Our final day in Bulgaria dawned and so we began the sad job of packing and putting the house to bed for another winter.
We also wondered if we’d have TWO pushchairs to take back home and so worked out a plan as to how we would manage all the luggage if that were the case (‘scuse the pun!).
Thankfully, we always come back with semi-empty suitcases as most of the stuff we bring is to be left out there, so we didn’t think it would be as bad as going.
But there was still a surprising amount of luggage, like the huge bag of onions and potatoes that the next door neighbour had kindly given us, that I couldn’t bear to leave to go to waste!
We used up some of the jam he gave us in some yogurt for breakfast, and I spread the rest on some bread for B to eat.
Our taxi was booked for 1:30pm and since B had woken us fairly early again, the packing was largely done and we still had a good few hours left here.
I decided to pick a few bunches of our grapes as it seemed such a waste to leave them ALL to rot on the vines over winter, and carefully packed them into an empty Pringles container that we’d kept after we ate the contents earlier in the week.
It was the ideal size for slipping down the side of a case and protecting the grapes from being crushed.
Ian took the usual photos of the water and electricity meters so we had a record of what the readings were (we have hopes of one day being able to submit meter readings online to the respective companies, like we can do in the UK, so we always take a photo just in case!).
Whilst he was doing that, I went through the kitchen and checked the use-by dates for all the food items.
Some of the perishable/delicate items, and items that would go out of date before we returned, we bagged up to give to our next door neighbour.
And some that we knew would survive the journey, we packed to bring home, like the jar of coffee.
When we’d been in March, we’d left the previous jar intending to carry on using it but it had solidified over the 6 months so we’d had to chuck it, making a note to take the current jar home with us when we left and always buy a fresh jar for every visit.
I also took photos of all the supplies we now had there as a visual inventory to save us precious space in our luggage next time we visited by preventing us taking duplicated items.
The photos of our remaining food supplies are also useful for meal planning and pre-creating a shopping list for when we arrive in Sofia next time and need to know what to buy for our visit.
We were a bit unsure how the glass jars of pasta sauce might weather the depths of a Bulgarian winter in an unheated house though, so it’ll be an interesting experience to come back in April and perhaps find exploded jars from the expansion of the frozen contents!!
There were also the beds to strip and put the bedding into the wardrobe (which contained about a tonne of mothballs!) to keep it all dust- and bug-free ready to use next time.
Realising that we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us in the afternoon, I suggested taking B for a walk and play at the new playground in the village centre that we’d found in March.
So we set off down there for our first (and only!) walk properly into the village this visit!
We’d been so busy at the house and socialising that we hadn’t once ventured fully down to the end of our road and into the village :O
Sadly, even though it was only at the most a year old, some of the playground had already been vandalised, and there was a great deal of litter around too.
But most some of the equipment was still usable so whilst B climbed and slid with a couple of even younger local children, I picked up some of the litter and put it in the bin provided.
We took a few photos and even a video of the main road and playground as it was so peaceful and quiet there.
After a while, we decided we needed to wend our way back home again (it sounds nice saying that, as although it’s a holiday home, it definitely feels like home when we’re there 🙂 ).
B wanted to explore a little more and I knew the extra walking would do him good, so we decided to have a mooch around the town square again.
As he toddled around, B discovered some steps going up to what we’d figured on our previous visit was the old village school, so being nosy, I said we could go up them into the grounds of the school for a poke around!
During our first visit when we were here buying the house, we’d seen a herd of sheep in the old school playing field, so we’d assumed the school was now disused.
As we suspected, the place was long abandoned, which was a great shame as the building is actually quite a large, impressive one.
Ian waited on the road with the pushchair as B and I walked around looking for a way in to the building, but the doors were all padlocked.
The windows in the lower ground floor however were all smashed in and a fitter person without a toddler could easily drop down into them and have a good nose around inside!
Sadly, I was not that person, so I had to content myself with looking inside and taking a few photos.
