The next morning, we woke with a lot of excitement as today was the day we had been waiting for since July and we’d finally be getting to see what we’d bought with our credit card money!
There was also a bit of trepidation, after building it up so much in our head for the last few months, wondering if the reality would match those expectations.
It was a set menu for breakfast and I didn’t feel like any of the hot ones as I didn’t know what to expect, so I had a cold plate, and Ian rather bravely plumped for the hemendex (we had no idea what the heck this was going to be, and even googling it revealed nothing!) but fortuitously it turned out to be ham and eggs!
And I wished I’d chosen that then!!
Then we were off to Gradeshnitsa at last!
We’d looked at Google Earth so much in the previous months that we almost knew the route there, by heart!!
Driving through some of the little villages on the way there was almost like coming ‘home’ as they looked so familiar, even though we had never been there in our lives!
It’s one of the curious things about modern technology in that you can create a sense of familiarity and attachment to something from seeing it lots and building an emotional attachment to it, before you’ve even seen it in reality!
We reached the bottom of ‘our road’ and instantly knew where we were (although we didn’t know what our road looked like as rather inconveniently, the Google street view car hadn’t bothered to drive all the way around this small rural Bulgarian village, but had just driven along the main road and then out again).
We knew what side of the road the house was on, and we knew what it looked like from the road from the agent’s photos, so when we finally saw it, we KNEW we had reached it!!
Boryana the agent was there and greeted us, and introduced us to the still technical owner, an old Bulgarian man called Jakim whose wife had already moved out with most of their belongings to their new home whilst he’d stayed on with the barest minimum of things.
I think this was likely because until we had seen it and signed the paperwork, we still had the right to change our mind so he wanted to keep it still lived in, in case the sale fell through and they had to wait for another seller.
Boryana took us on the typical estate agent’s tour around all the rooms, and when she’d finished she asked us if we were disappointed, which I thought was a surprising question for an estate agent to ask! It was almost like she was expecting us to say yes and ask for our money back!
She even seemed surprised when we said no and reiterated that we definitely wanted to go ahead with the sale!
Whilst we were looking around, the next-door neighbour, another older man who was clearly very good friends with the current owner, popped through the gap in the wall between the two gardens and came to say “ДОБЪР ДЕН” (hello/good day) and get a good look at his new neighbours 😉
We were introduced but I didn’t remember his name, which will be horribly embarrassing when we go back!
He didn’t speak a word of English, the same as the current owner, so we did the typical English thing of smiling broadly and frequently to show we were friendly, whilst at the same time standing there like a spare part feeling socially awkward as the two neighbours chatted and we could neither understand nor join in!
I sensed the next-door neighbour’s curiosity and felt him weighing us up, and it occurred to me that, given how rural we were, and in the poorest part of Bulgaria, that it was quite likely we were the first English people he had ever seen in real life.
It felt odd to suddenly feel like we’d become odd curiosities to the people that live here, rather than JUST people going about our lives, and I was glad I’d read before we came out here that Bulgarian people are naturally very curious without the holding back of that curiosity that a British person might show, and in a friendly way, rather than a hostile-to-immigrants way.
I made a mental note to look up local customs that would help us show more friendship and respect to our new neighbours, even if we couldn’t yet talk to them.
We confirmed with Boryana the arrangements for the next step of the day, which was heading back into Vratsa to sign the notary act documents and take over ownership of the house.
Milen drove us and Boryana met us and walked us to the notary’s office.
We were shown into a tiny office up some stairs and introduce to the notary, a friendly young woman.
Unlike the UK, where everybody in the legal profession, from the secretaries upwards, seem to wear suits, we were surprised to see ours was wearing a jumper, jeans and trainers!
Another way that things are very different in Bulgaria!
There was also a translator there, similarly dressed!
When we first arrived they needed to know how to write our names in the Bulgarian alphabet, which is phonetic.
So there were a comical few moments when I had to repeatedly say my name whilst the notary sounded out the syllables and transcribed the sounds into Bulgarian.
There is no sound for W so they skipped that part and just wrote my surname as the Bulgarian equivalent of ‘Ooood’!
Seeing my full name in Bulgarian was quite interesting: Арлет Джоан Ууд
The process of actually going through the documents was somewhat tedious as the notary read out a couple of sentences at a time in Bulgarian and the translator told us what she was saying in English.
