The personal story of an urban English lady making a new life in an obscure Balkan village
Issue 12, September 2007
by Krysia Rozanska; photography by Dragomir Ushev
He was a humble Bulgarian waiter. I was a jet-setting Westerner working in the film business. But we fell in love and ended up in a remote village in the Balkan countryside.
My Bulgarian odyssey all began in Greece. My brother had invited me to join him on the island of Thassos after I'd finished working on a TV series starring Tom Hanks called Band of Brothers. I couldn't wait to escape yet another dreary English summer. But my main preoccupation was with what to wear.
Instead of the expected relaxation and sunbathing, I met my gorgeous Bulgarian husband-to-be. Against all odds, we succeeded in turning the clichéd holiday romance into a journey of discovery. We decided to sort out a visa, settle in England and get married.
I'd enjoyed working in movies – travelling to LA and Cannes, attending film premieres and buying clothes. I never pictured myself doing anything else but we returned to the UK and I plunged into a new job as a film company chief executive. Stefan found work in catering. He enjoyed managing a pub in Hackney and discovering British comedy. However, he was (and still is) a Huck Finn character and missed the countryside.
A television programme gave Stefan the idea of developing a forgotten hamlet in Bulgaria where his grandfather once lived. He saved and bought old houses on trips home. It soon became a fulltime business as friends began asking him to find and renovate houses. The British buying frenzy in Bulgaria had just erupted. We were effectively living apart as I was busy travelling. I started to decline invitations to lunches and dinners. To be honest, we were both miserable. Would I consider giving up my comfortable Soho lifestyle to join him?
He wasn't in the most fashionable location. Where exactly was the village of Kipilovo, snugly wedged between Sliven and Kotel? The Rough Guide offered this endearing description: “Worth making the effort for the scenery alone… It's an enchanting, almost time-warped corner of Europe that still follows a pastoral way of life.”
So yes, here I am with my “Sertificate (sic) for Long-term Residence”. And I have to say that the Bulgarian immigration police were much friendlier than the UK Home Office where they make you feel like a criminal.
Life in the village is a fascinating adventure, full of activities and interests. I have heard a nightingale sing for the first time and seen my first woodpecker… well… peck. Previously, I thought they only existed in Disney films! I delight in the expanse of lush, wild countryside and I relish hearing the clopping of horses' hooves rather than the roar of car engines. Guests are amazed that they can walk anywhere without seeing “No Entry” signs or barbed wire. I love being invited by neighbours to see the goats, chickens, rabbits and donkeys in their barns.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers