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.

Emergency Gloves, and other Knitting Stories

I’ve been able to knit for as long as I can remember.  I was lucky enough to learn to knit at a very young age.  I also learnt to crochet.  And a bit later I learnt to sew, by hand and on a sewing machine.

As a child I loved all of these activities.  I did them on and off, depending on my age and what other interests I had at the time. 

At one time I remember making a lot of small squares for a crocheted rug but I’m not sure if I ever sewed them all together to actually make the end product!

My first success

When I was about 12 years old someone gave me some real wool on a cone which I thought was amazingly exotic!  I’d only ever had cheap synthetic stuff before that.  This wool was a kind of boring beige colour, but nevertheless I decided it would be great as a scarf.  I made it into a very, very long scarf.

In fact, the only reason it wasn’t longer than it was is because I got to the end of the wool and was left with a bare cone.  Otherwise I think it would have been even longer.  As it was it was probably at least a couple of metres long.

And I thought I was very, very cool when I wore my scarf to school!  I was so proud to tell everyone that I made it myself.

I’d even made a fringe to go at each end.  It was the end of the 70s and it really was a great fashion statement back then (for an 11 year old!).

I didn’t always knit a lot over the years.  I was often busy with life as a young, single, working mum, and I had other things to do that were a little more energetic than knitting. 

But I do remember that I knitted myself a jumper once. It was black with big stripy bands of bright colours going around it.  I was about 20 years old and I stayed up nights to make it.  I’d only ever knitted scarves before that, so it was the first ‘grown up’ thing I’d knitted.

Knitting in Paris – the ‘Cache Nez’

Fast forward a lot of years and I found myself living in Paris.  I was there as a tourist, so I had no job to keep me busy. 

A friend showed us something that his grandmother had made for his grandfather when they were young and rode motorcycles.  In French it’s called a ‘cache nez’ (this would translate into something like a ‘nose hider’ in English, although I think they’re actually called ‘neck gaiters’). 

But it was a little different to what people use today.  It had a bib, which was joined onto the neck part, and was made for protecting the chest from the cold while riding a motorcycle. 

Back in the days when the grandmother made it, there weren’t any warm synthetic clothes especially for motorcyclists like there are nowadays, and there weren’t zips either.  They needed all the help they could get to block their chests from the cold wind as they rode.  The cache nez, with the bib, was great protection for them.

As I had nothing much to do with my days (I’d been to Paris a lot by then and wasn’t interested in doing typical ‘tourist’ things. Plus, I didn’t have any money!), I decided to make some cache nez for my French friends.  They all rode either scooters or motorcycles, and it can get pretty cold in Paris when you’re on a bike.

So, I started knitting cache nez.  I made a special ‘Spiderman’ version for Olivier (as he’s a fan and collector of Spiderman things).  I lined the back of the bib with black satin, which added another small layer of warmth.

I made quite a few different ones for friends.  One with a pig, one with a big ‘S’ like Superman, and some other fun designs.

And I made some for Olivier’s family who used them not for motorcycles, but for when they went skiing!

And then came fingerless gloves

I really enjoyed knitting so I started to look for other things to make. After searching online I found some patterns for ‘cut-off’ fingerless gloves so I made some of them.  I gave most of them away because I had no need for them all, I just enjoyed making them!

paris knitted gloves
Fingerless gloves I made in Paris

And then I was asked to make some little jumpers for some dogs.  I made about 3 of them with different designs, but unfortunately I didn’t think to take any photos of them.

I spent a few months doing not much else besides knitting, and I really enjoyed it.  But like all good things, it had to end because I eventually left Paris and onto other adventures in Moscow.

Knitting in Moscow

In Moscow I made some more cache nez for Olivier, but without the bib. He didn’t ride bikes in Moscow and although it was cold he didn’t really have a need for extra chest protection.  He did, however, bring his Spiderman cache nez with him and wore it on the coldest days.

A year or so before I left Moscow, I decided to try knitting for profit, and made some fingerless gloves for sale.  I had so much fun shopping for wool!  I bought so many different colours and types of yarn, and enjoyed all the different patterns they made as I knitted the gloves.

Here are some of them:

Well, I didn’t sell anything, but I did make a lot of friends happy when I gave them my gloves just before leaving Russia last year!

Knitting in Bulgaria

When we arrived in Bulgaria, I decided to make some more fingerless gloves because I knew that it would start to get cold, and this time I made them for Olivier and me.

So I bought knitting needles and wool, and got started all over again.  And then something amazing happened.

