Bulgaria: Beauties and Beasts

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We left beautiful, spectacular Delphi, swishing around a series of hairpins into a mizzly mountain rain and on towards Thessaloniki and the seaside town of Nea Moudania for a last blast of sun before the long trek north. In the event, both Nea Moudania and the sunshine failed to excite and we cut short our last blast in favour of discovering the delights of Bulgaria.

Hitherto my one experience of Bulgaria was a solo skiing trip to Borovets, where the skiing, social life and scenery were all delightful, the hotel food atrocious and the staff gloomy and depressed.

Having negotiated the border we knew we’d have to buy a road tax ‘vignette’ and  obtain some currency. The road on Bulgarian side of customs is lined with stalls selling all manner of goods from liquor and cigarettes to bottled water, also currency [exchange-euros for ‘lev]’.

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We set off towards ‘Sapareva Banya’, using the co-ordinates from the German website we’d had to use to find sites. The rolling, green countryside was delightful; the towns were the ugliest I have ever seen-crumbling, grey blocks and abandoned factory sites. This is the legacy of the iron curtain. I wondered how it was possible to create such brutal ugliness and how will it ever be possible to eliminate?

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The co-ordinates took us down an increasingly rutted track and through some gates. It looked promising. Inside the gates the driveway rounded a large, stately building in wooded grounds but nothing resembling a camp site. I ran around to the front of the building and climbed once-grand steps into a huge, gloomy hallway containing booths housing white-coated people with clipboards and papers. My hesitant enquiry as to whether anyone spoke English yielded blank shrugs. I’d stumbled into some kind of sanatorium; clearly not a camp site.

Husband was all for turning back, although we’d had a long day’s travel already. I determined to find the site, striking out down a track I’d spotted where builders were constructing a bar by a pool. A kindly builder explained in good English how to navigate to the site, [next door].

Yes-there it was, down another rustic lane. We pulled in. When there was no response to my ringing a bell at ‘reception’ I thumped on the door which after some minutes was answered by a lugubrious young woman, bleary eyed and shoeless. I imagine I’d dragged her off the sofa and away from an afternoon of daytime Bulgarian soap operas. We could stay, she told me but they were very busy and had little room. This proved to be true, as a large tour group of Dutch caravans was occupying all of the field. We manoeuvred into a sloping slot behind some chalets, relieved to have somewhere to spend the night.

Sapareva Banya had given us no cause to linger and we drove off again in the morning to head north again and find a site called ‘Madona Inn’ from the German website.

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Bulgaria is poor. Horse-drawn carts are commonplace among the town traffic and most small village homes are in need of repair, resources being too scarce to squander on paint, render or window frames.

Madona Inn is easy to find, a guest-house and camp site with bar and restaurant along the road to Belogradchik, where a 1-3rd century AD fortress lies in an imposing position between the dramatic sandstone rocks of the area. With time to explore before checking in we drove up to Belogradchik, a town that has made no concession whatsoever to tourism in terms of beautification. We climbed up to the stunning fortress.

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Madona Inn was everything Sapareva Banya was not, with cartloads of rustic charm, although the Bulgarian cuisine on offer seemed eccentric to our uninitiated taste-an omelette topped with soggy toast topped with pork slices topped with mushroom sauce topped with…a boiled egg.

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It was a beautiful, quirky site and well worth the visit-but little did we know what impact the terrible road surfaces would have later…

 

The Best Things in Life…are not too expensive…

                An eighty four year old woman in the USA has won 278.2 million [after tax] in the state lottery. I suppose her remaining years will now be more comfortable than she would have previously expected them to be. On the other hand, what can she possibly do with that amount of money, besides passing it on to her family, or leaving it to a cats’ home? I gather she was somewhat reclusive, from the remarks of her [now] former neighbours, which will be a help to her now that she is probably going to have to spend the rest of her days in relative seclusion, if she is to avoid scroungers, sob stories and con artists.

                But will it make her happy? It is easy to take the much clichéd, moral high ground here; ‘Money Can’t Buy Me Love’ etc, but stories of the lives of lottery winners are not all tales of heart-warming, happy-ever-after strolls into the sunset.

