It’s not often that you get to start a completely new life. A new year. In a new country, a new town, a new house.
But that’s exactly what I’ve got this year.
Last year – 2020
If you’ve been following the drama of our lives (my husband, Olivier, and me), you’ll know that in March last year we left Moscow with only 4 days notice. We arrived in Bucharest into an almost instant 2 month lockdown, then spent another 2 months in Bucharest because borders to other countries were still closed, until the end of July when we finally managed to get a taxi (yes, a taxi!) from Bucharest to a town called Veliko Tarnovo, in Bulgaria.
We chose Veliko Tarnovo because it wasn’t far from the Romanian/Bulgarian border. And after watching some videos about it, we thought it looked like a lovely place to visit, if not to live.
So we found ourselves there, at the end of July, 2020. A new country, a new town, and a little rented apartment in Veliko Tarnovo.
Then we got started on getting our residency applications lodged. We didn’t know when we’d be able to travel again and we needed a home-base while we waited for the world to get back on its feet. Bulgaria gave us both 12 months’ residency which is renewable every year (having a husband with an EU passport is proving useful!).
We bought a car because we made friends with people from other villages and needed some method of transport to go and visit them (no public transport to most villages). Have you seen our car? It’s a little old Lada, a Russian car in memory of our wonderful years in that amazing country.
Taxis are cheap here, and they do go to nearby villages, but you have much more autonomy with a car. Plus, we wanted to visit other places and see what was around Veliko Tarnovo.
We found that we really loved it here, and so we followed through with something that we’d started talking about when we were still in Bucharest – we started looking to buy a house in a village. Village houses are not expensive here, and after looking at our finances we decided that we could buy something in not too bad condition in a small village. We didn’t want to live too far from Veliko Tarnovo, where there are shops, restaurants, and bars for entertainment.
VT is quite a big town with plenty of things to do and see.
How to find a good village
The advice we’d been given was to visit as many villages as possible to get a feel for them – take a look around. Check out the infrastructure. The condition of the roads. See if there are a lot of empty houses in the village (not a good sign). Walk around a bit. Talk to the people in the street or in the shop. Talk to people (locals and ex-pats) who live there and find out what life in each village is like.
Then after visiting a few villages you get some idea of what you like, and what you don’t like. It’s true, we really quite quickly understood the villages that we’d be happy to live in, and the villages we would be happier just to drive through and never go back to.
We made a shortlist of the villages that we liked, then started looking online at the houses available in those villages.
Looking at houses
And with the help of a couple of estate agencies we had a list of houses that we could visit. This was a huge eye-opener! Despite some lovely photos online, we found that some of the houses were just shells, needing major renovation. Of course the prices reflected that, but we decided to start from the bottom and work our way up. So we looked at a couple of houses that needed a lot of work. Then we looked at some houses that were ok but still needed a lot of superficial work to get them into a livable condition.
And there were some that needed a lot of clearing away of spiderwebs, dust and probably lots other unseen things. A lot of village houses are sold with the furniture, and a house full of spiders and dusty furniture (and I mean sometimes 10 or more years of dust) isn’t my idea of fun. But I was ready to buy whatever we could afford and do the hard work if necessary.
Most of the houses we looked at lacked internal bathroom/toilets, because that seems to be the norm in traditional Bulgarian village houses. We discussed the possibilities of installing a bathroom/toilet inside the houses that we liked. It’s one of the first things a lot of foreigners do when they move here.
It seemed that all the houses needed some kind of work before you could live in them comfortably. But we were prepared to pay a little bit less for a house that may need a bit of work done to it, because we are by no means rich after living in Russia for so long. We’ve also spent a lot of money over the years doing what we love best, travelling.
And so we continued looking at houses in the villages that we liked, from the lower price range up to the maximum we could spend. We still didn’t find one that we wanted.
The perfect village house
Then one day our estate agent told us that he has the perfect house that he knows we will love. There’s no work needed to do to it, whoever buys it can move straight in. It’s owned by an old woman who lost her husband a few months before. She needs to sell it because it’s too much work for her alone.
And so we went to look at this perfect house in one of our preferred villages.
It turned out that he was right. It was pretty perfect. The bathroom and toilet were inside. The garden was established. There were fruit trees. There was heating (wood fire kind of heating, but it’s still heating). We walked through the house, looked at the garden, sat outside with the owner and the agent and talked for a while. It was a beautiful sunny and warm day and the garden felt like the most peaceful place on earth. I didn’t want to leave.
Taking some time to think about it
But we left, and went home to think about, and talk about, this perfect house.
It was right at the top of our budget. We’d already discussed price with the agent and he told us that the price is not negotiable. She will not accept anything lower.
We decided that we wanted to see the house again, so we did. It was still perfect.
Then back to our little rented flat to think about it some more.
Finding the perfect house happened a lot sooner than we expected. We’d expected to look at houses for months, and to possibly find one in spring (maybe in March or April), just in time to get a garden started. We thought we’d spend a lot more time visiting other villages and houses.
A couple of times we drove back to the village where the perfect house was to check it out again. We walked around a few streets in the village to see what kind of things happened there (nothing much, actually!). I connected online with some foreigners who live there and asked them about their experiences. Although there will always be some problems with village life, people seemed to be happy living there.
More talking and thinking. And then we realised that we’d be mad to pass up such a perfect house in a beautiful little Bulgarian village. So we called the agent and told him that we’d buy it.
A done deal
The commitment was made. The deposit was paid. A little bit of banking activity to get the money from our Australian bank to our Bulgarian bank, and then, in early December, the house was ours.
We spent the next couple of weeks going from the house back to our little rented flat in Veliko Tarnovo. We moved our things slowly (not that we’ve got very much), and enjoyed our last moments in town before moving permanently to our village.
And so, as we said goodbye to 2020, the year in which all our plans turned to dust back in March, we were ready to start the new year in our new house.
Our new life
We’ve already had a little housewarming party here. And we’ve had some visits from the friends we’ve made since we arrived in Bulgaria almost 6 months ago.
We’ve met some people in the village, including our neighbours who we speak Russian with because we can’t speak Bulgarian good enough yet and they can’t speak English or French.
And we’ve met the Mayor, who also works in one of the shops here. And we say ‘good day’ to anyone we pass when we’re out for a walk, or going to the shop. Little old ladies often stop in the street for a chat. Although there are language barriers, we do seem to understand each other and they all wish us luck and happiness in our new home.
The whole village already knows about us, although we haven’t met everyone yet. Word gets around quickly in small villages. Whenever we meet someone new, they say something like ‘Oh, yes, I heard about you’.
We are looking forward to our new life, which started with the New Year, in our new country and in a new village. It’s going to be a very different life than the one we had in Moscow for 10+ years. We’ve gone from 24 hour living in a city with more than 12 million residents, to a little Bulgarian village with a couple of shops and around 1000 residents.
Let’s see what this new life brings us!
What’s in store for you in 2021? Have you started a new life? Or maybe you’ve decided to make some improvements in your life in 2021. Let us all know about it in the comments below!
And here’s a video to show you our new home!