We were having a drink with some new friends, and one of them saw my gloves and asked me to make some for her.  Then her mum said that she wanted some too.

I was thrilled and got onto it straightaway!

Baby clothes

However, it wasn’t going to end there.  After giving her the gloves, my new friend asked if I could make some baby clothes and a blanket for one of her friends!  What a great challenge – I’d never knitted baby clothes before.  She sent me some pictures of what she had in mind, and after confirming the colours with her I got started.

And this is the result of the very first baby clothes and blanket that I ever made!

baby clothes

But then she asked me to make the same again, in different colours, for another of her friends who was also having a baby! 

baby clothes
The second baby clothes and blanket

And then there were winter hats to make, some cache nez (without the bib), and more fingerless gloves were ordered!

winter collection
A complete set – gloves, hat and cache nez

I was knitting for hours every day and it was such a pleasure!  I’m always relaxed when I knit, as long as I’m not being disturbed when I’m trying to count, or when I’m working on a complicated pattern.

I’m quite proud to say that she loved what I made and so did her friends who were on the receiving end of these hand-knitted things.

Crocheted dog hats!

And then, I was asked to make a beret for a dog!  I’d never seen a woollen hat for a dog, so I looked it up online and didn’t really know what to think!

After some hesitation I managed to make a couple of hats for a dog.  I didn’t really know the exact size of the dog, but the ones I made are pretty stretchy so I’m hoping that they ended up ok (the dog and the owner of the dog are in another country).

A couple of months ago friend of mine in Denmark offered to send me some of her wool because she said that she has so much of it she could open a shop!  This friend is someone I’ve never met, but she reached out to me online while Olivier and I were locked down and stuck in Bucharest, as I had mentioned in a Facebook group for expats that I was feeling a bit lost and alone and needed a bit of support.  (Big thanks to Kay Cee!)

We’ve kept in touch since then, and when I showed her photos of my knitting she made the offer to send me some wool.   As soon as I received the package I made myself this winter hat.

winter hat

Emergency gloves

Which brings me back to emergency gloves.  What are emergency gloves?  Well, let me explain.

When I lived in Russia I always had several pairs of gloves.  Some really warm thick ones for the dead of winter.  Some less thick ones for normal winter days.  Some mittens because I think they are warmer than gloves.  Some really thin ones to wear under my mittens or other gloves because my fingers are always cold.  Old ones and new ones.  Ones to wear to work and ones just for out walking.  If you live in a cold country you’ll probably be the same – you can never have too many pairs of gloves. 

Plus, I was always losing them, so it was necessary to have spares at home just in case.

When we left Moscow in March last year, we had planned to spend 6 months or more in Asia and Australia, so as we were packing we left all our winter clothes behind and took only summer clothes with us.  I was dreaming of tropical weather in shorts, tshirts, and dresses.

As you probably know, things turned out differently, and after arriving in a very hot Bulgaria at the end of July, things changed pretty suddenly as summer turned into autumn, and autumn turned into winter.

It got cold!  We had to buy winter clothes all over again. We had nothing suitable for the cold weather!

So back in October or November, we were at a market, and I bought one pair of black knitted gloves.  Just your standard, basic, machine knitted gloves that you see everywhere. 

I wore them all winter.  They were just warm enough, although on some of the colder days I would have been happier with a thicker pair.  But they were mostly fine.

It’s now March, and although we’re getting some warm and sunny days now, I’m still wearing gloves from time to time because it can still be a bit cold.

Last week we had to take a bus to Veliko Tarnovo because our car was at the mechanics there and we had to go and pick it up.  We never usually travel between villages by bus because we have a car. 

It was quite cold and I was wearing my new blue winter hat, and my black gloves.

So we took the bus and as it was the first time we didn’t really know where to get off.  When we got to the next town, the bus stopped to let someone on, so we made a split second decision that we would get off right there.  I jumped up, holding onto my winter hat, and ran out of the bus.

Unfortunately I wasn’t holding onto my gloves.  They’d been on my lap.  When I stood up they probably fell to the floor. 

I’d lost my only pair of gloves.  And it was still cold.  And I hate shopping.

So, I decided to make myself some emergency gloves.  Gloves that I will need to wear only for another few weeks, and not even every day.  Gloves that will fill the little gap between now and when gloves are no longer needed – probably only a few weeks, if that.

