I Eat Weeds

A lot of people dream about having a vegetable garden.  Fresh vegetables every day, full of flavour and at a cost of virtually nothing, except a bit of water and maybe some fertilizer. 

Yes, of course, another cost is your time and patience during the growing season.

And then there are the problems which will take up more of your time and sometimes money.  Things like pests, including slugs, caterpillars, ants, and other insects that seem to like your home-grown vegetables more than you do.

Or birds, mice, squirrels, and other little critters who want to eat your tasty seedlings. Or bigger animals who dig out your vegetables and take them home to feed their families.

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately, because as you may know, there’s a vegetable garden in the planning at our house.  It’s happened a bit sooner than I expected.  I was planning this for my retirement years, but I’ve got a huge, empty garden to fill with wonderful food for us and also to share with our friends and neighbours.

my garden now
Here’s my garden as it looks now in March – almost empty!

But, there’s also another problem.  Timing.

We bought the house at the beginning of December, and moved in a few weeks later.  Just in time to start the new year with a new life.

garden in january
My garden at the beginning of January

And, just in case some of my Australian friends have forgotten, we’re in the northern hemisphere, and December isn’t the middle of summer.  It’s the middle of winter.

So, it’s not growing season.  In fact, for some of the winter the ground is covered by snow.

garden in january
This is my garden on 9th January

And often the ground is frozen, so even if you wanted to plant something you couldn’t.

And when the temperature goes up a little, and the ground thaws out, you still can’t plant anything because there’s still the risk of frost and anything that you try to grow can be killed overnight. Frozen to death.

So we have to wait until spring arrives and the threat of frost is over.

Of course, there are some things that can be planted towards the end of winter that are frost hardy, but they won’t grow fast enough to provide you with food until spring or maybe even summer.

So that means that from December to March there’s not much activity in the garden.  We’re just sitting around, waiting out the cold weather. 

Waiting for the real spring weather.  And even though it’s now officially spring, it’s still too cold to plant anything outside.

Which is why I’ve got something like 80 seedlings in the house right now.  I’m ready, but nature is not.

But we do have a few things in the garden already.  Let me tell you what’s there.

What’s growing now

I planted some garlic in early December, and it’s growing nicely.  It is very frost hardy, which means it can live through the cold winter months without a problem.  It’s still too early yet, it’s nowhere near ready to eat so I just have to leave that alone and wait.

There are also some carrots in the ground that the previous owner left for us.  They are very, very small.  I’ve pulled a few up to check, and although we’ve eaten some of them, they are not really enough for even a salad. 

I found some onions growing randomly in the ground.  I guess they’re also left over from the previous owners.  And they’re not ready to eat, either.

onions
Random onions growing

There’s some parsley, and some dill.  Not a lot, but I have managed to pick some to use in our kitchen.  I will be growing more of these when the time is right.

And also there’s been quite a lot of little lettuce’s popping up.  They’re also frost resistant, and although they’re really, really small, I’ve pulled off a few leaves and had a little nibble from time to time. 

But like the carrots, it’s not nearly enough for even a one-person salad.

I started thinking, “There must be something I can eat in this garden, without having to wait until the summer harvest!”

So I had a look around, and guess what I found?

Food!

Food!

Not the kind of food you’d find in a shop.  Probably not the kind of food you’d even find in a market.

And I’m guessing not even the kind of food that you’d recognise as food.

Because they’re weeds. 

Yes, weeds.  I’ve been eating weeds. 

Let me tell you about them.

Before I do, I must tell you that it’s not advisable to go outside and eat any plants that you find.  Do some research, and make sure that you don’t poison yourself, ok?  I will not take responsibility for you eating something you shouldn’t and getting sick from it.

Chickweed 

The first weed I ate is called ‘chickweed’.  You may have heard of it, or maybe not.  I’d heard the name, but I never knew what it was or what it looked like.

chickweed flower
Chickweed flower

I saw someone online asking people to identify a plant in photo, and the answer came back – ‘chickweed’.  Realising that I also had a lot of this weed, I decided to find out what I could use it for.

And I was so surprised at what I found!

