Friday, February 6, 2015

Ooh La La

Those of you who have been following our ramblings (thank you) may recall a friend inviting us to France, in fact she went as far as to pay for our travel.   How could we refuse the opportunity of our first trip away together, not just since the fire but since we moved to Bulgaria nearly 3 years ago.

Well even though our friend was paying for the travelling I was still determined to find the cheapest way possible which wasn't via Paris but Stanstead.     What kind of crazy world is it when it's substantially cheaper to fly into another country and then take another flight, rather than fly to capital city of destination country and take the train?     We also investigated bus and train from Bulgaria to France, again both were more expensive, than flying, and in addition took days rather than hours.

So drive to Bucharest, leave car in offsite carpark, fly to Stanstead, on to Dinard, spend 5 days in France, with friend, before returning by same route.    It sounds so simple.

Drive to Bulgarian/Romanian border was accompanied by drizzly fog but otherwise uneventful, although we did forget to stop in Ruse and pick up some spare tobacco.    we stopped at a supermarket on the Romanian side of the Danube and although the Bulgarian version sells tobacco, the Romanian one only stocks cigarettes, but we did manage to get some ingredients for an 'as we drive' breakfast.      About halfway to Bucharest we passed a plain white car with it's engine running, without a second thought - until we got pulled by the police about 4 kilometres up the road we get pulled over by the police who informed us we entered a 50 kph area at 71 kph.  Paul's passport and driving licence handed over we wait for 30 minutes watching them pull in other cars in between dealing with the paperwork.     Eventually one of the police officers returns with passport, driving licence and a piece of paper, all in Romanian, that he wants Paul to sign.      From what we understand of what he said it was notification of a 195 leu (about £33) fine but he gave us no directions on where or how to pay!!!     Anyway forward ho!    The directions given to the offsite carpark were brilliant and even though we arrived 2 hours earlier then expected the staff were great at transferring us to the airport and explaining that they would pick us up at departures, rather than arrivals, as that way they didn't need to pay to enter the area.     Nifty tip for when we need to pick up visitors from Bucharest Airport.    Flight to Stanstead was uneventful but we got a shock on arrival when we found it wasn't a transit airport.     We would have to take the transit train to the arrivals hall go through passport control and then go through security again before our next flight.

This wasn't an issue on the outward journey as we had 13 hours to kill but only an hour   between landing and the gates closing for our 2nd flight on the journey home.  The 13 hours were occupied with speaking to airport security, about our return flight,   they responded that they advise 3 hours to reach your departure gate after landing - Ouch.   Next we spoke to the airline staff who informed us that the gate actually closed 10 minutes after the time on our boarding cards and  we should be able to make it if we ran, but if we missed the flight it may be cheaper to buy fresh tickets rather than pay the transfer fees.  The on to the people manning the Fast Track service, who informed us that we would be allowed to use that option but it normally only saved 15 minutes over standard departure security.  15 minutes may make all the difference
.   Now we'd done all we could regarding the return flights we settled down to read, people watch and snooze.   Stanstead airport have removed most of the seating to persuade people not to spend the night there - it's a perfectly good place to spend the night, if you have an early morning flight AND something to put between you and the cold tiled floor.

Dinard airport is very small, even smaller than the one at Limoges, so no problems spotting our friend as soon as we exited airside,  with her was a German girl who we later learned was there Helpxing.  Luckily friend is as much a coffee addict as we are so the hour long drive to her home was interrupted by a coffee stop in a small village, one of the things I love about France is the availability of coffee and the friendliness of the people, even to strangers.

Friends home

The day after we arrived  was our friends xmas eve, followed 3 days later by her birthday celebrations (she moved both events back a month due to work commitments).    Most of Friday passed in a catch up session interspersed with not a lot else, other than much admiration of a bowl Paul had made, and taken as a present.     Saturday I was asked to make something with a pile of pigs lights for the lunch event a number of locals were coming to the following day.    Taste wise I was happy with the finished article but would have preferred access to a food processor to make the texture smoother.   

Pork Lights Dish

Paul and myself also helped Lisa make a scarecrow to put at the entrance of the driveway.    We didn't giggle and laugh at all when building Scarey, Honest Gov!

Scary ready to welcome guests

Sunday was not our type of thing, really, but I still feel a bit of guilt about escaping to the kitchen, with Paul after about an hour.   Most of the guests who attended were ex-pats who had resided in France for upwards of 6 years, with one French neighbour, who spoke no English, present.   Lisa, the German girl, not the most popular nationality in Normandy, was the only person present who made a real effort to communicate with the French lady.    One of the reasons I escaped to the kitchen is my French is too basic to small talk and it was embarrassing to listen to all the ex-pats talk to each other excluding the French person, simply by their choice of speaking their native tongue.  Makes me more determined to improve my Bulgarian language skills.

