Down Under Home
Perth, 13th November - 5th December
When Nic and I first began to consider where to go on this extravagant honeymoon, the options were countless. Should we stay in Europe and visit every centimetre? Or perhaps a part of the African continent? We were quite drawn to South America too, as well as North America. Or even India, the Emirates, Japan, New Zealand … Countless!
However, the invitations to Australia had been coming in for 8 years with promises for sunshine, beaches and a roof over our heads. We decided to take advantage - just so their invites didn’t go to waste. They are responsible for these 6 months! They - my godmother and her wonderful family!
The Kovachevi Family - Elina, Bogomil, Sava, Ana-Maria and Shadow. With the special presence of Mariyana.
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FINDING THE WAY
We have been in Perth all morning as if we’re trying to avoid arriving at our hosts’ house. Why am I nervous? Aren’t we going to see people close to us - they are nearly family after all. And yet I am worried … that we would be a burden; that we would bother them with our presence; just more people into their house. And not just for a weekend, it would be a week - two - three. But there is nothing to be anxious about, we are here because of them. Let’s go so I can relax my mind.
Why was I even worried?! We are promptly welcomed by Shadow, the English Springer Spaniel, quickly followed by Mariyana. How odd to be meeting in this part of the world so far from home. Mary arrived in Australia the same time as us - we on the east coast, her on the west. After all, when a child needs their grandma’s homemade biscuits, sixteen thousand kilometres don’t matter.
We might be coming to close people but that doesn’t stop us from being dirty and smelly from the last few days without a shower. We turn our backs on the hot casserole on the table and get straight to the bathroom and clean clothes. Not that we aren’t extremely impatient to eat real homemade food (Bulgarian at that), but some things are more important.
We get downstairs, clean, just in time to welcome Eli home from work - warm hugs and excitement. She is in a rush to pick up Sava from school which should give us enough time at the table - vegan casserole, salad and bread - all homemade and fresh.
Our last meeting was three years ago - when Aya wasn’t even a year old and Sava’s sentences were a homogenous mix of Bulgarian and English words. Therefore, when two ten-year-olds walk into the house (Sava and a friend) I can’t believe I am seeing the same child. Tall, slender and just as shy in his yellow and blue uniform. In England, the school uniform is usually made up of a suit and tie. Down here we keep seeing children running around in shorts and t-shirt - though always the same. The two boys quickly find their way on the computer for the afternoon which gives us enough time to catch up with Eli and start telling the stories of where we’ve been and what we’ve done.
We take a break for a bit - just to go pick up Ana-Maria (Aya) from daycare. To get there is quite an adventure. It requires preparations and effort. First, you need to leave the garden, then to walk 20 meters to the street and then to cross it. Now you’re there. The moment Aya sees us, she starts running towards us with a big smile and directly comes to me for a tight hug. A lovely little lady, full of energy and happiness.
Back in the house, we are all around the table and the conversations are endless. Bogi comes home too. His work usually takes him far away from Perth and allows him to only spend his weekends at home. But the project he is working on now is just outside the city and he can be home every night. We let him rest and go for a walk with Shadow. The park is two whole steps further than Aya’s daycare down the road. A lovely place for dogs to run, girls to ride a bicycle and boys to play with water guns.
I think we did well today. Especially with the children that we see so rarely. And after each of them had received their Legos I think we were joyfully accepted. Sava’s engineering mind makes him a number one fan of the colourful bricks and we have even picked a kit he didn’t yet have - he was lost to us for dinner, deep into methodical play. For Aya, it was enough to see a scene from Frozen to be completely mesmerised by her first-ever Lego.
We eat dinner outside and talk to a tired toddler and an almost teenager. Like a real family.
THE FIRST CLEAR-OUT
We wake up in a bed under a roof that we won’t have to leave in the next 24 hours. Or even 48. We won’t be leaving for a while! We wake up rested and calm. We wake up with the smell of banana pancakes. Mary is already in her element testing out new recipes to ensure she can spoil vegans too. Do we deserve it?
