A Scenic Drive, Etropole Waterfall (and Monastery), and Glozhene Monastery

My plans for today fell through in a big way. I had hoped to travel to Belogradchik Fortress in northwestern Bulgaria near the Serbian border. It’s only about 400KM, so easily doable in a round trip, right? Well, not so fast. I thought that travel was slow going in Mexico, but it borders on the ridiculous in Bulgaria. In just a few days on the road here, I’ve learned that 400KM is a really full driving day here and would take seven to eight hours. Add in the time to view the fortress and it just didn’t make sense. My host strongly recommended that I not attempt the trip, especially since I need to be in Plovdiv tomorrow to return the car.

Moreover, work is picking up, so I had to work this morning and will have to work again this evening. Finally, I am exhausted. Vacationing is hard work!

I had a talk with Max last night and he suggested a driving loop and a few sites I could see in a full afternoon. The drive in particular appealed to me, just a chance to enjoy the car and put it through its paces on twisty mountain roads. He also vetoed my planned route to Plovdiv tomorrow, saying that there is a very long rough stretch that I shouldn’t attempt in a rental vehicle. Good thing I asked! He traced out another route that will go through a bit of what I’ve already done and then take me straight to Plovdiv. He said to plan a full four hours of driving time for that. The car is due back at noon, so I plan to be out the door by seven.

Here’s my route today. I went from Malak Izvor through Glozhene and Teteven on through Ribaritsa and Shipkovo to Troyan, then headed towards Yablanitsa along “the reservoir.” Then on to Etropole by way of Pravets (because Google Maps was being stupid), then back to Malak Izvor and up to the Glozhene Monastery.


I stopped at the fountain in Glozhene for cold water:




And then,  I drove. There wasn’t really anything extraordinary or landscapes I hadn’t seen before, so it was a bit of a meditative drive to clear my head, much needed after so much people time in the last week! I stopped for more water here. What a pretty spot and there’s even a picnic table!


Shipkovo is a spa town, but there was literally nothing of interest to me. Same thing with Troyan, which I’ll be going back through tomorrow.

After Troyan, I turned onto the road Max had told me to take and was surprised to see poplars!


And a beautiful willow!


I could quickly see why he sent me this way!


Here’s the reservoir.











I emerged onto the main road I had taken from Veliko Tarnovo and reached the turnoff for Glozhene that would take me straight to Malak Izvor or I could continue on to Yablanitsa. It was only about two, so I decided to keep going to Etropole Monastery to see the waterfall near it. The road up there was very narrow and single lane. I had to pull over twice to let someone pass. Good thing there was room to do that!


Bulgaria has so many monasteries and churches. The one at Etropole isn’t that interesting, architecturally speaking. People mostly come for the waterfall.





The waterfall is really hard to find. There is a path, but it leads in many directions, with no signage. There was no one around for me to ask either. My word of the day is водoпад (vodopad — waterfall).






After walking around the area for a bit and almost ready to give up, knowing the waterfall would be nearly dry anyway, I had the bright idea to ask Google Maps (yes, the same Google Maps that routed me through Pravets). It seemed to know where the waterfall was, so I took a path in the direction it was telling me to go. A couple of groups of tourists joined me as I appeared to know where I was going and followed me like a flock of Bulgarian ducks. We took a path that ended abruptly with a washout:



After doubling back, we tried another path and tah-dah! I’m glad I was expecting it to be quite dry or I would have been disappointed. Instead, I was delighted by the cool mossy cave!









The path back up was fun…



I wandered around for a couple more minutes, at the back of the monastery.


A real flock of Bulgarian ducks.


And here’s the only sign for the waterfall. It’s useless! I guess that the waterfall is loud in the springtime and findable by sound, but at this time of year, another sign or two would have been welcome!


I made a new friend!




It was past four at this point and I was hungry and tired, so it was time to head home. Coming back into Etropole:


Back in Malak Izvor, I finally took the road up to the monastery. Max told me I could walk it, but he underestimated how far Yablanitsa is, so I didn’t trust that it would be “only” six kilometres straight up the mountain. This road was also very narrow, very twisty, and had scary drop offs. I had a couple of moments where the only reason I didn’t turn around is there was no place to turn around! The climb was worth it! This monastery dates back to 1224!




