Around the turn of the millennium and for a few years after, there was a trend amongst British people to look to invest by buying property in Bulgaria. This sprang from the fact that a house in Bulgaria – these were predominantly in small towns and villages – cost about 5% of the price of a house in England. So, many British bought them as either holidays homes or places to retire to. My cousin did it to provide a cheap option for family holidays with his young son. The trend even spurned a hugely successful novel published in Bulgaria entitled 'The English Neighbour' about an Englishman moving into a rural Bulgarian village.
At the time, I never really gave this investment trend all that much thought. With the British property market being so expensive, it seemed a good idea. But, I had few other feelings about it. It was only when I found myself in a relationship with a Bulgarian woman that I started to think about it again. I asked my cousin about it and quizzed him on what he thought about the country. Then, when we decided to go to Bulgaria to visit her family, I got a chance to see for myself.
I was amazed by the countryside in Bulgaria. It was truly wonderful. My first taste of this came on the journey down from the Romanian border (we had flown into Bucharest as it was closer to my girlfriend's house than Sofia). The fields were green wide and expansive. As we took the road south we scarcely saw a soul. On the few occasions we did, we got a wonderfully traditional view as there were plenty of old-fashioned horses and carts working the fields. I really felt like I had moved into another world … and I was loving it.
When we got to my girlfriend's village, I found myself lost in some sort of by-gone idyll. Her family lived in a cottage/farm-house that had been built two generations before and was wonderfully self-sufficient. Ignoring electricity and internet and such like, it seemed everything they need was produced at home. The large yard was full of vegetables, with tomatoes and peppers the most popular. There was also a farmyard that was full of chickens and turkeys. On one day during my stay, my girlfriend's parents came home with a small box of chicks. They were small, yellow and fluffy. Having grown up in suburban England in a very standard semi-detached house, this was an outrageous experience. But, I loved it.
As great as the farmyard and the chicks were, probably the greatest shock to the system I received was when we went for a picnic on the third day of my stay. During the first couple of days, everyone had been at great pains to point out that all the vegetables I was eating were grown in the garden and the jams that we were spreading for breakfast was made from fruit they had grown. However, when we went on the picnic and I discovered that the chicken leg I was eating had been attached to a chicken I had seen clucking around in the farmyard earlier that morning, I began to sense just how different life in the countryside actually was.