Shifting perceptions. Bulgaria.

    In which Bulgaria grows on me. I may learn to love it.

    Mission Kromidovo.

    We were still on Crete. Minty was researching various traveller groups, getting a feel for how the virus would affect our onward journey.

    Almost as a throwaway line she read “Do you fancy running a campsite in Bulgaria?”

    After exchanging a few messages we called the owners and talked it through.

    They needed some time out, but they couldn’t leave their site in high season.

    They needed someone to look after the place.

    It sounded slightly bonkers, it was hundreds of miles off our intended route, but it sounded like an experience we were unlikely to be offered again.

    We said we’d do it.

    We arrived at Camping Kromidovo on Monday 13th July, a day before the Greek border became a whole lot more difficult to cross.

    We were nervous, if we didn’t like the site we’d have to make a mad dash south again before mandatory testing came into force.

    We needn’t have worried.

    We met Jon on the road and felt right at home.

    ArchieVan hides the tepee. Camping Kromidovo.

    Camping Kromidovo.

    We didn’t know a thing about the owners, but Jon and Sara turn out to be English.

    They turn out to be English and for years they lived at the opposite end of the street we lived on in Manchester.

    The connections got stronger later.

    Their delightful site, Camping Kromidovo, is a small area for perhaps 20 tents, or a dozen vans, with some rooms, a tepee and a bell tent. We have the luxury of staying in the rooms, an upstairs two bedroom flat.

    Yarrow meadow. Kromidovo.

    Perception versus reality.

    We had driven past the village on our way to Melnik a week ago.

    We didn’t feel inspired.

    Kromidovo is like so many Bulgarian villages. Knackered.

    The main square at dawn. Kromidovo.

    Most of the population is over 60. Most of their houses are in a state.

    The streets are dusty lanes full of potholes and axel cracking speedbumps. 

    Like in India, garden waste, and other rubbish, is burnt in the street.

    The shop, that’s also the bar, looks as though it could be an asylum.

    Once a fine village house. Still a home.

    And yet. And yet when you sit on the terrace looking out towards the Pirin Mountains in the north, and the Rhodophe range bordering Greece to the south you realise what a special place this is.

    At the end of the lane there’s a 25m mineral water swimming pool, closed at the moment because of the virus, but it’ll soon be an asset once again.

    All around are vines, and there are five excellent vineyards within walking distance. Cherry orchards have been planted on flat land and will fruit next year. You can buy every vegetable you need for pennies at roadside stalls. Trees are heavy with apples, pears, figs and walnuts. There are plums, but most are taken by the birds. Every garden has a crop of tomatoes, corn on the cob, cabbages, glistening aubergines, a few vines for personal use.

    Despite being poor this is a land of plenty. It has to be. State pension pays just €125 a month.

    It’s popular too. This is the area most popular with the Sofia crowd who come for the wine, good food and the fact that it’s only another two hours to get to a Greek beach.


    The day starts with a cockerel, and once he has woken a few friends the songs really get going.

    There’s plenty of tweet tweet, but there’s also more defined song such as the golden orioles that have dropped in to bring colour to the summer. 

    Storks clatter their beaks as sparrows build their homes within the dinosaur nests. Larks ascend. Turtle doves tuuuurrr tuuurrr in celebration of their decision not to risk the guns of Italy. Jays squawk. Flycatchers do what they do.

    Over our door a family of swifts have set up home and Jon has provided them with an extra platform from which the juniors practice acrobatics.

    In the evening pygmy owls hiss at each other before demonstrating their manoeuvrability while chasing bats. Later still the silence is broken by screams as birds of prey take a snack.

    Learning to fly, our family of swifts.

    Our charges.

    We’re here to look after the campsite and other animals.

    There are eight cats, apparently. We’ve seen six so far including a proud ginger and white that mixes happily with the dogs, purring her content when Tubby nudges her.

    Strong cat. And Tubby.

    Tubby. Tubby’s a Bulgarian Barak, a solid, strong hunting dog with a calm nature and obstinate will. He was only a few weeks old when someone left him outside the campsite in a tub. He spent his formative months terrorised by cats. Tubby will walk and run all day and didn’t seem to be losing any ground when chasing a hare this morning.

    Tubby. Arrived in a tub. Now sleeps in a case.

    Myra. Myra’s a Bulgarian Scenthound or Gonche who was dumped after she had the misfortune of getting the wrong side of a gun and took a load of shot in one knee. She has been here a few months now and can take a good walk, but she needs time in the morning to get the damaged leg moving again.