It was shocking to see there were still posters on the wall and supplies of similar posters in chests, and I’ve resolved that the next time we go back, if there are still there, that I’m going to try and get some of them and see if they are still salvageable as they are quite beautiful in design.
B had a little run around on the grass and it was quite startling to realise that if we actually DO move out there with the timescale we have planned, that this would have been the school he would have attended if we decided not to home educate him!
We’re not sure where the nearest school is now this one has closed so it looks like home education may have to be the way to go after all!!
We mosied back up the hill, taking a different route from what we’d ever done before as part of our exploration of the village and made a quick lunch of the eggs that our next door neighbour had given us.
After eating it, we cleaned up, switched everything off, removed the fuse from the electricity utility box, turned off the water stopcock, drained all the taps, lagged the pipework and locked the doors for the last time, wishing the house a fond farewell until we could be back again.
Then we piled everything into the taxi for the trip back to Sofia, even videoing a pretty little church and a rather fancy looking ranch-style house in the next village, Dobrusha, on the way…
It rained quite a lot en route and when we finally pulled up outside the hostel we were staying in that night, it was chucking it down, and there was also a lot of surface water on the roads and pavements everywhere.
I’d decided to leave my waterproof walking boots at the house and just wear my light canvas shoes home, so of course my feet were very soon soaked!
I had no other shoes with me so my travelling home the next day was going to be a bit damp!!
But apart from being a bit soggy, we’d planned to check out an indoor market in Sofia and head to our usual Billa supermarket to buy a few food bits for the journey home and to share with Alex and Dom, so after dumping our luggage and checking in, off we headed out again.
The wonderful thing about Sofia is that so many of the landmarks and places to look at are all within a very short walking distance, so it was only a few minutes later that we reached the very grand looking indoor market building.
Inside were lots of lovely stalls and shops, including fresh fish and meat stalls, bakery stalls, fresh fruit and veg, crafts, clothing, and souvenirs, so we bought a cute little hand-made souvenir to bring home and hang on our Christmas tree, for 2 lev (about £1).
After mooching around, we braved the downpour outside and crossed the precinct to Billa to buy our food.
Then we needed dinner so we decided we couldn’t be arsed to walk around in the rain trying to find somewhere new when we could just head back to our old favourite from our last visit, Happy Grill!!
The waitresses in Happy Grill are all very attractive, friendly, young ladies, and the uniform consists of a very short red skirt with bare legs.
Which I wouldn’t normally even bother mentioning, except that it makes what happened whilst we were in there even more embarrassing!
So our 3 year old son, out of the blue, decides that he wants to play “tickle tickle” (the game he plays with Dom back at home) with our young, attractive waitress in her very short red skirt, and because he’s in a high chair and she’s standing next to him, the only part of her he can reach to tickle is her bottom :O
The poor girl!
She was trying so hard to be friendly and attentive to her customers, and then she gets groped by a toddler :O
I apologised profusely to her and explained to B that he mustn’t do that with people he doesn’t know, especially on their bottom!
I hope she was OK with that and understood fully what we were saying.
We also left her a decent tip as part of trying to make up for her being fondled by the youngest customer in the restaurant!
We strolled back up the road to our hostel and got B to sleep, then we grabbed a hot chocolate each from the hostel vending machine (about 60 stotinki each, 30p!) before heading to bed ourselves.
Unfortunately, the hostel had some rather noisy guests staying there that night, who decided at 4.30am to start singing loudly in the room next to us and woke up B.
I got into his single bed with him and was able to settle him back to sleep, but then I was unable to get back to sleep myself, so stayed awake until B woke properly.
We had a bit of rigmarole booking a taxi but eventually I managed to use an app I’d downloaded for our last visit to order one, and because it was a busy time of morning, the receptionist at the hostel had advised us to get it for about 8.30am.
The poor driver ended up stuck in traffic for a good part of the journey and we also found ourselves stuck in a long queue as we went through the Roma ghetto towards the airport, because two dogs were mating in the middle of the road!!!