Today, Nic and I need to start the monumental task that we have been waiting for - to clear and clean the car. We open up the hot tent to take out the mattress in the sun, to wash the covers and to vacuum the sand that has been collecting. After that, we fill the decking with every item that had a place in the car somehow - from clothes and camping equipment to simple rubbish we have been carrying with us for no reason. Once we have everything laid down we can’t believe all of that even fit into Bertie. But there is nowhere else it could have come from! While I reorganise and clean the items Nic goes into Bertie with a vacuum cleaner and a rag in hand. From time to time I go out with a glass of water to take care of him like a dried-up plant in the sun.
The family has a pressure washer in the garage so we decide to wash the “Outback” off the car. Which was a BIG mistake. Bertie literally started bleeding orange. Equipped with a dish sponge, I scrub while Nic follows behind me with the powerful stream. We are very focused to begin with, but we quickly realise how long and even more so how light their drive is. And how much water we will need to wash off the orange mark. We manage well up to a point, until we run out of hose length and yet there were 3-4 more orange meters on the drive.
We are assured from Europe that the next big rain will wash it off. You can tell they have no clue what summer in Australia is like. I am convinced that even today that driveway is still orange. Learn from our mistakes and don’t embarrass yourself in front of your hosts on the first day when they will be taking care of you for almost a month on the other side of the world! Ten dollars for a car wash isn’t all that much!
Eli takes the opportunity to take us to Fremantle for lunch after which she suggests we take a walk around; No, we are too tired to be able to pay proper attention to the town and prefer to come back another time. So we just accompany her to pick up Sava from school after which we tidy away the mess we have created everywhere. Also, the first load of washing needs to be hung out.
The evening once again includes a lovely dinner, prosecco, lovely conversation, playing with a dog and putting children to bed. It is so nice to be surrounded by new people and to be part of new lives. It is enriching us and adding meaning to our travels.
THE KOVACHEVI SHOW THE SIMS AROUND
As in any other family, in this one there is never a free minute. Everyone is always somewhere running errands, having lessons, rehearsals and whatnot. And yet in three weeks, we managed to collect many memories while exploring Perth together.
It is Friday night. It is summer. We can’t miss out on the typical place for dinner for the locals - a picnic by the river. For a girl’s outing (but with Nic) we are going to Point Walter; It’s a group of small beaches on the river Swan where children can play in the shallow waters while the parents enjoy a glass of wine on the grass (beer for Nic). A wonderful place to submerge into local life. Warm weather, pretty views, fizzy and jalapeno hummus, added to the lovely company. Aya makes her own friends and activities in the water while we discuss plans for the weekend and for our stay here in general. I really can't complain. We even somehow manage to find another Bulgarian. As I tell the story of the crab that died in front of our eyes and all four of us are surprised to hear “Girls, are you Bulgarian?”. She has even met Eli a few years ago through different friends. The world is small!
After the calm moments by the river last night, tonight we raise the bar on a cultural level. It is Saturday, and the city is offering us an art evening. We dress up and go to the art centre. We will be sitting on a hill and watching aboriginal dancing. Different dance schools from the region got together to recreate traditional rituals with a modern twist. Between the tones of the didgeridoo as the main musical instrument and the animal interpretations as the main dance moves, I wouldn’t exactly call what we are watching dancing, but I am not sure what else it could be. It resembles a bit of a ritual ceremony but is, of course very interesting and unique to watch.
All seven of us sat down on a few blankets. The stage is so far from us that the evening is mostly passed by family conversations and searching for chips for hungry children (of all ages). We end the evening at home with mekitsi (Bulgarian fried pizza dough) and beer for dinner. What a combination, huh!
During October in Brisbane and November in Perth, a change in the colours of the cities can be seen. Suddenly, the sky between the houses is filled with purple and a purple carpet is spread on the pavements; The time comes for the jacarandas to bloom. The tree is from the Bignoniaceae family and is crazy about the tropical climate. It grows tall with a wide crown. Purple!