    When walking a sight hound and a scent hound on the lead the usual delight of seeing a leveret hopping unawares towards us was spoiled somewhat as I nearly lost both arms when the dogs spotted it.

    Scrappy. I don’t know Scrappy’s story so let’s create it here. Scrappy had an eating disorder that led her to pile on rather too many pounds until she could no longer squeeze through her home cat flap. After a couple of nights sleeping rough she heard tell of the excellent care available from an English campsite. She waddled the 6 or 7 miles to Camping Kromidovo and has been here ever since. Although her diet isn’t strict she has shed a few pounds. She wanders around happily, but she rarely joins the hounds on their expeditions.

    That’s the gang. What could possibly go wrong?

    Dog walking country. Kromidovo.

    In charge.

    The Cornish Wanderers took charge around 8.30 on Friday morning.

    First duty was walking the dogs.

    By 9.00am Polly was injured, Myra had run towards home as soon as her lead was off and Tubby had run for the hills.

    So that left Scrappy. Except that Scrappy doesn’t bother with walks anyway.

    I left with four dogs, came back with one, and that one was broken.

    Nil points.

    Having done as many jobs as we have we’re aware of the concept of teething troubles, but this felt like a particularly bad start.

    Tubby is his own man (or dog) and will often take off on a walk. He wasn’t a worry.

    Myra hasn’t lived here long and was clearly unsure of the new people taking her away from the place she’s only now coming to know as home.

    And Polly? Well, she seemed to tumble, catch herself, and then hobble home, signing herself off for the day.


    Since then it has been a bit too calm. Too calm for a business.

    The site is on a transit route for much of Europe into Greece. Bulgarians, Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, French and a few Brits all come through here, resting up at the site before taking the border in the morning.

    On Tuesday Greece introduced the need for negative Covid-19 tests at the border, and there has hardly been a soul here since.

    Six in a Transporter. That’s crowded.

    Feet up then?

    We seem incapable of simply sitting around. So we’ve cleaned the van, emptying every nook and cranny for the first time in ten months. We’ve flushed his tanks, repacked our goods, shed some things we haven’t used.

    Next came Jon and Sara’s car. I like cleaning cars. I know that in a dusty place like this it will soon be back to its original state. But I feel happy knowing that for a few days it shone.

    Then guests arrived. Yee ha! A French Bulgarian family. We chat a little in French, we must talk to the children in English. I need to learn a few key words of Bulgarian.

    ArchieVan. Spring clean.


    Oh Polly. After her tumble on Friday morning she walked later as well as usual, perhaps limping a little.

    On Saturday she was OK, but didn’t come on the long walk.

    In the night she was licking her paw quietly, incessantly. Dogs do that. 

    We couldn’t see a wound and we weren’t too worried.

    Then at about 5.30am, the cockerel had crowed, and the golden oriole was just tuning up. Minty was awake. She whispered “I can smell blood.”

    The poor poppit’s bed was a mess.

    A dog with only three good legs isn’t a good candidate for a poorly paw and she was clearly trying to work out which of her two right feet she could put weight on.

    Tomorrow she’ll go to the vet. Today she has been carried for every need, and in between times she has lain with her bucket of shame and a beautifully bandaged paw. In Minty she has the best unqualified nurse she could hope for.

    Is there anyPolly in there?

    The Germans.

    Later on Sunday the Germans arrived. Five adults who’d made it from Dresden in just two days (it’s about a thousand miles).

    They asked about restaurants, but were clearly too knackered to drive to Melnik where there’s a good selection. 

    That morning I’d made a goulash that was to feed us for a few days, it had simmered for hours, it’d pack a flavour punch and be good. 

    I looked at the dad and knew I wouldn’t be eating the goulash. He didn’t hesitate when I offered to feed them, and 30 minutes later they were washing it down with the excellent local wine that the campsite sells.

    We had beer for dinner that night.

    Other walks.

    Walks with the hounds have fallen into a rhythm. We’re out for an hour of stanking across countryside that’s a mix of wild and vines, with distant views of mountains reaching almost to 3000m.

    42% of the Bulgarian land mass is forested, or scrub – imagine that much wilderness! In England there’s only 10% tree cover.

    A few hundred metres from home Tubby is let off his lead and he legs it, chasing anything that needs chasing. He checks in with me every few minutes to make sure we’re still heading to the same place then he’s gone again, just a head bobbing through the distant grasses.

    Myra sticks with me. We’re forming a bond. I’ll not let her off the lead again for a few days, but she doesn’t need the bursts of speed anyway. She gets reassurance and love, although her habit of rolling in the most rotten thing she can find makes that love a challenge at times.

