A New Year – A New Start

It’s not often that you get to start a completely new life.  A new year. In a new country, a new town, a new house. 

But that’s exactly what I’ve got this year. 

Last year – 2020

If you’ve been following the drama of our lives (my husband, Olivier, and me), you’ll know that in March last year we left Moscow with only 4 days notice. We arrived in Bucharest into an almost instant 2 month lockdown, then spent another 2 months in Bucharest because borders to other countries were still closed, until the end of July when we finally managed to get a taxi (yes, a taxi!) from Bucharest to a town called Veliko Tarnovo, in Bulgaria.

We chose Veliko Tarnovo because it wasn’t far from the Romanian/Bulgarian border. And after watching some videos about it, we thought it looked like a lovely place to visit, if not to live.

So we found ourselves there, at the end of July, 2020. A new country, a new town, and a little rented apartment in Veliko Tarnovo.

apartment in VT
Our little apartment in Veliko Tarnovo

Settling in

Then we got started on getting our residency applications lodged. We didn’t know when we’d be able to travel again and we needed a home-base while we waited for the world to get back on its feet.  Bulgaria gave us both 12 months’ residency which is renewable every year (having a husband with an EU passport is proving useful!).

We bought a car because we made friends with people from other villages and needed some method of transport to go and visit them (no public transport to most villages). Have you seen our car?  It’s a little old Lada, a Russian car in memory of our wonderful years in that amazing country.

Taxis are cheap here, and they do go to nearby villages, but you have much more autonomy with a car.  Plus, we wanted to visit other places and see what was around Veliko Tarnovo.

We found that we really loved it here, and so we followed through with something that we’d started talking about when we were still in Bucharest – we started looking to buy a house in a village.  Village houses are not expensive here, and after looking at our finances we decided that we could buy something in not too bad condition in a small village.  We didn’t want to live too far from Veliko Tarnovo, where there are shops, restaurants, and bars for entertainment.

VT is quite a big town with plenty of things to do and see.

How to find a good village

The advice we’d been given was to visit as many villages as possible to get a feel for them – take a look around. Check out the infrastructure. The condition of the roads. See if there are a lot of empty houses in the village (not a good sign). Walk around a bit. Talk to the people in the street or in the shop. Talk to people (locals and ex-pats) who live there and find out what life in each village is like.

Then after visiting a few villages you get some idea of what you like, and what you don’t like.  It’s true, we really quite quickly understood the villages that we’d be happy to live in, and the villages we would be happier just to drive through and never go back to.

horse and cart
We saw this horse and cart in a village we visited

We made a shortlist of the villages that we liked, then started looking online at the houses available in those villages.

Looking at houses

And with the help of a couple of estate agencies we had a list of houses that we could visit.  This was a huge eye-opener!  Despite some lovely photos online, we found that some of the houses were just shells, needing major renovation.  Of course the prices reflected that, but we decided to start from the bottom and work our way up.  So we looked at a couple of houses that needed a lot of work. Then we looked at some houses that were ok but still needed a lot of superficial work to get them into a livable condition. 

And there were some that needed a lot of clearing away of spiderwebs, dust and probably lots other unseen things.  A lot of village houses are sold with the furniture, and a house full of spiders and dusty furniture (and I mean sometimes 10 or more years of dust) isn’t my idea of fun. But I was ready to buy whatever we could afford and do the hard work if necessary.

Most of the houses we looked at lacked internal bathroom/toilets, because that seems to be the norm in traditional Bulgarian village houses.  We discussed the possibilities of installing a bathroom/toilet inside the houses that we liked. It’s one of the first things a lot of foreigners do when they move here. 

It seemed that all the houses needed some kind of work before you could live in them comfortably.  But we were prepared to pay a little bit less for a house that may need a bit of work done to it, because we are by no means rich after living in Russia for so long. We’ve also spent a lot of money over the years doing what we love best, travelling.

And so we continued looking at houses in the villages that we liked, from the lower price range up to the maximum we could spend. We still didn’t find one that we wanted. 

The perfect village house

Then one day our estate agent told us that he has the perfect house that he knows we will love.  There’s no work needed to do to it, whoever buys it can move straight in.  It’s owned by an old woman who lost her husband a few months before. She needs to sell it because it’s too much work for her alone.

And so we went to look at this perfect house in one of our preferred villages.

our new house
The house – from the agent’s website

It turned out that he was right.  It was pretty perfect.  The bathroom and toilet were inside.  The garden was established.  There were fruit trees.  There was heating (wood fire kind of heating, but it’s still heating).  We walked through the house, looked at the garden, sat outside with the owner and the agent and talked for a while.  It was a beautiful sunny and warm day and the garden felt like the most peaceful place on earth.  I didn’t want to leave.

cooking on wood
Cooking on the wood fire in the kitchen

Taking some time to think about it

But we left, and went home to think about, and talk about, this perfect house.

It was right at the top of our budget.  We’d already discussed price with the agent and he told us that the price is not negotiable. She will not accept anything lower.

We decided that we wanted to see the house again, so we did.  It was still perfect.

