A very good friend of mine was talking of running a book on where we would break down on our way to Bulgaria…he really should have got it up and running as the choices were pretty much endless.
We left Derby at 9.30am on 7th April and by 10.30am near Kettering we were stationery in the inside lane of the M1 with no ignition in a 5 tonne automatic beast of a motorhome and it was 2.30pm before we were rescued thanks to the speedy responses of the AA. Despite some severe reservations about how far we would make it once the camper was repaired we finally made it onto the ferry at Dover at 2am on the 8th April, which works out at about 18 miles an hour…it was going to be a long drive!!
It was Belgium before we had to get the tool kit out again and tighten up the alternator belt…then pulling in for the night in Germany I lost any decent braking capability and steering and out came the trusty tools once again as we (well Dan) figured out the mechanic in the UK had put the adjuster in the wrong place and sorted out my belts again (this was to become a daily occurance).
It was just outside Vienna that my alternator belt decided to part company with the van luckily as we were just passing a parking spot so in we pulled and called ADAC who sent a very nice man with a selection of belts from which he chose one with a little (for that read alot) of help from Dan…fitted it at a cost of 15 euros and off we went again once Dan had also fixed a small fuel leek with silicon and electrical tape – stopping just before the Hungarian border.
Morning belt tightening complete we headed for Hungary – crossed in one shot and into Romania and stopped in a parking spot on the new road down to Timosoara due to the camper losing water…we were planning on spending the night until a Romanian truck driver advised us to move further down the road to a place better lit…so we took his advice. We were now running on petrol rather than LPG as every bloody country in europe has its own adaptor fitting for filling with gas and not one petrol station sold them…lessons learnt for any future travellers!!
We were nearly there and all we wanted was to make it into BG with both vehicles in one piece and we got our wish…until Krivodol when the transit recovery truck went over a bump and through out bits of bump stop rubber all over the street and sat sagging under its load at the edge of the road…ADAC once more to the rescue.
We were gutted as the little truck had not given us one problem all the way and now was in a non-fixable state as the cab and the bed were no longer connected (well not by much anyway). The recovery man tried to put it on his truck but it just wouldn’t lift it so we unloaded it in the rain and the dark and left it at the side of the road…poor thing.
We finally made it to Musina at 5.30am – 24 hrs after leaving Romania, tired but too tired to sleep so we started sorting stuff on the house and meeting the neighbours…we had no transport – little credit left on my phone – no money and rapidly running out of food.
Several people came to the rescue – Gemma Stevenson gave me some cash, which I transferred back to her via paypal (what a star) – the neighbours gave us bread, cakes, rakia, wine, cheese and eggs…they have very little but what they have they share.
Until we could get our jeep delivered we found an old oil drum which we used as a stove and heated water and cooked on that – very successfully I might add.
Then the day our jeep arrived Dan got stung by a bee and his eye swelled up so much he couldn’t see to drive – today Thursday the 24th April is the first day we have been able to leave the house 11 days after arriving.
In amongst all this a new pup, Diesel, arrived and was pretty much thrown into the mix with our two idiots and seems to have fitted in quite well considering… he is going to be enormous but at the moment is a shy, sweet natured little thing…long may that last!
Despite everything, this place is amazing – we have celebrated birthday’s with our Siberian neighbours, eaten dinner with our 83 yr old Bulgarian neighbour (Costa), been gifted bread and coloured, painted eggs from two of our Roma and Bulgarian friends and last night received a bag full of freshly picked salad from Bobbie an elderly Bulgarian lady, not to mention the offer of a shower from Christina our Scottish friend … which I may need to take her up on as I think people are beginning to smell us before they hear us.
Until next time….
This is my final week in the UK and this has been an emotional roller coaster. First giving up my corporate job that I have been in for nearly seven years, I’m probably not going to miss the early morning starts or the pressure to deliver, but I will certainly miss my colleagues, some of which have become life-long friends and many of which will just look on curiously to watch what we do…or at least I hope they do!
Then of course there’s my family and my friends and as I grew up in the Lake District we set off up North firstly stopping off at Fran’s, who lives in a beautiful spot on the estuary with a backdrop of the fells. We worked out that we have been friends for 45 years, which made us both feel so youthful (not) and spent a lovely couple of hours (not long enough) catching up, reminiscing and looking to the future before saying our farewells.
