Arrival – Bulgaria Road Trip

Walking up the garden path to our house

After our long drive through Europe, we finally arrived at our very own Bulgarian piece of paradise. We had timed it in such a way that we got there around lunch time with plenty of daylight to spare. The place has no outdoor lighting whatsoever and here in Bulgaria the skies are still pure and black at night. Magical, but highly impractical if you don’t have any lights to see your way through the garden.

Opening the gates and driving the trusty Land Rover inside was a magical moment we had been waiting for a long time and had been unsure if it would happen at all this year. Frunza leapt out of the car and looked happy and at home straight away. We went up to our house to take a look at what we would find. We had left it in a reasonable condition last year, but the builders had been working on the roof in the meantime, so anything was possible.

Stacking our stuff in the back room

We found the place a little dustier and messy than we had left it, but the main room we had earmarked for staying in whilst doing up the house was still ok. One of our friends in Bulgaria had organised us a brand new mattress for on the old bedstead, the electricity and water were still on, so everything was sorted for now.

We went to work straight away unloading everything from the Land Rover and after a couple of hours of hard work, we finally were able to set up the kettle and have a cuppa. The first cuppa in our new – old home tasted delicious! Even with just powdered milk! The old place has a very calming and inviting feeling. It is hard to describe, but you immediately feel at home and welcome when you enter it. This house has a lot of good energy!

Starting to feel cosy already

When I went to buy it last year and spent the very first afternoon there entirely on my own, the lady of the house clearly showed herself to me. I saw a cheerful old Bulgarian Baba at the window waving at me and I felt at home and welcome. The house has kept this feeling ever since. We found lots of family belongings still left in the house. Old photographs, letters, personal stuff. A wedding dress and Russian army uniform are still hanging in the wardrobe.

The place is a fascinating time warp. We managed to piece together part of the story. He was a Russian soldier who fell in love with a local Bulgarian girl and settled. Fascinating history. One day, I will get all the letters and correspondence translated. I’m sure it will reveal even more insights into a life well lived and a time gone by.

I am absolutely convinced that we were called to this house. It literally reached out to us over the miles. One night in February last year, Shawn was googling for property in Ireland as we had decided to buy something outside the UK as a safety net for all of the political shenanigans. With me having a German passport it seemed a prudent thing to do. So when entering Ireland in the search, a photo of this house popped up. It caught both our eye immediately. When Shawn clicked on it, it turned out to be this house in Bulgaria on a five-day Ebay auction.

This is the pic that started it all last year on Ebay…

We took a long, good look then went on to other things. After all, buying a house on Ebay seemed all a bit silly really. And Bulgaria was not a country on our bucket list at the time. But somehow the place just didn’t leave our minds. We both were drawn back time and time again to the listing. We started researching about Bulgaria and found out that it is, in fact, a beautiful country that is often overlooked. But the thought of the house got stronger and stronger and in the end, after much debate and research, we decided to give it a go.

Shawn placed a bid and we let the whole thing go. We were the high bidders at the time and we had put the amount we could afford. Now it was a matter of luck. But the next day, we had been outbid by a significant amount. So that was that, in our minds. For no reason I can possibly explain, I decided to take another look at the auction a couple of days later, just to find that the high bid had been withdrawn and we were once again the high bidders. With only hours left on the auction, we started to get real butterflies in the stomach. That night, Shawn continued the bidding. After a heart-stopping 30 minutes, that felt like a lifetime and the purest adrenaline rush I have ever felt, we closed the auction as the high bidders by just a few pounds. That was one of the tensest night in our entire lives!

Some of the outhouses and barns.

Thinking back on all of this now, I am certain that we were called to the house. The old lady wanted a suitable successor who would love and honour her house like she once did. And we most certainly will! We will gently restore the house, making good any damage and restoring back to life anything that can be repaired to retain as much of the original feel as possible. The only concession we will make is to instal a bathroom and kitchen indoors. The old Bulgarian people firmly believed that having kitchen and toilet facilities indoors is dirty and therefore only had running water in the garden at an outdoor sink. And the toilet was always just the little house with a hole in the ground. We have been using this for the last weeks and it’s fine in the short term, but for us being used to running water and indoor facilities, life will be much better with that in place.

