A Tale of Two Villages

Kalotina and Berende Izvor are two villages in Bulgaria that I have come to know quite well. They are only about one kilometre apart, yet they are rather different. I suppose the most important difference is that Kalotina is a village that is dying or almost dead now, whereas Berende Izvor seems to be pretty much alive. Why is one village so full of decaying and abandoned houses, while the other one still seems to have some life in it? In Kalotina, there are some houses that are still inhabited, but even they look unkempt and neglected.
Raina and Rangel's house in Kalotina

Both villages are on the map because of the River Nishava. In Berende Izvor, the Nishava is really still a stream, as you can jump over it, but by the time it leaves Kalotina it is a river. “Izvor” in Bulgarian means “bubbling” and, sure enough, there is a spring that bubbles up from the rock and then it flows away to join several other springs that eventually form the Nishava. Our Bulgarian friend Roumen took us to see the spring and it was quite unusual to see the water coming up out of the ground, at the foot of a steep hillside.
The spring in Berende Izvor

Small stream, big dog

The biggest aquatic features in Kalotina are the fishing lakes. People used to come from Sofia, hire a little wooden cabin and do some fishing, in between a lot of drinking and a barbecue or two. The lakes are still there, but no one comes anymore and the gates are closed.

The Nishava

After we had seen the spring, Roumen took us for a drink at the local shop. Well, it is a sort of boozer-cum-village-shop. The shop always seems to be open and the range of goods on sale is quite good, even though the quality and the price are not the best. The village shop in Kalotina, on the other hand, is nearly always shut and the selection of items on sale is poor. Yes, there might be some bread for an hour or two in the morning, but by lunch-time it will all have been sold. Some of the items have passed their “sell by” date.
At the shop-cum-boozer
Another common feature to the two villages is the railway line. In Kalotina, there used to be a station (what in England would probably be called a “halt”) and passenger trains would go from Kalotina into Sofia. Now only goods trains use the line, carrying brown coal from a local open cast mine. In the UK, railway enthusiasts would no doubt have kept the passenger service going along the branch line with some old steam trains. What a bonus that would be to the local economy, to have steam locomotives chugging through the beautiful Bulgarian countryside! Well, somehow I think that is not going to happen and now there is just a minibus to take people to the railway station in Dragoman.
The old railway line

According to our friends Raina and Rangel, there used to be over two thousand people living in Kalotina all through the year. Now there are a few hundred in the summer and maybe less than ten people living there during the winter. Some EU money has been spent on smartening up the “square” around the mayor’s office, but of course this has done nothing to provide worthwhile jobs and a future for the village. The orphanage has closed down and so has the school. I think that the church is occasionally used for funerals.
The fishing lakes


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