I had turned to social media to try and get everyone else together, a little nervous that no-one would turn up! But at 10am on a very cloudy and windy Saturday morning a group of us gathered at the base of Black Combe in Cumbria, some people I hadn’t seen since I left school, but they came anyway and I’m so glad they did.
We climbed the mountain despite a collective lack of fitness (one or two exceptions to this) in just under two hours and huddled behind the cairn at the top to shelter from the blustering and biting winds. We shared soup, passed between us by a stranger, sandwiches, gloves, crisps and best of all our memories. We toasted my leaving and raised a glass of champagne to my Mum whose ashes were scattered here back in 1988, I couldn’t wish for a better group of friends, even though I’m sure (like me) they had wished I’d scattered her ashes on the beach or somewhere a bit more accessible 🙂
On the way back home we called into my sister’s for dinner and to say our goodbyes, again we know they find it hard to see us go but I also know they understand why we are doing what we are doing and I thank them all for not making it any more difficult than it needs to be!
Next is Dan’s family, including his Grandma’s funeral, the most final of goodbyes so the emotion is not over yet, but the focus remains on the end game, Bulgaria here we come.
You plan and plan and it all seems very…well…under control! You know what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, you have it organised down to the last detail – especially when, like me, planning is what you do for a living.
We were planning on buying a truck and doing two journey’s from the UK to BG with various stuff (or crap as most people see it), then out of the blue we got a call “can you fill half my truck” this week so I don’t make the journey half empty…well it would be rude not to in our position, so a radical re-plan was in order.
So we packed like we’d never packed before, filled my mini with as many boxes as we could (all three of them) and stacked the rest around it in the garage in preparation for the truck’s arrival, which of course was in the dark on the only day this winter that it has actually snowed.
Undeterred the mini was pushed onto the furniture truck and the boxes were stacked over it and around it, sofas, dining table, spare bed it all went in. Most of my friends reckon I have pushed this car further than I’ve driven it in the last few years and this was just another 1800 miles she was about to embark on – once again not under her own steam….I think they may have a point.
As Simon drove off into the blizzard we returned to the warmth of the house and quickly came to the realisation that we had nothing to sit on – yes I know I said I planned for a living … to be honest I have no idea how I’ve held down a sensible job for all these years!!
The point is this act of watching my mini and half our furniture leaving for our new home, suddenly made it all seem very very real… 🙂
How excited can one woman get about a large package! 🙂 Well let me stop you right there…I had not one but THREE large packages arrive at my door last month containing no less than 50 flexible solar panels – close your eyes and imagine me doing a little victory dance in our garden (actually you may want to skip that image)!
I had spent many months researching good old ‘google’ trying to understand solar technology and despite this, the only thing I’m pretty sure of is that I need a 5kw system to power our life so that is what I have bought…how I go about putting this all together, what inverter I need, how many batteries I need, which kind of charge controller I need is all going to be part of the growing pains. Or I could just ask Andy & Marie…or if there are any solar experts out there please don’t hesitate to get in touch – we’re not too proud to shout for HELP.
The other recent addition to our family is Cathy the Winnebago…named after the daughter of the lovely people we bought her off in Ireland. We figured that we would need somewhere to live whilst we renovated and this seemed the perfect way to stay on site and still be able to use it to tour the country once we’d finished using it as a house.
She is old (a bit like her owner), but we love her and she is so damn comfy and space enough for me, Dan and our two dogs (Kia & Hooch) who I’ve just realised I haven’t yet introduced…another day!
Considering her age, she has loads of equipment (again a bit like her owner LOL) but seriously the americans really know how to do camper vans (RVs), she roars like the V8 lion she is but is fully LPG converted with a full size fridge/freezer, 4 ring gas hob and oven, a bath (for a midget) and shower, toilet and beds for 6 people, airconditioning and everything and I mean everything works. I can’t wait to start the final journey behind the wheel…
The only thing that needs fixing before we set off is the alternator belt – so again a plea goes out to any yank motor mechanics out there that fancy a trip to our house to sort this out for us…it’s not a big job we just feel that if we are going to travel 1800 miles in her then she should really be fixed up by someone that knows what they’re doing (or can convince us that they do).