“Robertson has four sons, two from his first marriage and two from another relationship, while Laidlaw has three children. But his win has led to rows with the elder sons about how the money should be shared. Now, Robertson declares, “they are not getting a penny”.”

“Gardiner was greeted with hundreds of letters begging for money and for his hand in marriage.”

“He bought a cul-de-sac of houses for his friends. He also tried to help people out by offering work but these people began to take advantage and take liberties.”

“Keith checked himself in to the Priory rehabilitation clinic in Birmingham as his alcohol use began to get out of hand. It was at the rehabilitation clinic where Keith became acquainted with James Prince. Between August 2006 and July 2008, Prince persuaded Keith to invest his final £700,000 in a number of fake business ventures that were never real. Keith lost all of his money.”

            Poverty, of course is a miserable state of affairs. But a modest improvement in circumstances can do wonders to lift the spirits-especially when combined with a sense of achievement. One feature amongst the woeful tales of lottery winners was how many of them still shopped in ‘pound shops’ or resumed their daily toil after experiencing the boredom of inactivity. For sheer, unadulterated euphoria there is little to compare to the joy of acquiring a bargain, or to make a small profit from selling on an auction site, or to win a small sum in a story competition. All of these successes require some effort-hence the pleasure quotient.

                Children, I read, are to have money management shoehorned into their curriculum in the near future, possibly at primary-even infant- level. This in itself won’t be a bad thing, if time allows and it relates to mathematics, but one alarming idea I heard during a radio discussion was that 5 year olds would be taught that having money equates to happiness.

                I get regular ‘likes’ from bloggers who want to teach me how to make money from blogging, and I’m sure they mean well, but the greatest pleasure to be had from writing it is to see how many people have shown an interest in it-and which parts of the world they inhabit.

                Please send donations to…. [only kidding!]…

Relieved it’s over…but where was the comedy?

                It is a poignant demonstration of advancing years to be able to remember ‘Liveaid’ in vivid detail. It happened in 1985. As far as I can tell it was the first of the big, blockbusting, heart-wrenching, celebrity-wridden charity-thons that have now become as much embedded in the fabric of our TV viewing as the weather forecast.

                Liveaid was a thrilling event for me at the time. Incarcerated as I was, with two tiny tots and no prospect of a night out, it was the closest I was likely to get to a rock, or pop concert or indeed any kind of live entertainment [with the exception of ‘Postman Pat’ on stage at our local provincial theatre]. It was an iconic, riveting, humdinger of a concert, gluing us all to our screens so that we were hardly able to leave the room to put the kettle on, let alone make dinner or put children to bed, lest we miss Freddy Mercury strutting and cavorting or U2 belting out ‘In the Name….’ or The Who [whose set was disrupted by a few technical hitches, I seem to remember].

                Nowadays charity fundraising events are part of the calendar, like Halloween or Mothers Day. Of course they are commendable, valuable exercises in drumming up cash for worthy causes, but am I alone in feeling fatigued by them? Yes, the likes of Lenny Henry, Dawn French etc have worked hard and no doubt selflessly every year to top previous the year’s total and are to be admired and thanked, and I am in no way criticising the ethic behind charity and the giving, but isn’t it time we approached national and world poverty in a different way?

                A cynic would say that the ‘slebs’ are not all wholly in it for altruistic reasons. I’m sure it does nothing to harm Claudia Winkelman’s career to be out there, yet again, ‘presenting’. [Why is she on almost every TV programme?]. But you have to wonder what the poor, sick people of Africa have done to deserve to be visited by the likes of ‘One Direction’. Isn’t their predicament desperate enough already? And these ‘slebs’ are not short of a bob or two themselves. They are asking recession-hit Brits to dig deep into almost empty pockets. Why not simply forget about the dodgy comedy and donate a big wodge themselves?

                Watching Jessie Jay have her head shaved, or Simon Cowell pretending to be a comedian does not provoke me into getting my cheque book out. What does affect me though, is to see and hear stories about struggling peoples’ lives. Back in 1985 it was Michael Burke’s tragic and moving account of the starvation and dying children in Ethiopia that brought tears to the eyes. Surely some sympathetic journalism, together with taxation and a consistent, philanthropic approach by governments in wealthier nations makes more sense than this tired circus that comes round with relentless regularity?

…or am I too much of a party pooper?