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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

152. The one where we go to a Bulgarian football match

We had family staying last week and their big wish was to go and see a Bulgarian football match. I’m not a football lover, as you might have guessed, but I’m up for anything that creates good blog fodder. And, as luck would have it, CSKA Sofia were playing Ludogorets in the Bulgarian Cup Quarter Final, so we trouped off to Sofia to watch a little footie.

The last (who am I kidding, the only) time I went to see my home team in England, Pompey were FA Cup holders and you couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. We only managed to get tickets because someone we knew couldn’t go to a match. But in Bulgaria, even for a cup match, we just wandered up at kick-off time and bought four tickets.

Then we were subjected to a suspiciously thorough police search at the ground’s entrance (only suspicious because, as we’ll see later, certain people can obviously bring whatever they like into the stadium). The policeman even leafed through every note in Rob’s wallet. If he was hoping for an ‘offering’, he must have been disappointed – we just waited patiently for him to finish.

We’d read in advance not to go in Sector G, behind the goal, because that’s where the ‘ultras’ go. Much as I like entertaining my readers, infiltrating hardnut football fan gangs is a step too far. So we went slightly off to the side of Ultra Territory, and stood up at the very top of the stand. (It’s basically a free-for-all once you get in the ground and you just stand wherever you can find a spot. There are seats, but everyone stands on them for the whole match. Good luck telling this lot to sit down.)

The atmosphere was cheerfully rowdy, complete with a full-time drummer (who was doing rock’n’roll scissor kicks and everything as he drummed. Legend), and an MC who worked the crowd into a frenzy and demanded constant singing. We learned quite a few songs, and, where we didn’t understand the words, just made the right sorts of sounds. A shit-load of toilet paper was thrown onto the pitch at regular intervals. Some football was played. CSKA scored quickly. Hurrah! Ludogorets scored after that. Boo! I gather the ref was a nightmare. I could tell half-time was approaching when the police on the sidelines put on their riot headgear to escort the Ludogorets players down the tunnel. Half-time came. The score was 1-1.

Huge sheets of red paper were handed out during half-time, so the whole crowd could greet the players with a sea of red at the start of the second half. Well, I say the whole crowd, the 20 Ludogorets fans present didn’t want to participate. Spoil sports. Then, on cue, and all in perfect synchronicity, the sector G fans lit their flares.

Now, I’ve seen European football matches with flares on the telly and it looks batshit mental and scary on the screen. But in real life, it was beautiful, especially when they all lit them at the same moment. Don’t tell anyone, but I got actual goosebumps. Then it all got a bit smoky, obviously.

More toilet paper was lobbed onto the pitch. So was a lot of screwed-up red paper. More songs were sung. Blah, blah, blah, football was played. But there was this incredible moment in the second half when Ludogorets hit the bar and, with the goal empty (I can’t remember where the keeper was, but he wasn’t where he should have been), the ball bounced down painfully close to the goal line. A CSKA player rushed in and kicked it away, and the whole crowd ooofed in relief. The man in front of me turned round and screamed, ‘What are the chances?!’ Yes, my friend, my smiling nod responded, luck is indeed on our side tonight. Isn’t football fun?

With that little hiccup out of the way, the full-time score was still 1-1, and, it being a cup match, it went to extra time. We were certainly getting our 18-lev’s worth. There was a short break, just time enough for the male fans to climb to the top of the stand and have a piss through the railings into the park below, while the few women present watched jealously and jiggled uncomfortably. (Ladies, you just have to hold it in.) Then it all started again. The drumming, the singing, the toilet rolls. A little more football.