You’d think someone would have shooed them out of the road, but perhaps nobody likes to disturb mating dogs!!
There’s a saying about letting sleeping dogs lie; perhaps that also applies to mating dogs too!
The short trip to the airport ended up taking half an hour, but still only cost 14 leva (£7), which was incredible given how long it had taken!
And once we were at the airport, the pushchair saga resumed!
We asked at the departures information centre where we would need to go to pick up the pushchair, that we had been told would be waiting for us at the airport.
We were directed to the arrivals building, so off we headed, back OUT of the departures building and across to arrivals.
There was nobody there!
We wandered around for a bit trying to figure out where they would store luggage for people to pick up, but as we found out last week, the facilities are pretty basic there and there seemed to be nowhere we could ask.
I picked up the phone on the wall that I’d had such a monumental success with last week and dialled the EasyJet number.
Suddenly we saw a man in a suit coming out of a Staff Only door and we practically pounced on him and asked him what we should do!
He kindly made a phone call for us to find out and came back with the news that the person we needed to see wasn’t due into work until 11am and we needed to come back then.
Errm, our flight was due to take off at 11.30 and we probably need to have gone through security and passport control by then!
So we explained that our flight back to England was leaving shortly and he said that we’d have to have the pushchair put back on the NEXT flight to Gatwick after the employee arrived, and we could pick it up THERE!!!
Errm, so we’ve got to hang around at Gatwick for however many more hours it would take for that next flight to arrive instead of getting on the train we were booked on to get home??!
We said we couldn’t do that and he explained it would probably have to be delivered to us at home then.
So it was just as bloody well we’d bought a spare one, as otherwise we’d be travelling home with a toddler on the train with no pushchair to keep him safe in…
I was feeling pretty frustrated again by now, as when I’d spoken to the person last week on the phone, they’d assured me that the pushchair would be waiting at Sofia airport for us to pick up when we flew back home.
They’d said nothing about needing to be there at a certain time that day or nobody would be there to actually hand the bloody thing over to us!!
I’m a normally pretty passive person, but I could feel Hulk mode beginning to emerge (probably because we’d had no time for breakfast too, so I was hangry!) and after a bit of spitting feathers to Ian about the lousy system they had in place, we decided to just go back to Departures, get through security etc and go and find some breakfast.
We’d probably feel better then 🙂
Getting through security is the usual rigmarole of practically totally unpacking all the luggage again, and the security staff at Sofia often seem to be humourless and stern
And rather than having a pile of trays that you can unpack your things into in your own time, you have to stand right in the queue by the conveyor and have them hand you the trays one by one as you fill them up, which then feels like you’re holding everyone up in the queue behind you if you take longer than 3 seconds to unpack your stuff and place it in the tray!
All watched by a stern looking security guard who has an air of “Why TF are you taking so long?” as you try to take off your bum bag, remember where all the electronic devices were packed and dig them out to put in the tray, empty everything you’ve hurriedly shoved on various places in the pushchair, get the toddler unstrapped whilst explaining to him that he needs to get out and walk through the special scanner whilst silently praying that he doesn’t choose that moment to exercise his right as a 3 year old to be assertive and refuse to get out of the very same pushchair he’s been whining to get out of since we arrive at the airport by screaming and throwing himself on the floor, and desperately trying to remember if you were distracted enough to accidentally pack a kilo of cocaine in with the toddlers nappy stash!!
Needless to say, going through security is a person with anxiety’s nightmare!!
But we survived!!
We always do, even though Ian nearly always has to have extra scanning done!
And B even co-operated beautifully too, so it was all good 🙂
We found the café in departures and ordered a coffee for Ian and I, the last croissant for me, and two chocolate muffins for Ian and B.
When we sat down, B decided he didn’t want his chocolate muffin and wanted my croissant instead, so with a great act of love, I shared it with him LOL!