The little white flowers, the leaves, and the stems are edible.  They can be used in salads, or ground up into a pesto.  They can be cooked in stir-fries or stews. 

chickweed
Chickweed

And they’re so full of goodness, it’s almost hard to believe!  They contain vitamin A, D, B complex, C, as well as rutin (a bioflavinoid), calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, iron and silica.

And they taste really good!  You have to make sure to wash off any dirt, which isn’t a problem if you pick the longer stems which are shooting upwards and not the ones that are crawling along the ground.

chickweed
Chickweed

Chickweed is what I snack on while I’m in the garden doing the weeding. 

There is a toxic look-alike for chickweed, called Scarlet Pimpernel, which has orange flowers.  If you’re not sure if your weed is chickweed or the toxic Scarlet Pimpernel, wait until it flowers before eating any of it.

Dead Nettle 

Apparently these are called ‘dead nettle’ because although their leaves resemble those of the stinging nettle, these plants have no sting at all.  They’re a part of the mint family.

dead nettle
A carpet of dead nettle

I admired these beautiful carpets of colour before I even knew what they were.  Then one day a friend was complaining that it was almost impossible to get rid of this weed, so I decided to find out what I could use it for.

Food!  Yes, these lovely little colourful plants can be eaten.  Some people eat them raw – why not add them into a mixed salad?  Or put some into your soup?

dead nettle
This would look gorgeous in a salad

People also mix them into smoothies.  I don’t make smoothies because I don’t have the right equipment, but I think they’d be a great addition.

And, best of all, you can make a tea from them.  I just put a few flower heads into a cup, add boiling water and let sit for about 10 minutes (I cover the cup so it doesn’t lose too much heat). 

The taste of this tea is very ‘earthy’, so I put a big teaspoon of local raw honey into it to improve the flavour a bit.  But it’s not unbearable even without the honey.

This tea can have a laxative effect if used in large amounts, so if you want to try it maybe just a cup or two a day is enough. 

You can use the flower heads fresh, or dry them and store them for later.

plate of dead nettle
My first dead nettle harvest

I must admit that I don’t snack on these ones while I’m in the garden.  And that’s because they really need to be washed before eating or making tea with them, because ants and other little insects often hide among the flowers, and I don’t really want to eat those!

Dead nettle is high in vitamins C, A, and K, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and fibre. 

I won’t go into the medicinal properties of dead nettle here, but if you do a bit of research you’ll find a lot of health benefits and different ways to use this plant, including for allergies, and it’s also an anti-inflammatory.

dead nettle in the garden
Dead nettle in the garden

And the good news is that there’s no toxic look-alike for this plant, so you can’t accidentally poison yourself thinking you’re eating dead nettle.

And more…

There are also some other edible weeds in my garden. I have dandelion, stinging nettle, and little blue violets dotted all over the place. 

I won’t write about them today, I’ll save them for another time.  But here’s some photos of them for you.

Some stinging nettle in my garden.

And some dandelions.

dandelion
Dandelions

And here’s some very pretty violets.

violets
Violets

As you can see, although I’m going to have to wait quite some time to harvest the vegetables I plan on growing this year, I have enough to keep me going for now just from the weed population!

What edible plants do you have in your garden?  Have you incorporated them into your regular cooking or are you unsure about how to go about it?  Also, let me know any other ways you use ‘weeds’ in the kitchen or for other purposes.

~ Cheryl

Shared in Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share.

14th February – St Trifon’s Day

You all know about St Valentine’s Day, but have you heard of St Trifon’s Day?  Probably not, unless you live in Bulgaria!

St Trifon’s Day is also celebrated on 14th February each year, just like St Valentine’s Day.  But they are two very different celebrations.

Whereas on St Valentine’s Day you’ll receive flowers, cards, and/or gifts, and you may be taken out to dinner by the one you love (or by the one who loves you, whatever the case may be), St Trifon’s Day is a celebration of wine. 

Or more specifically, winegrowers and winemakers.

St Trifon, also known as St. Trifon Zarezan (Trifon the Pruner), is the patron saint of winegrowers and winemakers, and since a lot of Bulgarians still make their own wine from their own grapes, it’s very important to give St Trifon the respect that he deserves.

So you can imagine how intrigued we were, after buying our Bulgarian village house and talking to our new neighbours, when we found out about this special day.

You see, we do like a bit of wine now and then.  And we have grape vines growing in our garden.

