My Bulgarian Shangri-La

My clever boy Sausage helped me discover an amazing trail a couple of days ago. Today was the first chance I had to get back up there with a camera!

We headed straight up the mountain.

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This is a very steep like slope, with foot holds cut in. You can barely see them in this picture.

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Here’s my feet in two of them. They turn the slope into a staircase.

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Metchka and Sausage ahead of me just before the tough bit.

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I don’t know why, but this final bit up is still a challenge.

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Here’s my village, Malak Izvor (Little Spring). Population of about 300.

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I used to stop here and then go down another path. But Sausage was keen for me to know there’s more through here.

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This is a logging road. I know because I saw a logging truck go down it.

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I followed them up the logging road.

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Sausage then veered off to show me this footpath.

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That goes to this trail that parallels the logging road.

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Amazing views from that path when the trees clear!

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Metchka’s waiting for me, Sausage is sniffing around.

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I got to the end of this trail at least three times before I realised that Sausage was trying to tell me that there’s more beyond it!

Some pictures of my Bulgarian Shangri-La.

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Max is here for the weekend and arrived with a present. I’d reported that the 10-year-old cooktop had developed a leak, so he brought me this gorgeous shiny thing to cook on!

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Bulgarian Yoghurt

I don’t think it’s a secret that I love yoghurt. I will buy the flavoured stuff as a treat, but am very happy with plain as a savoury topping in lieu of sour cream or mixed with berries or other fruit to turn it into a creamy dessert.

So I was quite excited when I learned that Bulgarian yoghurt is considered among the best in the world. When I went shopping with Max my first day here, I asked about yoghurt and he pointed to this stuff:

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In Canada, I buy Dannone Oikos “Greek style” yoghurt with 2% milk fat. It’s the best plain yoghurt I’ve found. I used to make my own, but lost the habit (very sadly). The Dannone stuff is okay, but getting through a tub is work. It’s not very smooth on the tongue and leaves me wishing for sour cream — or whipped cream!

This “kiselo myalko” — literally sour milk is so different from the commercial yoghurt I get back home that it might as well be from another planet. It is tangy, but not sour, very creamy (my homemade stuff was always lumpy), and is delicious right out of the jar. Oh, I’ve been having it the odd time with fruit or even, as a huge treat, a bit of strawberry jam, but it’s not a yoghurt whose flavour needs to be tamed. This is what milk wants to be when it grows up (okay, that or a really strong English cheddar). It’s available with 2% or 4% milk fat and I go with the former.

I brought two large containers back from Sofia since you can only get smaller containers in Yablanitsa. They survived the trip home!

My only complaint about this yoghurt is that it has a non-resealable aluminium foil top, like the single serving containers do, but there are many servings in the container. So I’ve been using a piece of clingfilm to keep it air tight.

I’m Really Liking Market Day

Market day in Yablanitsa is “something to do” that is much appreciated in my little quiet corner of Bulgaria!

The project that I have been expecting since I returned in Mérida (yes, the beginning of March!) has finally dropped and work is about to get insane. So I wanted to make sure I was well stocked up on groceries and made room in my schedule this morning to go to the market to get some fresh veg.

I set off around 8:45 with the hope of being home by no later than 1:00, and, of course, much earlier if I lucked out and got a ride. It was mercifully cool at that hour and I enjoyed my walk to just past the village limits, about a kilometre.

The sheep were bleating loudly.

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Notice something different with this house?

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Soon after, I encountered the “goat man.”

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It’s quite a sight when he takes his herd through the village! The noise from the bells is something I got used to once I understood what I was hearing!

A lovely elderly gentleman pulled over right after the goats. He asked if I was going to the market in Yablanitsa. Yep… He then said something from which I understood that he was going to Pravets, but he could let me off at the square in Yablanitsa (not a detour for him). Great! I hopped in and as we got to the town limits where one access road is closed off before the market, he did the universal hand motions for “I’m going around” and again mentioned the central square (ploshtad) to make sure I knew he wasn’t taking me for a ride. Soon as we got to a corner I recognised, I said, “tuk dobre” (here’s fine) and thanked him profusely.

I passed the infamous taxi on my way to the market and made a note of the very reasonable rates.

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In order to ensure I get a modicum of exercise while living here, my rule is if I get a ride into town, I can’t take a taxi back (being picked up is okay). So the taxi would have to wait for another day.

I also completely photographed the bus schedule (here’s a bit of it):

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I got my veggies, going to the vendors I know as their stuff has been top notch. I had a lot of change and small bills today, which was great because it enabled me to realise something important when someone is rattling off a price — it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand how much change (stotinki) they want if I understand how many leva. For example, my potato/courgette/hot pepper/carrot vendor said 2BGN something. I handed over 3. The tomato vendor’s number was huge, which meant it was only stotinki, so I handed over a 1BGN coin. Much easier than trying to wrangle a notebook and pen for them to write prices and it’s harder for someone to short change me (not necessarily intentionally) than if I give them a big bill.

