An epic journey; ten years of history; unfinished business in Bulgaria.
Geoff, his wife, their two horses and dog set out for Bulgaria in a thirty year old horsebox. At first the trip goes to plan, but as they get further into the journey things begin to unravel. Moving forward and back in time the book gives an account of the joys and the hazards they meet on this journey, whilst simultaneously telling the often hilarious story of Geoff’s ten year history with Bulgaria. Finally it deals with their current life with their animals in a small rural village in the foothills of the Balkans. It tells of the beauty of the region and describes their basic yet contented life amongst their Bulgarian neighbours. It is a story of characters and ways of life virtually forgotten in the West and shows that we have much to relearn about the joys of keeping things simple.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s hard to categorise, which is part of its appeal, being partly travelogue, partly adventure, partly biographical, and containing bits of culture, philosophy and politics as well. In places it reads like a 19th century novel. The cast of characters could have been written by Dickens himself, had he ever been to Bulgaria, including smarmy estate agents, Uriah Heep type guides, and Tony as a Welsh Sam Weller from Pickwick Papers, as well as plenty of beautiful women and Kafka-esque touches like watch towers with armed state security guards atop and completely indifferent bureaucrats.
The book tells the story of Geoff and his friend Tony visiting Bulgaria to invest in property, starting in 2004, and weaves this with Geoff and his wife Marieluise travelling to Bulgaria and settling down there in 2014. It is insightful, humourous, quirky (I mean who would travel from one end of Europe to the other in a seven and a half ton horse box along with two horses and a dog!), and full of rich descriptions of the people they encounter.
The book is worth reading just for the insights it gives into Bulgarian people, bureaucracy, culture and customs, how to plan investing in a foreign country, what suddenly democratic countries face after years of dictatorship, and dealing with the ups and downs of travelling in such a country, as well as how to look after horses when travelling and how to run a stables. For seasoned travellers there are plenty of ‘ah, ha’ moments. I particularly liked the gratitude Geoff shows for all the kindnesses they received from strangers during their travels, and the descriptions of the various bars Geoff felt obliged to try out!
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to travel in Eastern Europe, or indeed to anyone who enjoys travel books of any kind.
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