*Big meat-and-pastry-and-cheese-related sigh* Well, that’s another Christmas and New Year finished. How was it for you? Wild and indulgent? Quiet and contemplative? Ours was somewhere in between: quiet and indulgent.
I’d planned to do so much over the break. We were going to go on lots of long walks. We were going to go to Sofia for an overnight break from the snowy wilderness. I was going to write the first few chapters of a bestselling novel (The Guardian was going to call it ‘a witty, sparkling debut’). And, slightly less glamorous but still important, I was going to make some new curtains.
None of it materialised. Instead, the sum total of my Christmas achievements are: went on one walk (to the shop for eggs and beer, which doesn’t really count), drank said beer with friends in the freezing village park, built a snowman, patched up my jeans, watched Arrested Development.
It’s not my fault. It’s too cold and snowy to do anything strenuous. It was -12°C when I got up this morning. The forecast for this week is predicting a low of -22°C (although I doubt it’ll actually come to that, the weather app on my phone changes its mind like, er, the weather).
People who don’t know where Bulgaria is (no, it’s not ‘up near Russia’, you’re thinking of Estonia) often assume winter here is six months of Siberian hell. But it’s really not that bad. It’s cold, but it’s dry. We get little wind and rain where we live (we’ve had one day of rain in the last five weeks). And winter is short here. Although December was colder than normal, it’s usually only really cold (as in, below zero most days) in January and February. There’s none of the miserable slump into winter that you get from October onwards in Britain. ‘Proper’ winter here doesn’t really start until Christmas, which is appropriate and welcome. And, even on the shortest day of the year, it doesn’t get dark until 5pm.
Yes, it snows quite a lot, but it rarely causes the chaos that an inch of snow causes in Hampshire. Only in our first winter (the Snowmageddon of January 2012) has it caused utter chaos, when we had three feet of snow fall in one night followed by a four-day power cut and the lowest temperatures in living memory. The village was completely cut off for three days until a hero snowplough driver finally made it through. The piles of scooped snow at the side of the road were as tall as me and hung around for two months. Once you’ve had a winter like that, everything else seems like a breeze.
|Just a bit of snow then.|
|Digging our way out.|
|Iggy in the snow.|
Want to know the secret to a happy, stress-free winter? A fully stocked chest freezer and 60 toilet rolls. It’s that simple.* We freeze as much milk and cheese as we can fit in, plus two months’ worth of chicken necks (which is what we feed our cats). And the pantry is ridiculously full of flour, rice, pasta, oats, chickpeas, etc. So, even if we are cut off from the outside world, we only need to venture out for fresh eggs and vegetables every now and then, and that can be done on foot with a rucksack if need be.
|Is it too boring to share a picture of our pantry? I think it's a thing of beauty. |
Note I have stopped short of sharing a picture of 60 loo rolls. You're welcome.
Wood is also essential. Anyone moving out to Bulgaria this year should get their wood order in as soon as they arrive. The wood we buy is unseasoned (presumably seasoned wood is available for a premium), so it needs to season for a year before we use it. When we moved out, it was summer and we didn’t get our wood until September, meaning it only had a couple of months to season before we started burning it. Obviously, it didn’t burn well and we burnt way more as a result. It took us a couple of winters before we finally got to the point of having a full year’s supply of wood in advance. (The wood we’re burning now was bought in the summer/autumn of 2015, and the wood we bought a few months ago is for November 2017 onwards.) Wood is our biggest annual outgoing, but it’s also the most important thing we buy each year – aside from gin and loo roll.
I love how quiet our village is in the winter. We have quite a lot of ‘second homers’ here – not Brits, Sofians who come up for the summer and weekends. July and August in our village is getting increasingly busy, with actual young people and families going for a stroll or walking their dogs (something you never see the locals doing). I rather enjoy it when they all troop back to Sofia and leave us and the old folks in peace for a few months.
Saying that, after about a month of not really going anywhere and seeing the same faces, cabin fever does start to set in. That’s when we head down to Sofia for a night or two, go to the cinema and have a few cocktails. We’re so lucky that Sofia is just an hour down the motorway, and we’ve got a good bus service if I don’t feel like driving. After 24 hours in icy, busy Sofia, I’m always itching to get back to the comfort of the village.
So, to sum up, Bulgaria isn’t located where you think it is (that’s Estonia), and winter here is not as bad as you imagine.
Here are some pictures of the ONE snowy walk we managed in a whole week off. Shameful.
|Trekking up to the village shop.|
|Just a tiny section of river left to freeze over.|
|Photographic evidence that I did indeed leave the house.|