We have been trying to get our neighbours Ilia and Grozda, his wife, to join us for a meal to thank Ilia for making us our meat/bread oven. It has so far fallen on deaf ears so it came as a surprise when Ilia marched in last Friday and told us we were going to the Dryanovski Monastery and paleolithic caves in Dryanova, on Monday and at 10am sharp! I suspected that Terry would have a frozen smile on his face so pointedly kept my eyes averted from his. I had no need because as soon as it was safe I looked and he shrugged his shoulders and said “if that’s how it’s got to be”. If you have ever watched The Big Bang Theory and know who the character Sheldon Cooper is, then Terry was twitching in the same way Sheldon does when his plans are stymied. Personally I was delighted at the thought of spending a day as a tourist and away from the dubious delights of dust, mud and sawdust.
Monday arrived and to make up for projected lost time Terry was up and working at 06:50 whilst I got myself ready by actually putting make up on and putting my hair up. I also wore a skirt and tights; stockings being a tad redundant for the perusal of troglodytorial delights or for the parochial glances of the robed brothers. At 09:50 I managed to wrench Terry from upstairs and get him to change. We arrived in the Land Rover; which I had spent 2 hours cleaning the previous day, at our neighbours door. We were ushered in for a quick lesson in horticulture, ergo, how to bury the grape vines and build a mound around the roots. This was followed in rapid succession by the need to pack hazelnut bushes in corn stalks and plastic, to lift geraniums and lilies and finally how to pickle whole heads of cabbage in brined water. Fortunately Grozda came out of the house in her Sunday best and she shooed Ilia out of the door. We drove the picturesque route to Dryanova, avoiding the city of Veliko Tarnova and cutting off the E773 and drove cross country. I only had my mobile as a camera so I know any image will not do justice to the magnificent countryside. We meandered through quaint village after village, rolling hills and rocky climbs wending our way with conversation ably assisted by Google Translate.
The Monastery was simple, clean lines and lime washed buildings beautifully kept. The small church was open and we went in and lit candles and admired the beautiful iconoclastic walls and ceilings. There were souvenir stalls in the outer walls which I found a little sad. There were also 2 restaurants in the inner grounds. The setting is somewhat similar to that of the Monastery in the film The Name of the Rose. Terrifyingly beautiful; waterfalls, pools, gushing brooks, with ominous mountain crags and gaping cave entrances that mimicked the ghoulish snarls of gargoyles. Grozda could not make the steep stone steps to the paloelithic cave entrance. When we arrived at the cave entrance we were told we’d have to wait whilst a previous group finished their tour. Ilia pointed out there was both an English and Bulgarian information guide sheet and proceeded to discuss the historical significance of the caves. He also pointed out that the guided tours were an hour or half an hour long. Given that it had begun to rain Ilia negotiated with the attendant to escort us around himself. The somewhat desperate and damp attendant gave a spirited attempt in broken English of the benefits of the guide and the balance of payment against the detailed information she could provide. We however stayed firm and scuttled in through large barred gated to the entrance to the cave. We were greeted with 3 Neaderthal men, naked and crouched around the remains of a fire pit. The plaster figures spared nothing to the imagination and I could imagine the titters of the schoolchildren who had preceded us. The cave was magnificent and home to 4 protected species of bats of which we saw just two lone winged wonders. The cave was also freezing and damp. Negotiating the stone hewn stairs and water riven pathways was treacherous. We passed a natural area named The Purgatory and another cavernous area with a natural balcony called The Concert Hall. A somewhat uncomfortable 10 year old girl sang in front of her classmates. Her high flute like voice bouncing and echoing around the glistening walls. We finished the rest of the tour and ventured out again to sunlight and warmth.
This particular shot tickles my scatological sense of humur. The little extruded wooden shack with the telling pipe sticking out the bottom is the privy!
We headed back down the stairs and met with Grozda who was chatting on her mobile with her daughter in Germany. We made haste for the nearest restaurant and sat down. Beer was ordered and I had a Raki, purely as an appetiser. Alcohol in small amounts seems to unleash Bulgarian language skills that I had no idea I had grasped. The conversation flowed to the usual topics; horticultural and animals for food. Ilia explained that the 3 lambs his sheep had given birth to were earmarked as 1 for himself and Grozda, 1 for their much beloved grandson Vladi and then rather touchingly 1 for us. It won’t be a gift we will have to pay for it but having just paid 33 leva for a frozen leg of lamb the 120 leva he would charge for a home grown 4 month old lamb was an absolute bargain. Terry and I were touched at their kindness. Lamb is in high demand and it is difficult to obtain one from a reputable source. We see the lambs every day, forewarned of their presence by their mothers bells tinkling down the lane as they graze. The meal was average and more expensive than the usual Mehana’s we frequent but the company was fine. We finished our food and both bought Sachs hotplates. As I bent to examine the cast iron lidded plate with wooden handles I was overcome with memories of my Mom and Dad. They had bought similar sizzling plates back from a trip to Kenya. They returned home tanned and exuberant with tales of safaris and wild animals. The words `Memsahib and Bwana rang around the house for months in an exotic addition to the familial “second language” which was entirely of my Mom’s making and in which the household was fluent. A stranhanneryjan sanhanaritch was a strawberry jam sandwich, a jammicahutruhodal was a dog poop, clean your beats was an order to clean ones teeth, a handicruet referred to any one of my Mom’s well stocked hand bag collection, a bob bop was a jumper. What was quaint was that even as hormone ravaged teenagers ridden with angst and insecurities all of our friends became fluent to varying degrees in this language. We have also always been christened with any number of nicknames most memorably my fathers, ergo, Rose or Rosemary. Friends visiting the house would look in bemusement as Mom would shout up the stairs “Rosemary where are you”? They’d expect some female relation to ascend the stairs but would be suitably amused when my Father strode purposefully into the room. So incongruous was the allegory that good natured laughter always erupted! I was lost in thought and it was only when Terry gently nudged me and asked where I was and what I was thinking about that I realised I must have quite literally lost myself to the pleasant memories. We jumped in the car and returned via Veliko Tarnovo and it’s relatively wide and smooth roads.
Reuse rules here in Bulgaria but it was my Mom that told me that the outer black casing of the walnut is an excellent fire lighter. The discussion came about as I was explaining the custom of raking and burning leaves in smokey piles. It doesn’t matter which village or town you are in, this week there have been leaf burning piles outside almost every house. I was thinking of composting our leaf fall butI was told that the leaves of the walnut hold a chemical that can stop other plants growing in the area. Particularly the nightshade family which encompasses tomatoes and aubergines amongst other staples. So I bowed to superior knowledge and raked and burned the walnut tree leaves. It took a day to complete but on the plus side I found another 2 kilos of walnuts and noticed a few more not yet fallen. So the humble walnut provides a nut which can eaten or used to rub out water marks on wooden surfaces, that the shell and outer casing are great fire lighters and that brown hair colour comes from the outer casing of the nut. I can testify to that as my hands were a burnished chestnut colour by the time I’d finished collecting my windfalls. All of our vegetable peelings and unused leaves go to Ilias sheep and old bread to his chickens. Banana skins make a fantastic leather and house plant leaf cleaner too. I won’t wax lyrical about the wonders of vinegar and bi carb of soda because they are, publicly vaunted and much acclaimed, by those that actually use them. Purslane, that pesky weed is in fact a super food in whose succulent leaves more omega 3 can be found than in the oiliest of fish. I haven’t tried this yet but apparently they have a slight lemon tang in salads. I have no excuse for not dipping my finger in this pot as the garden abounds in it. I will report back when I have tried them.
Paul, who had been holding fort at the house had worked hard to finish off the stairs. They are lovely and another step forward to our goal. The next day Terry, Paul and Ian all worked and the newell posts were also routed and prepped for assembly. The windows will be going in on Wednesday and then the newel posts can be fitted, and the skimming, painting and flooring can start going down.
The stairs have had to be bespoke as the general building pro forma is outside stairs so the hallways are not really designed to take stairs let alone the traditional UK 13 steps. The ceiling of the hallway and bathroom had to be made higher which included putting in new joists along the whole of the upstairs extension. The bathroom wall and ceiling had to be reconfigured and the plumbing and electric accommodated. It really has been a difficult job requiring problem solving skills, flexibility and a whole lot of skill and hard work. Well done lads!
On a final note the dogs get as fed up as I do sometimes with the constant mess, the living in 2 rooms and the constraints of the current wet and muddy weather. I managed to get these 2 shots of them last night that sums up their feelings. You will note that the stripey rug that was cleaned 2 posts ago is now suffering under the preponderance of mud. Alack alas little I can do except give it another clean at the next run of dry weather.