The views up there were the best I’ve seen yet, and that’s saying something!





The father of the church came out to greet me. I am only going to share my first impression of him because Max knows him and said that he’s pretty sure this is the look the father is going for: Rasputin! I didn’t know until departure, when I ran into him again, that he is the father of the monastery. He was very hospitable and spoke good English. Max calls him “quite a character.”














I’ve been assured that I have seen a very good representation of Bulgaria even not having gone into the northwest and southwest parts of it. I have seen the coast, the mountains, and the plains. I have had a good sample of churches and monasteries and seen a fortress. I have been through villages, towns, and big cities. The villages and towns all look identical, with the same style of construction. To be honest, it’s been enough and I’m ready to move on. Max confirmed my departure date (the 22nd of September) so we’re on the same page. I will have a couple of days before I absolutely need to be out of Bulgaria, so I’m hoping that my routing there will take me through Belogradchik, but if doesn’t, so be it. You really can’t see everything!

It’s been wonderful having the car and I don’t regret the experience. Now, to get it back to downtown Plovdiv!

Tsarevets Fortress, a Taste of Veliko Tarnovo, a Stop in Teteven, and on to Maluk Izvor

I slept soooo well in Veliko Tarnovo. That bed! The room was also dark and despite all the traffic in the evening, things quieted down around ten. I woke up just past eight (!), took a moment to wake up, and then went to have breakfast. I only had four hours till I had to vacate my parking spot and that felt like just the right amount of time for the day, but that I should not waste any of it.


Quite a nice view from my room. Soon as I opened my curtains, these guys waved at me and yelled good morning!

Breakfast was an acceptable buffet. The coffee was out of those popular Nescafe dispensers and too sweet for my taste, but the food was good. I enjoyed a selection of meats, bread, jam, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives, which I understand is a fairly typical Bulgarian breakfast.

This is what parking looks like in these car unfriendly towns, people parking almost on top of each other. Both myself and the folks in the light grey car had said we weren’t leaving till noon, so that dark grey car was parked behind us.


That reminds me that I forgot to recount my adventure getting out of my parking spot in Nessebar! It looked like I had a lot of room to get out, but it was all in the wrong places. To avoid a bollard, I would hit a taxi. To avoid the taxi, I would scrape the car on my passenger side. I had to do like I did with Miranda and mentally imagine all the manoeuvres I’d have to do with the car to get it out. I was reasonably confident I’d figured it out when a man knocked on my driver’s side window. All I got of what he said was “Not good.” He made some motions that rather mimicked how I had planned to get out and then he pointed from his eyes to me. It was clear that he was saying, “I’ll spot you.” Well, he did, and it was a great job! I slid out of that spot smoothly, with no extra steps, in a couple of minutes. On my own, I would have had to continually get out of the car to check my clearances. He was my hero of the day!

Back to this morning, the first thing I wanted to do was visit the medieval stronghold of Tsarevets. It was the primary fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire from 1185 to 1393. My hotel happened to be right by the entrance. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have parked closer to it!


Looking down from the hotel parking lot.


Around the corner from the hotel, looking towards town, the fortress behind me. When I left with the car, I drove up from the left in this picture and turned left to where that car is in the middle of the picture.

Tsaravets fortress! The ticket booth is right before it. 6BGN to get in.







The man in pink is the ticket checker. He had his hands full a few hours later as I came out of the fortress!






My mood was giddiness. Remember that I’m a medieval history major! This would be my second opportunity to explore medieval ruins (first time was, of course, in Scotland).



The wooden bridge felt very spongy!







This maps shows just how massive the complex would have been. There is quite a lot left still to see!


This was one of the only English signs on the whole property. “You might encounter reptiles” AND medieval ruins? 😀


There was a very clear PA announcement in a couple of languages, including English, which recited the warnings and gave additional information. It sounded like it was narrated by a poor man’s Alan Rickman (RIP), especially when he said, “You may encounter reptiles,” in that flat bored sounding tone of Rickman’s. Made me laugh every time I heard it!





I liked how they hid the modern pipes in these old broken ones:


One of many bells on site.



