On the house and everyday life, part I.

I’m sure at this point everybody is curious about our accomodation. The thing is, the house where we spent almost one month – so basically half of the voluntary service – was a temporary solution because the house where we were supposed to live was not ready at the time. As we learnt that house was rented by a Japanese artist, who, as a true bohemian, left quite a big mess… So after a little change of plan we moved to an another house, which is, by the way, the rear/garden neighbor of the original house and are connected with a little garden door. It is convenient since the owners are brothers – and our first “landlord” was Hristo, the younger one (who is still 77, but does look younger!).
We lived in the first floor since the base level was Hristo’s residency. Tatyana said beforehand that this house has one of the best view in Shipka, and she wasn’t kidding: it’s astounding and captivated both Sintija and me right away. The furniture was simple but satisfactory, and oh joy, there were two bathrooms – that’s, on the other hand, plain luxury!
But now the downsides… Our kitchen was basically at the balcony (or rather, the balcony) and contained an electric oven, a table and two chairs. We always had to ask Hristo for cooking utensils and it was a bit tiresome. Okay, not always, since he lent us a bigger pot and a pan which we usually kept up there – but if we occasionally needed a “rare item” like a grater or a sieve, we still had to ask. It felt a bit bad to depend of him this way and on the other side, also felt bad to bother him everytime.
The electric oven was a little adventure itself for me because we mostly use gas ovens in Hungary – at least I used them all my life. First the oven was supposedly non-functional so Tatyana lent us a mobile oven with a small gas bottle – but when we tried it out, the bottle uttered a sinister hissing sound which we couldn’t decide wether it was natural or not… Experimenting is a good thing only with a healthy dose of common sense and although I read in the EVS contract that in case of death, our bodies will be transferred back, I prefer to come back in one piece. (Sorry for the black humor.) Thankfully the electric oven actually worked just fine. But sometimes I still had troubles with cooking. When you turn down the gas oven, the spot cools down quickly because the plate is small and there are iron bars above it. Whereas the plates on the electric oven are big and remain hot for a long time after turning down and since they are in direct contact with the pots/pans so you can’t leave them on, otherwise you cook/burn the food further. Needless to say, I learnt it on the hard way.
Also, we didn’t have a washing machine (?!?!). We could ask Hristo or Tatyana to use theirs but again, I don’t like to depend on anybody – luckily, the weather kept being nice so handwashing was a reasonable option. Maybe it really taught us to appreciate what we had before, and to lead a humbler, simpler life and to plan ahead accordingly… or maybe I just rationalize my laziness, but psst.
But back to washing: there is a story. There was no washing gel/powder either which didn’t bother us first because we just used soap. Maybe not designed for clothes, but still a detergent, isn’t it? Well, Sintija accepted our fate and, as far as I know, stayed at the soap. I, on the other hand, thought “there has to be something for washing” because the bathroom was otherwise well-equipped. And indeed, found a small bottle which showed a white cloth with SPARKLES! That was convincing enough for me that it would clean my stuff efficiently. I wonder who can see it already… Well, that’s fair, it was efficient – even too much. In fact it wasn’t a washing liquid but some kind of bleach or another reducing agent. Let’s say that some of my sock will never be the same. So the lesson is: sometimes it’s worth to take risks and try out unknown thing… but sometimes not. (Althought, not to justify my stupidity but the purple socks looks rather badass with the new marbled pattern.)
The dishwashing stuff is also downstairs, at the kitchen sink. It’s annoying to run up & down to, uhh, finish the process, especially if I leave a dirty item up, which happens ALWAYS. (See, it’s the lesson about planning!) Later, when cold times has come, I just brought up the stuff and did it in the bathroom. (Well, I could’ve thought of this sooner. But on the other hand, maybe it’s not very hygienic to wash dishes there?!) Also, sometimes Hristo accidently took back the pot or the pan when we left them dry down at the sink. But he didn’t do that on purpose, I’m sure; he just didn’t keep on track about the rotation of the utensils (sometimes we switched them when we needed smaller/bigger), just needed them and/or must’ve thought we sure have another ones.
And now a few word about Hristo. I think we were lucky to have him – he was always nice and mindful. For example, when he learnt that Sintija knows Russian and I know German beside English, he regularly used those languages to communicate with us so we can practice them, too. (He speaks both languages because he studied in Vienna, and… well, I guess Russian was kinda mandatory back then.) Also he often treated us with delicious surprise dinners – typical Bulgarian foods, of course! – and he was also generous with fruits and vegetables from his garden.
Speaking of the garden: he sometimes asked for help a little around but still, he always asked wether we are tired or not and told us not to strain ourselves. Sintija and I were together still 20 years younger than him! :))) We untied tomato stakes, picked up and sorted apples and tomatoes, raked leaves etc. We signed up for garden work anyway and it felt good to reciprocate his kindness.
Bummer, I can’t think of a good final sentence. So I just promise there will be a post about FOOD, too.