Some of the grape vines in our garden

Our new neighbours told us that they used to make wine with the previous owners of our house.  They used to combine their grapes and make the wine together.  We’ve had the pleasure of tasting the wine made from the grapes from our garden. It’s not bad for homemade wine.

We are looking forward to making some ourselves with this year’s harvest.

But let’s get back to St Trifon.

About St Trifon

Trifon was born sometime around 225 AD, in the Roman Province of Phrygia, in what is now Turkey.  He and his family were Christians in a time when Christianity wasn’t the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Trifon was captured during a mass persecution of Christians, and after refusing to renounce his faith he was decapitated.  So he became a martyr of Christianity.

So, how does this connect him with winegrowers?

I’m glad you asked.

The most popular explanation is that it’s thought that he was a winegrower himself, and that he came from the area where the grape vine originated from. 

So, what happens on St Trifon’s Day?

St Trifon’s Day activities

It’s important as a winegrower that you prepare well for this day.  Bread making is necessary along with preparing some food for the celebration.  It’s common to prepare a roast chicken stuffed with rice.

Then, along with this food, the winegrower takes some wine and makes his way to his vineyard. 

And then there are some ceremonial activities that must be undertaken to ensure a great harvest for the current year.

So on Sunday, 14th February, this year our neighbours came to see us at around 11am. They asked us to join them for the celebrations. 

So we crossed the road and went inside their yard, not really knowing what we were going to find.

neighbours grape vines
Some of our neighours’ grape vines

At the back of the house, near the vines, was a barbecue, several friends who had travelled over 200kms for the weekend to join in the fun, and a big ‘bucket’ of wine. 

bbq and friends
The barbecue and friends

The food on the barbecue looked and smelt wonderful. Even though it wasn’t the traditional chicken and rice, we were really looking forward to eating a little later.

Then ‘rakia’ was served.  Rakia is the national alcoholic drink here in Bulgaria.  It’s similar in taste to cognac (or brandy) and is usually make from plums. It can also be made from a variety of other fruits.

The rakia was served warm mixed with honey, which was very welcome because it was below zero and we were standing outside having a barbecue!  They said that it’s necessary to drink warm rakia to keep your feet warm.

The ritual of pruning the vines

Then the men take some secateurs and one by one they each cut a piece of last year’s growth from the vine.  After each man cuts his piece (only one piece each, the real pruning is saved for another day), he then pours some of the wine from the bucket (which is wine made from last year’s harvest) onto the ground for fertility. 

vlad pruning
Cutting a piece of the vine
pouring wine for fertility
Then pouring some wine for fertility

A wreath is then made from the pruned vine stick and worn on the head.  The men also made wreaths for us women (because women don’t get to prune the vines on St Trifon’s Day), but I don’t think that’s part of the tradition.  The neighbours also told us that these wreaths should be kept for a year until the next St Trifon’s Day, but we didn’t see any evidence of last year’s wreaths!

my wreath
My wreath

Traditionally, each village appoints a wine “king” after the pruning, and it’s only the wine king who wears a wreath made of the vine sticks.  They go around to all the village houses and the wine king blesses all the vineyards and wishes success for the winegrowers of the village.

Unfortunately this year our village didn’t get together for this celebration, and people were left to have their own little ‘private’ St Trifon’s Day parties.  We’re hoping that next year we’ll be able to experience the day’s traditions with the whole village.

It was a very fun ceremony, and during the pruning one of the friends recited a poem, or maybe it was a prayer, which we can only imagine was for blessing the new year’s grapes (our Bulgarian language skills are sadly still too immature to understand anything except basic conversation).

Usually, for a commercial vineyard, a priest is part of the day’s events and he will bless the wines and takes part in the pruning ritual. 

After the pruning

After each man had pruned his piece of vine, and the wreaths were made and put on heads, or around necks if they were too big, when the rakia had run out, the meat was cooked and the bread was toasted, we all headed inside, finally, to receive some warmth after standing on freezing ground for an hour or so. 

Once inside the house we all crowded around the small table to eat the feast that had been prepared, and to drink wine and celebrate together, hoping that this year’s grapes will bring us another batch of delicious homemade wine that we’ll drink with friends and neighbours next year.