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All the signage was in Bulgarian, what I assume is Russian, and German. Between the Bulgarian and the German, I could get just the gist of what I was looking at. We know from the above sign that I’m at Baldwin’s tower and I’m pretty sure that the site was restored in 1933…


The ceilings inside the tower were low. The main floor reminded me a bit of my house in Malak Izvor.









“Monastery complex” ruins ahead.


Tsarevets was a huge city and had many churches, monasteries, and residential and commercial buildings in addition to being a centre of administration and governance.






The complex is huge, but felt like it had a logical flow. I found myself climbing higher and higher without really noticing it.

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This shows where the kings lived and governed.




These are the steps leading up to the church. I rounded the corner and heard québécois accents!


I said to the group of men that it was good to hear my accent again. They laughed. We did small talk for a minute. They are from the Outaouais, where I lived until 2008!






I came out of the church and heard some folks complaining in Spanish about the chill this morning (much appreciated), but that it was better than the unrelenting heat that was worse than anything they’d experienced in Hermosillo. Wait. What?! I had to intervene and asked if they were from Sonora. Yes! I said that I spent two winters in Mexico. We chatted for a bit and I offered to take pictures. I sure didn’t expect to get in some good Spanish practice this morning, but there you have it!

I went around the back of the church hoping to be able to get even further up, but my hopes were dashed by the elevator being closed. 🙁


No stairs either!




I was as far up as I could go, so I headed down, eager to find the “Cliff of Death” the loudspeaker announcer kept on warning us about!


There is a light show here at night. Must be spectacular!






And behold the Cliff of Death! This picture does not convey the sheer drop. Rumour has it there were executions carried out here.






Sumac, just like back in Quebec!



















Something about a gate. *wry grin*






These stairs were fun in a long flowy skirt!





Well, that’s graphic! The point of the exhibits up here is for folks to touch them, so there were kids playing executioner and condemned!




I had heard shrieking on my way up, which I initially thought was the kids recreating the executions, but it was actually two gals who got their long hair caught in these very heavy helmets!







Back near the entrance was a catapult.







It was only as I left the complex, a full two hours after I arrived (I can’t believe how quickly time passed!) that I saw this lettering on the walls. Something about restoration in the ’70s, I believe.



I had just over an hour before checkout time when I’d had my fill of Tsarevets, so I decided to check out Veliko Tarnovo.

I would not want to be a bus driver in this town!


This ice cream brand has so many different names! No, I did not indulge…





This “Tequila Bar” made me laugh.




A statue of Bulgaria’s four kings. I didn’t have time to get right down to it.





There were many panoramic view points along the main road, but this was my favourite, a strip of steel and wood leading into the abyss.







This is where I had dinner last night:


You can sort of see how their rear windows overlook the city. I ate downstairs.


I found a Raffy’s gelato stand somewhere around this point. They are all over Bulgaria and, in my opinion, the best. The gal at the hotel agrees with me! I had my favourite, chocolate hazelnut!

This shop name made me laugh.






I headed back to the hotel through an alleyway behind the church.



Notice how modern life is squeezed into this ancient towns, cars parked where they can, rubbish bins under the bridge arches.




Last night, I completely missed this sign saying my hotel was thataway. But guess what? Even in broad daylight, sober, and with my glasses on, I still made a wrong turn getting there. It’s a wonder I found it in the first place!


I thought this wood being chain sawed was very pretty. As I took a picture, I heard one of the workers make a comment that had the word tourist in it. I bet it wasn’t flattering!


I’m so pleased I went to Tsarevets and Veliko Tarnovo! My morning and short evening were just the right amount of time. It was then time to head back to Malak Izvor and work. 🙁 It was surprisingly easy to get out of Veliko Tarnovo, just a couple of turns and then straight west.


I made a small detour to Teteven, a nearby town I’ve been wanting to go back to, to get a late lunch and some groceries. The town’s setting is spectacular!






This is the stand where I had my very first ice cream in Bulgaria. 😀 No, I did not get any today.








“Here…” something happened? 🙂



I was happy to find cold water!





I crossed the river to find the produce market, so reminiscent of Mexico!





A quick slice of pizza sounded ideal for lunch and I found one. I was shocked that the stand had a guy who spoke perfect English. The woman who started to serve me threw her hands up in disgust when she realised I don’t speak Bulgarian. Funny how some people are. The guy at the ice cream stand in Veliko Tarnovo spoke slowly to me and I was able to understand him fine even if I couldn’t always answer (eg. “Cup or cone?” and I’d point to the cup).