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Some intown birdwatching and sightseeing

My fellow volunteer, Sintija was / is really active at discovering the surrounding places. This kinda makes me feel bad because I am prone to being a couch potato… But I guess this is a healthy, motivating guilt. So I decided that this is the third weekend here – it was the very first day of October -, I have to go somewhere. I chose the Shipka Memorial Church – OK, it is the nearest, but I carried away with the household chores so I left only around 14:00.
The weather was really nice, sometimes I even felt hot in my thin but long-sleeve t-shirt. I didn’t even need a map – this is the advantage of a small town – I just went down to the valley and looked at the golden towers of the churches and estimated where I have to go. First I wanted to check the opening hours of the shop where I regularly go but I didn’t find them – nevermind, I won’t starve to death if they close by the time I go home. So I went, approximately diagonally, up to the streets.
A little stream crosses Shipka and a deep ditch is built around it. Aside from the rubbish (shame on you, littering people!!), it is a regular fast-flowing mountain stream with stones in various sizes.
And stop there for a little. If you are a birder – or any kind of field biologist with your own chosen taxonomic unit you’re crazed about -, you have at least a vague expectation about what species’ you will observe at a given habitat. When I got know that I will go to mountain areas, I imagined mountain springs and I immediately associated this image with two particular bird species. Then I really got there and (see also my former posts) this vision fell a bit apart. The whole landscape was so sad, so devastatingly burnt out… maybe even the springs have dried out, maybe we aren’t even at that high altitudes for my lovely birds – who am I kidding?! Luckily, I was wrong. The BEST kind of wrong.
So, I was walking uphill along the street and peeked down to the stream, just out of curiosity… And they were there: both the White-troated Dipper and the Grey Wagtail! The dipper was right at the same spot and flew upstream from me, but not really far, so I could see its characteristic body bouncing and bright white breast even without binoculars. (Note to self: always bring binoculars!) The wagtail was a bit farther and maybe I wouldn’t even have noticed him it he wouldn’t have flewn away – good thing he also stayed relatively close. I know it was a male because of its black throat/breast and while alarmed, he also showed their typical movement: wagged his tail up and down.
I must have looked like this:
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Why was I particularly happy? Well, given its topography, these birds are quite rare in Hungary*. I was also happy because, despite the rubbish, it looks like this stream is still suitable for these species’. There is hope! I wonder if people even know what kind of amazing creatures live right there. Granted, maybe they come here just outside of the breeding season, still fantastic. Maybe people wouldn’t – ot at least less likely – litter if they were aware of the birds? This thought later gave me an idea, but I’ll speak about it later. Let’s move back to me, now almost waltzing – instead of walking – uphill, with a maniac smile on my face, whispering occasionally “Vízirigó! Vízirigó! Hegyi billegető!”, as if I’d still have trouble to believe my eyes. Made my day, that’s for sure! Sounds cliché (again), but moments like these help through all the difficulties and makes really worth it. Now some pictures about the birds from the great Arkive (I know, own photos would be the bestest thing ever, but I lack both the equipment and the practice… But maybe next time!):