And so, we are slowly being introduced to new traditions in our new home country.  I’m looking forward to the next one!

What interesting traditions do you follow in your country?  Do you have any traditions based around wine growing (or wine drinking)?  Please share them with us in the comments section below.

~ Cheryl

Shared on Natalie the Explorer Weekend Coffee Share.

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

One Swallow does not a Summer Make

I love this quote.  So before writing this post I researched the origin of it.

In its entirety, it’s this:

One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.

Aristotle (384BC – 322BC)

He might have said it one fine day in early summer, not trusting that the good weather had truly arrived and was going to stay.

But maybe not.

In any case, I love it.

My swallow tattoo

You may not know it, but back in the mid 80s when I was 19 years old, I got myself a tattoo.  I was young and rebellious, and thought that a tattoo would suit me.  So I took myself off to the tattooist and looked through his art, looking for the perfect piece.

I was a young, poor, single mother at the time, so I decided on the cheapest one in the shop.  There was no choice, I couldn’t afford anything else. 

And the cheapest one was a swallow.  I paid $20 (Australian) for it.

It looks something like this, but in colour.

It was beautiful!  So colourful!  And such a rebellious act (at the time)!  Of course these days every man and his dog have tattoos, so it’s not rebellious anymore.  I actually feel more rebellious by not having more than one tattoo, when I look at people around me who are covered in them.

Well, I don’t try to keep up with fashion, even in tattoos.  My once beautifully coloured swallow tattoo is now old and faded.  I won’t have it re-coloured to bring it back to life – I will keep it as it is, and watch it age along with me.

But over the years, this swallow has become a symbol of freedom for me.  Even if I chose it for its price, it was absolutely the right tattoo for me.  And so when people ask me what it means to me, my reply is always the same – it’s freedom. 

Legend says that for British sailors, a tattoo of a swallow was a sign of their experience.  One swallow tattoo meant he had sailed over 5000 nautical miles.  Two swallow tattoos meant over 10000 nautical miles.  Such distances were rarely achieved in the distant past, so it showed that the sailor was really an expert in his field.

Another legend says that if a sailor has a tattoo of a swallow, it will guarantee his safe return home to his family (because swallows return ‘home’ every year).

In any case, it’s a lovely and very positive tattoo to have.

Swallows in Australia

While swallows are apparently wide-spread in Australia, I don’t ever remember a time when I was able to watch them.  I don’t remember seeing them flying around or seeing their nests.  Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough.

Swallows in Bulgaria

When we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo we were looking for a flat to rent.  We found one that we liked and when we were signing the contract the owner told us that there were some swallow nests attached to the corners of the windows, and that she could remove them if we wanted to.

Of course we said no, no need to remove them.  Let’s live with nature.  Of course, there’s a mess at the bottom of the window, as the birds don’t go to the toilet in their nests, they hang their tails over the edge and let their ‘business’ drop below.  Onto our window ledge.

Never mind, we can clean it.  It’s only bird poo.

And then when we moved into this flat, we discovered the magic of these cute little birds.

swallows in the sky
Swallows on the wires and flying above our flat

Every evening as the sun started going down, they would all fly around just in front of our balcony, catching insects.  They catch their food while flying!  It’s amazing because they fly so fast, it’s incredible that they can see the insects in the air well enough to zoom in and eat them.

swallow on the nest
A swallow at the nest

So we found ourselves standing on our balcony every evening just watching the spectacle.  And they’re so cute.  They catch insects then fly up to their nests, feeding others in their families who wait inside for dinner.

swallow flying from the nest
Can you see the two swallows here?
swallow at the nest 2
swallow at the nest

Then at the end of the feast, when the sun has almost disappeared, they all go inside one last time and then it’s quiet.

2 swallows in the nest
Two together

They all seem to follow the same schedule, so almost immediately it goes from lots of swallows flying around catching dinner, to zero.

And it all starts again the following evening.

swallow in flight

And they’re not only on our windows, but there are several nests on the building across from us, too.

swallows at the window
Opposite our balcony
swallows flying
The building across from us

I found half an eggshell on our balcony, so small and fragile.  It’s amazing to think that a little bird came out of this so small and alive.

egg
The egg compared with the size of my finger

And then one day I found this feather.  See how small it is compared with my fingernail!

feather
This feather is so cute!

