March and April 2006 – Bulgaria, Romania & UK
Hello, we came so close to finding a home. Done and dusted, we thought, so easy. After the mandatory row with the taxi driver we briefly explored Sofia, noting the plethora of porn shops, and headed into the mountains to the ski resort of Bansko.
There we got down to the business of finding somewhere to live, poking around the cobbled streets and drinking and eating in the Mehanas. Though I liked the town it was too small and Deirdre quickly got fed up walking around in the snow and slush.
We moved on to Plovdiv, a mix of modern city, attractive old town and Roman ruins spewing up from under the streets. It was here though that we started to notice that we didn’t really like the Bulgarians. A friendly ‘hello’ was usually ignored and frequently restaurant staff wouldn’t return with change preferring to believe we are in the habit of leaving 200% tips.
Perhaps we were being more critical of Bulgaria because we were looking for a home there and had to see both the good and the bad of the place in a way we wouldn’t have done if we were simply visiting. Or maybe Bulgaria had the bad luck to be our first destination after wonderful Egypt. Whereas the Egyptians could balance the hassle of a trip there with their charm and warmth, most Bulgarians didn’t seem to have any.
I thought I’d gone back to my usual placid self after Egypt but got fed up with people pushing in front of us. When it happened once too often to Deirdre I objected and started a row with the man who pushed ahead, though, to be honest, he was not any worse than anyone else. We both lost our tempers and started screaming at each other and threatening to call the police until we separated and walked off in different directions.
Each turning a couple of corners we saw each other a few minutes later. He said something, I wordlessly gestured ‘come on then’ and he shrugged off his wife and took the bait. At this point I should add he was at least in his mid fifties and after three or four failed attempts to punch me in the head I couldn’t bring myself to hit him. I’d also noticed we were making fools of ourselves in front of a crowded restaurant window.
On another occasion, again at a ‘Help desk!’ the clerk had to be restrained from attacking me with a pair of scissors by her colleague. She’d been rude and useless, I’d pointed that out to her, she said something back, I’d responded, she picked up the scissors and ran out the door at me.
We closed in on our potential new home in Veliko Tarnovo, the medieval capital of Bulgaria. Tarnovo is an attractive town split by a gorge and dominated by a ruined citadel. We chose our estate agents because they had a nice sign outside and offered us coffee. They were also professional and, unlike some of the larger agencies, offered the personal touch. We have never bought our own home before so they held our hands throughout the buying process.
We walked around the town looking at properties – we could have been driven about but felt we would learn more about the neighbourhoods and streets of the town by walking – and chose a new build, second floor, 80 square metre apartment, close to the centre of town, as having good potential. The price would be GBP£24,000.
We still hadn’t fully made up our minds if this was to be our new home but our visas were running out. Almost everywhere else on the face of planet Earth we would have hopped across a border and got a new one but in Bulgaria we would not be allowed back into the country for six months (three for Irish passport holders). To keep the option of buying the apartment alive we formed a company (at that time foreigners couldn’t own land) signed over power of attorney and headed to Romania to fly home and make our decision.
We didn’t buy that apartment. We needed somewhere to live now, not in six months. We would have preferred to be in the country overseeing the sale ourselves and the fact that we couldn’t was a poor sign as to how Bulgarian beauracracy operates. There were some other smaller factors too but ultimately we just too nervous and while we were in another country our agents weren’t able to keep holding our hands and reassuring us everything would be fine. We considered this a practice run and next time we would know what we were doing.
Over the next few months waiting to be allowed back into Bulgaria, we talked of what we would do on our second attempt to buy a house. We never said anything particularly positive about the Bulgarians. Why should be want to live there?