Ian was aghast at the size of the coffee we were given; a tiny shot of espresso, so basically one mouthful and it was gone!
After breakfast, I started feeling better and said to Ian I’d take B to play with the little house that he’d played with last time we were here, so he said he’d wait with the luggage till we came back.
We found the house had been replaced with a slide, but B had a lovely time playing with it, and several other children played with him too, which was adorable 🙂
I told B I needed the toilet so we headed to the nearby cubicle and as I was in there, my mobile phone rang.
I couldn’t answer it right at that moment though 😉
But when we’d done, I listened to the voicemail that had been left.
It was the pushchair person!!
She’d come into work early, and the man we’d spoken to had told her we’d been trying to pick up the pushchair so she was calling to tell me that I just needed to pop out to arrivals and sign some papers and then we could take it!
I took B back to Ian and after explaining, set off.
‘Popping out’ to arrivals however proved a bit of misnomer though!
I asked at an information desk how to get out of departures to arrivals as I needed to pick up a pushchair.
I was told to ask at the passport control booth.
So I headed there and waited until he seen the last person before explaining again what I needed.
He told me to go out past the café.
I headed to where he said and there was nothing but a security locked glass door.
With nobody on either side.
I waited around hoping to see someone who could let me through.
Eventually I saw a security person through the glass and tried knocking and waving, but he had his back to me and was listening to a radio so didn’t hear me.
Finally, someone on my side of the glass was going through the door with a swipe card so I asked him for help and explained what I was needed to do.
He let me through then called the security person with the radio over and said he could help me.
I explained to HIM what I need to do.
He called over a woman in a green security uniform and I AGAIN explained to her what I needed to do!!
Honestly, I was sick of saying the bloody word pushchair by this point!!
She was very brusque to the point of being rude, but she nevertheless took me to a security computer, took my passport (luckily I’d thought to take my passport and boarding pass with me as nobody had said I would need these to get back to arrivals), and logged me BACK into Bulgaria on their system!
When I thanked her, she dismissed me with a rude “Whatever” and flounced off!
But I didn’t have time to dwell on her rudeness; the clock was ticking down to our flight departure and I still needed to find the woman I had spoken to on the phone, pick up the pushchair, and I was now also acutely aware that in order to get back into departures, I’d have to go through the whole security and passport control ordeal yet again.
I was praying there wouldn’t be a huge queue…
I wandered around the arrivals hall and couldn’t see anybody there that looked like who I was supposed to be meeting.
I headed outside to see if she was waiting out there for me, thinking I was coming from the taxi rank or something.
No sign of anyone matching her description.
I headed back inside the arrivals hall and looked around again.
Suddenly, a woman emerged from the same Staff Only door we’d seen the suited man come out of earlier and she spotted me and smiled.
“I have your stroller” she said in lovely Bulgarian-accented English!
After all the hassles, it was music to my ears!!
I thanked her profusely for all her help in trying to get it back to us and she apologised profusely for not being able to get the couriers to deliver it to us at our Bulgarian house.
She seemed genuinely lovely and helpful and there was no way I felt annoyed with HER for all the stress it had caused; she wasn’t the one that had forgotten to put it on the plane but had been stuck with the difficult task of trying to get it back to us.
Whatever she was paid, it wasn’t enough for the grief I imagine some people give her.
She beckoned me to the room and got me to sign the form and then at last, the pushchair and I were finally reunited!!
It was a happy reunion, but also a brief one as I now had to get back to departures quickly.
So it was back out of the arrivals building, across the concourse area, through the considerable number of people all stood outside departures smoking their last cigarette for a few hours, and back through security again.
Which thankfully only had a young couple with a small amount of luggage in front of me.
And luckily this time without a crap tonne of bags and electronics to unpack!
And also, with a fairly friendly smiley security man too!
At passport control there was a longer wait, and when I had just been beckoned forward to the booth, I was about to hand over my passport when the man held up his hand to stop me, and then called forward several flight crews worth of staff to be checked in front of me.