We are planning on restoring the old wattle and daub ceilings as they are excellent for regulating the temperature inside the house. Contrary to common belief, modern insulated ceilings will ruin the natural ability of an old house to regulate the temperature. Plus rockwool insulation is a perfect nesting ground for all sorts of unwanted inhabitants, such as mice and rats. So we will search for someone who can teach us about repairing rather than replacing the old ceilings. We will also restore the wooden windows and doors as they have a unique and charming style all of their own. With a careful and loving approach, this house will retain all of its charm.

Toilet with a view…

Shawn spent the first couple of weeks clearing away some of the dirt and rubbish whilst I continued to work on the large translating job that had come in during our travels. Little by little, everything started falling into place. We found old furniture in the old cottage next to the house and with a bit of brushing and cleaning found it good enough to use. Now the place is already much cosier and more comfortable.

We started meeting up with our friends we had made in the area over the last year via the internet and found ourselves welcomed by a friendly expat community as well as lovely Bulgarian friends. It’s lovely to come all this way and find such a friendly welcome!

The well still works fine.

We also sorted much of the official stuff and managed to get our Bulgarian residency, meaning that we will be able to stay here any time we want to now without being restricted to holidays only. It feels good to have a second home in a place as beautiful as this!

Bulgaria is definitely a lovely country. The area of our house is not a tourist spot, but true farming country. It’s nice to see the real Bulgaria without all the tourist traps you would usually find elsewhere. The people have been nothing but kind and helpful all around and even though we’re still struggling with the lingo, we’ve been able to communicate with the locals. Hands and feet are great interpreters! As is Google Translate – an invaluable tool!

View from the veranda over the garden and hillside

After settling into the routine of our place and life in the country, it is now already time to set off again to our second place. We will be completing the exchange of deed for a lovely place in the Silistra region. I am planning on converting this second place into an eco retreat centre where people from all over the world can meet to learn how to live in harmony with Mother Earth. So we will be off soon for more adventures. Keep checking back to see how the story continues.

Full moon in an unspoilt dark sky

Days 10 to 14 – Bulgaria Road Trip

Frunza the travelling hound. She loves being in the car.

It’s been a while since I last wrote on here and lots has happened on our road trip to Bulgaria. Just as luck had it, a huge job came in for my side hustle – translating – the day we set off on our second leg of the trip to Bulgaria, meaning I have spent every single minute that we weren’t driving or sorting things on our house typing. Great news for the bank balance, not so great news when you’re looking forward to exploring your new house and getting stuck in.

A lovely, dog-friendly hotel in Nuremberg

On the first day of our second leg, we made our way to Nuremberg in Germany. The journey was uneventful and we arrived at the hotel in the early evening. Apart from having a diabolical parking situation (it took us over an hour to find a spot), the hotel was absolutely perfect. We were given a lovely room on the ground floor with our own direct access to the street when we announced we were travelling with a dog. A dog bowl, food, blanket and even poop bags were at the ready and Frunza was made exceedingly welcome. What a refreshing change to many other places. As a dog owners who love to go everywhere with our lovable mutt, we really appreciated this a lot! We will be calling again, that’s for sure!

After a hearty Bavarian breakfast, we went on our way, taking in a quick driving tour around the old walled city. Nuremberg looks beautiful, we’ll definitely stop over and have a better look one day when things get more enjoyable again and cafes and restaurants are actually opening properly. The drive to our next stop, Vienna, was again uneventful. Once again, no controls at the border, everything was open as usual. The hotel itself was nice and comfortable, although a bit weathered on the outside and the suburb of Vienna it was in was rather frazzled and tired looking. The only drama for the day was when I tried to draw cash out of a machine and the machine swallowed my card.

After a lot of phoning and getting nowhere, I was finally told by a local police officer that once a machine swallows a card, you can’t retrieve it any more. It will be destroyed. My bank in the UK confirmed this. So that’s something to keep in mind for the future. It’s quite a worrying idea. In the old days, somebody would always come and open the machine for you and you could get your card back. It’s security gone a bit too far, I think. When I got to the hotel, all was resolved, however. I realised that after a long day’s driving and being very tired, I had put an old out-of-date card into machine by accident. So all still ended well after all.

