Showing posts from August, 2018

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…

A Date with Miss Fortune?

You will probably be pleased that, for once, I am going to be writing about something Chinese, not about Bulgaria or the Crimea, even though I started writing this piece in Mamulichka's datcha, with the chickens clucking in the distance. (In fact, there is one chicken less the next morning, but the soup was delicious.) 

My young friend Francis, who also used to teach a Year 5 class at Green Oasis School, recently got married to a very pretty Chinese lady, who was in fact the mother of one of his students. (This rather reminds me of Evelyn Waugh's hapless Paul Pennyfeather and Margot Beste-Chetwynde in Decline and Fall.) Anyway, Francis is a lucky chap! The yummy mummy is also quite seriously wealthy and she has taken her new husband to Japan, as well as off to America over the summer. (Francis's most recent WeChat message was from Las Vegas, on the way to the Grand Canyon. Marry a Chinese gal and see the world!)

An old friend was staying in Kalotina recently, so I suggested…

BG Rocks!

Belogradchik is in north-western Bulgaria. It is quite a pleasant and prosperous little town. Its two claims to fame are Pri Ivan, an excellent Serbian restaurant that gets rave reviews in Trip Advisor, and Belogradchik rocks, some amazing geological formations just outside the town. 
There was, however, one small problem: getting there. From Kalotina, we had a choice. We could drive to Sofia and then go round the ring road, before taking the main road to Montana and then on towards Vidin, before branching off to Belogradchik. The other route was to hack across country to Montana, as this seemed to be a shorter way. We chose the latter and it was a big mistake. I thought that the drive would take about two hours, whereas in fact it took three and a half because the roads were so narrow and twisty. Lots of roads works did not help much either.
Finally we arrived in Belogradchik and we managed to find the restaurant quite easily. The food really was good and the portions were huge. For st…


It was my hero, Michael Palin, who said in Around the World in Eighty Days that air travel is a great way to see airports. Real travel is something you read about while you are sitting in seat 33D. Well, yes, I would more or less agree with a lot of that. Airports are pretty dull places, about as sexy as Brexit. I do, however, want to write a few lines about one particular airport that I found quite interesting. There, I have said it. An interesting airport. Is that an oxymoron? Simferopol airport has only recently opened and, considered as a piece of architecture, it really is interesting. The shape of the building is supposed to resemble a wave and the effect really is quite startling. There is also a huge wall along one side of the departures area, with thousands of plants growing on it. This green wall acts as a sort of lung, freshening the air and introducing a touch of Nature in what would otherwise be a sterile building. There is, however, one little problem with this new airport…

Messing About in Boats, Part 1

It was, of course, the Water Rat in Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows who says what is probably one of the most famous quotations in the English language, the one about how enjoyable it is to be messing about in boats. (While I was in the Crimea, I re-read the book twice and was struck by its neo-paganism, especially the chapter “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.) 
Anyway, Peter and I took the Water Rat’s advice and went off to Decathlon, on Sofia’s ring road, to buy a three-man Itiwit kayak. It is excellent! (I wrote about the joys of kayaking in another piece for this blog, You can't have your kayak and heat it.)
Just south of the ring road is Lake Iskar. It is really a reservoir for Sofia, but it is also a place where Sofiots go at the weekends, to get away from it all with some fishing and a picnic.
We managed to find somewhere quite close to the lake to park and it took us about ten minutes to pump up the different parts of the kayak. Although it does not seem to come wit…

Take a Walk

After my return from the Crimea, I had a few days on my own in Kalotina before my old college friend Peter arrived.
One of the best things to do in Sofia is to take the FREE guided walking tour. In fact, I have often seen groups of tourists with their guides wandering around the streets, so I thought that it was high time that I joined one of these groups and did the full, two-hour tour. As my friend Peter really does not know Sofia, we joined one of these walking tours. They have become very popular and in fact there were so many of gathering outside the Palace of Justice that we had to be spilt into four separate groups.
Our guide was a fast-talking and pretty young Sofiot called Dessi. Although she said that she was an economist, she really did know her history. 
First we stopped at the big church (no, I cannot remember the name), the one opposite The Happy Grill and where Maria Louisa Boulevard becomes Vitosha. Here Dessi told us about the ghastly terrorist attack on the Bulgarian T…

Crime Here?

I never intended this blog to become political. On the whole, I find politics amazingly boring, as do most people, but I have to write this post because I think that many people have just not heard the truth. They are probably not going to hear (or read) the truth because most TV news outlets in the UK and in the USA have not treated this subject in a fair and even-handed manner. I used to be (and to some extent I still am) a great fan of the BBC, but the BBC’s coverage of this issue has not been fair, balanced or unbiased. Well, this piece in my blog is going to try to present the other side of the coin, the side that CNN and the BBC do not want you to think about. So what am I going to write about? Russia’s “annexation” or “invasion” of the Crimea.

Russian casualties in the Second World War were 20 million. Huge swathes of Russian territory were occupied by the Nazi forces and from their panzers the invaders could see the spires and domes of Moscow. The suffering caused to the Russia…


In Around the World in Eighty Days, my hero Michael Palin famously described the city of Alexandria as being “like Cannes with acne". Maybe Yalta used to be like Bournemouth with boils, but it was very different when Irena and I went there for the day.

I had not been back to Yalta since before Irena and I were married. In a few ways, it was much the same (the mountains frowning down on the sea, the cypress trees, the vineyards and the church that does impressions of a wedding cake). But really Yalta is now quite a different place. Yes, the beach is still a painful and pebbly Via Dolorosa if you want a swim in the murky seawater. (And, just in case you were wondering, the water in the Black Sea is not actually black.)
On the busy streets, you can still buy kvas, even though I am not sure how to spell it. (But why would anyone want a stinky drink made from fermented bread?) Twenty-five years ago, kvas was served in jam jars, but now they give it to you in a glass. And yes, there are…