I was getting more nervous with each passing minute as a seemingly endless number of passports were checked for plane captains and cabin crew!!
Some of them were probably even for our plane!
FINALLY, he gestured to me to hand my passport over and then finally I was through, back where I’d started!
I don’t know how long that whole episode took, but it felt like DAYS!!!
I reunited with Ian and B and it wasn’t long after that before we were called to board.
I’d made it 😀
Now we just had a 3 hour flight with a toddler to get through… 😉
But after all that, it was a doddle and he was great 😀
We landed at Gatwick after an uneventful flight and got to the train station in plenty of time to catch the direct train to Portsmouth Harbour.
We’d purposely chosen this particular train because we wanted to be able to just sit down and not have to change trains with a toddler and a load of luggage.
It was running late!
When it finally arrived, we managed to get on but there was little room to put all our luggage (especially TWO pushchairs!) so we had to scatter it around the carriage.
We sat down and I proceeded to keep B entertained, which wasn’t easy by this point as he was feeling tired and grouchy.
Then we heard an announcement to say the train we were on was now being cancelled and instead of going all the way to Portsmouth Harbour, it was now terminating at Havant!
After sitting on it for a while, B announced he needed a wee, so I said I’d take him to the toilet. (he had a nappy on, even though he’s now potty-trained, as we’d put him in one for the journey as we didn’t want any leaking accidents if we couldn’t get him to a toilet in time).
When he got up I saw his trousers AND top were wet and I realised the nappy we’d put on last had leaked!!
So I said I’d take him to the toilet, change the nappy, and find him a change of clothes when we got back to our seat and he could sit with Daddy whilst I rummaged in the suitcases for something suitable.
Whilst we were in the toilet, we heard an announcement to say that the train we were on was NOW terminating at the NEXT station, Chichester :O
We had NO idea how far away that was, so I hurriedly put the fresh nappy on B and got him back to our seat as quickly as possible so we could start gathering up all our belongings that were spread out.
Ian dug out the folded up pushchair and I strapped poor half-naked B into it, with just his coat draped over him, ready to get off when the doors opened, and Ian had to round up all our luggage in double-quick time.
After we got off, I then had to finish dressing him on the platform at Chichester station.
The poor little boy was cold and miserable and once again, I was not impressed by public transport!
If only we could afford private jets and chaffeur-driven cars 😉
Ian had to go and ask someone how we were supposed to get to Portsmouth Harbour from Chichester, and he was told we had to get another train and get off at Fratton, then get ANOTHER train to Portsmouth Harbour.
So our train journey with no changes turned in one with THREE!!
Needless to say, we were all a bit grouchy and irritable when we arrived at Portsmouth Harbour an hour later than originally planned!
Fortunately, a lady who’d been on the train with us told us that if your train is more than 15 minutes late, you can make a claim for compensation :O
I’d had no idea this was possible, so we made a point of putting in a claim a few days after we got home.
[We got a full refund for that portion of our journey – YAY!
EasyJet also gave us a refund on the cost of the emergency pushchair we’d had to buy, but nothing for the extra £30 for the taxi driver’s time, saying we needed to claim that on our travel insurance.
And given that that would entail paying a £100 excess, to claim £30, we ended up being out of pocket thanks to someone else’s mistake.]
After all the hassles of the day, we were incredibly grateful to get back home and had a happy reunion with the two older boys, who’d got in from school not long before we got in from the train station.
It had been an exhausting but wonderful week, and the very next day, I was already pining to get back there, all the stress and annoyances overlooked… 😀
We took quite a few photos today…!
Inside the abandoned village school. I just LOVE that poster on the wall 🙂
Close-up of the school poster
B in the grounds of the school with the once-lovely building in the background.
Inside Sofia market hall
St Kyriaki Cathedral Church, Sofia
Banyi Bashi Mosque, Sofia
Our bedroom at the hostel (3 single beds), with the beautiful sleeping B 🙂
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