Driving through Vienna city centre

After this little hiccup we then went on to tackle Hungary, the wildcard on our trip. Hungary has completely closed its borders and only kept a transit corridor open for travellers. But entry is not guaranteed and they can insist on a medical test at the border if the border guards feel like it. So with a bit of trepidation, we set off on our way. The traffic queue at the border was about an hour, so not the worst it could be. When it was our turn, Frunza aired off at the border guard and we almost shrivelled up in our car, thinking that now we would surely be singled out. But the guard just made a sarcastic comment, laughed, and waved us on. He obviously didn’t fancy the carry-on with a big black dog snarling at him all the while. Thanks Frunza! Good girl!

With a huge yellow “Transit” sticker on the front of our windscreen, making us stand out like a sore thumb and easily spotted by the swarms of Hungarian police patrolling the motorway and all of its exits, we went on our way. The transit corridor was easy enough to drive and the rest areas we were permitted in were all pleasant enough. Then one more queue to get out at the Romanian border and we made it through the toughest part of our trip. That evening we ended up in a lovely hotel in Timisoara. Thanks to my trusty old app, we were upgraded free of charge to an executive suite that was almost bigger than our house back in Seaham! It was just what the doctor had ordered after the tense drive through Hungary! Apart from the hotel not serving any food and us being a little short on supplies, we spent a totally enjoyable evening lounging about in what is probably the best hotel room we’ve ever stayed in (and we’ve stayed in many!).

It was a lovely thing to see Frunza enjoying herself in a posh executive suite of a posh hotel like a little queen in the very country we rescued her from when she was a pup. I got a little emotional seeing and hearing the stray dogs in the neighbourhood all night whilst our little one was safe and warm indoors. That could so easily have been her! And seeing these little lost souls makes you feel guilty for walking and driving past, but there is just no way you can save them all, especially when you’re on the road and travelling without knowing any local rescues. The stray dogs of Romania truly cast a shadow on this country!

Frunza watching two stray dogs outside… bittersweet moment!

The next day, we were reluctant to leave and almost gave in to the temptation to book in for another night. But we had our next stop arranged, so made our way through Romania on toward Bulgaria. Romania is a beautiful country with diverse sights. We drove through flat land and fields, quaint villages with locals selling their produce at the side of the road, steep and windy mountain roads that looked like straight out of Hansel and Gretel and finally along the beautiful Danube, a river every bit as impressive as is always shown in the travel brochures.

That night we stayed in some Romanian village in a private B&B. After driving all day, we got to the place to find it all locked up. After phoning the number provided in my booking, a woman reluctantly opened up just to promptly throw a major fit about Frunza. Even though I had clearly stated that we are travelling with a dig, and the B&B had been listed as pet-friendly, we were refused entry. After a long argument with the manager on the phone, I succeeded at getting our room that we had paid for but under the strictest instructions not to set one foot outside the door.

Marooned in a Romanian B&B that first welcomes dogs and then not…

Rather cheesed off and without any food or water for the night, we bedded down. Our plans to go to a restaurant or find a takeaway were spoilt to the core. We left as early as possible the next morning without seeing anyone. Full of anticipation, we drove up to the Vidin bridge across the Danube, the border crossing into Bulgaria. We went through without any trouble at all and the very first thing we did on Bulgarian soil was to pull over in a service station and get a coffee and something to eat. Never has motorway food tasted so good after almost no food the previous day!

Almost there…

The last part of our trip was down pleasant country roads. Sure enough, Google Maps took us the “shortcut” instead of down the main roads to our house in Malorad. It was a beautiful drive, but the Bulgarian B-roads are notoriously unmaintained with potholes the size of sinkholes. So great caution is needed when driving those so you can avoid the deepest abysses and save your axles and tyres.

We arrived tired but happy at our lovely place and decided to unload the car straight away. The plan was to sort out one room for now to stay in as the rest of the house still needs renovating. So we arranged ourselves in the old living room, where we now sleep and live until the place is done. After a few hours’ work, we got all set up, bed was made, and kettle on. Sorted!

We sipped our first cup of coffee on our little veranda admiring the stunning view and the sheer size of our garden. After living in the shoeboxes that pass for houses in the UK most of our lives, having almost half an acre to frolic around in seems almost incomprehensible! The place felt so welcoming and warm, even in its empty state, that even Frunza went straight in and up on the bed. The vibe is just amazing. Everything feels just right about this ole house with its green door!

Aaaaand relax! A quiet cuppa taking in this stunning view from our veranda.

Absolutely shattered, but happy to the core to have made it through all the obstacles in the middle of a global crisis, we fell asleep that night, ready for the adventures to come.

Good night from Bulgaria.

Days 3 to 9 – Bulgaria Road Trip

Frunza has moved in. The garden is her new territory and playground.

It’s amazing how quickly time goes when you’re spending it with family and loved ones. We have decided spontaneously to spend a few more days than originally planned with my mum. It’s been so good so see each other and enjoy one another’s company after all the happenings this year! 2020 has definitely taught a valuable lesson about how precious family really is!

Shawn has been off jamming with a neighbour who used to play accordeon for us occasionally when we still used to kick around Germany with the B-57s, I’ve been enjoying one on one time with my mum and Frunza has discovered a whole new universe in the huge garden.

Shawn jamming away

We are still spending long days in the garden in a glorious spell of late summer sunshine. It’s unseasonably warm and the garden is still lush and beautiful. The first signs of autumn are here, though and I spent a peaceful Mabon appreciating the apple tree at the back of the garden, bearing so heavy this year that the branches are almost breaking. Frunza found her first ever apple and decided that it makes for a perfect ball to play with.

Mabon apples…

It’s lovely to see how Frunza has settled in here. She now has an official second home. She snuggles on the sofa with my mum every night and the two are the biggest of buddies. She’ll probably be disappointed once we’re back in Seaham, where we only have a small back yard and there’s no mum to spoil her rotten.

… make a delicious apple cake with a marzipan topping

Being back in Germany always stirs up mixed feelings inside me. It’s 30 years now since I left at 19 and yet hardly anything has changed. On the one hand, that’s disconcerting because everything that got on my nerves as a teenager is still here, on the other hand it is also strangely comforting. Now, at 49, it creates a certain amount of nostalgia and also a strange sense of security, that in the storms of life some places remain a calm oasis to which to return when I need to recharge my batteries.

Being on the very outskirts of town here, almost in the countryside, means that daily life remains far more relaxed than in the towns and cities. Masks are only seen in shops and neighbours look out for each other and go about their lives as usual, self-regulating with responsibility and without needing to be told the obvious by governments. If you feel unwell you stay away, if you’re fine it’s no need to panic. The fact that in quiet areas people have the space to avoid crowds obviously helps, but generally acting with this level of care for each other should be the norm and not the exception. Then life could return to normal much more easily everywhere.

Three girls on one sofa.

My mum and I have had lots to catch up on and have enjoyed a few long girls’ nights already with good wine, stories and lots of laughter. A barbecue yesterday was already a taster of things to come in Bulgaria. Delicious meats and fresh bread with tzatziki and salad – this and lots of delicious vegetarian and vegan options will be the standard at my Inner Hippie retreat centre. There is nothing better than eating outdoors with the wind blowing in your hair!

Lots of ideas have been flooding in for the Inner Hippie retreat centre during this quiet time. The accommodation will be teepees, the food will be homegrown as much as possible, people will be able to experience the closeness to Mother Earth and the harmony this brings. In time, the Inner Hippie retreat centre will become a true meeting place and hub where people can learn how to reconnect to Gaya, a self-sustaining eco farm where all food is fresh and all activities nurture mind, body and spirit.

The Inner Hippie retreat centre in the making

Even though we’re still a long way from Bulgaria, the dream is already starting to feel much more real. I can’t wait to show you all the photos and videos once we get there! If you want to stay in the loop and get notified of new blog entries, remember to subscribe to this blog below.

Days 2 to 4 – Bulgaria Road Trip

Getting near the Eurotunnel

Good morning on day four of our road trip to Bulgaria. My intentions to write every day have somewhat gone by the wayside because since arriving at my mum’s in Germany there’s been so much catching up to do that the last two days have simply gone in a flash. Here’s a rundown of our trip since we left our hotel in Ashford.

On the morning of day two, it was time to set off for the Eurotunnel. With a little trepidation about what was awaiting us at the border, we set off on our short 12-mile trip to the terminal. The first thing we noticed was how few cars there were for a week day.