Then I arrived to a steep stair which led to the Memorial Church. The church is surrounded by a nice park with a lot of roses**, there are some pavilons with souvenirs and some small buffets and – oh joy! – a little playground with swings, too. First I didn’t go right in, just walked around the place, contemplated the church on the outside (already beautiful and detailed this way, see pictures) and observed the people. I saw that a lot of them crossing themself before they enter the church. I was pondering if I should do that, too, but then I came to the decision that it would be more rude to mimic it just out of politeness instead of real dedication. So I went in, and… my jaw dropped.
Before I go on, something about different churches, but strictly esthetically… My mother is Protestant and my father was Roman Catholic and my mother told me, it was a bit culture shock when she saw first a Catholic church inside, because it felt just too much after the puritan Protestant design. Now, if Roman Catholic is too much for you, you sure get a sensory overload in this Orthodox church. But the good kind – like you were trapped in a jewellery box. There was the most detailed and colourful artwork I’ve seen so far (at least in a church). Mostly the red and golden dominated, giving the place a warm feeling (which I appreciated because most churches inside not just are, but also feel cold). My neck became sore because the ceiling was also painted, but seriously, every possible spot was covered with paintings or icons or other ornaments. I especially liked that styles of different eras was represented in a way that those get along well. A group of saints(? – sorry, I’m not that educated) sticked out because every one of them had a unique plant pattern on the ground – I guess those were their symbols. Of course I found sceneries or persons that I could recognise: the evangelists, the birth and the baptism of Christ… I also found several interesting candle holders: it turned out that you can buy candles and place them in the holder. Again, I wasn’t familiar with this so I didn’t do it, myself. I rather went down the stairs right at the entrance which led to a crypt. Unfortunately I couldn’t learn anything new because all information was in Bulgarian. Only the pictures told me that maybe it was about the restauration of the church. After i finished looking around, I switched a bit lighter entertainment and swinged on the playground for a while. A little girl and her mother had some odd looks at me but I didn’t care – the other swing was free. :)))
On the way home, I had the most awkward funny conversation. It happened because I wanted to see the dipper again, and I slowed down at a lower part of the stream and cautiously approached the ditch. But a man was sitting outside on a bench (I forgot to say, it’s a thing here) and said something to me… I scared a bit that he thinks I am littering, so I activity’d (or at least, gave it a try) to show him that I don’t throw garbage in the stream. He didn’t understood, I’m sure, but it didn’t stop him to ask me again. He smiled and he was friendly so I don’t know… It just felt wrong to leave him like that. But again, I understood almost nothing from what he said. Finally, I found out that I have paper and pen so I can draw for him – I drew the dipper while pointing at the stream and also drew Hungary and a train to indicate where I came from – and how. I think he liked the idea but still not reacted to the bird, only to Hungary. He asked something involving Budapest and Balaton, then some other guy from the yard – I only discovered him now – said something about our PM, Orbán Viktor. Too bad I mostly could only shrug and smile… He also frequently mentioned bulgarski – I guess he was curious whether I am learning Bulgarian or not and/or how come that I don’t speak the language when I’m here. This is where I thought to myself, how funny and sad is that there are worlds between elder people who had much less opportunities and were kinda isolated in their whole life, and youth who can now much more easily travel and learn languages and thrive in another countries etc. But of course, it still doesn’t mean the former’s life worth less, no; in fact, I was unhappy that I couldn’t speak with them, I would have listened to their opinion, their perspectives. (And yes, we have Bulgarian lessons – just not so intense and of course, you can’t make wonders in the span of 2 months. That’ll be another post.)
Now some pictures from the church and the town, “just because”. Enjoy!

*at least as breeding. The Grey Wagtail is migratory and can be seen at any other water bodies along its route.

**oops, I forgot to mention: rose is the symbol of the nearby town Kazanlak and the whole area is famous for its rose oil and rose water production (mainly Turkish influence), but also lavender is grown for the same purpose. Given that the soil is not really good for crop production, this was constraint, but became a worldwide business so every thorn has its rose, isn’t is true? There is a museum of roses in Kazanlak, I visited it, but maybe I’ll tell that in an another post.

Permaculture and garden works, part I.