So that’s us all caught up, we’ll probably start packing in January so feel free to join us, there may be some stuff going cheap!!
After everything that has happened you may be asking yourselves why the hell do we want to go back to the country that has vandalised our property and stolen from us…. well the answer is simple! There are good and bad wherever you go (the UK is no exception), but what we have found in Bulgaria is a kindness and a welcome from people that have very little but are content with their lot.
Take our first house, when we arrived our garden was overgrown, we had no tools, we didn’t speak the language… yet in walked Nidelka.
This wonderful angel from next door, not only carrying tools but armed and ready to use them. Together we cleared the garden and had the cleanest outside loo that every existed and with a great view too.
This lady enlisted help from others in the village and soon we had a wonderful front garden, our grape vines were all tied up with ribbon ready for the summer and we learnt all about the medicinal properties of the various plants hidden in our hedgerows.
Not only were they welcoming and made us feel completely at home – but because we had very little with us and were essentially ‘camping’ in our own home for a couple of weeks, the group of ladies that had welcomed us also made us a little table and chairs, all hand covered and delivered with a plate full of cakes.
It was humbling to sit on hand made furniture, sharing cakes and lemonade in the sunshine with new found friends that we couldn’t even talk to. We may not have spoken the same language but we sure as hell didn’t need to, to understand friendship!
How could we turn our back on a country that had made us this welcome.
How could we turn our back on a country where you can buy a house, land and a view for the price of a second hand car in the UK.
How could we turn our back on a country where there are fresh water springs on every corner, where sustainable living is the norm (we could learn a lot from these guys), where the barter system is still alive and kicking, where there are stunning places to visit within a couple of miles of wherever you choose to locate.
Where this grows wild in the ‘streets’ 🙂 (PS: it is only hemp)
Look out Bulgaria … here we come!
As you know we ended up with four houses in Bulgaria – this is a little about how that happened!
Like our friends Andy & Marie who run The Good Life Bulgaria blog we bought our first house off ebay, basically because it was cheap and I fell in love with it (see pic above). We flew out to bulgaria for our first visit and when we saw it in real life we were even more smitten – right on the edge of the village and our neighbour ‘Nidelka’ and others in the village made us feel so welcome. There was plenty of work to do but our dream was taking shape!
During our visit we heard of another house in the same village for next to nothing…it would have been rude not to and it would have given Dan somewhere to put his cars (we have lots of cars) – so we bought that too (see pic below) – not the best picture but it was so overgrown it was the best we could do… 🙂
Our thoughts were that we would spend the 9 months of spring / summer / autumn farming the land and enjoying village life but in winter we (more me actually) would like a mountain hideaway where I could get away from it all – I’m a bit of a secret hermit and enjoy the isolation for small amounts of time anyway 🙂 So on returning to the UK I set about finding us our mountain house…this is what I found and what we bought…completely off grid with a view that you couldn’t buy…bliss (see pic below)
We set to putting in a gravity feed water system and our good friend at Sewage Solutions put in a septic tank for us – all we needed was to make it warm and comfy…our winter hideaway was taking shape. I transported over a log burning sauna heater and a load of log lap wood to build a cabin (unbelievably cheaper in the UK) and a load of tools to do the work – we were so excited! And this is where it all started to go a bit wrong….
When we returned, all our tools had gone – the house is about 2km from the nearest road and they took everything except half a cement mixer and a couple of log burners (obviously too heavy)! This clearly wasn’t meant to happen, but things got worse, when we visited our village house all our mature fruit trees in our orchard had been cut down to stumps.
The tools were a hard lesson but we could at least understand the motive, our beautiful trees were something different, it felt personal even though there was no reason for it to be, but more than that it felt utterly pointless. I sat on the steps of my wonderful house and sobbed .. someone had just ripped my magic carpet out from beneath my feet.