Eurotunne’s world-class dog exercising area

With an almost empty terminal building, things were nice and relaxed. I must say that the facilities at Eurotunnel are excellent. Particularly the dog exercising area is worth commending. I’ve rarely seen a nicer and better organised place for dogs. A huge enclosure where dogs can run safely off lead with tons of agility equipment, water and even food dispensers. A haven for our four-legged friends. Frunza enjoyed herself immensely and thanks to this facility she was nice and relaxed on the train later on.

Dog relaxation before boarding the train

Both border control and customs were friendly and easy-going and we went through with no trouble at all, contrary to all the scaremongering that has been going around on social media. Nobody even asked us for the reasons for our travels.

On the train

Once in France, this trend continued. We drove into Belgium on a road with no borders, the same from Belgium into Germany. Everything was exactly how it’s always been. Not a sign of a temporary barrier, customs car or any other form of movement monitoring.

French-Belgium border

It really gave us lots to think about. Both social media and the press are clearly spreading lies to scare the masses. Before we left, we were worried by all the doom reports, both in the UK and European media, about closed borders, stamps in passports, tracing schemes and all the other measures that have been unleashed on the people to control their movements and increase their fears and all in the name of Covid-19. The reality looks entirely different, at least in the central European countries. Everything is back to normal at the borders and there are no restrictions at all. Hollow, empty lies are being spread and that’s even more concerning than the virus itself. The reasons behind this mass-deception are something worthy of discussing in a separate blog, some other time.

Belgium-German border

The reunion with my mum was a wonderful moment. We’ve both been very worried about not being able to meet up this year, but as it turned out this fear was completely unfounded. With the weather a balmy 30 degrees, even at night, we sat in the garden and talked until the early hours of the morning and continued all throughout day three. It’s so good to finally catch up in person and to have a warm, real-life hug!

Frunza enjoying the large garden at my mum’s

So we’re here in the sunny Rhineland until Saturday when we’ll be moving on to our second leg of the journey, first to Austria, then transiting through Hungary, into Romania and finally to our house in Bulgaria. As long as Hungary keeps the humanitarian transit corridors open, the journey will continue to be a relaxed one, touch wood. We’re planning on spending a couple of nights in Romania and having a bit of a look around there before heading into the true adventure in Bulgaria. Stay tuned!

Somewhere on the road…

Day 1 – Bulgaria Road Trip

Driving along somewhere on the M1

Wow – I’m sitting here in my hotel room in Ashford tonight typing this. It still feels rather unreal after almost six months of waiting for this very day…. we are finally on the long road to Bulgaria!!!!

The trip so far has been uneventful with unseasonably pleasant weather all along the route and most of the services we’ve called in as relaxed as can be expected under the circumstances.

After giving Frunza one last long walk in her favourite dell behind our house in Seaham, we were off at 2.30pm on our first leg of the journey to Kent. We stopped at Wetherby Services for a Cornish pasty. That’s a total must on every trip we ever make down South. They have an authentic West Cornwall pasty shop there and they’re every bit as good as what you get down Cornwall itself. Yum!

Having a Cornish pasty at Wetherby

From Wetherby on to Tibshelf, then South Mimms, to rest up tonight at a Travelodge in Ashford. Tomorrow lunchtime it’s on to the Eurotunnel, from there through France and Belgium to Germany, where we’ll be staying at my mum’s for a few days before pushing on to Austria, Hungary, Romania and finally Bulgaria.

I must admit that Shawn and I are both a bit tentative about what will greet us at the borders and if it will be ok to get through. After all these months in lockdown, with our world reduced pretty much to just the house and a couple of shops, this all seems rather daunting at the minute.

Crossing the Dartford Bridge

But that will hopefully settle soon enough and our old road trip spirit will return. When we were still hitting the road as gigging musicians, we thought nothing of hopping in the van and driving a couple of thousand miles through Europe. I’m sure that spirit will return as soon as we’re actually on the other side of the Channel and hitting the open road!

I plan on writing about our adventures every day and already am looking forward so much to sharing with you all our lovely place in Bulgaria and the exciting property we’re buying to convert into a retreat centre! It will be such an adventure! See you along the way somewhere.

And it’s good night from Frunza. Over and out…