Bulgarian Corruption

According to Business insider Bulgaria is still the most corrupt country in Europe. In this Blog I’ll explore what this means for living and working here.

I moved to Bulgaria in 2003. For all intents and purposes Bulgaria was a failed state. After the colapse of socialism the country was a Mafiocracy. Might had right and the robber barons ruled the roost. It was a strange and sometimes scary time. My family and I wanted to build a factory in Bulgaria due to cost and location but there were red flags popping up everywhere. A meeting with the Bulgarian ambassador in London ended with him suggesting that if we did invest we would lose all our money and probably end up shot.

With this warning ringing in their ears my family called me back from the Hindu Kush and sent me to Bansko with a suitcase full of money and a business plan. Bulgaria wasn’t as dangerous as running around the Afghan border and there were less guns. That said it wasn’t exactly Ibiza either.

In my first 3 years here I had two guns pulled on me, I was extradited twice, refused entry once and threatened by various officials countless time. I never paid a bribe, I never bent the knee. I fought and fought and fought every step of the way. My main motivation was that if I paid up even once I would be paying for the rest of the time I was here so I didn’t. It wasn’t easy and at times it was unpleasant but I stuck to my position that I would never pay.

Bent coppers and civil servants were pretty easy to get around. Simple jobs took weeks, paperwork was a Sisyphean task, everything was made as difficult as possible to encourage you just to pay up to get the job done. But we just plugged away at it. “Oh you also want form B filled out? No problem! A copy of my mothers birth certificate? No problem! Unicorn tears? No Problem!!!” They wanted it I got it and slowly slowly we moved on.

The biggest problem was always immigration. The law was grey enough that the vile little rat of a man who ran the immigration office in Blagoevgrad had a free reign to squeeze you as much as he liked. The 5 other foreigners in south west Bulgaria all paid up. If you wanted to live here it would cost you 200 euros and a bottle of scotch every year. If you didn’t pay the little toad would reject your application over and over until you over stayed your visa and then he would kick you out.

I would drive down to Greece get a new visa and then try again the next day. When he worked out what I was doing he would ring the border guards and they would try and make it impossible for me to come back into BG.

The list of civil servants trying to make an easy buck on the back of foreigners was very long. From the fire brigade to the hotel inspectors, the health and safety office to the tax man, everyone wanted a little brown envelope full of cash to leave you alone. Like a cloud of mosquitoes they swarmed around desperately trying to get their drop of blood.

Bulgaria Today

I’ve been here 18 years now. I still haven’t paid anyone anything. My family has been threatened, my business has been threatened and I’ve been threatened but still I didn’t pay. As the years have gone by things have improved. It’s been a very long time since anyone was gunned down in the streets and it has been a long time since a civil servant has asked me for money.

The police do their jobs and so do most of the civil servants. The paperwork is still excessive but not impossible and the taxes are low so we carry, happily, on. The vast majority of foreigners in BG now don’t even come across corruption in their daily lives. If you open a business the paperwork is annoying but a good accountant can deal with that. If you just want to live here Bulgaria is pretty much paradise. Low cost of living, great food and wonderful nature. Add to that the lovely people who you meet every day and there isn’t much to dislike.

Immigration

Today with some trepidation I went to immigration in Blagoevgrad. I didn’t take a lawyer or a translator. I did take every document I possess and I was 100% sure that it was going to be nightmare. I warned my son that it was going to be a horrible day. I parked the car around the corner from the immigration office at 9am and when we got round the corner I saw a queue of over 100 people, my heart sank. It really was going to be a nightmare.

As we got closer to the queue I noticed all the people were Bulgarians, so just to check I strode into the office. The EU application desk didn’t have anyone waiting at it. Being British I expected them to tell me to go and wait outside. Nope the sweet smiling lady said it was ok and started asking for documents.

Some I had, some I didn’t have. Every time we came across one I didn’t have she just smilingly asked if maybe I had something else similar. Slowly but surely we put together a dossier. She pointed me in the direction of an office down the street that would copy all of the documents and told me to come back.

Armed with my slab of paperwork she started talking me through the forms. Tick here, sign there, fill out this, fill out that. With the paitence of a saint she guided me through it all. A credit card payment and a photo, a sweet smile and she sent me on my way.

By 11am I was sat in cafe Yoanna, slightly stunned and just a little smug, eating icecream and drinking coffee.

Bulgaria WAS a failed state

Now it’s not! In the last 15 years Bulgaria has transformed itself beyond belief. Running a business here is simpler than most EU countries. For the common man corruption is a thing of the past. Yes there is paperwork but lawyers and accountants are very reasonably priced especially if you are a small or micro business.

The days of police stopping you for no reason and asking for 20lv are long gone. I can’t remember the last time a civil servant started telling me that I had a big problem that only he could fix. In my every day life now, I always assume incompetence rather than conspiracy.

I am not saying Bulgaria isn’t corrupt. If you want to buy ten thousand second hand kalashnikovs I could put you in touch with a man. You want to buy a Nuclear power station? Probably possible. Did the ex mayor of Bansko build a 2 million lv house on a 2 thousand lv salary? That’s the chat. BUT for us, the little guys, Bulgaria isn’t really corrupt at all. For us Bulgaria is paradise!

Trek in Pirin 2021

Trek in Pirin 2021Trek in Pirin 2021

Normally the summer season starts in earnest around the beginning of June. This year has been very very different. After huge snow falls throughout the season, the coldest spring in 23 years and fresh snow in June the mountains are about a month behind. I was skiing a good line on Doncovi Karuli mid June this year WTF!!! Yesterday  (28th of June) was my first Trek in Pirin 2021 !

Trek in Pirin 2021

A word of Warning!

There is still a load of snow around. We went up the route from Banderitsa hut to Kutelo. we crossed a few slightly sketchy snow fields, a couple of scary snow fields and saw some horrors on the North face route down from Vihren and the traverse to Koncheto. Steep snow in trekking shoes is very dangerous, mostly because it doesn’t look dangerous. If you slip you can get up some serious speed and then chrash into the rocks below causing serious injury. Be warned, be careful and as much as possible do not cross snow fields.

If you have to cross steep snow, traverse in an upward direction digging deep foot holds with your heels. Use a trekking pole as a brake if you slip and wedge it under your armpit pushing the tip hard into the snow to slow down.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Banderitsa Hut to Kutelo 1

This is a hard dry route but one of the classic treks in Pirin.  There is no water above the hut so take a couple of litres each. At a normal pace it takes about 4 hours up and 3 1/2 hours down it’s a big walk with around 1000m of up! There is no shade above the tree line so bring a buff and sun cream. The sun is strong in the high hills especially after rain. even with factor 50 Piz Buin mountain sun cream I got toasted!

I love this route. It has a wonderful plethora of transitions. You start in deep old forest, pass through alpine meadows, high alpine sedge pastures and finish up among the barren rocks and cliffs of Pirin’s most spectacular ridge.

Behind Banderitsa hut the green and white marked trail starts steep and carries on steep all the way to the top. This is a hard walk and for me it was a challenge as it was my first of the year. Carrying a little bit too much winter fat and being out of shape combined with high humidity and 25 degree heat first thing in the morning I was dripping within minutes!

The forest here is just wonderful ancient trees battered by decades of avalanches are warped and twisted into the most fantastic shapes. Peak summer you wander through fields of wild strawberries and raspberries. It really is a classic!

Trek in Pirin 2021

Alpine Pastures

The pastures above the tree line are filled with flowers and wild goats. The goats are not afraid of tourists and will potter around you looking for apple cores and crusts of bread. The young goats are still in the winter jackets and look a little scruffy and dredlocked at the moment.

Crucus and other wild flowers are popping up around the edge of the snow fields. Normally they would be over by now but with so much snow around spring has come late to our hills.