I guess at this point people are already curious what do we REALLY do as a volunteer. Just to ensure you in advance – no, this is not a paid holiday, we are not (just) tourists, we don’t soak our divine legs in jacuzzis etc., we are actually working. Our first task, which yielded spectacular results, was to prepare and make a compost pile (a hot compost, no less – I’ll explain that) with Tatyana’s direction and help, in her permaculture garden.
At first, we got quick lessons about permaculture after our regular meetings in Chitalishte. I was mostly familiar with it, I even participated on a weekend-long permaculture course with that friend who I mentioned earlier (you’ll write a test on this!! Just kiddin’ ;)). But I’ll do my best to sum it up for you, who maybe hear about it the first time, with my own words.
So… the essence of permaculture is to create our agricultural system as self-sustainable as possible, with utmost respect to natural processes and moral aspects. Sounds too vague? Let’s approach with a practical example: you’ve just inherited a land. You are happy and decide you want to grow x kind of plants on it. What do you do? You can divide the land in x parts and plant the plants the usual way; you plan ahead when it is time to plant, fertilise, remove their pests, water, tie up, cut, harvest etc. that special kind of plant and take care of them differently. Or, you can think about – what are your land’s features? What kind of patterns do the environmental factors form (sunny-shady side, dry-moist side…), how they overlap and what do your plants need? How can you put them in this mosaic to satisfy their needs as much as possible? And the same with plants – what can they provide to each other? You search for the interactions between them so you can bring the best out of them. So basically, you try to mimic ecosystems, you design a miniature one on your own. Isn’t it more exciting than the traditional one?! Oh yeah, but I admit it also takes much more work and time to get fully fledged. And not so stable in economical sense – I mean, you can’t really predict how much kg corn you will harvest. Maybe that year everything goes so-so… except for, for example, zucchinis. You drown in zucchinis. And this is when the moral part comes in – first, you accept that it turned out this way, because you treat your garden as a partner, not as a slave. Of course, our ecosystem is still artifical, and you try to fine-tune for your needs, but it is more important that the system thrives as a whole. Second, you are not a selfish pig and you share your zucchinis with people who need it more – maybe they help you back once. Or maybe not – but the thing is that you stay fair and (not) besides: you don’t waste! You understand and respect that it takes time and energy from the system to convert the matter for you and that’s why you only take what you really need, and you try to give back for reuse as much as possible and help this processes. In the end, I see traditional agriculture as a machine which is pre-programmed better so it is more likely to behave how we want, but it has more button and more hassle to operate and maintenance; while permaculture is a machine by which it takes more time to figure out how it functions and to program/teach it, but in the long run, it is easier to operate and more stable, in ecological sense.
(..oops, I carried away. Also, engineers somewhere are crying/laughing/committing seppuku over my last analogy. But I hope the point went through, right? Either way, this is a good start.)
Alright, back to the present and our role in the project. So, as you know(?), there is decomposition in the nutrient cycle: all waste/dead organic material, from every point of the food web, eventually gets broken down and reused. Basically, composting is taking control over this process in space and time. We make a spot in our garden, pile up things and after compost is formed, apply it where we want. This – the cold compost – is nice but also quite slow: it takes months to get compost! UNLESS… unless we take advantage of some diligent microbial communities lurking around! The point is the hot compost is to make favourable conditions to decomposing bacteria which work so hard that the inner parts get really hot, but it’s actually good (until a certain extent) because the heat kills the pathogens, parasites, weed seeds etc., so it has a cleaning affect. Granted, it kills also the original micronial culture which started the dirty work… but chin up, somebody likes it hot: this is where thermophilic (=heat-loving) bacteria step in and continue the decomposing! This wonderful creatures thrive on 50°C or above, can be also found in hot springs and geothermal vents and since their enzymes function on high temperatures (obviously!), they have various applications in biotechnology and industry. For example, in washing powders. “Eating” food stains from your shirt midst of hot water. No kidding. …But, back to compost: after thermophiles finish, it cools down and another bacteria, fungi, later insects and yes, earthworms etc. come.
And how does it look like in practice? Well, another important point is that the compost should have an appropriate carbon-nitrogen ratio to boost. And we know that straw, dried weed/plants, sawdust etc. are rich in carbon while various green plants, fruit/vegetable waste, manure etc. are rich in nitrogen. So first of all, we needed to collect a lot of dry plants for the “C” part before the compost building. These were easy to find (because of the drought) but of course harder to get. Especially when I worked on a spot when raspberry vines sneaked everywhere. It’s like they would protect the straw underneath, or they just loved me really much, because once stucked, wouldn’t let me go… Too bad for them, it wasn’t reciprocal and I also don’t make half-work – I got everything possible. We also got sickles for the hardier stalks – although the handle of mine fell off. Nevermind, it was still functional, if a little slippery. It’s funny how quick you get into the small tricks, how to move, which plants can you tear out with bear hands and which ones you have to pluck out with swift twists etc. And it’s quite relaxing after a while, though of course it’s nothing new – remember what Martin says at the end of Candide? And the insects: you come closer to their level, so to say, and can’t help but observe them while you work. A whole new world. Not to mention that the permaculture garden has higher biodiversity: the variety of plants, the watering system, it attracts much more species (and not just fancier pests).
But back to the compost… After piling up a lot dry plants, we looked after green plants for the “N” part. But not just any kind – the best here is the worst otherwise: the stinging nettle! So we searched for the weed we try to avoid as possible otherwise – granted, we had gloves (although it’s true that you actually can get used to stinging). When we were short on nettle, also plucked some comfrey (which Tatyana planted especially for this reason) and dandelion leafs. We soaked in a plastic barrel before use; actually, some nettle were already there, as I recall, for liquid fertilizer. (Did you know that you can make a good liquid fertilizer from nettle? The only downside is that gets really smelly as it ferments.) Tatyana also got horse manure from one of her neighbours and used chicken mulch and bad fruits from her own yard, because the variety of components is also crucial. The more kind, the better – like an exotic recipe!
And now the building. On an approx. 1×1 m2 spot, we started to “bed” with the dry parts, spread it evenly as we could. And then we packed a layer of N-rich parts… then dry parts again and so on and so on. Tatyana said this is not the only method of building a compost pile but she does this way, the “lasagna” style (a long time exposure of Garfield comics makes this method immediately relatable). We lifted the material mostly with forks and spread with hands; we also used forks and rake from time to time to adjust and compile the pile – which this way basically became a cube. Tatyana also watered the pile to make sure it’ll be enough wet to kick in. Unfortunately I didn’t remember the time we finished, but I think it lasted minimum an hour or more – for three of us! It IS hard work, but definitely woth it because it feels so good to create something useful. I know it sounds sentimental and cliché, but… maybe it just is; it doesn’t take any less of its value so I might as well embrace it.
I was thinking to make a cliffhanger (yes, in a blog. I’m that kind of people) but I kinda spoiled it in the beginning, so… Even if we put a lot of effort in the compost pile, it was still unsure wether it starts to work or not. But two days after, we got an e-mail from Tatyana informing us that it is very hot and we did a great job. YAY! All’s well that ends well – I continue to sum up the other garden works in a next post. Stay tuned!