    6.35am. Kromidovo.


    The nearest significant town of Sandanski is trying to pull itself out of its post-Soviet gloom, but with most of the housing stock built in the 1950s and 60s that’ll be a long slow journey. Flats in crumbling tower blocks have been individualised recently as owners have carried out their own repairs. Sometimes the outside walls of a single flat many floors up have been painted – how did they do that?

    The streets have a huge number of clothing shops and bars and it’s a heck of a lot busier than anything in Britain right now. Mature trees shelter from the heat and there’s a large park at the far end with the largest hotel. Mineral water gushes from a spring at 76°c!

    A Sandanski tower. Short walk to town.

    The Vets of Sandanski.

    Our first vet was in a residential area, she advised of the grasses that have caused Polly’s harm and showed us what she’s looking for. She does it all the time she said. It’s worse when the grass penetrates the ear – that always needs an operation. 

    Polly stood still on the table as her searching surgical tweezers went far under the skin. Finding nothing she gave Polly an injection of serum from a tarantula that helps flush foreign materials from the body.

    The grass that felled a dog. Kromidovo.

    She also gave us a prescription for antibiotics. 

    The frightening cost – just 15 Leva.

    She booked another appointment with another vet across town for the afternoon.

    I love it that they work together rather than in competition.

    In the afternoon longer tweezers prodded a couple of centimetres into Polly’s foot, but still without success. 

    A shot of anti-biotic. A pat on the head. A hope that it’ll sort itself out. 10 Leva.

    And a Leva? There are more than 2 to a pound. Two vet visits, an hour of attention, and all for about £12. For readers unaccustomed to the cost of a vet visit at home – we’d have paid about £150 at Polly’s regular vet.

    Rotisserie sheeps head. Delicacy.

    Rupel Winery.

    We’ve tried to visit the modern Orbelus Winery up the road several times. We’ve been in, walked around, but we haven’t found anyone to sell us their excellent product.

    The Rupel Winery is an hour’s walk across country and while I like the idea of walking there, we’d not be presentable after a hard dusty stank in 35°c, so we drove.

    The attractive chateau that I intended to walk to is their party frock, where they hold events and grand tastings. Business happens at the modern shed out on the road. That was OK. It was cool inside and the delightful helper there talked us through samples of many fine wines in good English.

    Their very best wine is a stonking oak barrel aged red that sells at 36 Leva – a great wine for a special occasion. Their every day varieties are truly good wines and only a fraction of that price.

    The excellent Orbelus Winery.

    Interestingly here, like in Greece, there is no price incentive to buy more. A 3L box might cost 12, and if so then the 5L will cost 20. The same per litre price. They’re confused when I ask why.

    Rover to Mars.

    Does anyone else snigger when they hear reports of the Arabs, Chinese and Americans launching a Rover to Mars?

    Minty usually comments that she’d be nervous taking a Rover to Camborne.

    Rover 75. A lot of car, but Mars is a long way.


    Jon and Sara came back on Wednesday, rather sooner than they’d planned, but they need to take off again next week.

    Rather than sit back in the sun we took off on a new adventure. In a clean van.

    Since he moved to Bulgaria Ned likes to be known as Boyan.

    A clean dashboard, clean seats, clean windows, clean bedding, clean living space, even the bodywork is clean. It won’t last, but for now it feels great.

    Two weeks in and I can feel Bulgaria growing on me.

    It’s too easy to find the bad. As I drive along today I’m seeking the good.

    Heading north the relatively new motorway stops where the road enters the Struma Gorge and the mass of lorries thunder along at the same speed through what would be a beautiful road without them. 

    There are points where there are truck stops on either side of the road. Girls with knowledge of certain tricks service truckers while older women cook them steaks that they’ll better enjoy after their tussle. Other customers may arrive on horse and cart, or in a Mercedes that cost far more than a decent house. They eat meat together.


    The van is showing a crazy temperature, but we’re happy, absorbing our surroundings.

    I used to avoid taking the same road, or the same path, there and back. Now I understand how different everything looks from the other direction. We backtrack all the way to Bansko, but only now and then do particular features remind us that we’ve been this way before.

    Diving deeper into the countryside the minor road follows the railway for a long while, with the rails on the very edge of the road. I’d love to drive along with a train towering over us that close, it’d put an edge on things.

    Logging Ponies. Rila National Park.

    The Dancing Bears.

    The logging town of Belitsa was an interesting place with saw mills left and right and huge lumber trucks manoeuvring oblivious to other vehicles. Horses are still used to drag trunks from awkward places so there are a fair few animal drawn carts for added confusion.