I am not sure if it because of the weather or covid or what but tourist numbers are massively down. I would expect to see dozens of people at this time of year even mid week. We saw 5! 5 People in the whole day!!! This was especially splendid as I was seriously suffering from a lack of fitness and the heat, thankfully there was no one to see us puffing up the hill.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Alpine

At the foot of the north face of Vihren the extent of the snow really became apparent. Huge fields of snow streatch off in all directions covering the path through most of Kazana. I love to stop here at wonder at the massive wall that in Vihren’s north face. I have climbed a few routes on it and every time I see it again I am shocked by how the hell I managed them. What was I thinking? It is a sheer wall of cast limestone and frankly not for summer climbing. The winter routes must be amazing. In the summer it is just a nightmare of loose rock and horrendous belay points.

I had a bit of a moment in Kazana. the route up and out of the bowl looked blocked by a huge snow field and I was seriously contemplating turning back. I have a horror of steep snow fields, the thought of slipping and sliding uncontrollably at 30kmh into a sea of boulders fills me with dread!

We found a kind of a path around the snow. Scrambling up on loose rock and sand, heart racing as little rock falls and slips messed with my mind. Above that snow we had to cross another snow field, less steep but still steep enough and long enough to scare me. By the time we got above the snows and into the High Alpine rocks I was happier but still dredding the descent!

Premkata

There is a huge pass between Vihren and Kutelo. As you look east back towards Banderitsa hut it is all rock and snow. Look west and it is a totally different story, a beautiful river wgiggles merrily through apline pastures that are in turn surrounded by old pine forest. Few people go down to the valleys south of Pirin other than shepherds and they have a pristine wildness to them that calls to your soul.

Trek in Pirin 2021

High Alpine

The photo above is from the pass between Vihren and Kutelo looking up towards the north west face of Vihren. We met a Czech guy here who had just descended the face. It looks cool but he was seriously shaken. High up on the north face the path passes through two little snow patches that you can see in the photo. To traverse these patches of snow, in aproach shoes, on a 45 degree slope with a huge back pack must have taken some serious nerves! He said it was terrifying.

From the pass to the summit of Kutelo is noting much.Just a boring sandy path over boring rocks with no real view to talk about. 30minutes of dull slog up this featureless slope makes arriving at the top a shockingly, wonderful moment. Plod plod plod you haul your tired bod up and up and then in one sudden moment the path stops. A near verticle cliff plunges down into Bansko Suhodol. Bansko and Razlog are miles below you in little pools of green. This amazing sea of rock and snow plung flows down and down into an alien barren world.

I have a few plans for Banski Suhodol, it is an untouched wilderness of barren rock. Di and I think there could be some great climbing routes to discover in there this summer.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Hiking with Danny

Hourses for courses I supose. Each to their own. Beauty is in the eye and all that. Hiking with Danny is a unique experience. I am a plodder. I have my pace and just plod along I don’t stop often and tend to take little or no food. With danny it is a very different experience. Photos must be taken, she charges along rushing for view to view, stopping here and there to look at this and that and Lunch? Lunch is a thing!

Cold beers, home made salami, sourdough bread, cucmbers, cheese, nuts and dessert. In a way it is wonderful but a truely alien experience for me! Sat atop a hill, resting tired muscles, with a cold beer and the cool breeze soothing my burnt skin I am happy.

Trek in Pirin 2021

Covid-19

coronavirus-information

Covid-19

Running your own business is one of the greatest adventures in this life. Hundreds of layers of complexity merge together into this one perfect dance of success. From the outside it all looks so easy on the inside it is like juggling chainsaws!

Just like juggling chainsaws it is amazingly satisfying, happy guests, happy staff a steady income, a little glory from a job well done. It’s awesome!

Covid has thrown a few new challenges into the mix, limited capacity, limited numbers of guests travelling, restrictions and new rules really add a little spice to the game!

We have come up with a plan! Hopefully it will be acceptable to our guests.

Social distancing.

The bar and restaurant will work with 50% occupancy, there’s lots of space so we ask guests to spread out.

