Dave the motorhome’s in a cheeky free camp car park spot (N43.69520 E25.98712) in the Rusenski Lom Nature Park, surrounded by greenery, the singing of birds and, importantly, rock! About 38m above us is the Ivanovo Rock Monastery, on the UNESCO list, more about that later.
Camping VT (as the local British expats call it, and there are a fair few of them), has only been going for about five years. Nick and Nicky, who own and run the site, made a decision not to make a re-entrance into the UK rat race after their year out but instead to depart from their careers into something totally different. Before we left the site today they spared us a bit of time for a chat. I say ‘spared a bit of time’ as they’re clearly driven folks, constantly on the go. They explained how they’d bought the agricultural land (at €1 a square meter!) with no guarantee of getting planning permission.
Over the course of 14 months they built up the designs and successfully got permission for the go-ahead. Even then they carefully staged the build, getting the house in place before the ablution block and then the swimming pool, never entirely sure they were doing the right thing. I told them how impressed I was with their bravery and sheer hard work, I’m not sure they appreciated how much I meant it. Nick told us how the wood for heating’s delivered in meter lengths, which have to be chain-sawed up and then split. That job alone takes four days. I asked what they did over the winter, and the answer was pretty much ‘work’, paperwork, any jobs which could be done on the site, updating the website, you name it.
I asked how business is doing. Even with a treacle-slow recovery from recession slowing Europe to a crawl they’re seeing an increase in business, including tour groups of motorhomes which flesh out the place from time to time. The locals seem to love them too, an old lady I met in town who attempted to communicate with me in Bulgarian dug deep for English words: ‘Nicky, camping?’ as she pointed down the road, smiling and shaking her head as a ‘yes’, a confusing approval. They’ve even set up a monthly car boot sale on the last Sunday of each month, something new to the Bulgarians, and which people come from as far away as the Black Sea to take part in. A fair few expat Brits use it to trade much-missed food stuffs brought back from trips home.
Some folks use it to sell up too, having decided that Bulgaria’s not for them. They told us how some folks get a wee bit carried away (something we can appreciate!) and buy a house on eBay, with never having seen it. When they arrive in country, they are sometimes in for a shock. One guy spent a few thousand quid on the town’s old pumping station, which didn’t quite match up with the photo’s he’d seen of a rather nice house. Nick and Nicky’s advice was common sense: come to Bulgaria and spend time looking around, talking to expats, not rushing into anything. As Paul and Christine had told us, the idea of renting for 6 months at rock-bottom rates seems a great idea, one for us to mull over.
Nick’s a muscle-bound fella, and has such strong hands he could dig trenches faster than a JCB (just kidding, but I bet he could). After a wary handshake with him and kisses with Nicky we repeated the scene with Marius and Joan. This was the best part of the campsite for me. The facilities, food, beer etc are all great and good value, but the welcoming nature of the people made the place special.
Before we left, Nicky had also given us some advice how to resolve a small problem we have. My sandals, after a serious amount of scrabbling about Europe and bits of Africa, have died:
We headed down to the town Nicky suggested and found the shoe shop, not much I fancied though so we cruised on the Kaufland. Lidl prices (ish) but with a MASSIVE choice of stuff, we shopped ’till we dropped (which means I shopped for 5 minutes then got bored and went to look at the beer). They even had sandals in there, €10 and my size (Nicky had warned us that Bulgarian blokes tend to have smaller feet, maybe that’s why all the big sizes were left?). The only problem with the place was the pace the checkout lady threw stuff at us. We’re used to the ‘machine gun’ flinging of foodstuffs at Lidl, a tiny adrenalin rush. Nothing doing at Kaufland, loads of open checkouts, it was like being back at ASDA.
From there we headed north, with a vague plan to either head to a monastery, or head to Romania. The by-now usual array of stuff presented itself through Dave’s re-fly splattered windscreen. Horse drawn carts, deflatingly-drab blocks of grey flats, folks gathered around a lorry as it dumped waste for them to root through, adverts for beer and cigarettes. Bulgaria’s poor. An article on the BBC gave the results of a survey taken here and in Romania recently trying to figure out whether the freeing up of labour movement restrictions in Jan 2014 will see a flood of folks heading to the UK for work. The answer was basically no, not unless folks have a confirmed job offer first. Sitting here, that’s a no-brainer. Your hard-won Bulgarian Lev would disappear in a puff at UK rates.
A few piccies taken from the cab today:
Seeing these places so run down, I find it very hard to separate the aesthetics from my sense of safety. Same problem in Morocco and Tunisia. From our experience though, there is a disjoint. People in poorer districts and countries turn out to be far more friendly and welcoming than, say, the suburbs of Lisbon where baying guard dogs attempt to chew through barbed-wire topped walls surrounding paranoid owner’s villas, intent on eating you.
As we headed towards our intended overnight spot Ju spotted a worn road sign: Church of Rock, with a faded UNESCO symbol beside it. Neither of us are much the Guns ‘n’ Roses fans, but hey, given the chance of visiting the Church of Rock, we were quickly persuaded and spun Dave about on some gravel, thrusting hands forwards, ‘let’s Rock!’. Yeah, well, it turns out the Church of Rock here’s a serious over-sell. The photo on the board at the bottom of the steps up looks like this:
In reality it’s tiny, the frescos are faded, worn and scratched with graffiti and, grrr, you can’t take photos. At 4 Lev (€2) it hardly broke the bank, but Ju was a bit smug she’d refused to pay up to go in. If you come this way, the walk around the rocks is an easy and pleasant way to see the landscape, without paying to see inside the church. On the other hand if you plan to stay the night and want to ease your conscience, it’s only €2… Some pics from the walk.
We’re all set for a good kip and a bit of Romania planning. Ju tells me the blood alcohol level for driving in Romania is 0%, and I’ve just bought half of Kafland’s supply of lager. Hmmmm. Last photo from today, tomorrow we head to Romania, huzzah!