Monday we had a trip to the coast, not Monmartin-sur-Mer or any of the typical Normandy landmarks but a smallish fishing town.    Lisa came with us but preferred to do her own thing rather than accompany Paul and myself, whilst our friend when to visit someone she knew in the local hospital, arranging to meet us 5 hours later.    When we arrived the tide was fully in so we started with a wander into town for a cashpoint as we were out of tobacco, this lead us to finding the fishing harbour, but unfortunately it was too late in the day for buying catches fresh from the boats.  We then had a lovely, if gusty,  walk around the peninsula finding some evidence of the defenses used during WW!! as well as fantastic scenery and that lovely sea air smell, which I miss living so far inland.    Unfortunately the cameras batteries had died and the spare ones hadn't been charged.   As it was a bit chilly on the cliff tops we decided to find a cafe and have a late lunch in town, this led to a wonderful talk between Paul and a young local lad about all kinds of subjects and ended up with us being shown the lads website and Paul being asked for input on business plans.    I think it's just as well we had Remi/Julie and Guillaume/Pauline staying with us last year,   I hadn't realised how much Paul's french had improved.  After a typical French lunch, about 2 hours we went back down to the coast to do some beach walking and foraging.   Muscles were collected for eating, and we filled a couple of the daysack's pockets with empty oyster shells for an idea I'd had for friends birthday, the following day.    It was so nice to have a full day of 'killing time'  and seeing Paul relax for the first time in a couple of days.    For those of you who hear killing time as a negative it isn't in our world, it's an opportunity to relax, think about everything and nothing and generally go where the day takes you.    We don't seem to allow ourselves enough killing time days, and to be honest I don't envisage another one for some time, but that is our choice at this stage of our life.     One thing that did surprise us both was the number of closed down businesses and those who were opening for part days. The retail industry in France seems to be under more strain than it is in Bulgaria, if you go purely on the percentage of empty retail outlets and the number of signs in shop windows advertising 70% discounts off previous selling prices.

Tuesday was our last full day in France and the local town had a market on, it is also renowned for it's copper industry so we were looking forward to a saunter around the market for a while in the morning, a leisurely lunch followed by a museum visit or 2.      Unfortunately the day did not go to plan as just before lunch time Paul got rather ill, it wasn't as a result of me dragging him around the market - he actually bought more than I did.    Thankfully we knew a car was returning to our friends village shortly after he took ill so were able to cut the trip short and get him back to the house.  Unconnected to Paul being unwell we had both realised we were looking forward to the following day and returning home.   It seems a horrible thing to say after our friends
generosity but we both realised we were more comfortable in our own surroundings and nice as France is, it's not home

Following morning was an early start to the airport for the journey home,  after farewells at the airport, and provisional plans to revisit in 2019 we tried to get our seats on the plane changed to ones closer to an exit,  desk staff told us this was not possible although once on the plane the stewardesses found us seats very near an exit and we were the first off the plane in Stanstead.      Luckily we had landed at the terminal which contained passport control so didn't need to wait for the transit 'train'   a rapid trot meant we arrived at a passport control empty of passengers, although they did seem a bit suspicious about our intentions.   Because the flight, from France, had landed early the gates for our next flight had not yet been announced so we took the opportunity to nip outside for a smoke before going through security into departures.   Flight into Bucharest was uneventful, the car parking company picked us up about 10 minutes after we phoned them.    Unfortunately the flight time meant we hit the centre of Bucharest in rush hour traffic,  even at that time going through the centre is much quicker with better quality roads, than using the ringroad.    Once we cleared we started discussing the speeding fine and decided that they would probably make us pay it at the bridge, as this is where they check you do have a vignette for driving in the country, so must be computer linked.     Nope we left Romania with the fine unpaid and have since spoken to a friend who has a collection of unpaid fines in his vehicles glovebox,  from his frequent trips over the border.   The weather was atrocious but it was nice to be home, or at least an hour away from our actual home.   When we arrived at our house the cats mobbed us, although the other animals didn't seem to have noticed our absence, when we let them out the following morning.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Looking Forward

New Years Eve in Bulgaria is a noisy affair with many fireworks and gunshots and whilst in past years we may have watched the displays this year we welcomed the new year snuggled up under the duvet.    Thinking about it, ending a day, let alone a year, cuddled up to the person who loves you and you love in return is a pretty cool thing to have in your life.