It was hard to concentrate just on the English as the two often overlapped to save time, and I was also trying to keep B happy, quiet and entertained too.
When they said our names, I didn’t notice initially that they’d made an error with Ian’s full name.
It wasn’t until we were due to actually sign the documents and I saw how his name had been written that I realised they had completely missed off the “Ian” part of his name, and it occurred to me that as a legal document, this would invalidate it.
So I had to say something and then they had to work out how to correct it.
Eventually, the documents were all signed and we were told to come back two days later at 3 pm to pick up our copies of them as there was another step of the process that needed to happen before we could actually have them.
But that was it! Just an hour in an office and we were now the legal owners of a house, various outbuildings, an annexe cottage, and a plot of land in deepest, darkest Viktor Krum country!!
No dilly-dallying back and forth for weeks between solicitors, at a cost of £1000s! Simple, and extremely stress-free!
We celebrated afterwards with our first cup of coffee in a Bulgarian cafe whilst we waited for Boryana, who had left briefly to do something else, to join us again as she was taking us to the bank next, to assist us in opening a Bulgarian bank account.
Again, the process of opening the bank account was very straightforward, and all we had to do was show our passports as proof of identity and give our NI numbers, presumably so that the account could be linked to us and to stop us hiding all our millions from the UK tax office 😉
We were told that the paperwork would be prepared and we had to come back that afternoon to sign and receive the account numbers (as we were getting one each).
There wasn’t much to do after that as we couldn’t go anywhere too far as we need to go to the bank in a couple of hours, and we realised we were hungry so we walked down the shopping precinct of Vratsa to a place called Billa and bought our first ever bit of shopping from a Bulgarian supermarket, then walked back up to the hotel square and bought a kebab each from a small takeaway there.
Friendly stray cats hung around and the locals fed them with little bits of food, so we did the same.
I saw one cat grab something and carry it down a large drain pipe under the precinct, possibly to feed some kittens hidden down there.
Docile stray dogs also lay around dozing in the precinct, not seeming to be a bit bothered about their homeless existence and presumably able to scavenge enough food from the bins to not need to spend all their time hunting for something to eat.
The stray animals all looked surprisingly peaceful and content.
By then, it was time to head back to the bank and collect our new bank account details before heading back to the hotel for dinner and another early night as we were being driven back to OUR house to pick up the keys and spend the whole day there exploring it properly – SQUEEEE!
The next morning, armed with food for the day and toys for B, plus essentials like a tape measure, pad and paper for measuring up the rooms and drawing out plans, phone with camera for taking photos and videos, we were picked up by Milen and off we headed again.
We’d arranged to be picked up again to return back to the hotel at 4.30pm so had the whole day to get to know our purchase 🙂
On the way, Boryana texted to tell me that the current owner was STILL at the property and that his grandson would be picking him up at 1 pm.
Without being at all rude, this was a bit of a shock as we’re English!!
Which loosely translated meant that even though we were now the legal owners, we felt horribly uncomfortable at the idea that we’d be crawling all over the house that this man had lived in most of his life and might be feeling sad to be leaving with him still there seeing us doing all that.
So of course, when we arrived and he handed us the keys, we weren’t sure what to do next.
We couldn’t make conversation with him and ask him all about his life there, or where he was going to be living now etc, even though I’d have loved to have heard some of his stories.
So the normal socially acceptable chit chat in those circumstances was out.
He was pottering around at various times, either watching TV or sitting in the garden, and we felt we needed to keep out of his way in case he wanted his last hours in his house with his memories alone.
At one point, he made himself a hot drink (but didn’t offer us one, which felt the social equivalent of a dismissive snub as everyone from England knows the social convention of offering a brew if you’re having one yourself!).
We walked B around the perimeter of the land to try and give him space and peace without having us hanging around him, and to explore the outside to see what trees were growing on the land.
But it was autumn, and most of them had already lost their leaves so we couldn’t identify a single one!
After a couple of hours of waiting around, we felt the time was beginning to run out as we were leaving at 4.30 and then wouldn’t be back there for about 6 months!!
So we decided we had to push through our awkwardness and discomfort and start doing something whilst we were there.