Well, it has finally happened; I’ve had pizza with sweet corn! It was actually good! The pizza slice had been there a while, but I actually prefer my pizza at this temperature, so I found this quite good.


I got a few groceries after my pizza and then it was then a very short drive to Malak Izvor, where the doggies and cat were happy to see me. I put on laundry, hoping the threatening rain holds off long enough for my things to dry, and took the pups on a short walk. Now, work! 🙁

I plan to work tomorrow morning and head off in the afternoon to view a local sight or two and then go further afield, past Sofia on Thursday. We shall see how that works out.

First Weekend in Sofia, Buying Groceries, the Bus Station from Hell, and the Nicest Man in Bulgaria

I knew there aren’t many buses to Teteven so I decided on Monday to aim for the second to last bus of the day, to play it safe. I had to do some serious digging on the bus station website to determine that my options were 12:30 or nearly 5PM. I didn’t want to take the chance of being stranded, so I planned my day to be on the 12:30 bus. My only real priority was going grocery shopping. This meant that when I woke up around 7:30AM desperate to go back to sleep, I didn’t. 🙂

I debated whether to take my suitcase with me or come back to the hotel to check out later and then realised that it was a no brainer. I’d brought the suitcase for the sole purpose of holding my groceries. Moreover, a quick check of the map the hotel provided showed me that there was a road just a block from the hotel that would go straight to the bus station and the grocery stores were at the halfway point. Talk about convenient!

One of my two tour guides had told me where to go for groceries downtown, Billa, and Lidl, so it had just been a matter of figuring out the closest ones, something that is not easy to do with Google Maps since the app is stupid and won’t show you the nearest results, but rather random ones. But I thankfully found the correct locations. The plan was to walk up to them to make sure they would be suitable, then head to Makis on Vitosha Boulevard for breakfast, stopping at the Central Post Office to mail Bast a post card.

The post office stop was… interesting. I walked into a cavernous room with wickets all around it, kind of like at a bank. I was ignored, of course, so I translated the signage at each wicket, trying to find one that would sell stamps. I also Googled how to say stamp in Bulgarian and came up with “marka” as being the most likely candidate. Finally, as I circled the room for the third or fourth time trying to decide who to approach to be told to get lost, a lady directly opposite the entrance motioned for me to come to her. I held up the post card I’d bought the day before and said, “I would like a stamp, please.” She sighed and reached into a desk drawer, pulling out a binder from which she extracted a sheet of stamps. After much sighing and muttering she tore some off, passed them to me, took them back, and then repeated the exercise with another binder. The stamps totaled, I believe, 1.70BGN. I only had a 20BGN note and I got the now common, “OMG, don’t you have change?!” eye roll. She didn’t have a till system, but instead reached into her own purse, pulled out her wallet, and came up with change for me! Wow. I thanked her, went out to the hall, licked the stamps, affixed them to my post card (one being upside down by accident), and dropped the card in the mail box outside. Now, to see if it gets to Virginia!

Needless to say, I was ravenous by this point and was very glad to get to Makis. The English speaking gentleman wasn’t there, but I earned a “Dobre” (the Spanish equivalent of claro, okay or got it) when I said “Bik iskal edno kaputcino c edno sandvich klasiko.” I am making progress! 😀 I didn’t like my Monday sandwich as much as my Sunday one (needed some sauce), but it was still very good!

I then headed to Billa. It’s about as close to a “proper” grocery store as you’ll get in Bulgaria, but very tiny. Like the stores in Yablanitsa and Teteven, it felt very haphazard in its layout. I circled twice before committing to purchases. I wanted to buy things like spices, sauces, and salad dressing to jazz up boring rice or veggies and also cheese and yoghurt since the store in Yablanitsa has been out of them. It wasn’t a very hot day so I wasn’t worried about my dairy going bad on the trip home. I also found some of that thick bacon at Billa! I spent about 66BGN (50CAD) on what amounted to mostly staples and things like shower gel and lotion. I even found (Greek) peanut butter! I was pretty happy with my haul, but decided that since I still had room in my suitcase, I would go check out Lidle, especially since I hadn’t found almond milk.