(The pictures below were made by © Sintija!)

First impressions

After meeting Tatyana, we went to the shop because she needed some things and she also (correctly) assumed that I could be thirsty/hungry after the long travel. Then she drove back home (which means from now on, Shipka), showed me the house where we (the other volunteer and I) will live, I put my things down, and took a little breath. After that, we had lunch at a local restaurant, and went back to the house, where I could choose my room as a firstcomer. I took a bigger breath until in the evening, Sintija from Latvia (notice the rhyme?) arrived. On the next few days, we met went to a lot of places to meet a lot of interesting people who play an important role, one way or another, in our projects.
These are the dry facts. But the real question is – at least from my point of view, of course -, how I felt meanwhile and what I perceived first?
Well, I didn’t see too much from Kazanlak at first but it was kinda reassuring that it didn’t seem that much of culture shock. Sure, I still must get used to that everything is written in Cyrillic, but otherwise, Kazanlak could be pretty much a Hungarian town – maybe from the underdeveloped part (no offense #1), but definitely not alien. There are some old-fashioned, worn-out and/or just miserably abandoned parts which radiate the smell of post-socialism, but there are also modern parts – advanced technologies crawl in with new shops, companies, proud, renovated buildings, and of course, signs of EU funded achievements etc. So, it’s a typical Eastern-European mixture, I think.
Another thing which I observed is that the electric poles are different: the concrete poles are cilinder shaped and without holes. (I don’t know why it is important.)
Shipka itself (the little town where we will actually live and work) is a bit different. Someone with a big enough mouth could sell it for naive souls as a Hungarian village (no offense #2): the aforementioned Eastern-European feeling, peaceful, somehow you feel that time has stopped, old ladies, working people, chickens and dogs and cats, square-houses are all familiar… But it strikes immediately that a lot of fences are made of stones and covered with roof tiles and that, for example, seemed atypical for me (but lovely, nevertheless). The next spectacular things are the plants around the houses. I noticed soon that fig tree and also, sweet chestnut tree is pretty common, unlike in Hungary. After all, it’s not that surprising, I nodded in myself: they belong to the Mediterranean flora and enjoy the considerably warmer climate here. Arguably, this is something enviable – fig and chestnut are true delicacy! Still about plants: you see a vine garden at almost every house – this is also frequent in Hungary, but not at this extent which you can see there. The angular iron rods look like the extensions of houses. (I admit, this was Sintija’s finding, but it was a true ‘aha’-experience…)
Judging from the (still) little experience I had so far, the Bulgarians are nice people. I feel they are more cheerful than us Hungarians – OK, I guess it’s a bar set really low… but still. Their hospitality is also remarkable: almost anywhere we got, the host felt the urge to offer something for the guest – even if it was ‘just’ coffee or some salty snacks. For example, the ladies at the library often treat us with salty snack and soda, Silvia, our language teacher gave us carrot cake and pancake, Hristo – our first “landlord” – spoiled us regularly with typical Bulgarian foods… It is also true that aside from younger people, they don’t really speak English, but that doesn’t stop them from helping you especially if you’re also cooperative and nice. (That’s how I got some really good spinach from the bazaar, but that’s another story.)
Oh, and last but not least… I see dead people. OK, not so dramatically like in the quoted film, but there are obituaries EVERYWHERE – or at least flyers that look like obituaries (I’ll explain), taped on walls, pinned on trees etc.. Black frame, photo, you could decipher which is the name, and number – obviously the age at death; sometimes maybe a little candle symbol or something. You feel a little uneasy, like, you guess that this is tradition, but a bit it feels like there was a horrible mass tragedy or some plague (if not the plague) there. Sorry, morbid humor aside: again, Sintija was quicker and/or more initiative and asked about this. It turned out some flyers are actually memorials – several month or year anniversaries of passed away loved ones. They lamented about whether it’s helping or not because of dwelling to much into mourning… I’m not so good at psychology so I don’t know, but that’s for sure, it’s kinda sweet and sad at the same time… And also kinda creepy. So… swadpy?