I looked online for some patterns and decided that mittens would be much easier to make than gloves (no fiddling around trying to make the fingers).  I found a pattern that I liked, checked that I had the right sized needles, and grabbed the wool that matches my winter hat, and made the emergency gloves/mittens.

They were so easy to make (and I love knitting so much) that I got some of my odd wool that was left over from other projects and made a second pair of emergency gloves.

Just in case I lose the first emergency pair.

Do you have any knitting stories you’d like to share?  Or maybe you’re more into crochet?  Feel free to put links to any great knitting projects in the comments!

~ Cheryl

Shared on Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share

Rubbish Bins

Do you ever think about rubbish bins?  Probably not.  Or at least, not many of you do.  After all, they’re just an everyday item that we use without a second thought.

Household bins – a bit of history

Can you remember your first household bin? 

metal bins
Did your bins look like these ones?

You might have had a metal can with a lid that you put your rubbish/rubbish bags in.  Early in the morning on ‘rubbish day’, or the night before, you put your metal bin at the curb.  A little later in the morning the rubbish truck came and the rubbish man (as we call them, affectionately, in Australia) picked it up, hoisted it over his shoulder, walked to the back of the truck, and threw the contents into the truck.  And then he returned your bin – and the lid – as accurately as time allowed, to where he picked it up from. Then he went on his way, to empty your neighbour’s bin, and so on down the street. 

There were often 2 rubbish men for each truck, or sometimes 3, to do both sides of the road, and one driver.

wheelie bins
Wheelie bins

Then in the late 1980s, at least in Australia, came the wheelie bin.  You know the ones. Big green ones with a hinged lid.  You put it at the side of the road on rubbish day.  Not on the road itself, but exactly 1 metre (or something) back from the curb, and the truck comes along and automatically lifts it up with a big robotic arm and dumps your rubbish into the truck. 

No rubbish man required, only one driver.  Or sometimes a second man to assist if some rebel resident hasn’t put his bin at the right place for the lifting arm to take the bin.  In that case someone has to put the bin straight before it can be emptied.

But there are more than just our household rubbish bins.  There are kitchen bins, railway station bins, bins in parks, in the streets, in the office, the locations and types of bins are endless!

If you’ve been a reader of Born in a Car for a while, you’ll know that I take photos of strange things when I travel.  A good example of this is my post about public toilets.  I’m not a typical holiday photographer as you can see.

So, as you would expect, I have photos of bins.  Not only from my various holidays, but also from where I live.  So we’re going to take a look at some of my favourite bins.

First let’s look at some of the recycling bins I’ve come across. 

Recycling bins

Recycling bins could be a whole post on their own! For that reason I’m going to just mention a few of them that I’ve seen that have impressed me – if a recycling bin can impress, that is!

Germany is a country which has embraced recycling probably like no other country in the world! There are recycling bins everywhere!

These bins above are in Munich, and there are not only bins for paper and plastic, there are also bins for glass, as you would expect. But here you’re required to separate your glass into colours – separate bins for green glass, brown glass and white glass! So organised!

The next photo is also from Germany, in Cologne. But this time it’s not a street bin, it’s a bin in an AirBnb apartment we stayed in some years ago. This kitchen bin has different sections – one for general rubbish, and one for metal, plastic and cardboard containers. Then under this bin was another bin for paper.

kitchen recycling bins
Household recycling bins

Such a good idea to have everything sorted before it goes outside to be collected.

The next bin was seen in an office conference room where I was teaching. But it wasn’t in Germany, it was in Russia! It’s always exciting to find recycling bins in Russia because when I first arrived there back in 2007, and for some years after that, there wasn’t a recycling bin to be seen anywhere.

This bin has 3 sections – one for plastic, one for paper, and one for general rubbish. A great idea for our corporate world!

There are now also recycling bins in the streets of Moscow, and in some parks. As I said above, these just didn’t exist a mere 10 years ago.

recycling bins moscow
These gorgeous bins are for plastic and glass
coloured recycling bins
And these ones on a train platform in Moscow
nizhny novgorod recycling bins
These were the first recycling bins I ever saw in Russia. They’re in the railway station in the town of Nizhny Novgorod

Street bins

Before I show you our bins in Bulgaria, I’m going to treat you to some very interesting and sometimes beautiful street bins that I’ve seen in my travels and at home. So let’s begin with Russia.

