A Weekend in Kalotina

The weather forecast said that it was going to be warm and sunny. The Nissan garage had finally (finally!) fixed the problem with the powered steering, so we decided to have a weekend away from Sofia and go to Kalotina. There was an extra reason for going: Ira needed her old passports in order to apply for her Russian visa.

We left at a reasonable hour on Saturday morning, so the traffic on the ring road was not a problem. It was sunny and pleasant spring weather as we drove to our villa in Kalotina. Yes, the house was still there and the dogs in the village were pleased to see us. When I went up into the loft to check, there was no sound of buzzing and nothing flying about, so perhaps the fumigation smoke did its business.
Although we had the central heating system going full blast all day, it was slow to get going and make a difference to the temperature inside the house. I suppose that the whole house was so cold, after nearly three months of standing empty.

The birds were chorusing …

Charly's Angel

I seem to be getting more and more teachers contacting me through the TES.

Dear Simon,
I messaged you recently on the TES forum regarding moving to Shenzhen and you were kind enough to give me your email address. I am Charlyrainbow23
I am trying to apply for the visa and I am finding it difficult to get clarification on a few points and wondered if you could help. Firstly, I have to obtaining a non-criminal record certificate for the last 12 months, would a basic DBS suffice? We've only been in Tanzania since last August and HR say I have to get one from the UK.

Here is my reply.
Dear Charlotte,
I am always glad to be of help. Please remember that my advice is just that: advice. I am by no means infallible and sometimes I am not 100% up-to-date! 
Firstly, yes, I would try to get something from Tanzania. Go along to your local copshop in Dar or Arusha or wherever you are and get an official-looking document from the police. It should not cost much. It is just a sort of…

Down the Market, Part 2

I like markets. They are fun, lively, full of smells and (most importantly) full of food. We went to Sofia’s Roman Wall Market today on the tram. Okay, it is Tram Time, so I am going to explain all of the ins and outs of tram travel in Bulgaria.

What is it, oh mother dear,
That looks like strawberry jam?
Hush, my darling! 'Tis your father
Run over by a tram.

First of all, find your tram stop. These are usually fairly easy to find and the tram lines are a dead giveaway. Then go to the stop and wait. You probably will not have to wait for very long. Then along will come rumbling the tram, a sort of above-ground Metro train. After we got on, the tram driver, a lady, got off, having first had a shouting match with one of the passengers. Then, coffee and cigarette finished, she got back in the cab and drove our tram into the centre of Sofia.

Trams are very popular with the elderly in Sofia, so they are like geriatric wards on wheels. You have to get your tram ticket punched by putting it into…

Hi Hippo

Even though we left Qatar more than five years ago, many teachers still contact me through the TES and ask me what it is like to teach there.
Hi Hippo

I hope you don't mind me pre-emptively sending you a conversation about my job offer.

GEMS Wellington Qatar have offered 13.5k which I think is reasonable for three years' experience qualified (five including unqualified experience).
However, they are not offering medical insurance for my family nor are they covering flights for them. At the interview, the Director intimated that my family might even have to stay here in the UK while stuff like permits got sorted out. My gut instinct tells me not to accept the offer as a result.

Also, I've heard Qataris can be quite racist towards non-white people. How true is this? I've always fought against this sort of thing in the UK as an Asian man and don't want any trouble when I go out to work.

Is the cost of living higher than Dubai or London? Obviously, I'd not have to wo…

Take a Walk, Part 2

It is Irena’s birthday today. As the birthday girl, she got decide what we were going to do today. She wanted to go to the Farmers’ Market at Poduyane, to look at some puppies, so we took the bus from near the Paradise Centre. We were meant to get off eight stops later, but it turned out to be nine because we got it wrong! We walked back to Bulevard Madrid and found some nice people who took us to the Farmers’ Market.
Well, there were a few puppies in the market, but no Jack Russells. There were some interesting-looking dark-coloured sausages. Were they black puddings? I thought that the market was fun and more relaxed that the Ladies' Market in the centre of Sofia, as the stallholders there usually cheat you and the whole place is full of shifty-looking gypsies.
We walked back into town and ambled through a rather nice park on the way to the Levski monument, where we usually turn off to go to Veliko Tarnovo. In the sun, it was wonderfully warm and lots of people were happily strol…

Chestita Baba Marta!

Well, 1st March has finally arrived and now the last of the snow is melting, although there is still plenty of it on top of Mount Vitosha. The weather is definitely warming up again, after the latest icy blast. On Wednesday of next week it is supposed to be 18C!
The first day of March is a big celebration in Bulgaria. It is supposed to mark the beginning of the spring and you are supposed to wish your friends luck, health and prosperity. Chestitata Baba Marta! is the commonest greeting and it a bit like Merry Christmas! or Happy New Year!

Baba Marta herself is imagined to be a rather grumpy old country woman, rather like our neighbour Zlatka, our nextdoor neighbour in Kalotina. Sometimes she is in a good mood and the weather is warm, so we start thinking about the coming summer, and sometimes Baba Marta is in a bad mood and then March is more like one of the winter months.
Martenitsi are red and white bracelets, usually made of woollen thread and worn around the wrist. You are supposed t…

Jesus of Arabia

Oman is one of my favourite countries. It is definitely my Number One place in the Middle East. In some ways, I even prefer it to Bulgaria, my adopted home. 

Why do I like it so much? Well, I have only been to Oman five times, but every time I have been impressed with the dramatic scenery: the endless (and more or less deserted) beaches, the austere and craggy mountains, the green wadis with their falaj irrigation canals. Most of all, the Omanis themselves are lovely people. They are patient, hospitable and kind. Although they want to preserve traditional ways of life, they are a pretty open-minded and tolerant people. There are female police officers in Oman and a gay Sultan. 

One particular incident sticks in my mind. We were wandering through a village up in the mountains. It was morning and as we went past an open door, a young man invited us to come in and share some coffee and rather yummy dates. Would anyone in the UK ever welcome total strangers into their home?
Recently I watche…