Lidle felt more like a North American supermarket in terms of the products available, including a lot of Tex-Mex stuff! I didn’t pick up much there, but I did snag some tortellini and what appeared to be pimento cream cheese, something I love but have a hard time finding these (spoiler: it was pimento cream cheese… but spicy!). They didn’t have almond milk either. I only spent about 20BGN there.

Grocery shopping in Bulgaria is delightful since there is food from all over Europe and labels are in a kazillion different languages. The tortellini, for example, were in Italian on the front, but the cooking instructions and ingredients on the back were in Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech, and Romanian. Romanian is rather mutually intelligible with French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, so I was glad to see it. 😀 Just before the till at Billa, I saw cookies with an English label clearly identifying them as being the Central and Eastern European version of McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes from the UK, but the ingredients on the back of the package were in German, Bulgarian, Czech, Hungarian, and more, with no English. I was glad for the English front since I hadn’t picked up any “treats” and I adore Jaffa Cakes. These were half the cost as the McVitie’s version, so I grabbed two packages (spoiler: they are just as good!).

It’s also interesting to see what other palates like and how they interpret various cuisines. The irony of “Mexican-style cheddar” had me chortling in the aisle. Many foods that are considered luxury imports in North America, like some premium jarred Italian sauces, are just normal goods over here and a fraction of the cost.

Grocery shopping in Sofia was a positive experience, but I’m not sure it would be worth planning a day trip there to do it again since the buses are rather erratic. I would be better off making an effort to go to Teteven.

It was 11AM when I came out of Lidl and I decided to head straight to the bus station. I knew it had good bathrooms, several restaurants, and a waiting area, so it would be worth getting there with lots of time to kill in case I had trouble finding my bus. I must be psychic…

I hailed a cab and the driver appeared put upon with taking me the couple of klicks to the bus station (really, I could have walked, but I knew I had to lug my suitcase that far once I got home so no point getting fatigued to save about 4.50CAD). We got to the station and my total was just under 6GBN. I handed the driver two 1BGN coins and a 5BGN note. When he realised I was giving him a tip, the driver’s demeanour completely changed! He had popped the truck for me to get my suitcase and now hurried to get out of his seat to pull the suitcase out for me!

I got into the station and went to the electronics departure board (very small). It listed the departures until about 1PM and there was no Teteven on it.

There are about 28 wickets for the various bus companies, each listing the towns serviced and the departure times. I went through them repeatedly and… no Teteven.

I went to the information desk and asked, “Bus to Teteven?” The woman sighed and replied in perfect English, “Figure it out yourself.” Really! And she had been equally rude to the Bulgarian ahead of me as he literally left her counter in tears! Now that I think about it, that makes me feel better…

I went to the one window where I had seen Yablanitsa listed, thinking that might be it. The woman told me, in perfect English, to go to information!

It was almost noon by this point. I pulled up the bus station website on my phone and managed to get back to the screen that had suggested to me there might be a Teteven-bound bus at 12:30. I’m telling you, if I wasn’t as comfortable as I am now reading Cyrillic, I would have been at a dead end because I only had the stress of copy and pasting to Google Translate anything I wasn’t sure about, not the stress of staring at a language that might as well have been hieroglyphs. When I got to that screen, I saw that there was another name after Teteven, Ribaritsa. I looked up at the departure board and there was Ribaritsa, at the very bottom, leaving from “sector” 32 at 12:30. I had a departure gate, but still no idea where to buy a ticket.

I went to all the windows again and did not see Ribaritsa. I decided to take a chance that I could buy a ticket from the driver and to just go to the departure spot. En route, I picked up a cheese croissant to eat on the bus (spoiler: yum!).

I got to sector 32 at 12:20, just as a bus marked Ribaritsa pulled up. Soon as the driver was available, I asked him, “To Teteven?” He said yes. So far so good! He then wanted to put my suitcase under the bus. That wouldn’t do because I wanted to get dropped off at the turnoff to the village and was sure it would be hard enough to get him to do that, never mind get out and pull out my suitcase. His helper was pretty insistent so I said, “Not Teteven, Malak Izvor.” That stopped them dead. I mimed, “Here’s Yablanitsa, here’s Teteven, here’s Malak Izvor,” and got some confused looks. The driver then become my first hero of the day when he very patiently waited for me to pull up a map on Google. By the way, Google is as slow on blazing fast Bulgarian Internet as it is on slow poke Canadian internet!

