Hi I am Joanna Newman. I was a wife, as well as a mother & nana, when I moved here but I am now single. Not sure who I am right now as I am re-evaluating this very question. I am though the face behind “The Secret Garden Tea Room” which raise money for charities in Bulgaria.
I have lived permanently in the Veliko Turnovo area of Bulgaria for 6 years after owning property here for 3 years previously.
I moved here with my husband after we fell in love with the country & the simplicity of life here.After my husband had a heart attack we decided to make the move permanent as soon as his redundancy came through (we had been waiting for this for 3 yrs) hoping to eliminate the stress of his work.
We received conformation of available redundancy in the November 2008 & were here by January 2009. We had a very special Christmas with family from Australia joining us all, as well as celebrating my 50th birthday two weeks before, then my Nephew’s wedding on New Years eve.
We had been made aware of Bulgaria by my mum, who had been going for holidays there a good few years. She had seen it when just a few hotels existed to being what it is today in Sunny Beach. I was an importer & the owner of a high street shop in the UK, also selling on an ebay shop online. It was one day while I was catching up on ebay sales that a house appeared on my screen, no idea why. It was up to £4,000 on the bids and I was gob-smacked that this could be true. I showed my husband & daughter and we decided to watch it to see what would happen. I was not tempted to buy it (as so many are) as I did not know Bulgaria or what the people were like, I just had my interest peaked. My husband started to look at other listings to see if it was real & we saw this house sold for £7,000.
My husband started to do a lot of research looking at hundreds of houses in all areas, joining a forum to get information & I trolled the online estate agents. We both fell for a house and liked one particular agency that stood out over the others. Run by a Bulgarian lady who lived, as it turned out, 45 minutes from us! She would answer our emails & hundreds of questions every day, nothing was too much for her to find out. No other agency was so accommodating or friendly and she had a lot of good choices.
I would print out all the houses we liked then we would read them through & compare them till we had whittled it down to a manageable amount to view. We booked a last min holiday as it was cheaper to do this than the flights alone & went to Golden Sands.
We were picked up & taken to Veliko Turnovo for three days visiting houses in areas on the way. The first viewing day was long & hectic due to travelling via Golden Sands to VT while visiting areas such as Shumen and rather a lot of houses that just did not do it for us. We stayed in VT & had the most amazing food with people who were showing us around. We fell in love with this area, the city which is nothing like a City, the culture & the people we like them very much.
Day two was the day we found our house, not one we were looking at but the guy came & found us & we fell in love as soon as the front gate was opened. It was definitely meant to be ours as it fell through on signing contracts due to the old couple understandably not wanting to leave their life here, even though they found it hard to cope with the land etc. I was devastated but we purchased two lovely little houses in the same village & started to come out regularly to spend time in the culture fostering relationships with Bulgarians and plotting & planning renovations. It was a year later that we got a phone call telling us the house was back on the market and were we interested? Well that was it, we bought it, put in a toilet & shower then started our plans to move over as soon as we could.
These were the days before Bulgaria was in the EU so we were very fortunate to pick the right company run by all Bulgarians with a great team of professionals. Our solicitor sorted everything for us beautifully we had to set up a company in those days and everything was made very easy for us, We had to go to the office a few times sign papers, go to the notary etc open a bank account. All these things were done with the help of the solicitor as we did not speak a word of the language & in those days, on the whole, people did not speak any English. There were no signs in English either. It was made very simple for us.
The challenges started in the UK. My children did not want me to go, we chose to buy a van and move ourselves. I would not do that now with hind sight! I had a huge amount of stock to sell or give away, a house to sort out as not everything would fit in the van. I am still trying to replace furniture I had to leave behind 6 yrs later. My husband planned the road trip & we did it slowly & in style staying in nice hotels on the way, it was after all the start of our new life & we were both too exhausted to make sleeping in a cramped full to overspill Luton Box van complete with cat a no go. The sat nav was invaluable not necessarily for showing us the way but for getting us out of being lost & back on the right track. Also we used it to find hotels or places to eat & petrol stations. We chose the very straight forward way of going through Romania.
