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Month: April 2017

The first month in Shipka

The first month in Shipka

I am Eva, an EVS volunteer from Slovenia and I will try to present my first impressions about living in Bulgaria, more precisely in Shipka. I heard about EVS volunteering quite some time ago and decided to try to find a suitable project for me. As I no longer had desire to continue my studies in my home country, I started to look for a project and after one year of rejections I saw a short term project about permaculture and community building and I decided to apply. Unfortunately they have told me that volunteers already have been chosen, but they offered me a long term project instead. That’s why I like to say that Bulgaria chose me. I didn’t know what to expect from the country or the project, I came without any expectations.

The day of departure finally came and I took a bus, full of different feelings, a mixture of fear and excitement. Fear because I didn’t know much about Bulgaria and excitement because of a new adventure. After a 14 hours long bus trip I finally arrived to Sofia where my doubts and concerns started when I realised it was quite different (more chaotic) than my country. I am not saying it is a bad thing, I just expected it more similar. I have never been in Bulgaria before and shocks just didn’t seem to have an end. First thing that shook me up was all the rubbish lying around the city and nobody seemed to care about it. The second thing were the stray dogs around the Central train station, resting in the shadows, hoping for some food and cuddling which you can’t really see in Slovenia. When I tried to buy a ticket for my almost final destination, Kazanlak, I realised nobody could speak English, so I had to use my non-existing Serbo-croatian to get a ticket. After successful purchase, I made sure that I took the right train and I tried to made myself comfortable in a compartment to get some sleep which I really needed. After around four hours of driving we arrived in Kazanlak, where my mentor picked me up and took us (me and my french flatmate) to our new home for nine months, Shipka.

I know I said I didn’t have any expectations, but definitely I didn’t imagine Shipka like this. I thought it would be bigger and healthier for our sociable life, but you can’t have everything you want in your life, they say. I soon realized it was a small village (don’t say it to the locals haha) with around one thousand of  inhabitants, where the air is fresh and silence is more silent if there is no bombing disturbing it. It is not a Civil war or anything similar going on, they are just trying new arms from the factory in Kazanlak. If you are new and you don’t know the reason of the sounds it can be quite scary (my flatmate thought it was a war going on) and unpleasant. But after a time living here you barely perceive the noise and if there is none, you start to be concerned if something is wrong. Besides the typical “shocks” as a Bulgarian shower or yes/no thing (when they say no they nod, and with yes they shake the  head) there were probably many things that we found strange at first, but got used to them. Not just to speak about “negative” sides of Shipka, I have to mention that people here (also in other parts of the country) are very nice and helpful if you need anything. Even if they don’t speak English, they would call their friends/family or whoever to help you. We have really nice neighbours but it’s just frustrating we can’t speak to them properly.  I think in general the most challenging thing for us was discovery that here are not much young people living in Shipka and the disappointment about non-existing nice bar where we could have a beer. For now this place remains our lovely house with the big terrace and garden where we grow our own vegetables.

Despite the lack of places for socialising, Shipka is a great place with peaceful atmosphere and a lot of nature and possibilities for hiking or other sports activities. If you love historical little towns it is great place to visit/live as it has many important monuments because of its reach history as a place where the battle of the independence from Ottoman Empire happened. Shipka monument which is situated on a peak nearby is a nice daily trip either walking or for adventurers by car. Also Bouzloudja the communist monument which is shaped like an UFO is very popular with tourists, but sadly it is becoming a ruin as the government doesn’t invest any money or interest in its renovation.

In general I am quite impressed about Bulgaria and its reach culture, except maybe chalga (the typical turbo folk Balkan music which is very popular here and also in Slovenia) hehe. Something which really surprised me is the interest of young people in their own culture and history and a desire to preserve it with creating folkloric groups and so on. I got an impression that people in general are very proud of their country as it is the oldest European country with its original name and they love to mention it. Also if you didn’t know a Bulgarian language arose first and Russian was developed from it 😉 Bulgaria is a beautiful country with many natural and historical sights and I can’t wait to discover it all!







