From London to Varna

The day we stepped back in time

Written and photos by Amanda and Graham Brown, edited by Scott Green  


The day we decided to choose Bulgaria was back in 2006 in London. We had a small amount of money to invest, and we’d seen a TV program that listed the ten cheapest places to buy property in Europe. Bulgaria & Romania were top & we spontaneously decided to fly to Bulgaria to see for ourselves. We definitely made a great choice.

That moment, when our flight was coming in to land over Varna & we looked out the airplane window we were quite shocked. The high-rise apartments on the landscape in very poor condition looked pretty scary & rough. We felt nervous and wondered what we were coming to. After we landed we were met by an estate agent and taken to view our first property overlooking the Black Sea. The view was breathtaking & we immediately fell in love with the traditional & quirky house built on the edge of a ravine. 

As we were driven around the area and up and down the coast it felt like we had stepped back in time, horses and carts, ancient cars and Russian style trucks, chimneys smoking, dirt tracks instead of roads, vegetables being grown at every property and even hand tools being used in the fields instead of machinery. The more we explored the more we fell in love with Bulgaria. 

After viewing approx fifteen houses over five days, some with no electricity, some with just a well for water, even some with no roof or walls... we knew nothing could compare with that first villa overlooking the sea surrounded by the beautiful ravine & we decided to put in an offer…. That day back in October 2006 we bought ourselves a new house in Bulgaria!!

Soon after purchasing our property we quickly discovered that the romantic vision of stepping back in time was not quite so attractive when it came to filling out endless forms to buy vehicles, mobile phones, open bank accounts, etc and we experienced the realization of how much technology saves on time!! Thankfully whilst in Bulgaria, we always have plenty of time.

One of our funniest and most memorable experiences was when our Bulgarian neighbors invited us for a drink to their villa as a way of introduction. Since they did not speak English and we did not speak Bulgarian we were not sure what to expect and had already eaten. Well to say the food just kept coming would be an understatement, we were told ‘eat eat’ as salads, home-baked bread and goodies, soup, pickled vegetables, and meat were proudly brought out and placed in front of us and our small sherry style glasses were repeatedly and proudly kept filled with “Coco’s rakia, very very good”. 

Well, being British with our polite manners we just kept eating and drinking much to their delight until it came to try & get home. By then, Graham could hardly stand (he’d drank several more rakias than I had) so I (being a small 5’ lady) had to half drag, half carry him back to our neighboring villa. 

The following morning we had to go and buy some essentials and tools, Graham just flopped into the back seat of the hire car still barely conscious and was unable to get out once we got to Metro. (The only shop we knew) After having my bank card eaten and retained by the atm and embarrassingly trying to understand that my passport was needed to enter the store (while still nursing my own sore head) I was becoming stressed and panicky as I began to try and work out why there were two prices and what products they referred to when a friendly English voice behind me said ‘are you ok?’ 

That day I met my first English friend and our neighbors, Coco and his wife became very dear friends to us from that first day and we have some very fond memories of days and evenings together until he sadly passed away two years ago.

If I were to give advice to a newcomer I would say that you may fall in love with Bulgaria however it is very different to the UK and Western Europe in many ways and it takes years to experience and understand this, so I would always advise anyone not to “burn their bridges” so if needed they could return to where they came from if they ever felt they wanted to.