    From there it’s a climb through a territory of interesting black barns. I love a black barn. We were entering the Rila Mountains National Park.

    Black barn. Rila Mountains National Park.

    At about 1400m we reached our destination – and were greeted by a bear!

    Thankfully he was behind a fence, but only a fence such as you’d see around an English tennis court.

    Night on bear mountain.

    Cooking dinner just a few feet from that fence it was the most thrilling experience to see huge brown bears wander by, sniffing at our lentils, but deciding that crunching 50 walnuts, shell and all, was a better bet.

    There was just one roar in the night, but it was enough to make us glad to be in the van.

    The Dancing Bears sanctuary was started by Brigitte Bardot’s foundation 20 years ago to rescue dancing bears from their Roma captors. 

    Sound advice. Dancing Bears Sanctuary.

    The spectacle is hideously cruel as cubs are forced to “dance” on hot metal plates at a very young age, then live lives of misery in chains. It still happens in some Balkan states, but here it was made illegal 1998, and the care of 30 or so bears was negotiated. They now live in retirement in near wild surroundings.

    Seeing a single species proved far more interesting than seeing several as you might at a safari park, and getting so close was incredible. Interesting they have no obvious smell, I thought they would stink.

    As soft as she looks? Malinka. Dancing Bear. Retired.

    City lights.

    We’ll leave you here. Next we’re heading through the stunning forested Rila Mountains and on to the bright lights of Plovdiv, but this story is already long enough.

    Thanks to Sarah for asking: Baz is doing well.
    My mate. Camping Kromidovo.
    Like Austria. But affordable.
    A big fella, Belitsa.

    Kromidovo at dawn.

    This post is huge already, so I’ll share mainly pictures from an early walk around the village, with a few words for context.

    It struck me as I wandered that this is what we risk when cuts hit our public services. We might not care much when the first public toilet closes…

    Beautiful. Evil. Polly’s nemesis.

    Veg plots and fruit trees. The dawn view from our balcony at the campsite’s rooms.

    Vegetable plots and fruit trees.
    Dwellings and crops. Kromidovo. Bulgaria.

    One of many. Spring in the village. Pure water. Cold. Free.

    Village spring. Kromidovo.
    My favourite shot in ages. Life. Kromidovo.
    Death notice and wood store. Kromidovo.
    Village square and playground. Kromidovo. Bulgaria.
    30% off.
    Bench. Kromidovo. Bulgaria.
    Snack bar. Kromidovo. Bulgaria.
    The mineral water pool. But not this year.
    A grower’s cottage. Kromidovo. Bulgaria.

    16 Replies to “Shifting perceptions. Bulgaria.”

    1. Hehe !!

      That’s brilliant. You’re a great writer and credit is given for authenticity,. You captured the place perfectly.
      I see you came across the sheeps’ head rotisserie in Sandanski. Not tried that one myself, yet..
      Everyone says hi ! Enjoy Plovdiv.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you John.
        My walk around the village early Wednesday morning was great. If I’d worked on my language I could have taken a few shots of the old crones who were around at the time, but I wouldn’t do that without asking.
        Thankfully when the leverett popped up Tubby actually wanted to go the other way and only Myra (Mira?) had actually spotted the hare, I don’t think i could hold them both back.
        Plovdiv is so different, the city, the buildings and the people. We loved it. I need to get writing about it before I forget it all.
        We’re back in the mountains now, near Devin. We’ll see you tomorrow sometime.

    2. Well you both are quite happy to experience a new adventure, running a campsite in Bulgaria is, shall we say, slightly more adventurous than cottages in Cornwall! Bulgaria does seem to present a rather poor and run down image, but I suppose that it is all relative and I imagine it is different when you are there among the people.
      Shame about poor Polly, she certainly has been in the “wars” with her legs and paws but clearly a trooper in the tradition of the adventurers.
      Plovdiv looks to be an interesting city, I looked it up and there is history, Roman of course, with a 6,000 seating arena/theatre, now hosting opera and other concerts, an Archaeological Museum along with all we come to expect from the Romans
      Safe travels

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        The great thing with the campsite is that people expect to look after themselves, with the cottages it was often as if I became people’s parent for the duration of their stay.
        I enjoy playing host and when we need to we snap into behaving as a bloody good team. Serving the Germans dinner was a hoot, and they loved it enough to leave a tip.
        Plovdiv was great. I need to start writing it up while I can remember it all.
        Hopalong seems to be pulling herself back together. The great thing with animals is that there’s no pretence. They’re either OK, or they’re not. And for a couple of days she definitely wasn’t.
        On the subject of well being – have you had your results? I hope all’s OK.
        Best from up another mountain.