Thankfully, CSKA scored in the first half of extra time, and held onto the lead. CSKA win! Everyone’s happy! We obvious tourists can escape the ground unharmed! Hurrah! I’m joking, of course. The atmosphere in the ground was brilliant, and we saw no sign of trouble. We enjoyed it so much we’ve already decided to go to more CSKA matches. (Not a Sofia derby match, though. We’re not total idiots.) There’s no chance of us choosing another team, now. Not now we’ve already learned the songs…

There ends the tale of our little football adventure. And, unless I’m gripped with blogging fever over the Christmas break (unlikely, as I intend to spend the week in a pastry-and-prosecco-induced stupor), here ends Auntie Bulgaria’s dispatches for 2017. Thanks for reading, you sexy beasts, and here’s to an adventure-filled 2018.

Looks like we're in for a white Christmas in the village.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

151. Prepper’s delight

Greetings from the UK, where this image pretty much sums up the state of affairs:

Vape shop?? Vape? Shop?
Only two more days then I'll be back in the Bulg and hunkering down for winter. Which brings me to this epic post...

Having got ourselves ready for winter and written more lists than you can shake a stick at, I now feel the need to get you, dear reader, ready for the Bulgarian winter. So here’s what I think you need if you’re going to sail through the winter months. Are your fingers limbered up? Do you have your pen and paper handy? Good. Then let’s begin.

Home comforts
I’m going to assume you’ve got your wood for burning. (If you haven’t, Jesus Fuck, the rest of this post won’t help you.) I’ll also assume that you have sensible winter clothes, meaning proper wool jumpers (when we first arrived our winter jumpers were totally unsuitable for the Bulgarian cold, because they were designed to look nice and be worn in centrally-heated houses. If you’re in the same boat, go to a second-hand clothes shop and fill your boots on big thick jumpers), but also thermals, waterproof trousers, a very warm coat, and snow boots or other waterproof winter boots. I live in my old waterproof leather walking boots all winter and they’re one of the best things I ever bought.

Home-wise, you really don’t need much to brave the winter. A nice big woodburner, obviously. But that’s about it. Our first winter, we didn’t have a kitchen or lounge. Our bathroom consisted of a toilet and shower head – no bath, no sink. And we had an outdoor staircase, for heaven’s sake. An outdoor staircase in -17°C. It was outrageous. But we just drank a lot of wine and got on with it. Six years later, we’ve come so far, we now even have a boot room for dumping muddy/snowy shoes as we come in. Bliss.

If, like us, you have a draughty old house with no double glazing (our house is so porous, I can smell when next door lights his fire!), there are things you can do to make the house cosier. We have inexpensive curtains up at doors and windows, which I’ve lined with blankets to provide extra insulation. Some people line their windows with plastic sheeting or cling film, although we’ve never needed to. We also use a big old cat cushion as a draught excluder by our back door, which helps a huge amount. It’s also worth getting a second duvet for your bed – come December, we sleep in a wonderful duvet sandwich: one duvet on the bottom, covering the mattress, and the other on top of us. When we wake up on January mornings and there’s ice on the inside of the windows, we’re seriously toasty in our 30-tog sandwich heaven.

According to our builders, our bathroom pipes have been lagged (*cough* bullshit *cough*), but our bath/shower tap and toilet flush still freeze up every winter when it hits -10°C or below. There’s not much we can do about the toilet. We just have to flush it with a bucket of water for a few weeks every winter. As for the bath tap, we try to leave it dripping overnight when really cold weather is forecast. But we always forget at some point in the winter – which means it’ll freeze up overnight and there’ll be no showers for us for a few weeks…

I don’t know about you, but if even one snowflake falls in our village, our power starts cutting in and out. So get lots of candles. And if, like ours, your woodburner is one that runs on an electric pump (to heat radiators elsewhere in the house), it’s well worth buying a cheap 200 lev woodburner that doesn’t need electric – just as a backup, in case of a lengthy power cut (our backup battery for the stove only lasts a couple of hours). We bought a spare woodburner our second winter, after surviving a four-day power cut in our first winter, and it’s earned its place many times over.

