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Updated with pictures that got lost in cyberspace

Bulgaria and the long-awaited Rose Festival.

Our Easyjet flight landed at Sofia airport, which is about as big as East London airport.
David suddenly realized that, even though Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007, that euros might not be generally acceptable, so we had to do a quick [unfavourable] Forex transaction at the airport. We found that hotels and big businesses accept euro but everyone else uses BGN leva. 1 leva = R6 = ½ euro. Apparently they will convert to euro “in due course”.

Arrival at the airport was the start of a bit of culture shock, as it became rapidly evident that English was not freely spoken. A shuttle ride to the central bus station, which cost us 6lv, was the next stage of our journey to our final destination.

We were shocked to see miles and miles of derelict and shanty houses along the road into the city [just like Nyanga].

At the bus station we found about 20 stalls representing 20 different bus companies, all selling bus tickets, but nobody could speak English!
At least the word “Kazanlak” was recognizable, so we secured 2 tickets [after we'd been price-scammed a bit, we later discovered] on a bus leaving at 3pm, several hours later than we expected. We managed to get an e-mail sent to the hostel owner, and held thumbs that he would be there to meet us, as offered.
Central Bus Station

Central Bus Station

We sat down with a Karmenitsa beer and 2 disprins [for David’s excruciating post-flight sinus pain], to check out the locals. Had we wandered into a Tart Convention, or is this a parallel universe for shocking style and taste? Jet black or bleach brigade hairstyles, coupled with tacky stilettos, fishnet stockings and jeans so tight that Sandi could barely breathe. Many of the young women have very good figures though. Of course the palls of smoke everywhere, inside and out, did not help make our long wait comfortable. More than 80% of Bulgarian's smoke we were told - and by the end of 5 days we could attest to that! Hardship is etched on many faces, especially the elderly, and there is a palpable air of decay and base energy. We did not take any pictures of people though, as we felt it disrespectful, so pardon the lack of pics here! It cost Sandi ½ lv [R3] to have a piddle, which included no paper, a turnstile to get through, and almost a cavity search, only to end up in a grungy stall!

A couple of hours later we found ourselves squashed onto a very full and airless bus, headed for, we hoped, Kazanlak. A few more houses and then we were in the green countryside, with lots of wooded areas, and very few fences or farmhouses.
After 2 hours the bus stopped at a service station and all the locals got off. What now? It turned out to be a smoke and loo break [another 1/2 lv payment each again, for the pleasure], and still a further 2 hours to our destination.

As nightfall was setting in we finally disembarked at the bus terminus, a dirty, desolate, derelict, depressing dump of a building, which was never grand, even in communist times. The only place to take a leak was in the bushes behind the station, where David scared a local woman looking for the same relief! We sat down, waiting for our host to fetch us, on a grimy slab of terminus step, in front of a window spattered with fresh blood. A brawl or a mugging the night before? A less than auspicious welcome to the village.
Kazanlak bus station

Kazanlak bus station

Since there was no sign of our host and lift, Plamen, we decided to contact him by mobile, and he thankfully arrived about 20 minutes later in his old Vectra, like an angel out of the twilight. He could speak English! The relief was immense, and we suddenly realised how tired we were. We had been up since 02:30 in order to drive two hours to Gatwick [from Somerset], through the fog, to catch our early flight. By now it was after 8pm and getting dark, and we were very relieved to be rescued from the oppressive energy, and curious stares of some locals, at the bus terminus.

The roads everywhere are in a shoddy state with enormous potholes, something to which Sandi can attest, as she felt each one acutely in the back seat of Plamen's car. Many houses have raw brickwork exposed, apparently because there is not enough money to plaster the walls, which may remain so for 20-30 years.
Sadly, dereliction seems to be a theme throughout Bulgarian towns and villages.

A quick stop-off for Plamen to buy some supplies for our dinner, and we were off on the bumpy drive to Srednogorovo, a tiny village, 12km from Kazanlak, up in the Srednogoro hills.
Srednogorovo village

Srednogorovo village

It seems to be a typical example of any Bulgarian village. In its heyday, it thrived with about 1000 villagers, but during the communist era, the socialist policies of land distribution drove many people into the cities. Now there are merely 300 remaining, mostly old people tending their vegetable gardens. Everyone has a veg patch with maybe a few fruit or walnut trees.
Ivanka's veggie garden

Ivanka's veggie garden

Seldom does one see the frivolity of a garden of flowers [except for the occasional rose bush] and this speaks volumes about what is of critical value in a relatively depressed economy. Food is primary, then shelter, and finally beauty - or at least that was our perception. Most of the houses and buildings are derelict and falling to pieces. Even those inhabited are in a state of disrepair.
We're still trying to work out why there was a well, slap bang in the middle of the road near the villa.