Occasionally during the day we could see little heads peeking out of the nests.  Maybe they were hungry, or maybe they were just talking to their neighbours.  They make cute little noises so I guess it’s their way of communicating with each other.

swallow in the nest
Can you see the little head poking out at the top of the nest?

They’ve gone now, off to Africa for the European winter.  Or maybe to southern Spain, as I found out that some of them prefer to stay in Europe.  We’ll keep their nests on the windows, hoping that our little friends will come back next April. 

And I’ve heard that to see the first swallow of the year is regarded as a good omen, so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for them next spring.

Do you have any swallows where you live?  Or maybe there’s a different kind of bird in your neighbourhood.  Let me know your bird stories in the comments below.

~ Cheryl

The Eco Trail – Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

(Just a little advanced warning.  There are photos of insects in this post.  There are NO spiders, just insects.  So if you’re afraid of strange and exotic insects, then this post may not be the best place for you.)

Most people I know would probably describe me as a city girl.  After all, I’ve just spent the past 10+ years living in Moscow, Russia, which has an official population of just under 13 million.  And every day people commute from the Moscow outer region for work, which can increase the daily, work day, population by a lot more.

I loved living in Moscow!  I loved the 24 hour life there.  Being able to go to the supermarket on your way home at any time of the night or day made life so easy.  Life in a big city can be hard for some, but for me it was a huge pleasure. 

Even the crowded Moscow metro was a thrill to ride (maybe because I wasn’t travelling in it every day to work and back at peak hour).

My early years

But, did you know that I spent some of my formative years growing up in the Australian bush?  At the age of 11 and 12 we lived on some land (50 acres if my memory serves me well) in the middle of the bush.  Our nearest neighbours were a couple of kilometres away.  I took the school bus to get to the nearest town, Gingin, to go to school (about a 20-30 minutes ride, picking up more kids along the way).

We rode horses, made cubby houses in the bush, tried not to get bitten by snakes or red-back spiders, collected and chopped wood for heating, cooking, and hot water making.  It was a kind of adventure playground for me and my brothers and sisters.

At 13 we moved to the city, but not for long.

When I was 15-16 we moved back again to the same place in the bush, after having spent the previous 2 years living in Perth (the capital city of the state of Western Australia).  Living in the isolated bush was a lot less fun at the age of 15 than it was at 11!

And, some years later, at the age of 20-22, I lived in a country town, Albany, in the south of Western Australia.  Although I lived in the town and not in the middle of the bush, as I had done as a teenager, I still had a small vegetable garden, and I had to chop wood for the only source of heat in the house – the open fire in the living room.

While I lived in Albany I often visited my grandparents, who lived in a nearby town, about 50 kms away.  They had a lot of land, with gardens, vegetables, and fruit trees, and they lived a life very conscious and respectful of nature and the world around us.

So, you can see, I have had some experience of country life, although the last 30 years of my life have more or less been city dwelling ones.

Veliko Tarnovo – Bulgaria

I told you in my last post that we’d arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, in order to start a new life, after our lives were disrupted by the dramas of 2020.  So here we are in a reasonably small town (compared to Moscow!) with a population of just under 70 000. 

The centre of Veliko Tarnovo

In VT (as it’s known as) there are shops, restaurants and cafes, bars, estate agents, mobile phone shops, and all the other kinds of businesses that you’d imagine to be in a town of this size.  So living here is pretty convenient, even if it’s not a 24 hour big city we can get what we need most of the time – just not at 3am.

And I’m happy to be living so close to so much nature!  All around us are tree covered hills and it’s amazing to see this when we’re standing on a piece of high ground somewhere in the town.

View of the hills from near our street

But I wasn’t ready for my reaction the other day when we took a walk down a path just a few minutes from our home.

The Eco Trail

We’ve made a couple of new friends here (they’re Bulgarian), and they live in our street, so they know all about the local area. Last week they told us about a nearby trail that leads to a waterfall. 

This week Olivier and I decided to find it.  So off we went down the street until we found a rocky trail leading into bushes and trees.

