Some like it hot, Part 2

When we tried to order some more firewood from the builders’ merchant in Dragoman, they said there was a problem: they have too many customers. Oh dear! I do feel sorry for them. This meant that we had to drive to Slivnitsa to order the wood. This morning we went into the Secret Garden, as usual, and collected the walnuts. There were more than usual, as it was quite cold during the night and that meant that more nuts split their green shells and had fallen down onto the grass. After breakfast we cleared what was left of the old firewood from under the concrete steps. Some of that wood is destined for the Einhell, as I can probably cut it up and it can be used in our woodburners, either the cooking stove in the kitchen or the smaller one in the sitting room. Some of it is just too big to cut up with the Einhell and I do not have a large and powerful chainsaw. Another problem was that some of it was rotten, so it all had to go to the Secret Garden to be burned. Yes, it is a bit wasteful,…

Messing About in Boats, Part 2

I finally managed to persuade Irena to take a day off and to go somewhere more interesting than IKEA. She had been somewhat less than enthusiastic when I told her that I had bought the Itiwit kayak, but she was a bit more positive when we arrived at Lake Iskar. The lake is just south of Sofia's dreadful ring road and really it is a reservoir. Sofiots flock there at the weekends to go fishing, picnicking and they even get out onto the water.
The Itwit inflatable kayak really is well-designed and it takes about six or seven minutes to get it ready for the water. (No, this blog is definitely NOT sponsored by Itiwit or Decathlon, just in case you were wondering!) The double-action pump works really well and you do not need any special knowledge or expertise. How you get from the land into the kayak is a bit awkward and you might just have to resign yourself to getting a bit wet and / or muddy.
The bad news about paddling is that if you keep changing sides, first on the right and then on…

Boxes and Nuts

If you have been dutifully reading my blog, then you will know that one of the most annoying, frustrating and time-wasting activities is trying to arrange an international bank transfer in a Chinese bank. Slightly less irritating and exasperating is to visit the office of the Bulgarian electricity company in Sofia. In some ways it was a bit like our endless visits to the Microwave Woman. Yes, you have to wait a lot. And then some more. Finally, when my number came up, it was my turn to talk to the lady at the desk, but my wife had not arrived yet and she had all of the important bits of paper. So I had to take another number and start waiting all over again. Then my dear Irisha duly arrived and our number came up, so we went to talk to the lady at the desk. She told us that we were in the wrong queue. 

After getting our third number and doing some more waiting, we spoke to another lady behind another desk and she was fairly positive. Yes, it would be possible for the box that has our …

Some like it hot, Part 1

It's done. Yes, it is finally finished, complete and done, but maybe not yet dusted properly. (In fact, my dear sweet wife had one or two sharp things to say about the dusting – or the lack of it - when she returned home from the Crimea today.)
The new central heating system is something that we have been talking about, planning and intending to get done and now it is actually done. So all we need to do now is to work out how to switch it on. Of course, it does not help that the instruction manual is in Bulgarian and there is no electrical socket next to the main boiler. The control panel is really a little computer and you can understand what it tells you if you have a PhD in Computer Science. In Bulgarian.

The engineer chap who came yesterday, to give the system its final adjustments, tweaks and fiddling, did not speak much English, but he did get it all working and boy, it was hot! The flames were pretty and the electric fan certainly does its job, making those wood pellets burn …

Missing You, Part 3

Every summer since we were married, Irena has gone home to the Crimea for a month, to see all of her family and friends. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Hmm. Well, she simply must go to see her parents and friends every year. I cannot argue with that. Both Mamulichka and Papulichka are rather elderly and not in the best of health. Irisha’s visit is in many ways the high point of their year, something for them to look forward to.

There is, however, a more practical reason for Ira’s visit and that is that we do give some financial help to Mamulichka, as pensions in Russia are a bit of a joke (about 80 euros a month). Mamulichka has her datcha and her chickens, so in many ways she is a bit better off than many old people in the Crimea.
There is, nonetheless, one little drawback to Irisha’s yearly trips home: I miss her terribly. Yes, this summer I have had Peter and John, two old friends over from the UK, to stay for a while. We have had a good time, going kayaking on Lake Iskar, as w…

Monky Business

The Rila Monastery is the No. 1 tourist hotspot in all of Bulgaria. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and, like quite a few places in Bulgaria, it has been almost completely destroyed several times. When it was last rebuilt, in 1833, one wonders whether the reconstruction was the result of the people’s pious devotion to the Christian faith or an expression of the resurgent Bulgarian national spirit that was leading to the country’s final liberation from the Turks.
Rila Monastery is about two hours’ drive south of Sofia, on the main road that leads from Sofia to Greece. As with most things that have been recently repaired in Bulgaria, EU funds have been used to upgrade the road, so driving the main highway south of Sofia is a pleasure. Then things get a bit narrow and twisty and dramatic once you leave the main road and turn off for Rila, heading up into the mountains. Lunch was at a very good (and reasonably priced) restaurant in the village of Rila. Shkembe Chorba was the soup and the…

A Letter to Adam

Dear Adam,
It was good to hear that you have finally arrived in Shenzhen. I am assuming that all of the hassles of the medicals and the work visa have finally been worth it! If you have been reading my blog, then you will be prepared for the delays and the frustrations of China Merchant Bank.
I left behind quite a lot of my own teaching resources in my classroom. Please feel free to use them, as they are now yours. I also gave a lot of bits and pieces to Francis, as he was teaching Year 5 last year. He might lend you one or two useful things, if you were to ask him. During the holidays, the cleaners invade the GOS classrooms and move everything, so that you can never find anything at the beginning of the new semester and your computer will probably not work for the first couple of weeks.
The curriculum for Year 5 (you are teaching Year 5, aren’t you?) is pretty much sorted out and the planning should all be there, in considerable detail. However, one of the annoying things about Green Oa…