Another interesting custom in the village are the posters with photos of men and women, which are stuck up on many houses and walls. David thought they were election manifestos for the upcoming EU or local elections; but they turned out to be remembrances of loved ones who had passed on. Each anniversary, new ones are printed, commemorating the number of years since they died.

Arriving at Villa Breza was a great comfort. It is a neat and spotless guest house, thanks to Plamen’s mother, Ivanka, who greeted us at the door with a shy, but friendly smile, and no English. They are really special people, which was immediately evident by their natural solicitous care.
Ivanka and Plamen - great hosts!

Ivanka and Plamen - great hosts!

They quickly rustled up some dinner for us; Shopska salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions from the garden and sprinkled with soft white Bulgarian cheese [delicious!].
This was followed by some braaied sausage and chopped cabbage washed down with some excellent local red wine. Plamen, a delightful and knowledgeable treasure, regaled us with historical information and Rose Festival schedule, before we collapsed onto our beds, full of anticipation for what the next few days held for us. In spite of the rainy forecast for the next 5 days we were determined to enjoy every minute.

Villa Breza boasts 4 bedrooms; when fully occupied Plamen and Ivanka sleep in the tiny caravan in the garden. The front door leads straight from the street into the dining room; a lovely pine-clad room, full of light with glass walls looking out onto the grapevine, portapool and vegetable garden.

In the middle of the room is a Silver Birch tree [Breza] growing through the roof, around which the room has been built - totally charming. It was planted 17 years ago to commemorate the birth of his daughter.
A simple kitchen forms the other end of the room – where Ivanka reigns supreme - except for the salad making, which is Plamen's domain.
Ivanka the fabulous cook

Ivanka the fabulous cook

Highly glossed and polished tiled floors lead up the stairs to the bedrooms, and the whole feel is light, airy and spotless. In our room there are 3 pine cot beds, neatly covered with thin quilts, but the mattresses [oi vay!] - thin foam attached to the wooden bed bases! There was no way to soften these up, which left us both feeling like the proverbial Princess and the Pea after each night's restless sleep - but we didn't care - we were enjoying every moment of the adventure! The central, elaborate light fitting is so low that David knocked his head every time he crossed the room, day and night, sending Sandi into apoplectic laughter each time! The things that cause amusement! IMG_7637.jpg

An extra fold-up bed and a fridge complete the room. The bathroom is tiled throughout, including the basin. When David asked for a plug so that he could fill the basin for shaving, he received a perplexed look [they never did find one]. The fascinating thing about this bathroom is that the shower has no cubicle. It's just one large space that includes the shower, basin and loo. Fortunately a handy squeegee is provided to mop the floor and toilet seat after showering. We wondered how many fractured hips have resulted from the slippery, wet tiled floor? A rubberized car mat is placed in front of the bathroom door, to keep the bedroom carpets dry, but no mat on the lethal tiles. Slip sliding away .........

Daily breakfast consists of a few slices of salami or pink polony, cucumber, tomatoes, white cheese, yellow cheese, olives, spreads and toast with expresso coffee. On our last morning Ivanka baked banitsa, delicious white cheese rolled up in phyllo pastry.
Last breakfast with banitsa

Last breakfast with banitsa

Evening meals included moussaka made with potato instead of brinjals, and stuffed peppers. We learnt that it is traditional to drink Rakia [homemade spirit like witblitz] with the shopska salad, before embarking on the main course. Each person has their own special recipe, and Plamen shared some of his delicious plum version with us, but we also had a very fragrant one made from roses which we bought at a distillery ...…Mmmm!
Plamen plying the lovely Chan Yee with his fire water

Plamen plying the lovely Chan Yee with his fire water

Each meal was such an unpretentious, delicious treat. We asked Ivanka what the green fruits were growing on her tree outside, but she was unable to explain, so off she nipped to her neighbour and came back with the ripe goods by way of explanation - walnuts from the previous year's crop.
Unripe walnuts on the tree

Unripe walnuts on the tree

So those became the dessert for that meal, together with some cherries and strawberries we had found at a local market that day.

We bade a sad farewell to this "time-in-a-fragrant-bubble" experience, and hope to return again soon, with as many friends as we can persuade to join us. Our last vision of the village was this sign, which for some inexplicable reason, never failed to amuse us.

We would definitely stay at Villa Breza again and highly recommend both the guest house and the wonderful hosts. Plamen’s email is pkaravasilev@abv.bg. Tel 00359-887 486116. He charged us 10 euro each per day for B&B [dinners and transport extra]. Go there, you cannot get better value anywhere. To Plamen and Ivanka we say: Благодаря!

Posted by davidsandi 09:45 Archived in Bulgaria

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