Then back to our little rented flat to think about it some more.

Finding the perfect house happened a lot sooner than we expected.  We’d expected to look at houses for months, and to possibly find one in spring (maybe in March or April), just in time to get a garden started.  We thought we’d spend a lot more time visiting other villages and houses.

lada in the street DD
The Lada in front of our house (the white wall)

A couple of times we drove back to the village where the perfect house was to check it out again.  We walked around a few streets in the village to see what kind of things happened there (nothing much, actually!).  I connected online with some foreigners who live there and asked them about their experiences.  Although there will always be some problems with village life, people seemed to be happy living there.

More talking and thinking.  And then we realised that we’d be mad to pass up such a perfect house in a beautiful little Bulgarian village. So we called the agent and told him that we’d buy it.

dobri dyal
Our village – Dobri Dyal

A done deal

The commitment was made.  The deposit was paid.  A little bit of banking activity to get the money from our Australian bank to our Bulgarian bank, and then, in early December, the house was ours.

We spent the next couple of weeks going from the house back to our little rented flat in Veliko Tarnovo. We moved our things slowly (not that we’ve got very much), and enjoyed our last moments in town before moving permanently to our village.

And so, as we said goodbye to 2020, the year in which all our plans turned to dust back in March, we were ready to start the new year in our new house.

Our new life

We’ve already had a little housewarming party here. And we’ve had some visits from the friends we’ve made since we arrived in Bulgaria almost 6 months ago.

We’ve met some people in the village, including our neighbours who we speak Russian with because we can’t speak Bulgarian good enough yet and they can’t speak English or French. 

And we’ve met the Mayor, who also works in one of the shops here.  And we say ‘good day’ to anyone we pass when we’re out for a walk, or going to the shop.  Little old ladies often stop in the street for a chat. Although there are language barriers, we do seem to understand each other and they all wish us luck and happiness in our new home.

dobri dyal in snow
And it snows here in winter!

The whole village already knows about us, although we haven’t met everyone yet.  Word gets around quickly in small villages. Whenever we meet someone new, they say something like ‘Oh, yes, I heard about you’. 

We are looking forward to our new life, which started with the New Year, in our new country and in a new village.  It’s going to be a very different life than the one we had in Moscow for 10+ years. We’ve gone from 24 hour living in a city with more than 12 million residents, to a little Bulgarian village with a couple of shops and around 1000 residents.

Let’s see what this new life brings us!

our street in snow
Our street in the snow

What’s in store for you in 2021?  Have you started a new life?  Or maybe you’ve decided to make some improvements in your life in 2021.  Let us all know about it in the comments below!

And here’s a video to show you our new home!

~ Cheryl

Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

35 thoughts on “A New Year – A New Start”

  1. Cheryl, I love this so much!!! Reading your blog always makes me smile from the inside out! I’m living vicariously through you! What an adventuress you are!!! I am trying to be more disciplined. I just published my first blog of 2021! Hoping I do better this year with my goals! Thanks again for your wonderful blog! Rita

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    1. Hi Rita, thanks again for the support! I’m so pleased that you enjoy reading what I write – it’s the very reason I’m writing, for people to enjoy it. It gives me the motivation to continue blogging when I read comments like yours. Not sure I’m an adventuress, but I know I don’t really like living a conventional life! Congratulations on publishing on your blog for the first time this year – I’m off to read it now. Wishing you all the best in 2021. xx

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  2. Hi Cheryl – I loved reading about the lead-up to buying your new home and the thought process behind it all. It’s all so very different to life in Australia, but I imagine it’s a lovely little spot to settle for a while and to enjoy a more rural lifestyle. What will you both be doing for work in the years ahead? Is there somewhere you can teach in the city? So many questions but really good to see you so settled and happy again.

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    1. Hi Leanne, it was a very interesting process, that’s for sure! It’s been so long since I lived in Australia I’ve forgotten what it’s like there! I do love it here, it’s so peaceful and although I knew I wanted to live somewhere like this when I’m older, it’s very nice being here now. Work isn’t on the horizon for me at the moment (if ever), I’m going to be responsible for the garden and the chickens, and hopefully be able to make or trade enough food to reduce our shopping to the very minimum. Olivier’s teaching online for one of the institutes here, but as you can imagine there’s not a lot of demand for language lessons these days, especially French. We’re fine here, cost of living is incredibly cheap and we won’t be travelling for a while (a long while, it seems) so we’ll just sit here and see how self sufficient we can become. Thanks for reading, and ask all the questions you want (although I hope to be writing more posts about life in rural Bulgaria as things happen). Hope you’re having a lovely weekend. x

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  3. Hi Cheryl. I’m so happy for you both. Your village and home are lovely. I can’t wait to see your garden in the spring. How has cooking been on the wood stove? I hope you are getting the hang of it. Life there seems so similar to our life here in Georgia, especially about the people and how friendly they are. I look forward to hearing more about your adventures in Bulgaria. xx

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    1. Hi Christina, thank you for your kind words. Yes, it is lovely here. I also can’t wait to see my garden in the spring! There’s some hyacinths and tulips starting to poke through the ground already, but I suspect I should plant some others to have a full garden come spring. I’ll get that done in a month or so to be ready for the bees. Cooking on the wood stove is a big success! We both use it, and I really love it. The oven’s not great though, it doesn’t really get hot enough, but it’s not too big a problem right now. Yes, I think it’s very similar to Georgia, I think a lot of countries in this region have similarities. I’m looking forward to writing more for you! xx

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  4. CONGRATULATIONS on your new home!! It takes a lot of courage to do what you’re are both doing. I admire your perseverance and your hard work. You amaze me! I am looking forward to your future posts. Always a joy to read you! All the best to you and Olivier in 2021!! Bonne et Heureuse Année!!!!