There are a lot of Expats here now, unlike when we first moved over but in my village there are only two other British families living here on a permanent basis, with another moving over next year. We tend to keep ourselves to ourselves on the whole but do socialise & are always there if we need anything, I am very grateful for this as I now live alone.
I have some great Bulgarian & Russian friends in the village. Everyone gets an adoptive family & I have mine. Also I have a fabulous guy from the village who does my renovation for me; he is a real blessing & a joy to have around. I do not get involved in cliques with expats but do have a lot of acquaintances & it is nice to catch up & have a good chat in English.
I also organise an initiative I developed 3 yrs ago. I put on afternoon teas and invite craft people & small businesses along to join in with a craft fayre. The money raised from the teas & the pitch are given to charities in Bulgaria who help the most vulnerable. We have raised a lot & helped to provide, among other things, beds for an orphanage, a baby de-fibrillater for the maternity hospital in VT (we were just a part of the fund raising) and a small village raise money to restore a very rare church painting that was found after hundreds of years lost. The initiative provides a great day out, people get to meet new friends & socialise while doing a lot of good for their adopted country. It’s fun & also promotes local small business & crafts
My Bulgarian should be a heck of a lot better but I forget it so quickly. I have been having English/Bulgarian lessons with my Bulgarian friend & hope for it to get better over this winter (famous last words).
I love living here as I look out over the countryside & the neighbours horse, the cows, sheep & goats pass by twice a day on their travels for the day. It is so peaceful, easy, like the England of old. Even winter is great as we all shut down to hibernate.
I live high up in the hills in a semi remote village. Only 20 minutes from the nearest small town but it is on a country road full of pot holes driving through our forests past 3 small lakes & in winter this area can be very dangerous due to the snow not melting or freezing black ice. Once at the end past all the ravines & the beautiful views there is the main road between Veliko Turnovo & Ruse. I cannot get to this town without a car as there is no bus going this way. This is probably my main gripe as it has the best market on every Wednesday selling fruit & veg in season & everything under the sun you could want or need. There are a great couple of restaurants, small supermarkets, vets, banks, hairdressers etc. If there was a bus here from the village, even once a week I would be really happy & have no moans about my village.
It is not a place for people who like to have a hectic busy life.
It is slow paced. I love to plant vegetables & feel such a pride when harvesting my own produce. I have learnt to preserve fruit & veg, make jam & chutneys, and cook foods I had never had till I moved here. A pumpkin to me was to be carved once a year not made into pies, soups & scones. I have been taught how to cook authentic Bulgarian village food & in turn I put on “traditional English” food for my adoptive family, by their request. I love baking & cooking for them & we have lots of dinner parties in each others houses. I have made wine & Rakia & had some great success. Also as a extra I have used Rakia to make special fruit beverages too.
I have found it easy to live in this culture of community, family & home. I now appreciate so much more the very simple things in life, like hot running water, pouring water down a sink, having a toilet in the house that flushes etc this is aside things like washing machines. The best thing is hot running water in a deep ceramic sink, ohhhhh I just love that luxury.
The worst thing is not having gas central heating for a lovely cosy house in the terribly cold winters here, I miss that so much. All the sooty dust & the smell of the wood fire I can put up with but I have difficulty with bringing in the wood due to a bad back. I live in one room in winter like the locals, it is much warmer & cheaper to do so. I don’t mind this but it would be lovely to not have to move out of my bedroom for so many months & freezing every time I go to the loo or shower!