Testing

All our team will have appropriate and regular Covid blood and PCR tests.

Lock Down

If one of us gets a positive test we will close the Restaurant and Bar. Our guests are more important than our profit.

Take Away

Depending on the local situation with numbers of covid cases/hospital occupancy, available testing capacity etc. We will run the restaurant as take away only.

These are not the laws of the land, these are our choices. If we appear stricter than the country allows it is because we care. I would rather make a little less money than make problems for our guests. I hope you all understand if we cancel an event it is because we love you guys and want to keep you safe.

 

 

 

This is what we do!

IMG_20151002_150632

We play in the mountains and look after people!

We live here because we love the mountains, we work here because we love sharing the love! Hospitality is awesome, we make our guests happy and in return they give us the means to live the mountain dream!

Avalon is something different.

There are a lot of options in Bansko for Nomads, cheap hotels, cheap shared chalets, apartments at ridiculously low prices. All of which have something in common they are ok for the money.

At The Avalon we are not cheap because we want to offer something a little bit nicer. Internet that works all the time. Clean communal areas and a team to support you while you are here.

The Team

We have a cleaner to deep clean the kitchen, we expect everyone to clean their own stuff but for scrubbing behind the cooker and cleaning the fans, emptying the bins and generally keeping on top of things we have Rumi!

The communal areas will get a once over every day, you’ve got better things to do than mop corridors and bathrooms.

Every evening we will man the bar from 5 to 9pm, not just to serve drinks but to offer advice, give directions and generally smooth out the bumps in the road of living in Bulgaria.

We have a laundry if you want to wash you clothes, we also have a company that can wash dry press you clothes and deliver them back to you!

Concierge Services

You have moved to Bulgaria, you probably don’t speak the language and probably don’t understand how to navigate the paperwork. We do! I have been running multiple businesses here for 17 years, if you need to do something official we have done it before.

If you need a contract for accommodation for residency, a translator, a driver, a helicopter, a private ambulance, a gluten free vegan birthday cake, a horse whisperer…..whatever it is we have done it before and are more than happy to help you!

The Accommodation

You need a room with a private office we have 6 of them.

You need somewhere to do your yoga we have a space for that.

You want to cook a massive dinner  for a birthday party, we have a team to help.

Prices

Prices start from as little as 234euros a month including all bills. no we are not the cheapest but our guests think we are the best. Tripadvisor reviews!

 

 

 

Co-living-avalon-bansko Online English teachers

Co-living @ Avalon Bansko

In December Avalon will start a new chapter in Bansko!

Covid-19 has totally changed the way we live and work. With less and less office based work, flexible hours and more and more location independent work available we have decided on a change.

Out with traditional old fashioned hospitality and in with a totally new way of living the Bansko dream!

Avalon has been a Home-tel for many of our regular guests for years, our plan is to expand on the Home side of things. We will no be offering our mini apartments and single rooms for rent exclusively on a monthly basis.

Our guests will be able to use the kitchen and living room as their own home!

We will still be doing some weekly events as well as cooking courses, guided ski, bike and hike days.

Our focus is online English teachers and location independent workers who love the mountains.

Co-living-avalon-bansko Online English teachers

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko.

 

Indian in BanskoThe Hotel Avalon has been offering Indian food in Bansko. for over 10 years now. It’s a slightly strange situation, an English guy cooking Indian food in Bansko but it makes sense I promise. A little bit of history will help.

On leaving school I trained and worked as a British modern chef. Cooking in most of the best restaurants in Bristol and upsetting nearly all of the head chefs. I never lasted long in one place! I’d work 3 months, learn everything I could and then dash off to the Alps to ski all winter or to Asia to wander around the Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush. My passion for food followed me to Asia. Where sat in wooden shacks in smokey kitchens I’d prize recipes out of everyone I could.15

Mostly we wouldn’t be able to talk in a shared language, there’d be lots of show and tell, spices would have local names, recipes would vary from village to village, but the general idea built up as I wandered through each region. For almost a decade I never really got a chance to cook any of the dishes I was learning. The U.K. was and still is in the throws of the Jamie Oliver food revolution. Cooking was all about “bung in a bit of Basil and slosh a load of olive oil”. I kept learning eating and tasting and writing everything down.