This one is held together by some scotch tape – but it’s still functional.

street bin 1

Does it matter if it’s not square?

street bin 2

I tend to take a lot of photos of bins with snow on them! This yellow one’s quite interesting, don’t you think?

street bin 3

And using the snow to extinguish your cigarette butts.

street bin 4

Not snow, but ice!

street bin 5

The idea here was a bin that resembled a cannon – do you think they succeeded?

street bin 6

Coloured bins are always fun!

street bin 7

A fire hydrant bin.

street bin 8

This bin is in a small park in Moscow, isn’t it beautiful?

street bin 9

Another beautiful old street bin.

street bin 10

And why not paint it blue?

street bin 11

Or green?

street bin 12

A very ornate metal street bin.

street bin 13

And this one is attached to the metal street pole – it swings which makes it easy to empty.

street bin 14

This bin was fixed to the footpath, so it was impossible to move it to a more convenient location. Pedestrians have to walk around it.

street bin 15

Here’s a couple of street bins in Berlin, Germany. How cute is this!

butler bin
A butler bin!

And this one below translates to “the brave little bucket” (any Germans please correct me if this isn’t right!).

berlin bin

Bins for households and apartments

When you live in a flat/apartment, or sometimes even a house, your bin is a communal one. These can also come in different shapes and sizes.

Take a look at this one in Beijing, China. Here you take your household rubbish and put it in these bigger street bins to be taken away. There’s no individual rubbish service, it’s for all the street or neighbourhood.

beijing bin
A Beijing bin for household rubbish

In one of the flats we lived in, there was a chute for rubbish. I remember when I was a little girl in Australia we lived in a flat for a while and we also had one of these.

They’re great because you don’t have to go downstairs in the cold to take out the rubbish, just step outside your front door and open the chute and your rubbish disappears in seconds.

rubbish chute
The rubbish chute

And here’s a more common sight for rubbish removal in Moscow. It’s 2 or 3 large bins, or skips, in a communal area in a little ‘house’ or ‘shed’. this is where you bring your rubbish bags. Then a truck comes along once a day and takes your rubbish away.

This one was full because it was New Year’s Day.

overflowing rubbish
An overflowing communal bin in Moscow

And sometimes you find the most unexpected things in the rubbish!

rubbish president
The ex-Russian Federation president, Medvedev, in the bin

And the bins are painted every spring!

painting the bins

As you may know, we spent 4 months in Bucharest in 2020. For approximately 3 of those months we stayed in one AirBnb which was an apartment in a residential area. It took us a while to find the bin.

Can you see it?

bucharest bin
Our Bucharest bin

Yes, it’s through the hole in the white door. The door’s locked, so if you accidentally throw away something you shouldn’t have, bad luck!

And these bins below were in a Russian town, on the outskirts, so it was almost like a village.

russian bins

Bins in Bulgaria

Finally, I’m going to show you some rubbish bins that I’ve come across in Bulgaria. I haven’t seen much of Bulgaria yet, so there may be other bins around. Here are some that caught my eye.

The very first photo in this post is of bins in the old town on Veliko Tarnovo. VT is where we stayed for the first months in Bulgaria, while we were preparing to buy a house.

It’s true that these household bins look a lot like the ones we had in Australia 40 and more years ago. Here’s some more from the old town in VT.

metal rubbish bins vt
The old metal bins
coloured bins vt
Some of them have been painted – so nice to see them in the street

But the most common bin in Veliko Tarnovo, and I think in Bulgarian villages, are these ones.

street bin vt

They’re communal bins, but not in a parking area or common area, but in the street. Depending on where your house or flat is located, you may have a bit of a walk down the street before you get to the bin.

There’s a little place marked out for the bins, often encroaching onto the footpath. But the bins aren’t always in their ‘correct’ place, as you can see below.

misplaced bin
Someone hasn’t put the bin back in its place
two bins
These two bins are back in their correct place

And lastly, I want to tell you how great it is to have a rubbish bin just outside your front gate. It’s really not far for us to take our rubbish out at our new village house. The rubbish bin is just across the road.

dobri dyal rubbish bin
Our Lada and the white wall of our house, and the rubbish bin just across the road

What about your rubbish bin situation – do you have a really efficient and close rubbish removal, or do you have to take a long walk to get rid of your waste? Tell me all your rubbish bin stories below!

~ Cheryl

Shared on Natalie the Explorer blog Coffee Share #3

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

I don’t do Christmas

That’s right – I don’t do Christmas.

But before you start feeling sorry for me, let me tell you that it’s not in a ‘bah humbug’ kind of way.  And I haven’t always been like this so let me explain why I don’t do Christmas.