First steps in Shipka

First steps in Shipka

My name is Antonin, I am 27 years old. I arrived in Shipka as european volunteer since one month and half. The european voluntary service is a program allowing to young people aged between 17 to 30 years to be involved in non-profit projects in Europe and different countries around the world. After completion of my studies and first work experiences with socio-cultural centres in rural areas, this program offers me the opportunity to discover a completely new working and living environment. I am involved in ”Open-mind project” whose aim is to encourage environmentally-sound practices and support the development of social and cultural life in the town of Shipka and its surroundings.

First Days, first impressions 

We arrived in Shipka the 17thof february after a harsh winter, according to the locals, and are accomodated in one of numerous little houses of the village. I arrived a friday evening and discovered the town after my awakening. Our balconey overhangs a little church and provide a surprising view on the tight network of little houses as well as fields and mountains which surround the village of Shipka. I still have the feeling to be in a new world at the sight of these colors, from numerous brown shades of the roofs of the houses and fields to the blue of the sky. With the coming of spring, the greening of fields and flowering of trees of the village are gradually adding in this picture.

On our first day, our guide Stelian leaded us to visit the Bouzludja monument, vestige of the communist period perched at 1400 metters of altitude, not far away from Shipka. This abandoned monument have something surrealistic when you know the communism only by way of books. In a dreamy mood it’s not hard to imagin science-fiction screenplays or just to think about all that may occured here. Stelian translated us the words scriptured on both sides of what was the entrance of the building : « On your feet, despised comrades . On your feet you slaves of labour . Downtrodden and humiliated, stand up against your enemy. »


On my second day in Shipka, I was in for an unexpected event…the war. On early morning, I first heard gunners noises, then I fell asleep again, thinking about a bad dream. Twenty minutes of sleep later, explosion followed explosion ! I leapt out of my bed and imediately rushed to the window. In front of, I realize how this reaction is stupid in case of gunfire. That’s sure, I will be one of first killed, my mind is not prepared for war ! No noise anymore…I finaly decided do go to have my breakfast. Later, we heard again detonations. I say to Eva that is probably to bring the avalanches down. Few days later, we learned that a weapon factory settled in Kazanlak take tests in the mountain. I finish to realize that I am far away from home.

Daily life in Shipka

Excepted bombs and gunner noises that we can hear some days at regular intervals, Shipka is a peaceful an pleasant place to live. We are living here since  more than one month. Most of time, we work at the preparation of the permaculture-garden were we go by foot, throught the central part of the town. Without speaking Bulgarian, it’s not always easy to communicate with the habitants. However, I am still pleasantly surprised by their reception. When we bump into a person on the street or from our garden, even if she looks at their feets or seemes concerned, a simple «dobar den ! » is suficient to get a broad smile, and sometime somehow to engage a conversation. I felt the same goodwill when I arrived in Sofia and had to ask for my way. Even if the persons I met almost didn’t speak english, they all wanted to help me and some stayed with me until I find my way.

That may sound banal but it’s what surpised me the most arriving in Bulgaria. Here in Shipka, It happened to met persons who didn’t now any word in english and continued to speak to me, knowing that I don’t speak the language. Even if the exact content of these conversations will remain a mystery, they make the daily life pleasant and suprising.

To live in rural areas in France and Bulgaria

The Shipka territory situation, at certain point of view, appears to me close to the village I was working in France. The main source of employment was not a weapon factory but a chimistry factory producing various components for the pharmaceutical and agri-food industry. The noises of bombs just replaced the pestilential smells emanating from the chimistry factory.

In Shipka, we principaly meet elderly people, some families and teenagers schooled in Kazanlak. The age group of 20-30 years old is almost absent. Like in France and others european countries, youth go on to study in large cities. However I can see in my country that in certain rural areas youth are returning to live in. These involved themeself in the preservation and enhancement of the environment and cultural patrimony of their territory, in new ways to produce or in various activities of social interest. In my view, these trends still relatively small are all signs that begin to be invented new ways to live and work in rural areas. I am convinced that the town of Shipka will undergo similar trends in more or less long term. These historical, cultural and environmental wealth are to important to remain ignored. I like to think that our work with ”open-mind” and inhhabitants of Shipka are a modest contribution to enhance all these potentials.