Once the map was up, I pointed to Yablantisa and said, “Bus,” then showed the bus route to Teteven. That got me a “Da.” I then showed the turn off for Malak Izvor and then said “I” and then “walked” my fingers from the turnoff to the village. He went, “Oh!” and then “Two kilometres.” I replied in the affirmative to which I earned a “Dobre!” He then tried to take my suitcase again and I let him. When he came back, I asked, “Ticket?” (which, mercifully is “bilet,” so close to the French “billet”) and he motioned for me to go in and said what sounded like conductor. I went in, got comfortable, and just before we took off, his helper handed me two tickets totally 7BGN (1BGN more than the trip to Sofia) and had change for my 20!

Knowing that I would be let off at the turnoff meant that I could sit back and enjoy my trip without worrying about getting stranded in Teteven. I read for a bit, then enjoyed the scenery. We detoured to the town of Pravets before going through Yablanitsa. No one got off there. Next stop was me!

The nicest man in Bulgaria got off the bus with me (at least, I think he did, because I have no idea where else he could have materialised from). He earns his title in that he… lugged my suitcase all the way to the village!!!!!!!!!!! He wanted to take it straight to my place, but I made him hand it over at the guest house, before the final slog, because I didn’t want to take advantage of him! He babbled to me the whole way and I just shook my head apologetically. I don’t know who was more pleased when he said, “Ulitsa?” (street) and I had an answer for him! But even better, he had no idea where my street was and with my saying, “Store, hotel, [my street name],” miming the location of each, he understood!

Just the little slog at the end was exhausting so I can imagine what shape I would have been in if I’d had to drag the suitcase the whole way (although I suspect I would have gotten a lift if I’d been on my own). The bus driver and this man both made up for a lot on Monday.

The dogs were very happy to see me when I got in and the feeling was mutual! Max had left me a list of things to add to my chore list and a note that he’d be back on Friday.

So that was my great big Sofia adventure! It broke the ice on a lot. The next thing I want to try is to take a bus to Teteven and back, but that might be very tricky and could require me to leave at the crack of dawn and not come back till early evening. I might be better off finding out how much a taxi would cost. But I’m glad I figured out the buses, ate at restaurants, and was forced to use some of the Bulgarian I’ve been stowing away in my brain.

I will be taking about a week off at the end of August (when Max will be here with his daughter), renting a car, and going on a grand tour of Bulgaria. In the meantime, I will try to get out into the environs a bit and possibly return to Sofia one more time. I can’t believe we’re already three weeks into July! I knew my time here would fly by!

Settling In In Bulgaria

I am living in a small village about an hour southeast of Sofia, Maluk Izvor (Малък извор). There isn’t much here, but there is a small shop and a cafe. Shopping is done in Yablanitsa (Ябланица) about 6KM away.

I’m living in what is very close to my dream house and what I would love to find in Mexico! All I’m missing is an extra bedroom to use as an office.

This is the exterior of the guesthouse. I live on the ground floor. Those windows you see in the white part are in my bedroom.


The entry hall is the heart of the house. To the left is my bedroom:


In the middle is the bathroom, and to the right is the kitchen:


See what I mean about this being my idealised Mexican home? White plaster walls, dark beams on the ceiling, and colourful textiles.


I have this cupboard for storage as well as hooks behind the door. It’s enough since I didn’t bring much!


The bathroom is modern and has a huge Mexican-style shower with a rain-type shower head. Good pressure and tons of hot water!


Here’s the lovely kitchen/sitting room. I wish there was a bigger armoire for storage, otherwise this is close to my dream kitchen!



Under the kitchen counter are the fridge and washing machine:


I have access to the whole property. If I go up these slightly scary stairs to the upstairs bedrooms and bathroom:


I have access to a deck with amazing views!


Here’s Maluk Izvor:



This is the main house. It has a really neat layout, but is old and needs a lot of work and a feminine touch. I’m happy to be in the nearly brand new guesthouse.


