Arriving in Bulgaria

Gorna Oryahovitsa is our home for the next 6 weeks. Here we spend the festive season and learn a lot about Bulgarian life.


A 5h train ride brings us to Gorna Oryahovitsa, a smaller town in the north of Bulgaria. It is an unremarkable town, there are many comparable ones in Bulgaria. Grey, angular houses dominate the cityscape. We will stay here for 6 weeks and work in a project.

We live in a small, practical flat directly in the homeless centre, where we also eat dinner together with the residents. We feel comfortable in the group, but unfortunately we cannot communicate much as nobody speaks English and our Bulgarian is limited to a few words. Through the daily dinner we also get to know the Bulgarian everyday cuisine, sometimes more, sometimes less a treat for us, but authentic in any case. Speaking of communication: nodding the head here means no, shaking the head yes. This is already somewhat irritating. It gets even more difficult when Bulgarians conform to the foreigners when you talk to them, which makes the confusion even greater. Kindly meant, but unfortunately not always helpful.

Our contact person here is a Swiss family who has been working here for many years and is invested in the people. Our daily routine is varied and quite spontaneous. It can happen that we have to work an evening shift to bake "Zopf" (our blog readers know this is a typical swiss bread). We are asked to do various things, such as sorting aid supplies (Sara recognises many things because they are hospital clothes), wrapping presents, building/repairing various things, editing videos, looking after and caring for children, and so on. We also get an insight into many branches of the project. We visit different Roma families, a children's home and a youth centre and distribute Christmas presents. We experience a youth group afternoon, travel to various towns in the region to bring and fetch relief supplies and visit various families where we get an authentic insight into Bulgarian life. We also learn a lot about the Bulgarian social system. We attend church services at the centre several times and celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve with the residents of the centre.

A special highlight for us is the work on the camp grounds, where we go several times. About half an hour from where we live, there is a large piece of land with several houses in the small village of Kavlak. Scouts camps are held there throughout the year. There is a lot to do. The houses have to be renovated, there are things to mend and the take care of the surroundings. There is never a shortage of work. It's a beautiful place and we enjoy doing different crafts and cooking over the fire stove like back in our great grandparents days.

The homeless centre where we live is a place where people without a home find a temporary place to stay. During the time they stay here, various clarifications are made regarding IV, pension fund, etc. and follow-up solutions are sought. It is not easy to find optimal solutions for these people who live on the fringes of society, but the best is done.

Besides the many insights into work and society, we have time to explore the area. The neighbouring town of Veliko Tarnovo is a popular tourist destination. The city is situated between a river loop on hills and has a glorious past, it used to be the capital. We are guests in the town several times, because already on our first visit we discover our new favourite place in the region, the cafe Samurai. Best coffee and fine desserts, relaxed atmosphere. A good place to discuss and process what we have experienced. We also come across a small beer bar where Premier League games are broadcasted. Those who know Beni know that this makes his heart beat faster. We are guests there several times and one visit in particular is a lasting memory. We get into conversation with two Brits, a Moldavian living in Romania and a Romanian. Funny and heated discussions about God and the world ensue and sometimes quite different ideologies collide. An entertaining evening where football becomes an absolute secondary matter. Veliko Tarnovo is not only worth a visit for its gastronomy. The town is spread over several hills and unlike many other places in the country, it is not only dominated by grey concrete bunkers, but has small pretty houses, a large castle and interesting craftsmen's shops.

Another highlight is the excursion over the Shipka Pass. We were kindly allowed to borrow the car of the Swiss family and could thus take advantage of the beautiful weather, which was rather rare at that time. Actually, we wanted to visit the Buslujah Monument, but because of the snow we were not sure if it would work out. The monument was built in 1981 by the Communist Party and used for meetings and congresses. Since the end of the regime, however, it has been doomed to decay. In fact, we landed in the depths of winter. Snow-covered trees lined the pass road and the snow glistened in the sun, really kitschy. At the top of the pass, it quickly became clear that we would not be able to drive all the way to the monument, but we climbed a hill where there were more small monuments and probably an old defence tower or something similar. In the end, we did see the monument, even if only from a distance. But this hardly bothered us. We were happy about the view we caught and enjoyed the day in deep winter to the fullest.

Time passes and so does the year 2021. At the beginning of the new year, our journey continues. It had been interesting weeks where we had gained many insights into Bulgarian everyday life. Now we are looking forward to discovering new places again. For the next few weeks we will be exploring the country by car, or rather a small bus, which we are generously allowed to borrow. Where we will end up is still very much up in the air. We hope that not too many borders will close again.