    3. This is amazing. What an adventure. Loved you looking after the camp site and such informative photos.
      Thank you!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you Anita.
        Now it’s written up it does feel like it was quite a week.
        I saved the city for next week – the challenge is always keeping the posts (relatively) short.
        I’m beginning to love this place.

    4. Running a campsite, a zoo of dogs to look after and bears sniffing out your lentils. You’re one lucky pair. It sounds magnificent.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        It has been a hellofa week, absolutely brilliant.
        The real lives of the poor who have no choice but to grow what they need, then the elegance of the city.
        I’ve saved writing up Plovdiv for next week. It was such a contrast to see the beautiful people again. I’m about to start getting the memories down after dinner.
        We’re up another mountain with the thunder crashing around us.
        The greatest element of luck is being able to travel when so many can’t, and seeing places without the crowds.
        Look after yourself.


    5. Interesting time you three are having…hope Polly is recovering …up a mountain in a thunder storm what an adventure …lm not lured by the discription of Bulgaria..but to see wild bears l would be in heaven and minty are so adventurous..
      Running a camp site bet that was an experience sites in Wales have just opened up today we may venture soon up snowden ..very envious of your freedom ..l tried to persuade John to bye a van ..l had it all planned in my head but has l don’t drive and he dosnt enjoy it it’s a no brainer …and we are getting on a bit. Really enjoyed your journey will this be a book for future adventures..keep safe Sandra &John

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        You have to love driving to do this!
        Today I did 60 miles in the mountains, every inch of it beautiful, but I had to rest afterwards, I was exhausted. 60 miles doesn’t sound much, but it took 3 hours.
        You’re right. Bulgaria isn’t a typical holiday destination. It has much to offer. But the bits in between take some getting used to.
        We have friends in Snowdonia. It’s a special place. I particularly like a Cadir Idris. I lost a dog there once. I’ll never forget it!
        Good to hear from you.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    6. Gillian Cooper says: Reply

      Hi guys
      Another experience
      Another Doctor Doolittle adventure
      Hope Polly is OK I am sure you are looking after her she is very resilient animals are
      keep her safe she is very precious
      Glad you got through the border OK you just never know
      You make everything so realistic in your blogs ( you could go far)ha ha !!
      Job already done when you come back to the UK as previously said you are a travel blog in the making publish al, your blogs you would be a millionaire in two weeks then you can put your feet up and really retire
      Stay say
      Crab here in the UK
      Hugs hugs to P Polly
      Luv Dad/ Gill💕💕

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you Gill. It was quite a week so I’ve split it over two week’s blogs. You’ll get the city story next week.
        Polly’s nearly back to health. We didn’t get anything out of her foot unfortunately so it’ll have to work its way through her body somehow.
        Yes. The thought of coming home to the UK doesn’t seem like a good idea at the moment – but we have to do it. I hope we can sell our house before too many people realise how bad the situation is. No good worrying about that now though.

    7. I’m worn out just reading this 🙂 I love that you’ve just taken on a campsite enroute for a few days – love that you gave up your goulash (i’m sure it was gorgeous too), and I love your dog walk adventures. I hope Polly’s paw is ok .. ouch!
      The photos are fab, but its hard to imagine all the sights and sounds, as well as the heat that you’re experiencing. Maybe a bit of video action is needed 🙂
      I hope you are both well … take care on the road and stay safe
      Lots of love
      Rab xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Hey you.
        Right after I messaged you I noticed that I had a new comment. Thank you.
        Yes, it’s all change, all interesting, and often a little edgy. We’re loving it all right now.
        Next week’s post is a very different city experience, it would have been too much for here.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    8. Amazing blog and such a joy to read. I’ve travelled across Eastern Europe a great deal over the years but never Bulgaria. It’s one of those ever so slightly forgotten corners for many, unless skiing is your thing.

      This really has brought the place to life for me and reignited some wanderlust under me. Not ideal timing, of course but as you say, you’re fortunate to be footloose and fancy free at this time and we can live vicariously through you for a while. But only a while, mind. I need my wings back too!

      Keep it up and keep moving on, guys!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you. That’s a great comment.
        We have been very fortunate with our timing. Even though our lockdown was hard, it was in a good place, and now we’re working outside every day that’s good too.
        You must spread those wings. It’s good for the soul and as we know, travel is the enemy of bigotry.

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