I was sent to Bansko in 2003 to do a job and decided to stay. I tried cooking a bit of “pukker grub” but no one was really interested in what I’d learned in Bristol, so we did a curry night. I thought I’d cook curry the British way and it was a total disaster, people wanted spice. There’s only so much shopska you can eat before you start craving a bit of flavour!

18The adventure started gently, I began by cooking Indian food in Bansko with easy classics from Delhi and Nepal. Then a few Pakistani dishes, aromatic and spicy numbers from up by the Afghan boarder. People loved it! I added some dishes from Goa, then Sri Lanka perfect for the summer. I’ve interpreted some Kashmiri dishes and made them my own ( so popular people now copy them!!) Afghanistan inspired me to make a chicken dish, sour and soapy with lemon and Cardamon and a bucket load of coriander.  Snacks that you would only find in the foot hills of Everest and now served as Indian food in Bansko ! As the years go by we keep changing the menu, this summer I unleashed a couple of new dishes that I thought our guests might like. One a creamy coconut dish packed with chilli from Sri Lanka and the other a mushroom and aubergine “Balti” full of tamarind and rich spices. It appears our guests are willing to be adventurous!

I will keep pushing the boundaries. I have a few dishes with goat that I want to try and a butter “carrai” from Tish Mir that might be too rich for western tummies. I’ve eaten countless versions of bean curries that I’d like our guests to sample. Now we have a tandoor maybe some of the highly spiced Afghan kebabs of offal might come out. Who knows, I keep going back to Asia and every time I get a new recipe or two and every time our guests love it. The adventure that is Indian food in Bansko continues!

We have a huge following of regulars and I’m proud of what we offer, people book months in advance and as a chef that is the most wonderful compliment. I love cooking Asian food and thousands of you love eating what we cook, thank you for your support!

16If you would like to try “Indian food in Bansko” it’s not just Indian ( Punjabi, Kashmiri, Pathan, Chitrali, Nepali, Sri lankan!) please book by Email:- hotelavalonbansko@gmail.com

Our curry nights are every Thursday in the summer season. In the winter every Thursday, most Fridays and some Wednesdays.

We start serving at 7:30 with a selection of Asian street food starters, Papad, samosa, bahji, sukuti, raita, pickles and chutneys.

The main courses are served at 8pm 9 different dishes split pretty much 50/50 between meat and vegan, we adjust the selection according to the season and what’s available. There is also a pretty wide spread of spiciness and heat. About half the meat dishes are cooked in the Tandoor to get that unique flavour as well as our Naan. The Basmatti rice is the best I can find in the U.K.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer in the mountains.

Dylan and Daddy in the hills!

 

img_20170731_165002_354This has been our first proper summer in the mountains. I’ve taken Dylan for a few trips each year for the last two years but nothing too crazy. We had an over nighter at Sinanitsa, a scramble with a little bit of rope with Di and a plenty of jollies. I started this summer with my best foot forward and haven’t really looked back.

 

Trekking in Pirin is a really hard game to explain. For each person who goes into our hills it means a totally different thing. If we make a scale of 1 to 5 to rate mountain nut nuts it’ll be a bit easier to understand.img_20170724_164401_150

 

 

