead of the chicken fricasse you ordered, even if it was nice. It is maddening having your fries arrive with your dessert and not the pork which would have gone cold half an hour ago if you had waited. As most food dishes do contain cheese, yes even the chips, I can forgive them. But they still have bloody weird eating habits. One more thing, most Bulgarian waitresses seem to do their job with THE boyfriend in tow. As a distraction I am sure it is the cause of many of the wrong meals being served. I surely is not necessary after taking an order for chicken paella to wander over to the love of her life for a quick kiss and fondle before telling the chef I have ordered a chicken salad! Forgetting the chips also ordered and then having to be called over to ask where the bottle of Zagorka was. I have a clay effigy, a lock of your hair and a some very sharp pins my dear, and you will be having a painful love life!

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