Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bulgaria - Day 8 & 9: It’s Just a Couple of Days in the Country!

I can remember hearing this in Lithuania – “It’s just a couple of days in the country!” – except that there is nothing to do in the country but eat and drink! No running water (plumbing) – no (or very little) electricity and nothing around you for miles but little country homes.

Why would Bulgaria be any different? It is not!

At least we get to sleep in – the plan it to take a taxi that Tony’s friend runs – as we do not have enough vehicles to accommodate our crew. Aunt and Uncle are leaving very early in the morning in their old Russian Sedan – a bright blue vehicle that when you ride in it you want to hum the theme from the Flintstones! Built in the 1940’s (I think) – the car is made of steel and still runs! No seat belts, no air bags – I am not even sure it runs on anything but diesel! But by God it runs!

The rest of the family travels with Tony and eventually we meet at the house in the country – again like something out of the Godfather! The garden (if you want to call it that – I called it a farm) is huge! They had a trellis with vines and vines of grapes running up them – the grapes are used to make the Rakia. Strawberries, cucumbers, carrots, corn, pumpkin, melons, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and other assorted vegetables grow in their very lush paradise.

Attached to the four bedroom house (which sounds a lot larger than it is) – is a barn that (at one time when they had animals) was used to store hay. Now they use it to dry vegetables. We are given a tour and marvel at the ropes of woven garlic that hang from the ceiling – to which Auntie presents one to Lisa.

We are shown the outhouse – which is simply a small building with a light and a hole in the ground (good thing I cleared out before we left) – and then a very nice hammock they recently put up in the back of the yard. Again – everything is very Italian villa looking! So very picturesque and beautiful.

Soon it is time for the basketball championship – which I wonder how is going to work since Villy only wears heels – until I find that we only shoot for points. But the tree (we bought a net and zip ties to put the net up) that was used last year has fallen. We have determined that we will go to the old school and use the school yard as our facility. After as nice walk to the school – we find – to our dismay – that the school is abandoned and looks very much like an atomic bomb has hit it. You see – only older folks live in this town now – young folks come back and use their parent’s houses as summer homes. The school and other facilities are no longer needed. The town is literally dying along with it’s population. Once the final original citizen dies off – it will be a fair weather town only I would imagine.

We head back to the house to come up with a different idea – but it is already late and it will be dinner soon. In fact, by the time we return – it is time to get the table prepared. Auntie has made lamb! Normally I am not a big lamb fan – in fact outside the very occasional Gyro – I never order or buy it. This lamb has changed my mind for good! Cooked to perfection – I do not believe I have tasted a more delicious meat! And of course there was the Shopska Salad – of which I had a half portion! Then came the Rakia – it was being served by a crooning Tony Bennett – his sultry voice calling me to pour the warm liquid down my parched throat – but – I resisted the call! Armed with a 3 liter bottle of water – I took the shot of Rakia – kept Uncle Tony Bennett at the opposite end of the table and nursed that shot for the next five hours! I even through in there several glasses of beer – coupled with the water – it made for a very comfortable night sleep!

So comfortable that we did not get up until 11:00 AM the next day! We awoke to the hammering of Hristo and Tony who had found an old bike rim. The nailed it to a make shift backboard and were in the process of nailing it to the barn in preparation for our basketball championship (guys vs. girls) – I must say – they did a fantastic job!

Once the job was complete we set to the task of the game. Hristo, Tony, myself and Lisa’s Dad against, Villy, Mimi and Lisa. The name of the game was free throws to 21. Every shot you sunk – you got a point – alternate guy/girl. Nothing complicated. The guys lead most of the way – actually having about a 5 point lead at one point and then we hit a dry patch giving the girls the window they needed. They blazed back and then it became neck and neck down to the final, un-protested I might add, point – where the girls won 21 – 20! It was a lot of fun!

We finished just in time for lunch – a white bean soup called Bop (pronounced Bob – they had great fun with that) and…yes Shopska Salad! The soup was awesome! And that is a lot coming from me – not a big soup fan – especially in 95 degree heat!

After having cleared away lunch – it was time to go! While we packed up – a call was put into the taxi friend. Auntie and Uncle were to stay behind to tend to the gardening and as Lisa and I were leaving tomorrow morning for our bus ride from Sofia to Bratislava for the rest of our European vacation – Aunt and Uncle were going to return to Lovech tomorrow morning to see us off!

While we waited for the taxi to arrive – we took a quick walk across the road to the neighbor to see how Rakia is made in a real still! It was very cool! First – the grapes are fermented in sugar water for several weeks – and by fermented – they are basically soaked out in the sun in large plastic barrels. Then – they are boiled in a large air-tight steel drum – all of the seams are sealed with a flour paste. The steam from the boiling rises into a tube and is carried over to a second drum – as the steam cools it condenses and slowly drips into a bucket as Rakia! Don’t dare drop a match by it!

We say our good-byes to the neighbors as soon the taxi will arrive!

And it does!

As short 45 minutes later we are back at our apartment in Lovech – getting ready to leave Bulgaria by bus for Slovakia – where we will stay at Villy’s apartment for another week and use that as our base of operations as we tour Eastern Europe on a Eurorail Pass!

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