It’s been seven months since we packed up the Land Rover and left the UK for the mountains for the very last time. Not simply an adventurous vacation, this European road trip was goodbye England and hello Bulgaria for the foreseeable future.
Instead of the usual rush to get to our retreat, we spent time in Germany’s Black Forest, visited the beautiful city of Timisoara in Romania and crossed the Danube by ferry… not your typical house move!
Sitting here next to the wood burner in January with the snow falling outside, it’s a challenge to reflect on any specific detail during the last 7 months. Without doubt the most fun, challenging and rewarding period of my life, so much has happened, so much has been achieved, so many goals have been realised.
Living in a small mountain community softens the challenges, with sympathy and support from our neighbours. We’re all in it together. During the summer months it didn’t rain once, leaving the village short on water and meaning I had to conjure up a plan to keep our reservoir topped up for our guests. This culminated in the purchase of large plastic barrels and trips to various water fountains and eventually the river, where I was met by a queue of friendly locals chatting between themselves whilst waiting to fill their containers. Everyone agreed that life was difficult without water and one chap from a local hotel cited a friend in Syria who was suffering a far worse shortage than we were. Nobody was moaning, no one was blaming the government. We all patiently waited our turn, occasionally allowing the odd queue jump for those with a small container for a quick splash and dash.
As a young man I spent many years working in forestry. Our small team of lean, not at all mean, cutting machines kept us in beer and smokes and just about covered the bills. We never set off in the mornings thinking of financial reward, we did this work for other, more beneficial rewards… being our own bosses, the fresh air, enjoying breakfast in the middle of a forest. Many muscular building labourers joined our slim team only to quit after the first day. Men, mud and machines, forestry is extremely hard work.
Twenty years on, the wood burner is not simply keeping me toasty and cooking Sunday dinner. It’s the culmination of my skills in the forest, an appropriate gift from my folks in the guise of a Husqvarna 353, our trusty Land Rover Defender, some sweat with the axe and the knowledge that every log in that box, was created by nature and me.
Immersing ourselves into mountain life, albeit in our slightly westernised manner, has been a great deal of fun. Drought, floods, power cuts, and being snowed in have already become part of every day life. New people we meet ask us “when are you going to make Rakia… you’ll need a dog or two in the mountains… you should get a gun…” Our Rakia is good and we have a dog that’s good most of the time. As for the weapon, it has been part of the plan. A wild boar or deer would certainly create a lot of meat for us and our friends in the village. The last deer I spotted from the garden ‘ponder bench’ was a beautiful creature. Standing in a small glade on the edge of the treeline enjoying the warmth from the winter sun. I watched her for 30 minutes, standing there, peacefully. Small plumes of steam wafted from her nostrils with every breath as I shot her a number of times with the camera. A truly grand and gracious life to end if I had the choice… My last oak tree was around 80 years old. He was treated with honour and respect as I delve further into the realities of consuming those things I cherish.
A result of circumstance, surroundings and upbringing, I sit here, slightly uncomfortably, listening to our kitchen tap, dribbling away an abundant supply of free water in an effort to stop our pipes freezing again. I smile at the words of the local head forester, “we’ve got millions of trees here”. Struggling with the most difficult language in Europe, I now look back at my own country’s diverse and opulent thesaurus and realise the flaws. I reflect on the green and pleasant yet seemingly melancholy land that I left behind. Our new, ex-communist homeland can only go from strength to strength and we warmly embrace the honour, respect, positive thinking and truly outstanding welcome that has been our experience of Bulgaria and it’s people.
Thank you for the chance to live my dream.