If I’m honest, I never thought I’d be back…but in the words of Janet Street Porter – “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down” – so I didn’t, but we did decide to start again in another area (hence house number 4). And this time we did things differently, this time we travelled the country, viewed around 30 properties of all sorts of prices until we settled on our future home, we took nothing to the house, left nothing in it (therefore nothing to steal) so when we arrive in April we will be starting from scratch and we could not be more excited, we have so many plans and we will share our successes and mistakes (please let them be few) on here so that friends (old and new) can share in our journey to the simple life! This is our future home (pic below)
The last five years have all been about planning – getting the right house, in the right location, for the right price, deciding what we’ll need to:
1. Renovate the house
2. Survive without income for a period of time
3. Integrate into the village life
4. Create an income for when we do need it
And of course building a pot of gold to take to the end of our rainbow – easier said than done sometimes!
I’ve read lots of forums and blogs and facebook posts about if you are a capitalist and work in the city then the only way you think is “how much things cost”, well this may be true to an extent but there is a limit to what you can do these day without a little bit of paper in your pocket.
We intend to do most things ourselves so we have been reading up on “how to rewire a house”, “installing solar power”, “building a natural pool”, plumbing, building, plastering all sorts of useful skills that we may or may not be successful at but we sure will give it a go! We will however need help and hardware at some point and that will require some cash…there’s a limit to what you can barter, even in Bulgaria.
Also we plan to be a self sustainable as possible but there are certain things that we cannot expect to provide for ourselves, at least not instantly anyway (we have a lot of learning to do).
Vegetables – oh yes we will grow our own, but they are not instantly available so we will need to buy or barter for a time.
Fruit – this is instant as we have mature fruit trees (apple, sweet cherry, plum, apricot, peach and nut) in the garden and grape vines (red and white) so this means alcohol is not a problem either (damson and elderberry wine will be brought from the UK to keep us going our first year)
Meat – we’ll start with chickens (for eggs and meat) but if we kill one a week we’ll soon run out of eggs … we need to breed and rear some more (this again is not instant) – later in our adventure we may expand to include a couple of goats too 🙂
Toiletries – we will need to buy.
Other – sugar, flour, cheese (until we get goats), tea, coffee, milk etc all need to be bought
So you see unless we plan to live in the woods in a cabin build from the the trees around us and hunt for a living (and smell a bit), we are going to need some money to survive – probably more the first year than subsequent years.
Right so we have set ourselves a budget to renovate our house, doing much of the work ourselves – all the high level stuff we’ll have to pay for though as neither of us are good with heights! We have estimated what it will cost to survive the first year having to buy most of our food from shops (heaven forbid) and pay for registering cars, ourselves etc etc etc
We have (well I have) started to learn Bulgarian “I learn it from a booook” a la Fawlty Towers star Manuel…I’m not sure it will translate into relevant when I’m there on the ground but at least it has given me a grounding. This should help us integrate into the community but it is only part of it – being part of their traditions, part of their community, helping and being helped, taking time to talk (or wave arms around)…all this will help.
And now we come to how to earn an income….so many ideas, so much preparation…I think this needs a whole blog of its own, I’ve got 4.5 months to make the right choice!
The great thing is I know we are going to make mistakes, some big some small and I am inviting you guys to witness these along the way – for goodness sake we have already made plenty!!
“I want a house in France” – this had been my mantra for many years, but I never seemed to have enough money to make it happen…it felt like the French were deliberately moving house prices just out of my reach on purpose, I can almost hear them saying “L’ordinateur dit NON” 🙂
During one of my many internet house searches I drifted a little outside of France and found myself in Sicily (virtually you understand) and stumbled on a wonderful little mountain village called Cianciana and bought a house there, since this day I have never looked back!
I now own this house and four houses in Bulgaria…FOUR I hear you say, well yes this was not my intention, it just kind of happened and I guess it is a lesson to those thinking of buying abroad. Curb your enthusiasm, visit the country first and research your area before you buy.
I have no regrets I love all of my four houses and the villages where they are, but one is just that little more suitable for my plans than the others, so that is where we are moving to….in April 2014.
I want the simple life and it has taken nearly five years planning to finally see that light glinting at the end of the tunnel…and you wondered why I called this blog ‘turning simple difficult’ – all will be revealed.