Lots of things here have a ying & yang side to it. Like the land/gardens it is wonderful to have private huge gardens but the work involved in maintaining it or growing food is immense. The weeds here grow to over 7′ tall & they are prolific. I have to get someone in on a monthly basis to scythe the land but I would be loath to give it up as I love the privacy & peace of it. Like the wood burners. They are so cosy & warm but messy & hard work. I have to pay for people to come & chainsaw the wood, as they come in three mtr tree trunks, then it has to be chopped into burner size logs & stacked to dry out. Getting it into the house is a major strain on my back & can render me incapable of moving for quite a while. The long sunny hot spring & summers are the opposite again to the extreme cold of winter the 3′ snow & being unable to leave the village for weeks on end. So good and bad to most everything here.
What I don’t like about being an expat is the trouble that is often caused by other expats, the arguments & jealousy that I have never come across before. I am told this is world wide, so I now stay out of anything that starts to look like a clique.
I miss my family terribly at times. I have grand children who are growing up not knowing me as a close loving Nana & this hurts my heart. Home sickness is not missing the country or “home” it is missing your loved ones, the pull on the heart can be extremely painful. Making good close friendships is very difficult too.
I hate the fact I am now living in the middle of nowhere when I need to go shopping or pay bills. It is really hard to live alone in a remote village with very little public transport. I have to rely on help from other people & I hate that! I can’t drive so I am stuck. Things like having to fill the gas bottles & buy dog food is impossible. It does make me feel vulnerable but other than that I am quite happy here. I also would love to do some work but unless people come up with a business idea this is not going to happen here.
I love the Bulgarian food. I am not keen on some of the village soups in that they have the chicken heads, feet etc in them & they suck on them, but other than that the soups are great.
The other thing I really can’t eat is the raw fat stuff they make! There are wonderful restaurants here too. Not just the ones in the city but wonderful Bulgarian cafe’ & restaurants. I know what I like so if I am in a place that has no English written menu or photos I can always order a good meal. My favourite are the sach’ a hot plate with meats vegetables & cream (or not) served on a sizzling hot plate so scrummy. The garlic breads & Bahnitsa filled with either white feta type cheese or spinach I also particularly love the pumpkin & walnut ones made in autumn. I have also eaten stinging nettle soup & dock leaf pie! There are many fabulous one pot meals that are gorgeous like Kavarna made with pork or chicken. Literally so many wonderful meals to try, the only thing I really miss is beef mince & roasting joints of beef. Lamb is also only around at certain times of the year unless you are prepared to pay a fortune.
I love the social aspect of life here. In the social housing areas of the huge flats there are always great cafe’ where everyone gets together over food or drink catching up, with the kids playing, the old people gossiping, the men playing chess & the women chatting, It is a real community here. In the villages during the summer people either congregate in the centres or sit outside their houses on benches in the shade of the day catching up with friends, talking about what is going on in the village. In the restaurants if they have live music on people will just get up on their own & dance the traditional dances with complete strangers, I love this! They just love their cultural dances & the kids are taught them from a young age. Everyone male & female old & young know these dance moves.
Anyone who is coming over to live,, my advice is make sure you have visited the country & met people before making the move. If you don’t like the culture & the people you will be unhappy here.
Do plenty of research on the areas & if you can’t drive make sure you chose a small town (only small gardens) or a large village with good public transport, you never know if you will end up being on your own (due to death or separation, it happens a lot here).
Only come as a couple if it is what you both want, you have a solid stable relationship, and have an agreement as to what happens if one loves it & the other hates it, & stick to it. Your relationship is more valuable than where you chose to live.
Make sure before hand that you can afford to live here or that you have a tried & tested business that will be well received here. Do not think you can come & do what there is plenty of as the funds will be very low due to lack of business split between many small business
Have a plan B & if you own property rent it out to give you an income, a home address & somewhere to go back to if necessary, you can sell it later.
Get your health checked before moving & if you can afford it get health insurance.
I don’t know what my future holds. Due to my personal situation changing the way it has. I am in Gods hands now with no idea what will happen, but I am in a beautiful part of the world, it is my home & I hope it will continue to be my home for many years to come.
People can contact me via my blog, Bulgarian Village Life.