At first it started out as gardens. No houses, just gardens with wire fences around them.  There were about 5 or 6 gardens and they were all different.  Some of them were well looked after, others not so well.

garden
Tomatoes and peppers growing in one of the gardens

In one garden was an old man sitting by himself on a chair under a tree, with a bottle of beer on the small table next to him, listening to very loud opera.  His bicycle was leaning against the fence, waiting for him to finish in his garden and head home again. 

We didn’t disturb him but I’d really love to find out what his story is.

gate
A gate leading to one of the gardens

As we continued along the trail, nature changed a bit.  In some places it was quite dry, in others it was wet and almost muddy.

trail 2
This part of the trail was cool and the air was humid
desert
And then it turned into this, almost like a desert in comparison

We crossed a small stream at one point.  And we also came across this water ‘trough’ – I don’t know what else to call it.  The water coming from the pipe was so cold and had no smell, so I guess it’s really pure.

water trough
water pipe

There was a picnic table right next to this water supply.

picnic area

The smell in the air was amazing!  It reminded me of the smells at my grandparents’ place.  Just nature – earth, leaves, water, wood.  I couldn’t stop taking in deep breaths just to get it into my lungs, I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to leave.

Just keep walking

We walked and walked, and along the way we came across so many wonderful living things!   Not only plants (berries, roses, and other wonderful green things) but animals, like insects I’ve never seen before, and many different coloured butterflies. 

I was really like a child in wonder at the world.  It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so good, I really felt emotional looking around me at everything and breathing in the fresh air. 

After walking for about an hour, we came across some guys on motorbikes.  We had heard them earlier, and we finally saw them as they came towards us on the trail.

view
See the hills through the trees

At that point the trail had started going down the hill, so we decided that we should turn around and go back the way we came, because going down always means going up again (and I’d prefer not to walk up the hill!).

So we let the motorbikes pass us, and we turned around and headed back towards home. 

cliff
A cliff in the distance

The waterfall

On the way we’d noticed a small path that deviated to the left, and we decided to take it on the way back.  And it was a good idea, because here was the waterfall we’d been told about.

It was a lot smaller than we expected, but it was beautiful.

water fall

There was a small wooden bridge that looked like it might have been strong enough to walk across, but we didn’t take the risk.  Maybe next time.

bridge

And the other beautiful thing was that there’s a picnic table right there near the waterfall, and there were two young girls (teenagers) sitting there, with a lot of food, with two dogs, just talking to each other, enjoying the weather and the beautiful location.

And not a mobile phone in sight.

The critters

Here’s a sample of the wildlife we came across during our walk on the eco trail. 

This snail was huge!  I’ve never seen a snail this big in real life before.  I put my pen down next to him to show you his size.  I looked around but I didn’t see any of his family or friends, he was completely alone.  We left him on the trail, and I hope that the motorbikes didn’t run over him.

snail

I don’t know what this insect is, but he was very intimidating!  Estimated length including the head (not including the antennae) is about 4cm. 

bug

Then there was this beautiful creature on the trail, which I think is a ‘mint beetle’ (someone please tell me if I’m wrong!).

green beetle
A mint beetle digging on the trail

And these two look like ladybirds without spots. It looks like they’re reproducing, which is a very good sign for the future of the world!

ladybirds

And some other random insects, who coincidentally are both black and orange.

black orange bug
Black and orange stripes
orange bug
An orange and black insect with strange markings

And some lizards enjoying life on a rock.

lizard
Lizards sunning on a rock

The plants

I’m not really an expert with names of plants, especially when I’m in a country that has plants that I’ve never seen before.  So I’ll just leave these here for you to enjoy.  If anyone wants to let me know what they’re called I’ll update the photo with their names.

red flower
An unusual plant
white flowers
Beautiful white and grey flowers
blackberry
Wild blackberries
orange cape gooseberry
An orange Cape Gooseberry growing in the wild

And some orange/yellow lichen for you.

lichen
Brightly coloured lichen

So that was our two hour walk on the eco trail this week.  As you can see, I really enjoyed it!

Actually, it was more than enjoyment.  It was like nature touched my soul again for the first time in a long time.

I’m sure we’ll be taking this trail again and again in the future, as long as we live in this street.

Do you have any beautiful walking trails where you live?  What emotions do you get when you’re surrounded by nature? 

~ Cheryl