New Years Day morning is not such a personal time.  The village children come with the survachka, a branch is decorated with all kinds of coloured threads, dry fruits, peppers and popcorn, and and chant a verse chasing away evil and bad things that have happened so you have a happy and prosperous new year whilst lightly being tapped on the back with the survachka.  This tradition, called Survakane, was originally performed by young boys and men, rather than children, and we've been told it is still conducted in cities, although in that case only family members receive the blessing rather than neighbours.   In return the children get money and sweets, although I prefer giving fruit to sweets.     Later that day Paul and myself indulged in my first attempt at pulled pork, not as good as I remember from mums birthday trip to new York, but worthy of tweaking the recipe .  

(Survachka, a picture found online)

During the month I also experimented with cottage cheese and orange cupcakes (variation on last months cottage cheese and cinnamon ones) and banana and coconut cake.    The cottage cheese and orange will be a regular occurrence but the banana/coconut recipe is on back burner until I want to experiment more with it.

Because we were uninsured for last years fire our savings took a bit of a hammering so we have a new financial policy this year ... cash only purchases and all purchases to be recorded on a spread sheet.    This is currently a temporary measure until we can stop concentrating on the house and start generating an income again but if it highlights serious areas of frippery it may become part of everyday living. 

We received a summons to the house of the neighbour we animal sit for as the English speaking neighbours were in the village.    Despite our limited Bulgarian and his
non-existent English we can normally  occupy a large amount of time and communicate enough for rakia and coffee conversations.   The summons suggested he wanted to communicate without confusion, he did but it was nothing serious and more an  excuse to ply us with coffee and wine.     We ended up agreeing to animal sit for another weekend whilst he went to visit his daughter and on his return got plied with bottles of cornoil, packets of cigarettes and bread vouchers (for the village shop).   This was much more than normal thanks, but we accepted as we thought he felt he was thanking us for the 3 weeks he'd been in America. as well.     The male half of the other English family in our village was also at our neighbours, for wine and coffee, and I took the opportunity to ask if he would feed our animals for us while we were in France.   I didn't want to ask Illiya because of his age and health, although I suspect I may owe him an apology for not asking.

A friend who was leaving Bulgaria offered Paul and myself a double bed, and a single bed for mutual friends who live reasonably close to us.    As we would need to take the van for the double it was just as easy to collect the single at the same time.     Unfortunately the night before I decided it would be a good idea to poison the pair of us...I knew there was a valid reason for me rarely cooking English food, mince and dumplings is just too fatty and stodgy, especially when served with pasta because you're ran out of potatoes.     Thankfully by the time it came to depart, for friends house, our bodies had excavated most of the nastiness.   

When we delivered the single bed it gave Paul a chance to look at a bandsaw and thickness/planer that were surplus to owners requirements.    The downside of the delivery trip is his workshop needs to move up the priority list, if I want any of my cellar to be useful in it's original guise.   Although an upside is the workshop will be attached to the barn so that may be rebuilt and housing sheep and/or goats sooner than anticipated.

Although this winter has seen little 'proper' snow it has seemed much colder, this feeling in confirmed when water coming out of taps like slush makes teeth cleaning an
interesting   experience.    A few days after cleaning teeth with slush we found the bathroom pipes, including the hot water supply, frozen solid.   No problem - light the petchka (woodburner) pipes will defrost and then we can each have a nice hot bath in a warm room,   mmmm it took over 10 hours for the pipes to defrost but we were lucky as the the room stayed warm overnight and prevented burst pipes which a number of friends experienced as the temperature dropped further.

Tracey's second trip, within a month,  to Veliko Tarnovo was another lunch appointment although this one was tinged with sadness.   A friend whose past year has been tinged with much misfortune was returning to the UK ready to start work at the end of the month.  12 females and one slightly drunken male attended the farewell lunch, which seemingly got much more interesting after the group from this area left, with the remaining females managing (deliberately) to lose the male.   
  The mild weather, i.e. not under a metre of snow, meant our gamble of not rearranging things so we had a winters worth of pre-chopped and stacked wood piled close at hand paid off.    Sunny, warmish, days found Paul chainsawing both bought wood and those rafters which are too badly damaged to repurpose.  As Paul loaded the sawhorse with the next batch of logs to cut Tracey  bagged the sawn wood ready for lugging over to the area we're living in.     The use of female logic meant Paul moved most of the bagged timber whilst Tracey made coffee, a system that works well.

So last week of the  month approaches with a mad hunt for passports, they were where there should have been, a place we obviously didn't check as we're both terrible at returning things to their rightful place.

 Not sure why we haven't taken pictures this month but we'll try to improve on that in future posts.