What is travel to you? Lately, with the rise of social media, everyone is a travel fanatic, globetrotter or adventurer, it’s so trendy that the concept changed a lot.
To travel for us is to leave home to experience something new and different. As a kid I often heard: that’s the way life is, that’s the way we do things. It felt untrue and I think travel was also a way to confirm that there’s a million ways of doing things and living a life. About the concept, I don’t think we’re up to date on that. We’ve done most of our full time travelling before social media really exploded and were also a bit behind with technology. I remember just six years ago, when we were cycling to Greece with our dog Lima, we had one ancient smartphone between the two of us. Most apps didn’t work and we had paper maps. Our first host in Czechia seemed pretty shocked we’re without proper navigation so he created a route for us and printed it out on paper pages, which we were throwing away one by one on our way. Once in a while we’d write a blog post or upload something to facebook, most of the time however we were offline, wild camping, just the bikes and Lima and us. Currently, we don’t do full time travelling because the money, time and effort has to go into creating a home here in Bulgaria. But it’s still something we love and even though we don’t go far, we often leave home to experience something new and different.
What was different back then? Would you do the full time traveling again, sharing it your way?
Marcin says that everything was the same. He’s really behind on things.
Of course you weren’t online all the time, no lives, no daily stories, you simply described your experiences after a while.
But I do remember, even as university students, we were with one friend in Spain and he was looking for an internet cafe to upload a picture to a first Polish social media site before facebook. I remember making fun of him, wasting time like this, instead of just experiencing the beautiful Andalucia. Now look at all of us.
In the future, I definitely want to travel more long-term, say, for two months. And then go back home.
Every year of our full time travelling (which later also included wwoof-ing – volunteering on organic farms) we were loving it but also more and more tired and more and more craving to have a home. And so that’s what we’re doing now. But also combining the two because we now have a new country to explore and two more countries within a stone’s throw.
When we found our place, we generally moved into an old, unrenovated house, telling the owners we will wait for the documents. We felt like no force is going to move us from here.
Marcin says he has travelled enough and he’s fine where he is. I don’t fully believe him, but we’ll see.
Finding beauty and charm in an old unrenovated house is not common for young people. Could you describe the feeling, the magic? Why Bulgaria? Why small village?
We always prefered old, vintage things. Unfortunately some of the Polish countryside went in a different direction. Sterile houses, empty manicured lawns, paving bricks, straight lines of thujas – makes my eyes bleed. I adore Bulgarian wild gardens: vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, all growing together in harmony. When it comes to houses, we admire natural materials: stone, wood, clay. They are beautiful and noble and egalitarian at the same time – these materials were available to everyone. Our village was created mostly from what was around in the area – oaks, marble, gneiss, dirt, straw. We find that amazing.
But it wasn’t the house that made us stay here, nor the village. It was the area around it. We came here first time in early June, drove down from the high Rhodopes and were hit by the warm air smelling of herbs. Tortoises kept crossing our way. Birds of prey flew right in front of the car. We reached the village where we wanted to see meanders of a river that we spotted on google maps. First, a stunning iridescent snake passed us by, then we entered the hills full of lizards, butterflies and wildflowers. The meadows had the sweetest smell of herbs and honey. It was like everything was showing off specifically for us. We left without reaching the river but in love. We came again later and asked in the shop if anybody was selling and they led us to the house which had a very big yard and plenty of privacy that we were looking for and is not easy to find in Bulgaria. I think we knew this was it immediately but it took us two months to finally make the decision to live in such a remote place.
And why Bulgaria? I could write a book about it, why people are drawn to certain places and not others. In more practical terms, it could come down to climate, location, being within EU, property prices etc. But it’s much more than that. Like the uncultivated nature, the people, the unpretentiousness. We came here first time years ago, knowing nothing about the country and were pleasantly surprised. The energy was right, if you know what I mean. We simply felt good here. So when a couple of years later my parents said they’re looking at properties in Bulgaria to escape the Polish weather, we said: go for it! At that time we had no intentions of settling anywhere. But the years passed, we started craving a home and parents started coming here to look at houses. They still haven’t made the decision, meanwhile we went for it and here we are!
Do local people appreciate/notice this magic that you`ve just described? I think we pretty much love to complain and to focus on what we don`t have, instead of being happy with what we have. What do you think?
They definitely don’t appreciate it like we do. But I think that even if they’re not aware of it, nature has an influence on them. When we meet our neighbor Filio in the hills with his flock, laying down in a meadow, he looks like he’s enjoying the moment a lot. We also see a big difference between people who live here in the countryside and those living in our small town. There is more complaining going on in the town. But people are easily influenced by good energy, when you bring it into the conversation.
Our neighbors complain much less. They say: какво да направим? Нищо не направим. And move on. One of the first phrases we learned here, repeated to us a milion times was няма страшно, няма страшно to all our anxious questions (mostly about renovation). Recently we talked about Bulgaria changing currency to Euro and what if the prices get higher. Filio said, without any worry in his voice: well, worst case we turn off the electricity and live like in the old days.
But I agree that most of us have this disease. And it comes from another vice: comparing yourself to others. Maybe it’s good that our neighbors don’t have so much to compare themselves to? Or maybe it’s also that here you’re not around people all the time – human encounter is more often a gift, not an annoyance.
Describe your typical day – life in the countryside. Did you say goodbye to some of your illusions or everything is just the way you have imagined it to be?
Your typical day will of course depend on what you do for a living. Our day starts in the morning with servicing the animals. We switch, so every other day one person can stay in bed a little longer. Cats are first to be fed. Then we let out the chickens and the geese and give them food and water. Half of the year the chores include making a fire in the wood stove to warm up the house. Then we eat breakfast together, usually eggs from our dear hens, and then we take our dogs for a long walk or rather, in our terrain, a hike 😉 The walk often includes picking something like herbs or mushrooms. After the walk we have about four hours for the neverending list of projects around the house – renovation, garden and everyday chores and an odd English lesson in between. I prepare lunch, which is our main meal of the day, and we eat together. After a little rest, we start preparing for our lessons and teach until the evening. After teaching we’re usually in zombie mode so we don’t do anything interesting, just take the dogs for a short walk, do the dishes and go to sleep quite early. We keep Fridays free so once or twice a month we can drive to a city (we’re far away, so it takes most of the day) and run all the errands. Weekends are a spontaneous mix of working on bigger projects, meeting with other people, going on a trip.
I think we didn’t have too many illusions about such life because we worked on farms before settling here. Certainly we weren’t expecting to only stroll in the garden in linen clothing and water the flowers. It is different though, when you’re at somebody else’s place and you focus for a certain amount of time on the tasks you have been given. So the biggest challenge here is to pick and focus on one task when there are hundreds of others waiting for you, and not to get discouraged or overwhelmed.
What do you think about the slow living movement and the trend to define your own lifestyle?
If slow living means a slower and more sustainable pace of life with a goal of enjoying it more, then we’re definitely a part of it. We remodeled our life to have plenty of time to just be. And when we do something, we do it at our own pace which is… slow. To have time is fundamental for us in order to feel healthy and happy. This comes before accomplishments, wealth and a livable house. While we do put effort into physical and mental work every day, we are not from the cult of hard work, discipline and sacrifice.
The lifestyle trends are interesting as far as understanding in which direction humanity is going. But beyond that we’re loosing interest in them. They do start out as worthy ideas: to live in harmony with the environment, eat well, live a better life. Then they get regurgitated over and over again and spit out as one more picture of sourdough bread or one more 30-year-old instagrammer telling us how to live.
Call yourself whatever you want, live how you want, it’s none of our business, as much as our life choices are none of yours. Maybe an unpopular opinion but oh, well. It’s not without reason that we live far away with plants and animals and simple old folks who have given up on their mission to change others. It’s so refreshing!
Your nickname is Two hungry people, tell me about food – how do you like it, what`s in your garden, on your table, in your fridge and MAZE? What meals do you bring from Polish cuisine? What do you thing about Bulgarian traditional recipes and culinary trends now?
Oh, how I dream of my future maze… For now, we store jars in cardboard boxes… In our garden there’s always a little bit of EVERYTHING and about 80 tomato plants because Bulgarian tomatoes… Last year I canned many jars of them plus kiseli krastavici (my love), ribki (the little peppers), plum preserves (love again), kompot ot dryan, lyutenitsa, sun dried tomatoes, fig jam (Marcin’s favorite), apple molasses, elderflower syrup and more! We eat a mix of Polish, Bulgarian and other cuisines, prepared with what we have locally plus a bunch of spices and condiments. Ten years ago I was obsessed with nutrition, these days we don’t have any rules for eating other than listening to our intuition. So no everything-free diets, only full-of-everything diets 😉 The only restriction we put on ourselves is to strongly limit the commercial animal products. We’re not striving for perfection though. Our bodies like simple and well cooked things like stews, curries, soups, gyuveche, stuffed vegetables, pasta sauces, so I make these things very often. We also love all kinds of dumplings and sarmi but I’m too lazy to make them regularly… We are more exposed to the changing weather here and so our appetites are very seasonal. In winter I don’t care about salads or cold yoghurt. In April I start craving fresh greens. In summer we live off the garden and have an appetite for cold soups and ayran. In winter we need some meat and plenty of soup. We also can’t live without bread and eggs. Poles eat a lot of sandwiches and we like them too so I bake a Polish style wheat-rye bread regularly. Now I remembered I also canned apples for a Polish apple pie 🙂
I think Bulgarian traditional food is beautifully simple. In the cookbook with national cuisine, most recipes have maybe 5 or 6 ingredients and they combine into something very tasty. The meze culture is lovely, too. Our neighbors treat us to very simple and fantastic food from time to time. Because of all the wonderful produce they have, I even like offal, which I never liked before. We heard that Serbs are considered masters of skara, but to us, people here are amazing at it too. I wish there were more modern blogs focused on traditional Bulgarian recipes that would get me inspired. Or I don’t know about them?
Don’t you miss social life, dinners with friends, bars after work, the option to go out without planning it?
We spent our 20s in clubs and bars. Even now thinking about it makes me tired. I’m totally not a night animal but I did it anyway because I loved going wild on the dance floor.
There were great clubs and great music and it was a thing. Was it a thing in Bulgaria? I’ve heard dancing means chalga discotheques? However, with time we got tired of it and more and started running away from the city at the weekends. We all got older, most friends now have kids, so it died naturally or perhaps changed into dinner parties. Which we love! And we didn’t miss them before the pandemic because we had many occasions for them! You wouldn’t believe how many people actually want to come to this end of the world to visit us! I must be doing a great PR job for this place, haha. We’ve had friends and family come several times. We hosted some cyclists through a hosting club which we also used when we travelled. We had dinner parties with our wonderful Irish friends who have a house not too far away and used to spend about half the year here. That was before the pandemic… Now we miss them a lot and hope things change soon. This year, we’ve demolished a lot inside the house so we’re not able to host anybody but I’m positive about the future. We have some friends here as well, and in the beginning we spent most Fridays drinking wine, getting impregnated with tobacco smoke and learning Bulgarian. But as I said, I like to sleep at night, so I said no to night drinking. Marcin sometimes still indulges and occasionally we all go for trips, hikes and picnics together. So, it’s not like we only talk to chickens and neighbors. To be honest, we don’t miss the city much. I will always choose a picnic in nature over sitting in a cafe. If I miss anything, it would be going to the cinema and spontaneous visits to my friend who lived just a block away, to cook and watch a series together. Marcin is more like a dog, in that he is happy where he is and doesn’t overthink things. He now doesn’t want to visit cities at all, so from time to time I will do it without him!
Would you become an airbnb host one day?
This was the original idea… but it seems we are drifting away from it.
We live a slow life here in a very private little world of ours. It feels a little weird for it to become a place where any random person can come in with their expectations and requests at any time they choose. Though I guess it’s not exactly a random person that would find her or his way here. Who knows, we still might do this in the future (and surely not soon because it’s another big project) and if we do, it will be something small scale and cozy. We have some sweet ideas.
How is your Saturday going? What inspired you these days? What made you sad? What surprised you? What gave you hope?
Spring is the busiest time in the countryside and we’re also taking advantage of the cooler weather to work outside. So the weekend is about digging trenches, making fences, burning branches, weeding, planting, finding neighbor’s goat kids that run away from their pen and many other glamorous country activities.
To be honest, we haven’t been very inspired recently. When it comes to the online world, I’ve become weary of the perfect pictures, repetitive content or the opposite – trying hard to come up with something new. So I’m trying to be offline more, where at this time of year I’m inspired by the wild meadows that bewitched us three years ago. The perfect compositions of wildflowers and butterflies, prettier than any cultivated garden. For Marcin, doing new things is an inspiration, so he’s enjoying the everyday tasks as long as they’re not too tedious. Even if the results are often far from perfect, seeing progress is a driving force.
What made us sad? World news. The „us vs them“ everywhere in the world. And in our little world, a broken swallows’ nest on our porch and a weasel’s (I believe) poop next to it, on the doormat. The baby swallows were gone… I know it’s a normal cycle of nature but watching them was an everyday joy.
What surprised us? A snake on our recent walk, standing upright and looking at us. It made us freeze! Also, Marcin left a pair of trousers outside and when he was picking them up, a small cocoon which he didn’t notice started wiggling in his hand. It was so unexpected that he totally freaked out and started screaming like a madman.
What gave us hope? Good question. I think that hope is an indestructible part of me. There were so many times in my life when I felt like there’s no sense in waking up the next day. But yet I did and there was always this something inside that thought it’s worth it. I’m like the swallows, who’ve already started building a new nest, in the same spot. Besides, you know, other swallow babies and hedgehog babies and tortoise babies and tree babies and millions of other babies are born every day everywhere, the world is a one big living and breathing hope.