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One of our visits was at this fairyland.

The travel

After the “Hurray, I get accepted to an EVS project!!” euphoria, you realize you have to get down to the earth and start planning. I did my homework with the travel options and settled with the train as the most convenient choice. There was a train through Serbia and one through Romania – I went with the second one because I don’t have a ‘real’ passport, and Romania is also in the EU so I only need my ID card. What a time to be alive! So I bought my ticket for September 14th, Wednesday.
I stayed at my brother’s place the day before the journey because he lives in Budapest and we had to get to the railway station (Keleti pályaudvar) early. We quickly found the train and my place on it. Márkó (my brother) helped me with the luggages and also with the ticket inspection… First we didn’t understand why the inspector lady keeps my ticket, but turned out it’s the rule and nobody will ask it except her and she will give it back at the end. Spoiler: I had to remind her to the ticket when we arrived. But she was nice anyway so I’m sure she just forgot it. She also had braided hair. (I don’t know why it is important.)
So the train departed at 7:10. It’s hard to describe how I felt… OK, no melodrama: first I was just sleepy, hungry, and cold. At the Hungarian border, a policeman came and asked for my ID card… which wasn’t at its place. I packed out all my things from my backpack, while the policeman patiently watched… But it’s a good thing I wasn’t panicking, just “think man, think logically” – then I remembered that I left it in my textil bag, because I bought some alcohol yesterday (it was my birthday). Luckily, I put that bag in the big sportbag, at the last moment. IT WAS THERE. pfeww… The policeman just smiled.
Aside that, the travel was eventless. There were only a few passengers in this wagon, Bulgarians I suppose, because they talked a lot with the inspector lady. At the Romanian border the train stopped for a while, I looked at the “Welcome to Romania” sign and their coat of arms and I was thinking, “Wow, so I am really in another country”… Then I realized, OK, people talk differently, sure, but they basically act the same, the sun shines the same, etc. The policeman had a different uniform but he also wanted the ID card. So after the initial magic wore off, I returned to:
-reading
-doing crosswords
-listening to music
-contemplating the sceneries (worth it. I especially liked the Danube at Orsova and the Iron Gates – places only familiar so far from Jókai’s famous novel, Az arany ember, but finally I saw them IRL).
Anyway, the train was like a classic second class train in Hungary, only with six(!) mobile beds which can be converted from seats. (I don’t want to imagine the travel with full boxes. I guess it never really happens, though.) They resemble somehow to military beds and the feeling amplifies with the coarse blanket and simple thin sheets and bed clothes. But they were clean and nothing else matters, I don’t live in a palace so I had no problem with the equipment, even found the bed confortable.
Then evening came and I looked at my mobile, thinking, “I have 8 hours to sleep, nice!”, then almost in this moment, the clock changed suddenly – to an hour later! Oh snap… of course, different time zone. I slept well so I was a BIT unhappy when the Bulgarian policemen woke me up around midnight for the final ID/passport inspection. They took it away, the train stopped for half an hour and I stood at the window and smiled at how funny “supermarket” looks written in Cyrillic. The train arrived to Sofia a bit before 6 o’clock, September 15th. I had more than an hour to buy the ticket to Kazanlak which I managed because it was easy to orientate at the train station. My only problem was that the escalators didn’t really work so I had to lift my luggage.
The train departed at 7:00. A lady sat in the box with me – luckily, she went also to Kazanlak so I was sure I won’t miss my stop. (She showed me her ticket – she didn’t speak English). We around 11:30, some strong men took my luggage down and I thanked them with my first blagodarya. Then… Tatyana (the project coordinator) was nowhere in sight. Again, I didn’t panicked. It is true we didn’t discuss that we meet here but since we fixed all train dates, I considered it obvious. I also trusted her, I was sure she wouldn’t let me down. So I sat down and just a quick try: the station had WI-FI! Nice!! Then I read her e-mail that she will come. Until then, I talked with an old man who asked something first and we figured out we both speak German. The conversation started to fall apart, but luckily, Tatyana arrived with her lovely daughter… and the rest is (will be) history.

