Seven Days in Bulgaria – Part One
On Friday, eleventh of December, Jay, Marley and I set off from Marikostinovo for our new life in Miladinovsti. It was five months to the day since we had left Scotland back in July, and so much had happened and changed since then.
There was our epic journey down to Portugal through France, Spain – and the pandemic. The hot days of summer in our month at “Sunshine Park” in Loule. My month alone at “Mikki’s Place to Stay” in Pera while Jay went back to Scotland.
Next up was the van flooding when our dump valve broke. Getting legal residency in Portugal. Bumping into old friends in Monsanto while we were property hunting there. And saying goodbye to Portugal again, as we made a mad dash for Bulgaria. Realising it was the place that we really wanted to move to.
No sooner did we make it past the border to Italy but we had lost Jay’s passport. Then came a ten day wait for him to get emergency travel documents for the ferry over to Greece.
Arriving in Bulgaria we landed well and truly on our feet when we met Ana and Ivo at Sunny Paradise Camping. The amazing friendship and help from both them and Nina and Petros at Ladina Guesthouse in Marikostinovo was invaluable during our seven week stay.
We became Bulgarian residents, imported Iggy onto Bulgarian licence plates and, last but not least, were offered a piece of land in south east Bulgaria for our camperstop project.
And so it was that as soon as everything was completed with our van insurance on Friday afternoon we set off for our new lives in Miladinovsti. Iggy was packed up with gardening tools, a little cheap generator and a lot of hopes and dreams. It was a 500 kilometre drive and would take us until Saturday night to get there. Our newest adventure was afoot!
Day One – Sunday 13th December
Spirits were high at eight o’clock on Sunday morning as my eyes snapped open in our Iggy van. We were here! Miladinovsti! Our new life was waiting for us right outside the door. And I could not wait to get started.
Jay’s spirits were not quite so high as mine, as I bullied him out of bed to start the day. Not well known for his love of getting out of bed in the morning is our Jay. But luckily he’s a naturally good natured kind of a lad, and puts up quite well with me ripping the quilt off him while singing “Good Morning” in as loud and off tune a voice as I can manage. And that, I promise you, is pretty loud. And horribly off tune.
Being a musician and all, our Jay has a pretty low tolerance for off tune. And an added bit of intensive arm tugging was all that was needed to persuade him to get up and get to work. After all, hacking down trees with our new axe, was exactly what he wanted to be doing on a chilly, grey December morning in Bulgaria. It sounded like splendid fun.
And splendid fun it was indeed. After we’d taken Marley for a long walk up the beautiful, forested hills in front of our new home. And eased Iggy out of the bogged in mess he’d gotten into when we’d arrived in soggy, rain splattered, pitch darkness the night before.
Thankfully we’d had the sense to just leave well enough alone until morning. And with the daylight it was easy enough to get Iggy back out again.
The last ten days had seen an uncharacteristic amount of rainfall in Bulgaria. Normally, so we are told, it seldom rains for more than two or three days at a time. And even then it tends to only rain on and off during those days. But so far December had seen a lot of rain and, although not waterlogged, the rich, deep loam in Miladinovsti was soft and deep from the watering.
We’d gone slightly off the roadside in the dark the night before. Unable to tell where there was tarmac under the fallen autumn leaves, and where time had broken it all away.
Until our wheels started spinning in the mud that is. Then we had no problems telling we were off road at all!
A bit of carefully placed tarpaulin, and even more careful wheel turning, and Iggy was free in no time, and sensibly parked up on good hard standing directly in front of our new driveway.
Or what would be our new driveway. Just as soon as we hacked our way through fifteen years worth of rose briars and young trees.
We’d been given a bit of a head start by the village road crews since we’d last visited the house. Either that or somebody was harvesting the old, unused properties for firewood. Because all the hedging trees along the property line had been cut right back to waist height. It was going to make our jobs a lot easier. But first we had to disentangle all the cut down branches and drag them across the road from the house.
It looked like an almost impossible job to start with. And I was very conscious of being fifty-six years old and ridiculously out of shape. But once we got going we were amazed at how quickly the jungle began to give way before us.
I went first with a pair of long handled secateurs, and Jay followed with thick, thorn proof gloves and an axe. Two hours work – a quick coffee break – two hours more work. Until, all of a sudden, when I tried to lift the secateurs up to snip through “just one more” inch thick, rose briar, my arms just said
There was no arguing with the wobbly arms. And Jay was almost indecently quick to give up hacking things with his axe for the day. It was, definitely, time to stop.
And besides – we needed to go to the supermarket in Yambol anyway, to stock up for the next couple of weeks. It was already two o’clock in the afternoon and it would be full dark in three hours. We stepped back to survey our handiwork, and happily called it quits till the morning.
