Before one of my recent trips to Bulgaria, I was surfing the net for information about the country in general. I came across a line on a property website that claimed “Bulgaria is like Spain 30 years ago”. It set me thinking………
When I was in my early teens I travelled across Europe with my younger brother and parents every summer. We would just set off with no clear plans as to where we were going to end up, but a rough idea of when we would be back, which was basically when we were down to our last pound note!
We didn’t have the luxuries I or my children take for granted as today’s seasoned travellers – such as crisp clean hotel beds and room service. We either had an over- ladened roof rack, stacked high with our camping gear and clothes, or if we were a little better off that summer, we had a second hand caravan hitched to the back of our old car. I remember the caravan was always sold on our return to tide us over while Dad went back to work.
I vividly remember one summer, when my father had ingeniously welded together two bread vans – yes bread vans and made them into a camper van, but the really clever bit was, when we arrived on the camp site, the rear section slid out, to give twice the living and sleeping area – although not very good for the “street cred” of two cool 70’s teenagers – we certainly had fun.
My point is, we saw and experienced on those adventures, some of the most traditional and native parts of France, Italy and most of all Spain.
So, is Bulgaria like Spain 30 years ago? Well, in my humble opinion – yes, in many ways……………
The roads for instance – in Spain, their motorways were simple dual carriageways, poorly maintained and infrequent. Until this year – Bulgaria’s roads were very similar – where you would hope to have found a sturdy motorway you might find a two-laned, pot hole ridden, carriageway, unfit for donkeys never mind cars – and in-land, donkeys were more common! This year however, I am pleased to note, that with EU funding the new motorway is nearly finished and many of the main artery roads have now been re-surfaced – but the “four by four” transport still most commonly used in the quaint rural regions is still the donkey and cart!
Just like the Spain of my youth.
The toilets – I remember many tears in my youth, where I had the embarrassment of squatting down behind a tree, at the side of a dusty Spanish road, with my nether regions exposed to any passing insect or giggling doe eyed Spanish boy, because I just couldn’t travel any further looking for an English style toilet to sit on! We had travelled mile after mile, because I had stubbornly refused to use the traditional Spanish “squat pot” – a smelly hole in the ground, with a porcelain tray with dirty footprints on either side, giving you a hint as to where to put your feet! Yuck!! But I wonder, was the tree any better?
Over the past three years I have travelled the length and breadth of Bulgaria, on my business travels – not looking for an English style toilet to sit on, but certainly wishing I could find one!! Mile after mile, I have refused to visit their “squat pots”, but I am happy to report that they are now cottoning on – many of the little roadside cafes and bars of the rural regions have now been re-furbished, and you can find more and more “proper” toilets”, and in the tourist resorts, it would be very unusual to have to go looking for your own private “tree”!
The people – one of the things that stands out from my childhood holidays are the memory’s of the people in Spain. They were always so eagar to please, particularly when you escaped into the countryside. I remember many occasions when we were given fruit from the trees and drinks from the villagers, even though there was no café to speak of, the people genuinely wanted to meet us, to try and chat to us and always to shake hands – that way they could brag to their friends and relations that they had met the foreigners! Bulgaria today is very similar.
As I travel across Bulgaria, from village to village, acquiring property and land, I have the good fortune to meet many Bulgarians – mainly the older generation, the grandmas and grandads left behind to tend the crops. You can see them in summer particularly, bent double from years of hoeing the land that their fathers and their grandfathers tended. Working away in their cut off wellies, with their 80 year old daughters bringing them a glass of home made rakia or beer – they break off to tell you, proudly, how many generations have ploughed those fields, how many brothers and sisters they have left and thrust upon you the fruits of their labours – literally, the largest bulbs of garlic I have ever seen, apples, plums, carrots – you name it they grow it. I suppose when you bear in mind that they get the equivalent of less than £10 per month in pension, they have to grow everything and anything they can, to either eat or exchange with their neighbours. This is an old way of life, a harsh and un-comfortable way of life, but also a calm and un-complicated way of life – many of us, who rush from one crisis to another, watching the clock, reporting to the boss, struggling with the bills, are looking towards this sort of calmer lifestyle for our early retirement.
Many of my clients, whilst not looking to spend generations farming the land, are certainly looking for the peace and tranquillity that comes with rural living, whether it be in the Spain of yesteryear, or the Bulgaria of today, the opportunities to settle in some of the little villages just 30 or 40 minutes from the coast have never been greater. From as little as £8,000 or £9,000, British people are settling in these villages and breathing life back into these havens. Renovating and building properties, alongside their grateful and friendly neighbours, this is a new kind of heaven. You may have a nice 4 by 4, whilst your neighbour has a horse and cart, and you may have a luxurious pool, whilst your neighbour bathes in an old tin bath, and your pension may buy a whole years groceries in one month – but your neighbours won’t mind, they will still share with you what they have, still watch out for you, so they can greet you with a smile and a handshake…..
So is Bulgaria like Spain was 30 years ago? Well in my opinion yes, but Bulgaria is moving faster, learning quicker and has an honesty about it that Spain lost somewhere along the way – Go and see for yourself – Bulgaria has so much to offer everyone.