My only complaint about the house is that the bed is terrible. But even with that, I was so exhausted that I slept pretty much straight through my whole first night. I cursed my alarm when it went off, but I’d promised Max I’d be ready to go to to town by 9:00. I had coffee and ate a mouthful of trail mix (emergency rations that I’d been lugging all the way from SK!) since I was famished by this point. We took the dogs for a walk before going to town. The walk is straight uphill one way and downhill the other. I am going to get my exercise living here!

Here is Mechka (bear):


And Mechka’s brother… Sausage (LOL):


When we came back, Max promptly found me a comfortable chair to lounge in since I’d told him the house was lacking that. Doesn’t this sound familiar? LOL He found me one of those Ikea chairs that are very common and said he would look for something better, but, really, the chair he found is fine. He told me to poke around the property to find anything I’m missing, so when I found a very low stool, I took that to put my feet up.

We just need to work on my office space. Right now, there really isn’t anywhere for me to work, not every temporarily. I was promised a proper desk chair from Sofia in a couple of weeks, but we’ll see if that happens. I’m debating setting up my office upstairs, but will wait to see what sort of routine Max has during the summer as he said he’s here quite a bit and sometimes brings his young daughter with him.

After our walk, we headed to town, where we first stopped at the ATM. I was so disorganised that I hadn’t thought to move money to my travel account or figure out how many leva to take out. I knew I had about 90CAD in the travel account and vaguely remembered that 0.85GBGN was 1CAD. So I figured that I could very likely take out 100BGN. I asked Max if I would get anywhere with that and he said absolutely. The machine gave me my 100BGN without blinking (I’ve since learned that 1CAD=0.80BGN). We then went to a small supermarket where I picked up some basics, but was told to hold off on produce except bananas (which are excellent) since there is a market on Friday mornings and Max would arrange a lift for me. Food prices seemed very low, comparable to Mexico…

I was still in a bit of a daze and so it’s hard to give my first impressions of Maluk Izvor and Yablanitsa. The setting is very picturesque and the houses nearly all have terracotta roofs. It feels a lot like Mexico, but with a language barrier.

Max then had to be off, so he drove me back to the house and headed out. I was not too pleased to be left alone with no internet since I didn’t know  anyone and have almost no language skills, but was otherwise fine and very grateful to have the pets. I’d met the cat by this point, Penghu (sp?) and he fell in love with me and I with him. The minute I sit down, he’s in my lap or curled against me if I’m on my computer. That makes things a lot less lonely. Like in Mexico, I have the front door open the day, so he can come in and out, but he sleeps outside.




I did my laundry, then crashed for the afternoon. I’m not sure where I found the energy to take the dogs for their walk in the afternoon, but I knew I had a cold beer waiting, so that helped!

Minutes after I got in, I got a visitor, Jenny, a UK citizen who did this gig once and now lives near here in her own house. She just came to introduce herself and to say that she’d pick me up in the morning to go to the market. I was very grateful to Max for setting that up!

I kept checking the internet and rebooting the modem all evening, but had to concede defeat around 9PM.

I didn’t sleep as well my second night (I need to get to Sofia and buy a topper ASAP!), but it still wasn’t bad. I was awake well before my alarm, but have to say I looked forward to being able to have a lie-in today! I had coffee and breakfast and then walked the dogs. They are SO good. They’re not on a lead, so they go off on their own, but they frequently come back to make sure I’m there and if we come to a fork in the path, they wait for me to make a decision. My first night, I actually wasn’t sure how to get home, having been silly and strayed from the path, and when I asked Mechka where home was, she confidently headed off in a direction that looked right, periodically turned back to make sure I was coming, and then sat on the trail to show me this was it. I know non-dog people will smirk at this, but two other Mechka and Sausage dogsitters confirmed that the dogs do this!

Then, I dressed for town. Jenny met me as promised and took me to the market, which felt a lot like markets in Mexico. She helped me buy produce, pointing out what was locally grown and what was not (apparently Greek produce is unacceptable to her because it’s not “local” — I’m pretty sure we’re closer to Greece than I am in SK to Alberta!). So she vetoed my purchases of oranges and apples, but convinced me to try a Bulgarian melon. I was very happy with the quality and price I paid for my produce, including avocados and some sort of hot peppers that just might be jalapeños. Jenny said, “You don’t want those. They’re very hot!” and I had to laugh and remind her that I live in Mexico part-time!


