Srem, Bulgaria – July 6, 2015
What did I say about assimilation? We’re turning local by the minute, picking up a very basic smattering of the language – greetings, courtesies, and essentials like ordering beer and G&Ts. ‘Malko’ for me (small – just 500 ml) and ‘golyamo’ for HRH (large – 100 ml). And that’s before adding the tonic.
A surprising number of words are known to us from other languages, although the resemblance ends there. ‘Nyama zashto’ has nothing to do with the Zulu for meat (nyama). Here it means ‘You’re welcome’. Nor does ‘kak’ have any connection with the soundalike scatalogical term as used in South Africa and Scotland. It’s Bulgarian for ‘how’ and not a descriptor for what HRH talks most of the time.
One that does have a bit of commonality is ‘pat’ (road) not far away from the Afrikaans/Dutch ‘pad’ or the English ‘path’. And ‘kartofi’ (potatoes) is instantly recognisable from the familiar Germanic ‘kartoffel’.
‘Magazina’ is among the first Bulgarian words to register, and the meaning is very close to the original English sense. Not the penny-dreadfuls that I write for so often in Dubai but simply a shop. In English, magazine originally meant a storehouse – usually for ammunition. Think of loading a fresh magazine into a rifle.
Coincidentally, the root word is Arabic – ‘makzan’ (storehouse) and the verb ‘kazana’ to store up. The current sense evolved through French as a name for books providing information useful to particular groups of people. I suppose titles like ‘Hello’ and ‘Ahlan’ still qualify, even if their usefulness escapes me.
But enough linguistic lecturing. This is supposed to be about Bulgarian appeal – and as a good Scotsman, economy has got to be near the top of the list. I’ve already banged on about comparative booze prices – and eating out is on much the same reduced scale come settling time.
Violetta’s is Srem’s equivalent of The Ivy in London or Petit Maison in Dubai. And ‘equivalent’ is hardly accurate. Does The Ivy have a magazina attached where you can buy bread and milk, bottled water, mixers, washing powder etc? I don’t think so, not moving in such exalted circles, but I’m sure at least one of our high-flying readers can enlighten me.
What I do know is that the Petit Maison chef doesn’t run a sideline in mending children’s toys. At least not on the rare occasions I’ve been there.
At Violetta’s, all things are possible. Order from an extensive menu and equally lengthy wine list and eat indoors or outdoors. Better still, it’s just five minutes’ walk away so need for cabs or any inhibitions about driving home. Since getting here, we’ve been through everything from crispy whitebait starters to mixed grills, casseroles, roasts, assorted salads, and tasty local dishes which I could not recognise, far less pronounce or spell.
The most recent visit saw adjoining tables groaning with food as four adults and three children did a pick-and-mix from the menu. All washed down with jugs of beer and wine for us and juices and fizzy drinks for the bairns. No stinting on either food or beverage.
The entire bill came to a startling 70 lev – in case you’ve forgotten the exchange rate, that’s about 35 euro or 140 dirhams. For four adults and three children!
Now toy-mending this time, but it’s thrown in free anyway. Previous time round, Millie and Eva had brought their prancing-pony on puppet strings. After an hour or so of prancing, cantering, and galloping, the strings somehow got tangled and knotted and the poor pony was reduced to a lop-sided shuffle.
The chef was having a beer and a fag-break with his mates, when the two wee lassies presented their plight. How could anyone resist? These two could bring tears to the eyes of a wally-dug, as the Scottish saying goes. Chef and mates were instantly transformed into horse doctors and the painstaking process began to restore full equine mobility.
Not sure if the kitchen closed in the meantime, or Violetta kept anaesthetising waiting diners with more beer, but the pony took priority. At last, Bulgarian cries of ‘Bingo!’ – or equivalent – and a fully-functional four-legged friend was back with his owners. Along with threats of the knackers’ yard if they ever got him so snarled up again.
Just another example of the warmth and friendliness that seems to typical of this part of the world.
Then there’s the weather. Mid-summer but just pleasantly warm compared to Dubai’s prevailing blast-furnace heat at this time of year. Daytime temperature is in the upper 20s so no problem with extended walks or prolonged outdoor exposure. Occasional showers freshen us up, but not to the extent that the novelty wears off for rain-starved desert dwellers like us.
Evenings are naturally cooler but no need for even a light sweater. Shorts and T-shirt are the 24-hour dress code. Maybe a white T-shirt when dinner formalities must be observed.
We’re sorely tempted to join the Srem community, perhaps as a summer home or even a retirement proposition. So much so that HRH has been looking at houses and has found one that could fit the bill. It needs a bit of care and attention, admittedly, but an insurmountable problem for one of such practical disposition.
She could stay here and lead the renovation project while labour away at Dubai hackery. We could save thousands by giving up the lease on the Marina property and I rent a room at the Paranormal. Just a pity the Metropolitan and the Rattlesnake have closed as that would have been a wee bit closer to the gulag (aka Media City).
Pictures of the property will follow and we’ll welcome your comments as to suitability. Meantime, wider exploration beckons and we’re off tomorrow to the resort town of Burgas on the Black Sea coast. Stand by for seaside and deckchairs in the next instalment.
Needs a bit of work, but there’s loads of floor space, outbuildings, and about 1,500 square metres of land – all for just a few thousand lev.
Mending the roof will be HRH’s first priority.
Ian’s site works show how it can be done.
Baba Russka – not camera-shy like some Srem ladies – poses for a souvenir portrait.