Childhood Christmas

Of course, when I was a child, growing up in our family, we celebrated Christmas every year in Australia.

karen and i with father christmas
My sister and I (I’m the little one) in our obligatory annual Christmas photo

That meant lunches and dinners with extended family on the 25th and 26th December, a Christmas tree heavily decorated with both bought and homemade decorations, Christmas carols, Christmas parties, Christmas presents – well, you know what I mean.  They were absolutely normal, traditional, Australian Christmases.  And being Australian I even remember one year we had Christmas on the beach when my daughter was little.

So, I’m from a culture where Christmas is celebrated by almost everyone in the community.

And when I had my daughter we continued these traditions and had some very wonderful Christmases together with family and friends.

And there were presents. Lots of presents.  I think I tried to over-compensate for something because my daughter was thoroughly spoilt at Christmas time.  Every single time.

The presents under the tree every year formed a small mountain.  And as she was an only child, almost all of those presents were for her.

I’m sure she was happy about that.

Then she grew up and left home, so my Christmases became a little more low-key.  We still sometimes had lunches or dinners on Christmas day, and exchanged presents, but living without a child in the house was completely different.  I just didn’t feel the need to have a Christmas tree or decorations in the house.

Heading abroad to a new culture

I left Australia just a couple of days after Christmas, in 2006.  I don’t really remember much about that Christmas.  I was staying with my sister at the time and maybe she had a tree and maybe we exchanged presents (she had young children at the time), but I don’t really remember.

And if you know my story, you’ll know that I left Australia to go to live in Moscow, Russia.  And I arrived in Russia in January.

christmas in moscow
Moscow New Year celebrations – 15th December 2007

So, because I arrived in Russian in January, I had to wait almost a whole year to experience the fabulous ‘white Christmas’ that those of us who grow up in hot countries can only dream about.

The year passed, and during that time I learnt that Russians don’t celebrate our ‘western’ Christmas.  They celebrate Orthodox Christmas on 7th January – and it’s very low-key.

Their biggest party is New Year’s Eve.  That’s when it all happens.

New Year in Russia

They have New Year trees as you’ve probably seen in my post from a couple of years ago.  They give presents at New Year.  They have parties, drinking, fireworks, and everyone’s ready to be happy and celebrate together.

It’s a bit like ‘our’ Christmas, but just a little bit later. 

I must say, though, that the commercialism I see in Australia, and that I participated in by buying my daughter mountains of presents every year, doesn’t really exist in Russia.

new year moscow
Moscow 28th December 2019

Sure, they give presents in Russia, but from what I saw while I was there, people don’t go crazy in the shops before New Year.  There were not hordes of people in the shopping centres, filling up their trolleys with enormous amounts of presents and food.  It was quite low-key compared to what I used to see in Australia.

I don’t remember if my first 25th December in Russia was a white Christmas or not.  It was a working day so I was at work teaching.  We probably had a Christmas themed lesson, as we did these every year with our students.

Over the years in Russia, the 25th December Christmas became further and further from my life, and even though other foreign teachers in my school celebrated, I never did.  No tree.  No carols. And no presents.

Getting married didn’t change things

And then after a couple of years in Moscow I got married to Olivier.  And even though he’s French and not Russian, he also wasn’t really too interested in Christmas.  We’ve never exchanged presents at Christmas, not even the first one we spent together.

Living in Russia together for 10 years also meant that the traditional western Christmas was never really on our radar – it passed us by while we were concentrating on our jobs in the build-up to our New Year holiday plans.

moscow new year tree
New Year lights in Moscow stay up for a long time – 20th February 2020

Christmas in Bulgaria

And now, we live in Bulgaria.  It’s not Christmas yet, but from what I’ve heard, they celebrate on 25th December, just like we do in Australia.  There’s already plenty of Christmas decorations up in the town, in the streets, in people’s windows, and in the shops.

I’m not sure what we’re going to be doing on 25th December this year.  We may get together with some friends, either Bulgarian or foreigners, and have a little party – the first Christmas party I will experience in many, many years.

So, I’m not a ‘bah humbug I don’t do Christmas’ type of person, I’m a ‘my life has led me away from this holiday’ person, but it looks like things just might change this year.

The photo below was taken in the entrance of the building we currently live in. The tree is just about the right size for me.

tree in flat building
A very small Christmas tree

What about you?  Do you have big celebrations at Christmas time with lots of presents, or is your Christmas more low-key?  Or maybe you celebrate an Orthodox Christmas in January?  Let me know your Christmas plans in the comments below.

~ Cheryl