Level One:-

Here is the The Man, 175 kilos of serious mountain man. He likes to walk from his car to a BBQ spot in the woods, the 100m stroll builds up an appetite. Gallons of beer will be strategically placed in the stream with a watermelon or two. Planning is essential as keeping beer cold and chilling a 10 kg melon is slow and difficult work. There are hundreds of dedicated BBQ spots. Most people have a favourite and will loyally go back to the same one week after week. The truly dedicate will spent a few years, possibly generations, building a villa but the principal is the same. Benches and tables hewn from whole trees, shade of some sort and a water source provide the supporting roles to the main star which is the fire pit. Pirin BBQ’s are not like your big green egg or Weber.  A U shaped pit of rocks cemented together make the frame. An intricate balancing act gets the grill in place over the roaring flames. Use of a flattish igneous rock as the grill and a roaring fire to heat it makes for an interesting fried/baked/smoked cooking style. This is proper cave man stuff none of your fancy metal grills here please. Just a bloody great rock heated up and slabs of meat slapped on top.img_20170706_153142_560

 

Pork fat, is crisped, peppers roasted, onions fried and maybe some other vegetable might be induced to show up. The real star of the show is the pork. No fancy marinades here, you use your favourite butcher and he’ll knock out a selection of different sausages, meat balls and spiced steaks of different cuts of pork ( neck is a personal favourite). This mountain of artery hardening goodness will be cooked to perfection by The Man and washed down  with gallons of cold beer. A ridiculously huge salad of home grown tomatoes and cucumbers will hint at vitamins. A few hours later in a meat coma under a tree our hero will be snoring happily.img_20170702_194026_538

 

Level 2:-

DFS, Down From Sofia. No one is from Sofia, not really. Sofiantsy are all recent immigrants to the big city. At most a generation ago they were all villagers and more likely only a couple of years ago. So Friday night means half of Sofia gets in the car and heads to the mountains. These guys are earning money so the clothes are nice and the trainers are nicer. They will eat in restaurants and HIKE! They split into two distinct categories. There are the jeans, t shirt and white trainers brigade and the everything from Decathlon brigade. These guys love the mountains! They will be up at the Rila seven lakes one weekend and Vihren the next. Limited in experience and stamina they will still spend most weekends exploring the main tourist routes in Bulgaria, scattering litter along the path all day and tucking into the local beers all night. Fun people who love spending time in the mountains these guys will be mountaineers soon!

 

img_20170706_153142_555Level 3:-

Trekkers , a truly international bunch. These guys can be from anywhere. Sofia, London, Buenos Aires , Paris or Milan. They’ve heard about how wild and hospitable Pirin is and they are here on an adventure. These guys can’t lie on a beach they will spend their whole summer in the mountains. Determined to be happy, super fit and willing to rough it in the hills they tend to respect the mountain more than most and LOVE what Pirin has to offer. Normally in town for a week hiking from hut to hut and then soaking in hot springs on their last day before heading home these easy going guys really get it!

 

Level 4:-img_20170702_193847_830

Summit baggers. Not all of this little group of nutters are interested in summits but they’ve got a goal and they are on a mission to get it. It could be all about climbing every mountain in Bulgaria or the Balkans, maybe its some epic adventure from Sofia to Greece. these guys are on one. Big packs and even bigger muscles, tales of insanely long routes, huge mountains and wild places that are beyond belief !

 

limg_20170724_164843_455evel 5:-

Mountaineers! There aren’t so many of these rare beasts in Bansko but  you can spot a few. Normally on north faces of something ridiculous  tooled up to the max with ropes and metal work. Leaving civilisation hours before dawn winter or summer these nutters will be hanging on by their fingernails to some hair raising  cliff before the rest of us have even had breakfast.

 

So where do I fit into this crowd? I’ve played at being a mountaineer and to be honest I’m lacking in the bucket loads of manliness needed to join them. I’ve played at bagging summits and still do from time to time. Long distance walks and multi day trips are still fun but I’ll only really do that a couple of times a year. Playing at being The Man is also pretty cool once or twice a year. I’m pretty partial to pork products and cold beer. But I think the truth of it is I like the playing most of all. National Park Pirin is , for me, a giant play ground. Now for Dylan as well.img_20170625_144915_068

 

We started our summer in the mountains together with an amazing group of ex pats. A crazily long trip to the wildest corner of Pirin. The south east corner of Pirin is visited by a few locals, hunters, trials bikers and the odd shepherd but otherwise is just a wilderness for the beasties. Last year the National Park built a hut about as far from anywhere as you could imagine so we decided to visit. It’s just a simple little bunk house for 8 people set in a meadow laced with crystal clear streams. A lovely little spot other than the clouds of mosquitoes! Getting there was a little harder than expected. I think it took us close on 16 hours over the two days to get from Bez Bog to Breznitsa and everyone was a little pooped by the end. I only had to carry Dylan for the last kilometre on the first day so he was a bit of a hero really.