So we figured the safest option, given that we could lock the door behind us and keep B from falling down the concrete stairs whilst we measured up, was to start on the cleared-out first floor.
We locked ourselves in and set about measuring, letting B run around, explore and play in the semi-empty rooms (there were larger bits of furniture left in each room, such as beds, a sofa and a large wardrobe), with some of his toys that we’d brought.
It was a grey, cloudy day, so we put the lights on.
We hadn’t been in there long when there was a loud rapping at the front door!
It was the current owner AND the next-door neighbour, with a slight air of annoyance it seemed, and they almost burst in and immediately took the electricity meter reading.
I was immediately concerned that we’d committed a terrible faux pas with A) locking the door (and therefore locking him OUT), and B) not realising that he hadn’t already read the meter as soon as the sale was confirmed, and that he was therefore annoyed with us for putting on the lights as we were then running up HIS bill.
But obviously, we couldn’t explain our reasoning for doing either of those things!
Cue more awkward feelings of being completely in the wrong and mortified that we were probably giving our new next-door neighbour a horrible introduction to what kind of people we were, whilst very likely giving him a negative impression of English people forever too LOL!
Social anxiety and overthinking at their finest!!
After they left, we felt even MORE awkward locking the door again but had to in order to stop B opening it and falling down the stairs outside, so it had to be done if we were going to get on with our measuring.
And we both stood there for a few minutes, paralysed by indecision, looking at each other with the same kind of feeling of naughty schoolchildren caught by the headmaster poking around in the staffroom!!
Then several more trying to over-analyze what we’d done wrong!
Honestly, it was mortifying at the time, but hilarious looking back!!
After we’d measured up as best we could upstairs, we came back downstairs and decided to get something to eat from our bags we’d brought.
I had some cupcakes I’d bought in Billa the previous day so got one out for each of us then found Jakim sitting outside quietly and offered him one too.
Amazingly, this small gesture seemed to soften something in him towards us and he seemed instantly warmer in his demeanour 🙂
The age-old tradition of breaking bread together to form a friendship still has meaning today!
Perhaps we had unwittingly violated a traditional Bulgarian custom of bringing a food gift to someone when meeting them, and that was why he had previously seemed a bit annoyed with us?
To be fair to us, we’d not been aware of any such customs (another mental note needed to do more research and make sure we don’t skip something important like that again!), and in England, it’s OUR custom that the previous owner has already moved out and taken his belongings with him by the time you’re due to take up residence in your new property!
So under OUR customs, he was the one committing a big no-no by still being there!!
We also hadn’t even been made aware that he’d be there until we were already on our way to the house, so there would have been no time to look up customs and buy a gift for him.
But we felt very much guests in HIS house, even though it was now ours, and we actually felt like we were intruding in his house and on his life!
And we couldn’t explain ANY of this!
So now he probably just thinks all English are arseholes!!!
Still, as I said, he seemed to warm towards us slightly; chocolate cupcakes have that effect on ME too!
Time was getting on and we were still feeling like we couldn’t do much in the rest of the house, especially the cottage part which still contained the bulk of his belongings so that seemed like still very much HIS home.
We wanted to make sure we were there when he left as we wanted to say goodbye but there seemed little else to do and B was getting bored, so we decided to walk down into the village main street and find the restaurant that was shown on Google Maps, perhaps have a drink there to kill some time, and then be back in time for 1pm when his grandson was turning up.
So we tried to explain using gestures that we were going for a walk, food and drink, pointing down the road.
He seemed a bit confused and then there was another awkward pause whilst we stood around wondering what to do next.
Then he suddenly started shouting a single word really loudly, making us jump and wonder what on earth we had done wrong this time.
He started striding out of the front gate and round to his next-door neighbours front door, still shouting.
It appeared as if our decision to walk down the road had upset him for some reason?
We started slowly walking down the road towards the neighbours’ house, wondering if we should stay and see if he was OK or just get the heck out of there because my anxiety was through the roof by that point and I just needed a bit of decompressing time.
We chose the latter and wandered slowly down the road, still wondering if the old man would suddenly come out and shout at us some more!
Suddenly he emerged from the neighbours’ house carrying a shovel and strode purposefully back up the road!
Ian even pondered aloud if he was going to use it to cull the chickens because he couldn’t take them to his next house!
It sounds funny now looking back but at the time, it made us very aware that we really had no idea what kind of customs and behaviour that we would find shocking could be seen here as perfectly acceptable and normal!
But at least we’d figured out what the shouting was actually about!
He had just been shouting to his neighbour for a shovel 😀
When we got to what should have been the restaurant, there was a ramshackle closed building in its place! Clearly, Google Maps was wrong and we wouldn’t be getting a drink after all!
Our plan to kill some time was scuppered!
We mooched around and crossed the road looking at the rather impressive town hall building, which seemed oddly out of place, being so large and grand looking in a village where every other house seemed derelict. It was all locked up and looked like it wasn’t used much.
We found the post office there too, which looked the same as the town hall, and spotted a few stray cats in the grounds of the town hall, that dashed away into the undergrowth as we approached.
There really wasn’t much else to look at so we wandered back up the road to the house again.
We wandered more slowly around the garden again and took some photos and video footage, just for something to do to kill the time.
By this time it was already gone 1 pm, the time the grandson was due to arrive and there still seemed to be no sign of him.
We were beginning to feel rather bored and also quite fed up by this point.
We still felt like intruders in our own property which was why we were reduced to skulking in the garden!
As we headed down past the vineyard, I suddenly caught sight of a fairly large flash of bright green, which stood out amongst the yellow-brown of the dead grasses leftover from the summer.
My instant reaction was that it was a leaf as it was quite large, but on closer inspection, it was actually a praying mantis!!
I instantly forgot my boredom and fed-upness and was filled with wonder and excitement at seeing my first bit of Bulgarian wildlife, especially as I had never seen a mantis before in real life!
I called Ian and B back to come and see what I’d found.
Ian seemed just as thrilled as me, and we explained to B that it was a little green bug.
I put my hand in front of it and allowed it to walk onto it, and was chuffed to bits to get a photo of it sitting on my hand!
Praying mantis in our garden!
After admiring it and completing the photo shoot, we gently placed him back down on the grass and videoed him walking around for a short while.
By this time, the grandson had finally arrived with another relative in a couple of vans and they introduced themselves as they spoke a bit of English before busying themselves loading the last of the belongings from the residents to be taken away.
Despite my discomfort and disappointment on behalf of ourselves for having our first, and only, day here for about 5 months disrupted, I also felt very sad for the old man too, having to leave his family home and all his memories.
I spoke to his grandson and said it must be very sad for him to leave his home after all this time here, but he was very matter-of-fact about it, shrugging and saying “He can no longer manage the land. It is life”.
Perhaps rural Bulgarians, trying to survive the harsh winters and grow enough food to feed their families, just don’t have the privilege and luxury of sentimentality in the way we seem to?
We told him we would keep out of the way whilst they were carrying heavy boxes and bits of furniture and went back upstairs to wait in the former lounge, which conveniently still had their old sofa and a bed in to sit on. Ian was gutted when they came up and unscrewed the satellite dish to take that away too.
We watched out of the window as they chased the indignant chickens around the sectioned-off livestock area of the garden to catch them and put them into a crate for their move.
The little black cat was scooped up and placed in a box, and the little dog was lifted and sat onto a seat in the van.
Finally, the old man’s former life was over and despite the grandson’s previously unsentimental statement, it felt a sad moment as we shook his hand one last time and said goodbye.
We were finally alone in our house!
We finally felt like we could celebrate and show our enjoyment at being here as previously, we felt it would be rubbing salt in the wounds to seem all excited and happy at taking over the house that he might feel very sad to be leaving, so we hadn’t even felt able to show our emotions properly.
Now we could allow the beams on our faces to show through as we began to relax and look properly around our new place.
But because it had taken so long to pack up and move out, we now only had 45 minutes until Milen our driver was turning up to take us back to the hotel.
So we took as many photos and video footage as we could to try and remember as much of it as possible over the winter months before we could come back again in the following spring.
And before we knew it, Milen had arrived!
He showed us how to take the electricity fuse out, and how to drain the water pipes, turn the stopcock off, and lag the pipework to prevent freezing and bursting during the harsh Bulgarian winter.
Then we reluctantly locked up our house, closed and locked the front gate, and got back into the taxi to return to the hotel, knowing it was going to be at least 5 months before we would see it again…