Toilet rolls
Look, don’t even mess around on this one. We’ve currently got about 80 rolls and I honestly get nervous if it drops below 30. But stockpiling loo roll is a weird year-round obsession of mine, not just a winter thing. You’re probably not weird about this. In which case, maybe you can be cavalier and just have, like, 20 rolls. God, I actually just shuddered as I wrote that.

The monster freezer
If you don’t have a chest freezer, get one right away. Right away. Stop reading this and get to your nearest freezer emporium right now. When we first moved, we bought one of those silly little under-counter three-drawer things and it was such a waste of money. We had to upgrade to a chest freezer by the next winter.

Having secured ourselves a monstrous freezer, we fill it with milk, cheese, butter and cheap meat for the cats (they get chicken necks, not tinned or dried food). We’re not big meat eaters ourselves, but we usually have some bacon and mince kicking around in there. Plus chillies, herbs, veg, pesto, tomato passata, homemade stock, emergency crumble topping... Basically, in our house, if it doesn’t move, it gets frozen. 

Veg galore
I usually freeze some of our home-grown parsnips and beetroots, plus I buy a kilo or two of carrots and freeze them. We also have lots of home-grown squash, which will store well all winter. And we stock up on other long-life veg like onions, garlic and potatoes. If you have some crates or sacks filled with sand, beetroot and other roots will store okay for quite a while in those.

We’ll then buy fresh fruit and veg (leeks, apples, etc.) every couple of weeks, when the roads are clear. Or, if the weather’s bad, we can always get out on foot. Many’s the winter we’ve done a rucksack veg run in deep snow, with our giant leeks poking out the top of the rucksack, attracting some funny looks…

The staples
I love having a proper pantry. It’s one of my favourite rooms in the house, and it gives us so much space for stocking up on the staples and storing all our preserves.

Pantry or no, get yourself plenty of flour, rice, pasta, pulses, sugar, spices, tea, coffee, etc. Whatever you like to cook with, buy lots of it. And don’t forget kitchen/bathroom supplies like washing up liquid, cloths, bin bags and toothpaste. Personally, I like to have several months’ worth of tahini in the pantry (I eat it by the spoonful like peanut butter), but I accept that may not be a priority for you. And we’ve got 10 litres each of olive and sunflower oil. Admittedly, that’s a bit excessive, even for us, but they were a good price and I cannot resist a food-related bargain. We also stock up on big 10-litre bottles of water, just in case the water goes off at some point (not unheard of in our village).

A serious word on food storage
Just as important as stocking up on food is making sure you’ve got good, critter-proof stuff to store it in. For us, the problem isn’t mice or rats – it was moths. A few years ago, when we had food stored in normal plastic and paper packaging or plastic zip lock bags, we somehow ended up with a moth infestation in our pantry. And, as we found out, moths will chew through pretty much any packaging to lay their eggs in the food. Rice, flour, chickpeas, even bags of powdered spices – we found the tell-tale webby-egg-floss stuff in everything. We had to get rid of so much food.

But those little mothy fuckers can’t chew their way through glass, can they? So now we store everything in Ikea glass jars and bottles (which are cheap but nice and robust for a butterfingers like me). Plus, it’s really handy having rice and lentils stored in big one-litre bottles because you can neatly pour out a cupful at a time, without them going all over the counter, like they do when they’re in a wide-necked jar or bag. Even better for a butterfingers like me! So, get yourself to Ikea and stock up on cheapo glass jars and bottles.

If this all sounds a bit much, maybe you’re right. We never really know how bad the winter will be. Maybe there’ll be hardly any snow, and we can get out and do a normal shop every single week. Or maybe, like our first winter, there’ll be three feet of snow and the village will be completely cut off from the outside world until the snow plough can get to us. I’m not taking any chances.

My attitude is, I only go out in winter when I want to – when it’s a lovely crisp winter day and we feel like going for a walk or getting back in touch with civilisation. We don’t go out because we have to, because we’re down to our last toilet roll and the nearly empty washing up liquid bottle is farting out one pitiful drop at a time. There’s enough to be dealing with in winter, you feel me?