 

img_20170724_164004_240I learnt my lesson so our next trip was a lot more child friendly. Bez Bog to Tevno hut and then on the second day Tevno to Damianitsa hut. We swam in lakes we had picnics. I had an afternoon nap and all in all it was a near perfect weekend. Telling bedtime stories under the stars and walking hand in hand through alpine meadows are experiences I hope he will never forget.Our next trip I plan to camp on a peak somewhere, then maybe the week after by a lake. I love this way of spending time in Pirin. Seeing the mountains through a child’s eyes is enlightening and walking at a child’s pace a real pleasure. Soon our summer in the mountains will be over and I will start testing myself against the high peaks and long trails again but for now I’m kind of loving the gentle life!img_20170625_145236_216

Bread and Jam

Bread and JamBread and Jam

Bread and Jam

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I really care about what I eat, it’s really important to me. Great flavours, textures and smells get me going, so much so that some might say I’m a couple of pounds over weight! But when it comes to our guests it matters even more. Not only do I want to offer the best we can but more and more people are caring about what they eat and really appreciate quality food.

Bansko is still trapped in the grip of the seasons. Yes you can by strawberries in Feb. but they are massively overpriced and no one locally would dream of buying them. The local way, the seasonal way is the old fashioned way, when there is a glut of fruit or veg it gets preserved, dried, pickled of fermented! So mid September we got hold of some raspberries, added a little sugar left them overnight and then slowly boiled them up the next day. 240 jars of jam later we serve it for breakfast. Local raspberries and sugar, nothing else, unless you count time and love. Just fruit and sugar and it is lovely.

I’ve been on a course to make bread and this summer I have been practicing, flour, salt and water. A little time and love to get the flour fermenting and with nearly a thousand loaves made in the last 9 months I reckon I have nearly got the perfect loaf! I make 100% whole meal, two types of seeded rye, brown and white loaves.

Bread and Jam, so simple and so often ruined by the supermarkets, are such a treat when home made! I hope you guys enjoy them as much as we do!

 

 

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

 

After our little adventure on the north face of Vihren I decided that the time had come to learn to rock climb. There are some things in life that are best learnt in the heat of the moment. Climbing with all its reliance on knots and technique and fatal consequences is not one of them.

I love Alpine style mountaineering and Trad climbing lightweight climbs on unknown routes leaving no trace that you were ever there. The independence of having everything you need on your back  the freedom that comes from being able to look after yourself no matter what. A rope, a stove, some gear and a good waterproof sleeping bag is nearly all you need in life. Add to that someone you trust and can get on with no matter what and life clarifies into a simple chain of pre ordained events and their responses. I have spent many happy years of my life riding this clear chain of thought and to be honest I love it. Questions answer themselves, life’s great mystery condenses  into a kind of enlightened clarity.

All good in principle but the lesson from Kuloara is that there are some technical skills needed as well. So last weekend we went off to Peshteritay to hone some skills. Peshteritay is a cave just outside Bansko next to the ski road, in the winter you’ll pass it on your way back from a days skiing. There is a little restaurant there that offers some great local food and hospitality at properly local prices.