One thing I find annoying when I go to market is that being with a backpack, my change purse and phone are not easily handy. My skirts don’t have pockets and so I tend to find myself juggling bags and personal belongings. I thought it would be nice to have a very small cross body bag into which I could stuff my change purse, phone, change, tickets, etc. when I’m using my backpack and don’t have my purse. This wasn’t quite what I wanted, but for a mere 5BGN, I was very happy to pick it up today!

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It just fits my phone, but my notebook is too big for it. I could put the change purse in another zippered compartment and put the notebook in here, leaving the compartment unzipped. Again, for 5BGN, it’ll be great until I find something better. This one didn’t have a price tag and was a little different from others marked at 5BGN so it felt like another small victory to say, “Pet?” (Five) and get an answer in the affirmative.

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I then went to get groceries. Like in Mazatlán, I find myself referring to things differently than do the expat locals who have been here a while. They call this the “green store.” I call it the “food store” because that’s  what the sign says (well, actually the word that starts with the X translates to English as “grocery,” but I recognised the first part of the word as being “food,” so food store stuck). This is more of a deli-type store where you have to order things at the counter.

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I like this building. Imagine what a little love could do to it!

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This is a pharmacy (aptekа).

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This is a bookstore (knidzarnitsa — the k is not silent!).

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The Yablanitsa church.

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And this is what the other expats call the “red store,” and I call the supermarket, because that’s what the sign says.

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I showed immense restraint in not buying this even though I got super excited at the word bacon. 😀

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Had another little linguistic victory when I got to the deli counter to buy butter and they now had two sizes… and I knew how to say big! I didn’t know where the adjective goes in the phrase so I stuck it before butter as I would in English or French (so “I would like one big butter, please.”) and the smile the attendant gave me made up for so much of the rudeness I got when I was in Sofia! “Little” is easy to remember because it’s in the name of the town where I live, malak/maluk!

I was famished by the time I got my shopping done and decided to try some Bulgarian street food at a little stand in the market that smelled like heaven (which I apparently imagine smells like cooking meat and spices…). I wasn’t too sure how to order and so watched a few people until I felt confident enough to get in line. Well, I didn’t have to do that because the cook motioned for a guy to wait while she served me! What a lovely lady. 🙂 I ordered the first thing on the menu, which I thought would be something along the lines of “kebab” since it was kebapche (кебапче). She asked me for 1BGN and then cut a huge piece off a baguette, cut a slit into the piece, smeared it with Bulgarian ketchup (similar to Mexican ketchup — very thin), and then held up what looked like a meat patty and said, “Okay?” I said yes. My snack was mostly bread (which is soooo much better in Europe) with the incredibly savoury and delicious meat thing the middle:

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I approve of kebapche. 🙂 Next week, I will try it with ljutenica, a spicy Bulgarian relish. I saw it at the stand, but didn’t investigate since I had the ketchup already.

It was then time to make tracks. I walked about 2KM when people who recognised me as staying at Max’s picked me up. They dropped me off at the guesthouse since the road up was blocked by a giant cement mixer!

I got in at 11:00, not even remotely exhausted, and happy with my morning. Now, work!

How to Navigate Sofia’s Centralna Avotogarа/Central Bus Station Website (Централна Автогара)

Sofia is proud of it’s new Centralna Avtogara/Central Bus Station (Централна Автогара), claiming that it is a modern facility that has cut down on chaos. But it is actually a nightmare to navigate, even if you speak Bulgarian! I suspect that it’s easier to get to a major destination than a small town, of course, so the following instructions are likely more applicable to the latter.

While trying to get home the other day, I discovered that the Centralna Avtogara website is where you need to go to get information. It’s really not very user friendly, but the salient information is there. You really don’t need much more than two screens and also how to spell the name of your destination in Cyrillic.

This is the homepage for the website. Don’t worry about anything I haven’t highlighted.

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This home page gives you the next few departures, but they only list the termination points. If you want to go somewhere like Teteven that isn’t usually a termination point, you have to go deeper into the website, as per my note at the bottom.

You get to this screen:

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There are two ways you can navigate it. The slowest is to just scroll down and scan the destination names until you see your destination. The better way if you have the Bulgarian Cyrillic keyboard on your device (easy to add to iOS and OS X), do a search on the page for your city name.

In the example above, I was looking for a departure for Teteven. What I highlighted in the left column is the name Ribaritsa. That’s the destination I’m looking for. Next, I highlighted the time the bus leaves, the gate, and the cost. I only paid 7BGN for my trip, so that is the maximum amount you can expect to pay and it may be less if you’re not going the whole way.

If I kept scrolling and looking for Teteven, I would have found one more at a different time, gate, and price.

So now, you have a departure time and gate, but still don’t know where to buy a ticket. All I can say at this point is do what I did. Go to each wicket and scan the list for your termination point and destination. If you don’t see either, just go to the gate and hope that you can buy a ticket from the driver!

Monday morning, I brought up this screen and was able to determine that there would be two Teteven-bound buses that day. Well, what if I was looking for another day? The little green squares represent the days that route operates.  In the above example, all have seven green squares. So that means that there’s a 12:30 bus to Ribaritsa every day. If a day (usually Sunday) is greyed out, then the route doesn’t run that day.

I was warned that buses are delayed and canceled without notice, but hopefully this information will be enough to get you to your destination at some point, if not the exact time you wanted!