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

150. Cider and other stuff


Did someone say cider?
Is there a better word to describe cider than ‘scrumptious’? If there is, I’m all ears. We’ve bottled this year’s bounty and have already started drinking it. It’s so … scrumptious. There is no other word, is there? Sadly, we’ve got about 10 bottles less than we had last year, because the first barrel turned to vinegar (see below), but 40 litres is better than 0 litres. Am I right, chaps?

So, 2017’s bonus: 18 bottles of cider vinegar. This, too, is delicious (not scrumptious), although there’s a limit to how much cider vinegar two people can get through in a lifetime.

Winter is coming
We’ve had the first hard frost, so most of the garden has now died back. I do love a good frost, even if it does kill off the dahlias – pretty much the last thing flowering in our garden. And the courgettes finally died! We picked the last ones on October 29th, the day before the frost. That has to be a record for courgettes, no? Giving fruit from June to the end of October? Let’s just say I’m ready for a break from courgette fritters.

Frost on the creeping thyme.

Frosty sage.

It’s all feeling very wintery now as we start stocking up the pantry and freezer for January and February, and stockpiling loo rolls by the hundreds (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly). Wood Store Number 1 (the one closest to the house) has been filled with wood and kindling for this winter, and Wood Store Number 2 (behind the house) is chocked with next winter’s wood, which Rob has almost finished chopping and stacking.

Wood Store Number 1.

Wood Store Number 2. Still some wood to chop and stack but it's nearly there.

List madness
As an anally retentive freak of nature, I bloody love prepping for winter because it means I can write list after list after list. Currently on my fridge:

- The ‘autumn gardening jobs’ list, reminding us of everything we need to do to put the garden to bed.
- The usual ‘shit we need from Kaufland’ list, which starts getting pretty big at this time of year so that we can stock up on dried goods, frozen chicken necks for the cats and other freezer stuff.
- The ‘Lidl’ list – just because Lidl is my new favourite place in Bulgaria (Carnaroli rice! Meat that doesn’t taste weird! Those biscuits with the solid block of chocolate on top!), and I’ve finally realised the Lukovit Lidl is not really any further than Kaufland in Botevgrad. 
- The ‘fancy Christmas list’, which mainly comprises cheese, crackers, a bottle of bubbly and other treats that we need, yes, NEED, for Christmas.
- The ‘UK list’, with things to get on my next visit (Benefit foundation, decaf tea, 3for2 mascara from Superdrug. You know, the essentials).
- The ‘winter gardening’ list, with the seeds we plan to start off indoors as winter winds down.

The insanity that is my fridge.

Lols with the neighbours
Recent highlights from next door include being served homemade chicken soup, complete with feet. Rob got a whole foot in his bowl. I got off lightly with a toe. Also, Svilen mistook a sausage for the TV remote and tried, quite earnestly, to change the channel with it. We all had a good laugh at that one.

Autumn skies
Finally, check out this beautiful sunset from the other week. There’s no better end to the day than that. Other than a glass of cider, of course.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

149. Summer kitchen reveal

I just remembered I promised a summer kitchen reveal months ago. Better late than never…

Our summer kitchen sits in the footprint of this crumbly old barn that we inherited in the corner of the garden. There was some lovely stone and a few salvageable old beams, but not much else to work with!

View of the 'barn' from outside our property. What a lovely view our neighbours had.

And this is it from inside the garden. It was a basic L-shaped
structure that we dared not go inside.

Rob built every inch of the summer kitchen himself, perfecting his bricklaying, stonemasonry, roofing, carpentry and cob oven skills (all of which were non-existent in his previous life in the UK). Look at the size of the old oak beams he lifted into place himself! He’s clearly a superhero, with a seriously useful superpower: watching YouTube videos of how to do DIY stuff and then recreating it with minimal fuss and swearing. I’m still in awe now.

After rebuilding the stone walls and building a new brick wall as a boundary, Rob shifted each
of these beams in place to hold the roof. At least he wasn't wearing flip flops this time.

Getting the roof struts on. Is struts even the right word? I need to watch
more YouTube DIY videos...

Even superheroes need wine sometimes.

Phase 1 of the roof in place and half the stone floor laid.

By now we'd built the pizza oven (I did at least help with that), but still not
got the rest of the roof on or plastered the brick wall.

Starting to build the dining area. Rob doing his best 'building' face.
I’ve never been very good at stylish, Instagram-worthy photos, so naturally I’ve rushed out and taken these pictures just now – when it looks really empty and unloved where we’ve not used it for the last month. I’ll follow up with some nicer pictures next spring. (Perhaps. If I were you, I’d take my blogging promises with a pinch of salt.) For now, you’ll just have to imagine it plus cushions, candles and hanging plants, and minus the cobwebs and encroaching weeds. 

View from outside. Sorry about all the weeds. I mean, who has time to weed outside their property. I'm anal but not that anal.

Phase 2 of the roof on, above the cooking area, and nice old stone floors everywhere.

So the L-shaped structure has a lounge area on this lower floor, a dining area
tucked away in the back, and a cooking area.

Lounge area, complete with daybed (spare mattress on pallets), an old papasan chair
that we had in England, and a hammock chair. Honestly, a month ago this was filled
with nice cushions, candles and hanging plants!

Dining area. Obviously ignore the cider press. Rob seems to be under the impression that,
having built this lovely summer kitchen, he can now use it as a shed.

Cooking area: pizza oven in the centre, woodburner to the right, and a black barrel barbecue to the left.

I mean, I could have at least dusted before taking this picture. You feel me?

Pizza oven, 2.5 years later. I did at least pick off the snail that was making its way
across the door before taking this picture. #winning #LifestyleGuru

Nope. There's the snail on the door. And I don't even want to know what Pepper
the cat is sniffing at. #winning #LifestyleGuru

The summer kitchen is still not *quite* finished. We need to enclose the bit above the pizza oven and barbecue somehow, in a way that blocks out the unsightly view behind but lets smoke filter out (and costs us almost no money). We still haven’t worked out the best solution yet, but we’ll get there. And we’re still undecided on whether to point all the stone work – part of me thinks it’ll look so nice and neat while the other part thinks ‘fucking hell, that’ll take forever’.

But, overall, we’re thrilled with it. And it really didn’t cost us that much money. The new roofing tiles were probably the biggest outlay at about 600 leva. Wood (some replacement big beams and timber for the seating/table) cost us around 400 leva. The bricks for the outer wall were probably 200 leva, if that. Then we spent 300 leva on the outdoor woodburner, which has been so useful this summer and well worth the money. That’s it. The rest of the materials came from the tumbledown barn (old oak beams and stone), the garden (clay and stone for the pizza oven) and generous Bulgarians (the barrel for the barbecue was from our neighbour, and a delivery driver gave us the pallets for the daybed).

Oh, and it cost hours and hours and hours of Rob’s hard labour – two years, to be precise, fitting it in around other jobs. I asked him just now whether, if he could go back in time, he’d do it all again. He said yes, but in a slow, slightly scared way. Let’s just say he’s looking forward to not building anything for a while…

Friday, 13 October 2017

148. Vegetable-related OCD. Snow. The joy of rustic toilets

Excuse the incoherent ‘here’s some stuff we’ve done’ nature of this blog. It’s gone 5pm on a Friday and a large vodka awaits…

As the nights are so cold now, I harvested all our butternut squashes the other week, then spent a happy 10 minutes arranging them in descending order of size. I honestly don’t care how crazy that makes me sound.

I mean, how can you not love this? No, *you* should seek psychological help.

They still make me happy every time I walk by them. They’ll stay here on this super-sunny windowsill until the skins have hardened, then we’ll move them into the pantry. (I desperately need a pantry extension!)

Important courgette news: two of our plants are STILL GOING. Admittedly, they’re only offering up four or five courgettes a week, but, still, it’s freaking October. How are they not dead yet? Here are three fruits I picked just yesterday (12th October). They’re a pretty decent size considering they shouldn’t exist.

These do not exist. Except they do. My brain hurts.

Last weekend (a stinker of a rainy weekend, with guests), we made our first ever batch of pickled onions. The jar in front is a large mayonnaise jar, just to give you an idea of how preposterously big the jar behind is. Seriously, it wouldn’t look out of place on a chip shop counter. I wouldn’t mind, but I can only manage one pickled onion each Christmas before being engulfed by the fiery hell of indigestion. Rob swears he’ll eat the lot. Time will tell.

Feel the burn.

Speaking of preposterously large things (tsk, get your mind out of the gutter), we bought some comically big leeks. Actually, they’re pretty typical for Bulgarian leeks, but it’s unusual to see such bigguns available this early.

Leggy leeks. And some legs.

We saw lots of snow on the Stara Planina while out and about this past week. It’s not unusual to see a light dusting of snow on higher ground in October, but that (she said in disgust) is not a light dusting. That is a Shit-Ton of Snow (technical mountaineering term).

That's just fucking outrageous for October.

If you like pictures of delightfully rustic foreign toilets, you’re going to love this bad boy. Spotted on an eco trail near Lukovit. Yes, reader, I used it.

I had a good look down the hole, too. Underneath was a stack of tyres.

Finally, about 100 metres from the delightfully rustic toilet was a graffiti-covered picnic area. It seems Rob and I have teenage Bulgarian namesakes frequenting the same places as us. Cool.

Klara and Bobby, August 2017.
And now, vodka…

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

147. Very English concerns: Weather and booze

As is typical in Bulgaria, the change in seasons has been marked with a huge temperature swing. After months of a pretty constant 25–30°C here in the mountains, we’ve dropped to 15°C in the blink of an eye. I realise that’s hardly arctic, and in deepest winter I’ll hanker after anything above zero, let alone double figures, but it’s the sudden change that always gets me. I’m wearing my biggest cardigan and muttering ‘Winter is coming’ 10 times a day. I’ve packed my flip flops away and shaken the dead spiders out of my slippers. Even Rob has succumbed to long trousers after days of toughing it out in shorts (while being laughed at by the neighbour).

The good news is, the temperature will probably stay pretty constant now until December. But, much as I love autumn, until I adjust, I’ll mainly be wallowing in cardigans and carbs.
We made some roasted peppers in oil for the winter but I want to eat them
now. It's practically winter, right? 

Cider production is well and truly underway. Instead of strimming apples, like we did last year, Rob fashioned some sort of medieval weapon to turn our apples into pulp. Then the pulp was pressed to extract the juice, and ‘some sugar’ (his detailed description, not mine) was added to the juice. Now, we wait…

Apple torture device.

Apple chamber of horrors in action. (Complete with totally-sanitary-I'm-sure
bin bag liner to capture the apple spray. Like I said: sanitary.) 

(Failed) booze
In his usual precise manner, Rob says our first small batch of cider, made in August from some early apples, ‘doesn’t look right’. But, ever the optimist, he’s hoping to turn it into cider vinegar. (It’s an ancient hipster saying, I believe, ‘When life gives you bad cider, strap on the beard hair net and make cider vinegar.’*)

We did something similar with a failed batch of red wine a few years ago, back in our early winemaking days, and we ended up with several litres of amazing red wine vinegar that’s saved us a small fortune in the years since. In fact, we’ve only just finished up the last of that vinegar, so a few (dozen) bottles of cider vinegar will do nicely.

(Limited quantities of) booze
Speaking of failed booze, our white grapes on the front of the house have some sort of fungal infection. Possibly inspired by the thrush/yogurt combo (I really hope you’re eating your lunch while reading this), Rob has been spraying the infected vines with milk. It seems to be helping, even if it is making a holy mess of our kitchen windows. Anyway, it looks like we’ll be making red wine only this year.

*I actually Googled beard hair net to make sure it’s a real thing. It is! It’s a real thing. Behold.

I really think it's pointless if you don't wear one on YOUR ACTUAL HAIR as well. No?

Now, that's more like it.

But this one gets extra points for its sexy fishnets vibe.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

146. Autumn love, preserving like a boss, and a trip to the Rhodopes

Autumn is my favourite time of year – specifically that dreamy early September period when the evenings are cold enough for a sweater but the days are hot enough for shorts and flip flops, and the leaves are *just* starting to turn. And the food! Oh my, I love squirrelling away food for winter while we’re still eating tomatoes warm from the sun and checking the chilli plants for ripe fruit every day. It really makes you enjoy the last of the hot weather, you know, when you’ve got half a mind on the winter ahead.

As well as our epic pesto batch, we’ve got a freezer full of passata, plums, blackberries, beetroots and courgettes. (Our courgettes are still coming, by the way. We’ve harvested quite a few this week. They will never die.) I’ve made a batch of tomato chutney, even though we’re still working our way through 2015’s spicy chutney. Plus some jams and tomato ketchup. Next up on the preserving list is quince jelly, from the one quince tree in our garden. And there’s still a tomato and herb jelly recipe I’ve been meaning to try, which sounds gross but the book assures me it adds extra depth to tomato soups, pasta sauces, etc.

Also, *pins chufty badge to chest* we made our first attempt at canning. It was just a few jars of peaches in syrup from the neighbour’s harvest, but it seemed to go well. We might even buy a big batch of peaches from the market to make more jars (our own peach tree is still too young to offer up any fruit). So if I disappear from the blog sometime this winter, it’s safe to assume we’ve died of botulism. Either that or we’ve been swallowed by a sink hole – you never know.

But, so far, the very best thing about September has been our trip to the Rhodope Mountains (Родопите in Bulgarian) earlier in the month. God, it’s gorgeous down there. Stunning, wild scenery. Diverse walking trails with not a soul on them. Dramatic gorges. Rivers. Woodland. I know I’m just listing stuff, but I don’t care. Cool caves. Amazing food. There was even a village folk festival thrown in for good measure. We can’t wait to go back and explore further.

Are you ready for the holiday slideshow? Sitting comfortably? Good. Pass the mini gherkins, Margo…

Wild flowers and mountains. It must be gorgeous here in early summer.

Quite a few villages have mosques.

So many mountains.

Eagle Eye platform.

The platform from below. Yes, it's that tiny thing jutting waaaay out from the edge.

Trigrad Gorge.

Sun streaming into the Devil's Throat Cave as we climbed the 300-odd steps out of the cave.

And now for the bear-related portion of the slideshow. Sadly, there are no photos of actual bears, so don’t get your hopes up too much. Tuna vol-au-vent?

Big ole bear paws.

Bear hide.

Runny bear poo.

Bear scratches on the tree.

More bear tracks. 

Solid bear poo. You're welcome.

We did some mushroom hunting. Mmmm, mushrooms. Even without the help of our guide, we guessed this chap wasn’t edible:

And now comes the random, über Bulgarian section of the slideshow. You know, the kind of shizzle you only see on hols in Bulgaria.

Some Bulgarian guys made us eat half their watermelon. I was weeing all afternoon.

Watermelon Man and his big axe and big truck.

At the folk festival in Yagodina.

Gals dancing the, er, afternoon away.

Lada 1.

Lada 2.
Finally, nothing to do with mountains, bears, mushrooms or anything, but I’ve got major polytunnel envy after a visit to a plant nursery in Hotnitsa last weekend. Look at it, it’s not wonky or anything! And it has a FAN for Christ’s sake! I am literally biting my own fist in envy.