In Australia, this tree is traditionally a symbol of Brisbane but we were there too early to see it in its full beauty. Here, however, we are right on time and I am sure that Perth is in no way any less than the Queensland capital. And to ensure they don’t miss out on its glory, here they have an annual Jacaranda Fest. We are getting ready to visit it today.
The neighbourhood around the festival is full of jacarandas as if the neighbourhood got together and decided that everyone should have at least one purple tree around the wonderful expensive houses. The city’s council also decided to join by planting purple tunnels along the streets.
The Festival is huge! Organised by the Rotary Club. Actually, it is more of a huge market with countless stalls. You can buy anything from handmade jewellery to insurance, eat street food, or browse through advertisements for kindergartens. Aya is given the opportunity to choose one gift or activity for the day so she takes us all towards the paper umbrella workshop. Organised into two sections and in exchange for a banknote or two, you have the possibility to turn a while paper umbrella into anything you wish. Aya, of course, chooses her favourite colour for the base which matches the jacaranda theme of the day so well. And once the paint is dry we all line up and decide to paint rainbows all over the umbrella. While Aya, Eli and I create our untraditional rainbows, Nic makes the rain and sun that had caused them and Bogi finished the masterpiece with a smiley face on top. A bit of glitter and we are finished and exceptionally proud of ourselves!
Our visit continues with a quick lunch, a quick look around the market and a photoshoot for the female part of the group with the lovely umbrella and the jacarandas on the way to the car. In the beginning, I was struggling to remember the name of this exotic tree, but after a dedicated event, it will always stay with me - Jacaranda!
It is Saturday again. We are getting ready for another family walk but without Mary. She is staying back to prepare her famous sweet chilli jam (recipe at the end of the text). After a communal debate, it is decided that we will go to South Perth - on the other side of the river across from Elizabeth Quay. The ferry port on this side has been through renovations and is now home to huge sheet metal statues of a Frilled-neck lizard and a numbat. Coloured in orange and grey and “folded” like origami. Under them are standing a few groups of wire meerkats as well as three bronze emus. Well, how could we not take pictures will this menagerie.
The children are insisting we get on the ferry and we do as we’re told. We catch it at the last minute and head towards Elizabeth Quay. They go on the merry-go-round. We take pictures in front of the large mining machines on display - the main industry of Perth and Western Australia. In the end, we end up with ice creams in hand. Don’t worry they have great vegan options too. Sava quickly makes friends with the other children on the sandy natural playground while Eli, Aya and I walk on the small peninsula. On the bridge back to the ferry, we take the opportunity for a picture of all of us. We are all well dressed for a walk anyway. Now you know we were truly here together.
AYCHE - BAYCHE
(This name is unfortunately untranslatable into English. It refers to the rabbit character in the Bulgarian folklore tales, using Ana-Maria’s nickname - Aya.)
The Universe has determined for Aya and me to have a special connection. She was born on the day of my twenty first birthday. Now on every third of November, Eli celebrates two daughters - one biological and one spiritual. Maybe that is why she accepted me so quickly - like a big sister.
Our time with Aya can be described easily - it was spent in games, laughter and heartfelt hugs. It doesn’t matter much to her who you are and it doesn’t take her long to become your best friend, to allow you to braid her hair and to speak to you in English or Bulgarian - you choose. And if you were Nic, then Aya would be immediately stuck to you. Almost every day after daycare Aya would run around the house to find Nic and to let him know she is now home. She even taught him some Bulgarian - shtip-shtip and gush, respectively meaning pinch-pinch and hugs.
Today Eli isn’t working as she and Aya are going to a picnic in her future school - Sava’s current school. Not only are the seasons flipped down here; the school year is too. The summer vacation is from the middle of December for Christmas until the start of February. Therefore, in a few weeks Aya will graduate from daycare and become a school girl. You can tell that her mother can’t quite get over how quickly her little child is growing. So the new school is organising a picnic to welcome all new children and give the parents an opportunity to meet.
Aya is right next to me as I work and we play in Bulgarian-English. My laptop goes to sleep and the screensaver starts showing some of my favourite pictures. