11/07/15 – 01/08/15
We’ve just spent three weeks working in the heart of rural Bulgaria and it’s been one of the best things we could have done for ourselves this far into our trip.
It was no easy feat to get there though, if you remember from how we left things in Belgrade, rather than going on to Sofia and spending a few days there we had no choice but go in the opposite direction and return to Sarajevo so Daniel could finish his dental work. This was our hopeful but ambitious plan to get to Vishovgrad by Saturday afternoon:
5pm- Catch bus from Sarajevo to Belgrade.
11pm- Arrive Belgrade.
5.30am- Catch bus from Belgrade to Sofia.
12pm- Arrive Sofia.
1pm- Catch train from Sofia to Pavlikeni (village next to Vishovgrad).
Needless to say, our plan was going well but basically unravelled when we spent an hour waiting for our 5.30am bus and wondering where it was… then realising that we were apparently at the wrong bus station. Unbeknown to us, Belgrade has two bus stations, on the same street. We found this out the hard way.
The moral of the story is, always check whether a city has more than one bus or train station –so we arrived in Pavlikeni a day later than anticipated, having spent the night in Sofia and treating ourselves to a hotel a little above our budget, to relax after the stressful past two days.
Pavlikeni is around three hours away from Sofia, and once we walk into the centre and find some wifi to make a phone call, our host Marc drives 10 minutes down the road to collect us.
We found Marc and his wife Beau on the site Workaway (workaway.info), which basically connects travellers and hosts who are looking for some help for their business, home, farm, etc. You enter the area you want to travel to and BAM, you’re instantly connected with a long list of hosts who might need your help. So you find someone or something that appeals to you, and before you know it you find yourself in the middle of the Bulgarian countryside ready to work five hours a day in exchange for hot meals and a bed each night.
Brit and Thai expats Marc and Beau are in the midst of restoring the property they bought for a very small amount, with the hope of using as many recycled parts as possible and planting a vast veggie garden to make themselves as self-sustainable as possible. The house currently has no running water and only one live cable, plus a bedroom; which will be our home for the next three weeks. Marc and Beau are renting a smaller place on the same street about a three-minute walk away. There’s a spare room there but no room for a couple as there is already another Workaway-er in residence, Colin from the UK. He’s already been there for two weeks, and has nothing but praise for Marc and Beau, especially their cooking! They are both chefs, and Beau is from Thailand originally, so we’re really looking forward to some good home-cooked meals these few weeks.
The working days normally start around 9-9.30am, and we work a few hours on site until lunchtime. We walk back down the hill to the rental, and use the downtime to eat, use Wi-Fi, and just rest our feet for a little bit. After lunch we head back up the house, and work for another couple of hours, finishing anywhere from 3pm-5pm, depending on when we started and how long we stopped for lunch.
So the days did feel quite long, and the work we were doing definitely was not easy or light. I spent the first few days digging a trench, while Daniel spent them smashing up rock with a sledgehammer. Everyday the tasks changed, from trenches to concreting, from stripping paint off old doors to transporting wheelbarrows of stone. Those first few days were a bit painful (mainly just waking up in the morning feel stiff and sore), but halfway through the first week we started to get in the swing of things. It felt really good to have a purpose again, to have a concrete reason (mind the pun) to get out bed and then feel tired at the end of the day because you worked hard. It was also great to be completely away from the cities, tourists and traffic. Vishovgrad is a village of less than 200 people, it has a town square –a 15-minute walk away- where you’ll find a post office, a local shop, and half a dozen locals drinking beer. Over four months of constant travel and moving means we’re really starting to feel exhausted, we’re starting to lack motivation when we arrive in a new place – which is not something we want to continue. These three weeks here are about us working hard but also recharging batteries.
Marc and Beau are really accommodating hosts, and have a lot of interesting stories to share, plus it’s great getting to know Colin as well –bonding over a shared soreness at the end of the day. We looked forward to lunch and dinner everyday, for the chance to sit outside altogether and devour the delicious feast that had been prepared for us, whether it was Pad Thai or home made pizzas it was without doubt always delicious and fresh.
One week into our Workaway another guy joined us, Jean-Cristoph (JC) from Belgium. He found Marc and Beau through Wwoof, another site very similar to Workaway. JC has been travelling for two years, something which just blew Daniel and I away. He has been doing mainly these type of work exchange placements though, which would make it a lot easier to spend that much time on the move. He spent last year in South America, and is now in the middle of crossing Eastern Europe before heading to Asia possibly next year. It’s a full house now, between ourselves (at the building site), Marc and Beau, Colin and JC (all at the rental just down the street).
After JC arrived at the end of our first week, the remaining two weeks just flew by. We worked everyday, apart from weekends. We were unfortunate enough to be working in the midst of a Bulgarian heat wave, with temperatures hardly ever dipping below 35 degrees. Safe to say I got very tanned shoulders while digging, lifting, carrying, pushing and lots of other ‘ings’ as well.
Doing a Workaway or a Wwoof was one of the wisest things we could have done at this point in our travels. It allowed us to see a totally different part of the country, one that we never thought we would have if we hadn’t stumbled upon Marc and Beau’s profile –which we did more or less by accident. Like I said, it was good to be given a purpose again, and have a routine, even if it was only for three weeks. We also saved a huge sum of money, not having to pay for a bed each night and being lucky enough to have all our meals given to us. The only money we spent was if we went to the local shop to buy some beers or snacks to bring back to the house. In three weeks, we barely spent more than a $100AU –which came at the perfect time for us.
We’d love to do another Workaway/Wwoof somewhere else, especially in Turkey, but haven’t had any luck with the emails we’ve sent off. This is probably one of the only negatives of the system, that you will send off 10s off messages offering your help, but only a few will reply, and even fewer will have availabilities that match yours. But you shouldn’t let this put you off, and you should definitely explore the options of working in Bulgaria, it’s a beautiful country with really friendly and warm locals.
Our time in Vishovgrad came to an end too quickly, but with a bang nonetheless. The night before we left, there was some kind of local street festival happening, so it was so much fun to wander down and see the whole village gathering together to socialise and listen to some live music. Sure, the music was kind of terrible, but it didn’t stop everyone coming together to dance and celebrate their little town.
For now, we’re on to Veliko Tarnovo, the ancient capital of Bulgaria which is an hour away from Marc and Beau. The four of us, plus Colin and JC are coming into VT for the weekend as well, so we’ll all enjoy a meal together and a night on the town before we head to the Bulgarian coast.