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    1. Hi Yvonne, thank you! Et Bonne Annee a toi aussi! So nice to see you back here. I feel revitalised compared to the last 9 months, it’s been hard but we’ve finally found some peace and a little place to rest for a while until we can travel again. But really happy to have found this house and we’re now starting to integrate into the community and putting down some roots. It’s going to be an interesting 2021! Best wishes to you too!

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    1. Hi Michele, thank you for your kind comment. I love sharing my life with my readers. I realise that not everyone has the opportunity, or even wants, to travel to exotic places and live an unconventional life, but for me it’s the best way to live! I hope you will enjoy my stories to come about my Bulgarian adventure. Have a lovely week!

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    1. Hi Terri, thank you for your kind words. I feel truly blessed to have this house. We were sitting outside yesterday in the winter sun, snow all around us – what a life! Thank you for stopping by Born in a Car. Have a lovely week!

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  5. Congratulations, Cheryl and Olivier, on your new house! With the garden, chicken coop, and spacious basement you can be self-sufficient by growing your own veggies, raise chickens for eggs, and preserve food for the winter. I look forward to hearing more about life in your Bulgarian village as you settle in.

    As an aside, I want to let you know that I’m hosting the Weekend Coffee Share blog link up this year. It’s on every weekend, from Friday to Sunday. Some of our mutual blogger friends from the MLSTL link-up have participated. Everyone is welcome to join in any and every week. Details on my blog. I hope you consider joining us. Take care! #senisal

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    1. Hi Natalie! Thank you! I hope that I can manage to do the veggies, chickens, preserving and everything else that needs to be done! After living for almost 20 years in apartments it’s going to be a challenge, but who doesn’t like a good challenge?!

      Thank you for the info about your Weekend Coffee Share link up, I’ll be there!

      Have a great week!

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    1. Hi Christina, thank you! I don’t think I’m brave, but I do realise that what we’re doing is a lot different from other people! Our new home is gorgeous, I can only imagine that we will have good luck in it until the end. Thank you for stopping by Born in a Car, hope to see you here again.

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  6. Cheryl, I hope you are writing a book about your adventures. This post is wonderful reading and I love your interesting details that give life and more understanding of your situation. It would seem that the house is perfect for you and Olivier. I am going to feature your fascinating post on the next Blogger’s Pit Stop.
    Love from Australia.
    Kathleen

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    1. Hello Kathleen, thank you for your kind comments. I may write a book one day after we’ve been here for a while, to experience many more stories to write about. I used to think that Russia would be the place I would write a book about, but I feel that I will be living a much fuller and more interesting life here in my Bulgarian village. Thank you for your support, I do appreciate it! xx

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  7. Congratulations, I am so happy for you both. I loved the care with which you approached finding your home, especially because it can be instructive for anyone in a similar position. What a joy it was to read your post and see the pictures and learn a little more about life in Bulgaria. Looking forward tor eadingi more! Blessings, Michele

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    1. Thank you Michele! I am so pleased that you read and enjoyed my post. I must say that you’ve been on my mind a lot these past few weeks, and I have some of your most recent posts bookmarked to read as I haven’t allowed myself enough time for blogging life recently. I hope that you’ve had a gentle start to the new year, and that it will continue that way without too many bumps.

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    1. Hi and welcome to Born in a Car! I guess I am adaptable, I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Just have to keep up with what life throws at you, if you don’t then you can’t live life to the fullest! Thanks for visiting, hope you have a great weekend planned.

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  8. Hello, Cheryl! I’m going to build a new country house at my own piece of earth. You inspiered me to do that. It’s fine living in peacfull place among a trees. Time to time I go there for rest, for driving in my Niva-car, for swiming and just chang my every day life. Thank for the post and I wait anothers! )))

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    1. Hi Alexey! What a wonderful idea to build a country house! I actually love city life with lots of activities and restaurants and concerts, but coming to live in a village is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s so nice to breath fresh air, to walk in the forest, and to live in a simple way. It’s a very healthy lifestyle and may even help us to live longer. I wish you all the best for building your new country house!

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  9. It’s always such fun reading of your travels and moves Cheryl. This seems to have worked out well for you both and I wish you well. Such an exciting move and your village sounds great!

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    1. Hi Deb, thank you! I agree that it has worked out well, considering what our life was like only a short while ago. Still a few little stresses but nothing too serious. Thanks for your support, and I hope that all’s going well for you, too!

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