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I’m on the train (I know, I know, my hair is a mess).

Who I am and why / how I get there?

In a nutshell* (for real). My name is Adrienn or simply Adri, just for you. I studied biology with ecology specialisation, which is a brave move because after I graduated, I couldn’t find a job in a year! But I was (and still am) open to alternative opportunities, and I was really curious after some kind and trustworthy folks recommended the EVS eg. European Volunteer Service. It is – again shortly – is a EU grant program which allows young people to do volunteer work, short or long term, in another (mostly) EU countries, in various themes. Which is good for the volunteers, because they get invaluable skills and experiences for (mostly) free and good for the EU, because, I guess, this improves the participants’ employement chances in the long run and helps them being a true EU citizen.
So I looked for projects and got fascinated instantly, because there are a (okay, relative) lot of “green” project (sustainable agriculture, nature protection, environmental issues etc., the list goes on ) which is exactly my cup of tea. A lot of possible choice, kinda makes you dizzy, even.
I applied mainly for long term projects and mostly I was selected in the first step but something always went wrong. Then I realized, in most parts I messed up my chances, maybe even unconsciously. Do I even want a long term project first? I’ve never even been abroad and/or so far away from my family/friends for so long. OK, I guess I’m a bit sheltered… But on the other hand, damn! Working (for example) in a national park for 7 months, how awesome would it be?! So my ambitious and cautious self fought each other inside, when I saw a call for a short term project in Messzelátó’s (a Hungarian EVS sending orgatisation) homepage…
It was about permaculture and building a community in the Bulgarian mountains. I know permaculture and find its principles sympathetic, I have also a friend who’s into that. The cultural/community aspects (working in a library/gallery, making meaningful programs) sounded a bit alien to me, but somehow the whole thing was… round and right. And I was thinking, hey, it’s a good mixture, something I know and something new, broadening your horizon will be just useful!
So I applied and Tatyana (the coordinator of this project) quickly replied and the Skype interview was arranged and it went really well, aside from technical issues (oh Skype, I love you so much). I found Tatyana really sympathetic and somehow felt it was reciprocal. The thing is, I applied beforehand for an another long term project which involved BIRDS! – oh my, I haven’t told you, my passion is ornithology -, but I haven’t heard them for a while. Basically, I had to choose and I had the gut feeling that I shouldn’t, so to say, “betray” Tatyana, who was waiting for me, even though she had an another candidate. Maybe you could say I was opportunistic because it was the safer choice, or I was hungry for positive feedback and achievement…
But what really decided it was Tatyana’s reliability. She always responded quickly and was always helpful and thorough when an issue arised. This makes her a person to worth work with and it gave me a great motivation. So when I was chosen I was really happy and I knew I must take this volunteering seriously, too.
Let’s see if I manage this. Tag along with me on this journey!
*(It was a big nutshell.)