Day Two – Monday 14th December
Monday the 14th and we awoke to the sound of rain tap dancing it’s way around the roof above our heads. Enthusiastically tap dancing. Like a sixty strong class of happy, energetic, three year olds kind of dancing. Complete with tripping up, falling over, and those two stroppy toddlers that keep falling out and pushing each other over. Then become best friends again, clasp hands, giggle, and do a combined bum drop right above your sleeping head. Or, as in this case, my sleeping head.
The rain kept up relentlessly for the rest of the day. It was impossible to get outside and do any work at all.
Jay and I took turns taking Marley Dog on long, soggy walks up through the forest. We set up the generator in the old outhouse, and charged up the van’s batteries. And I watched the flashing colours of the Jay birds as they hunted from the walnut trees beside our parking spot.
We made soup. Watched Netflix. And waited for the rain to stop while a man with an official looking badge stopped by to ask us in Bulgarian what, exactly, we thought we were up to.
We figured he was probably the mayor – Kmet in Bulgarian. We had planned on going to look for him today and introduce ourselves. Talk about camperstops. That sort of thing. But he had pre-empted us by turning up to check we weren’t messing about with someone else’s house without permission.
Jay jumped out of the van and stood shivering in the pouring rain. Using the amazing sign language technique of pointing from his chest to the ruined house and back again.
“It’s our friend’s house. We are buying it. We are just clearing the land.”
On and on we both chatted, in our completely unintelligible foreign language of English. Smiling reassuringly as we pointed to the devastation of chopped down trees that had once been the Jungle of Miladinovsti. Aka Terry’s Place.
Goodness alone knows how, but the kmet seemed to understand what we were trying to explain. And, giving us a short nod of approval, he climbed back into his 4×4 and vanished into the rainy distance of Pirin Street.
With too much time on my hands, and nothing to do but think and plan, I began to worry some more about niggling issues I had about our new base in Miladinovsti.
First there was the issue of the roads leading to the village. Once inside the village limits the roads were in decent condition for a Bulgarian village. A bit dilapidated looking, but minimal potholes. Easily driveable and nice and wide too.
But the access roads to the village were a different story entirely. The one from the west was an almost impassable write off. We had driven it twice now in Iggy, and it was an unforgettable experience. Think about trying to carry a plank of wood, the length of a giant cruise ship, in a hurricane force wind. Trying not to ever crack the ends of the plank against the deck of the ship.
Now throw in random holes in the decking. And, just for fun, have missing bits off the sides of the ship. So you have to suddenly run across to the other side because your side just isn’t there anymore.
Got the picture? It had been pretty nerve wracking driving it in our 6 metre Hymer. I don’t think anyone in a seven metre motorhome, with a long overhang at the rear, was going to appreciate driving down that way.
The second road into the village was from the east, and was of a shorter length – only about three miles out to the main road.
This road was in much better condition than the west side road. It was still not great, and there was the odd small section that was pretty poor, but it was driveable without any serious concerns of damage.
We’d already figured we would just make sure to let people know to only use the eastern road for accessing Miladinovsti. But my big concern was what if the powers that be didn’t fix it up before it became as bad as the other road? It really wasn’t going to be much longer before the road descended from “bad” to “terrible” and on again to “I’m not driving my motorhome down that thing!”
There was no point building a camperstop in a place that people couldn’t access. No matter how pretty the views were.
Our second big concern was the amount of empty buildings in the village. Bulgaria is a country with a declining population. Many of the young people have moved away to countries like Germany in search of more money, more opportunities, and simply to explore what the west has to offer them.
Because of this even the best of Bulgarian villages generally have a few empty houses dotted around here and there. But Miladinovsti seemed to have more than its fair share. Despite the overall prettiness of the setting. The lakes to either end, the beautiful forested hills, the far off views of the Balkan mountains… Miladinovsti had a lot going for it. But unfortunately not quite enough to have staved off a big helping of decay.
We couldn’t quite make our minds up whether the number of empty and decaying houses lining the village streets would be too much for potential visitors. Where was the invisible line between “interesting” and “depressing”? And had Miladinovsti already crossed it? And crossed it too far to ever return?
We didn’t know. And, not knowing, I spent the afternoon and evening trawling real estate adverts. Looking for possible alternative options in south east Bulgaria for our camperstop. Maybe we could keep Miladinovsti just for ourselves? A holiday home for the family? And place the camperstop somewhere nearer a main road. Somewhere we felt more confident people would be happy to drive to.
Finally, eyes heavy from hours staring at my laptop screen, I sent off a barrage of emails and crawled into bed beside Jay.
My mind was churning with worries. But I couldn’t stay awake any longer. All our concerns would still be waiting for me in the morning. And hopefully looking smaller in the light of day.
( to be continued in “Seven Days in Bulgaria – Part Two )