No, this isn’t an old Mexico picture! 😀 The tomatoes here are MUCH better than in Mexico, to be honest, but a bit juicy for making salsa mexicana.


We then met with Sarah, another UK expat who did this gig, and piled into Jenny’s car to go to the nearby town of Teteven (Тетевен), the nearest place I could get a SIM card. Jenny gets by in Bulgarian, but is cell phone clueless. She took me to a shop where I bought a SIM card and pay-as-you-go data plan, but, to be honest, I have no idea what I have or how long it’s good for. It was ridiculously cheap, though (29BGN for a SIM card and two 1GB top ups), so I’ll get more if I need it and at least I had something to tide me over until the landline internet got fixed… except that, like on Isla, I don’t have cell service at the house!

It was then time for a snack. Jenny had some sort of crême brulée thing while Sarah and I had ice cream. It’s HOT and humid here, as bad as Mazatlán has ever been for me, so we were pleased to sit in the shade with a cool treat! I must have come close to the correct word for chocolate when I ordered my ice cream because the man just pointed to a cone and a cup to see which I wanted (I said “chockolat” and it’s “shokolad”). Normally, it’d be a cup, but considering how much exercise it is to live in the mountains, the waffle cone didn’t feel like an excess. 😉

I was then taken to another little supermarket and helped in purchasing a few more things that I’m missing. I’m surprised that Bulgarians appear not to eat mustard. I’d mentioned mustard as being part of my shopping list and Jenny was listening as that was the ingredient that made her choose the shop she did. All they had was Dijon, though, no yellow mustard. Better than nothing, although I like to have both in the fridge! I didn’t want to buy meat since we had a long car ride ahead, but the meat didn’t look scary and I will buy some next time I go to Yablanitsa. I have salami, cheeses, yoghurt, and beans for protein until I get to that point.

My Bulgarian skills are completely non-existent and the language sounds alien so anything anyone tells me doesn’t stick. I’m doing a lot of smiling and shrugging while looking to my Bulgarian-speaking companions for help. I look forward to going shopping on my own so I can take my time reading labels. So many ingredients have names that are similar to French or English that I can muddle through that way. Jenny seems to speak sufficient Bulgarian but doesn’t read it, which amazes me! I am frustrated that the dictionary I bought for my phone requires web access and will look for an offline one. I did find a Bulgarian to English phrase book in the house library that will help me until I find something better. Thank goodness I took the time to learn how to read Cyrillic! I can scan the book for the English phrase and then read the Bulgarian exquivalent or point to it if I’m not sure of the pronunciation (words like bread and eggs are tough).

Today was the first time in a very long while that I was in no rush to get up. I dozed until 9AM, when Sausage literally knocked on the front door to demand his morning walk! I am very sore and exhausted from all the walking I did in London and the terrain here is challenging. So I had kind of hoped to do a partial rest day and only take the dogs out in the afternoon, but they wouldn’t let me get away with that! I took them up and then came back down to have coffee and breakfast. I had just put on my second cup of coffee when the dogs started barking. I checked the road and saw someone parked right in front of the house and standing at the gate. Mr. Internet Repairer! Woohoo! He rattled off something that included internet and I apologetically stammered out what I hoped meant “No Bulgarian” (I was close…). I took him upstairs to where the modem is and he fiddled with it for close to a half hour. Then, he turned to me and said, “Internet!” before stammering out “Router problem.” I checked my connection on my laptop and cheered when my emails started to pour in! I thanked him about four times as I guided him back to the gate.

And then, it was time to catch up with what I’ve missed since going offline… 🙂

I know that now that the internet issue is sorted, I will be very happy here. The setting is idyllic, I love the house and pets, and I’m not at all feeling closed in at living in such a rural area. It makes for a very small and very manageable world to learn. I have met one Bulgarian neighbour who does not speak a lick of English, but who seems very friendly. I learned one new word in our introductions, “dobre,” which means okay or good. I will make an effort to try to learn a new phrase or word every day and see what sticks.

Now that you’re all caught up on Bulgaria, prepare to return to London briefly!