Rock climbing in Bansko is a pretty hairy game, as most of the big mountain rock is cast limestone. If you imagine concrete that has not been mixed properly you will have a good idea of what this rubbish is. At Peshteritay there is some lovely rock, stable and with lots of great big holds. Mountain rescue and some local enthusiasts have fixed bolts onto the rock here so it is safe and easy to attach protection. Vania, Dylan, the nannies and I have been practising here for a month now. Vania and Dylan are now very very good, I am still struggling to master hauling so much weight around but hey we are having fun! If you want to go and try it out I really recommend George and his tear at INTERSPORT

climbing centre walltopia sofia

climbing centre walltopia sofia

As the family have taken so well to Rock climbing in Bansko we recently spent a weekend in Sofia at some indoor climbing walls. Bulgaria is the world leader when it comes to indoor climbing thanks to a company called WALLTOPIA we went to one of their newest ventures called boulderland.  A truely amazing experience, Vania it turns out is a natural rock climber, at moments she was hanging upside down efortlessly moving over the walls like a gecko. I on the other hand am still struggling to move the 110kg!

 

 

The little world of Don Camillo

The little world of Don Camillo doesn’t seem to have got across the channel . On the continent it has been a huge part of peoples lives for nearly 70 years. I was introduced to the books by The Old Man and a very strange choice it was to suggest to a teenager. The stories have stuck with me for life, I have read and reread them over and over and love the characters like members of an extended dysfunctional family.

The little world is somewhere in the flat misty plains of the Po river in northern Italy, that agricultural land that gave us Parmesan, risotto, Balsamic vinegar and Barilla pasta. Lush fertile land breeds a type of hardened man that knows, through graft he will succeed the Po valley is such a land. miles and miles of flat green fields, soil as black as tar, bordered by the Alps far to the north and the Apennines to the south, the food and wine, the people and the climate have interested me since I first stepped into the little world through the books of Giovannino Guaresch.

December the 26th 2013 is Avalon’s 10th Birthday and as we can’t really take a holiday right at the beginning of the season I decided to take Vania and Dylan on a trip overland through the little world of Don Camillo, the drive from Bansko to Igoumenitsa in Greece was a bit of a pain but once we were on the ferry things slowed down to a more manageable pace. 3 hours a day of driving followed by lunch and a lazy walk around whichever town we ended up in.

I wont bore you too much with details of meals eaten and wine drunk castles visited and views seen but there are some details that really stand out. The first place we stopped was just outside Modena a small nothingish little village with one bar and a couple of hotels, the main square was an exact replica of how I imagined the village of Don Camillo, arcades, a huge church tower and the whole village packed into the one barrestaurant, young and old alike eating and drinking. The food was incredible! Just a pizza and a risotto to share between the three of us but wow what a rissotto, plump white rice in the creamiest starchy sauce, flavoured with nothing more than a hint of Rosemary and Balsamic. As the evening wore on the background music changed to techno for half an hour to get rid of the olds and then back to chilled house for the rest of the night to make the place more of a bar than restaurant.

The next 14 days carried on in much the same vein, France and Italy really blow the mind when it comes to living well, we stopped a few times at motorway services to have lunch and even there you will find a better steak than anything in Bulgaria and a selection of hot cooked food that would baffle the average British motorist. The pace of life on the continent really is lovely, lots of muddling around talking rubbish, drinking coffee and making lunch a proper sit down meal rather than a rushed sandwich at the desk. Compared with the hectic 10 days we had in the U.K. our two weeks on the road were snail like!

Back in Bansko we have been plugging away at getting the hotel ready while the town hall plugs away at smashing everything up before the season starts. Sadly I do understand why our Dumb Mayor Georgi Ikonomov  has decided to attack the town with a buldozer but none of the reasons are publishable here due to worries about prosecution! 3 out of 6 of the main roads into Bansko are now shut due to building works, 1/4 of town has been without water for the student holiday which supposedly brought 11000 tourists to Bansko for the weekend. The whole area around the gondola station has been smashed to pieces in a frenzy of destruction. All this just in time for the start of the season. Obviously none of this could have been done in May, June, July, August, September or even October. I now fully understand why the leader of Ikonomov’s party refers to him as “Our Dumb Mayor from Bansko” and recently at a party meeting trying to find something nice to say about him suggested he wasn’t too bad at watering the lawns!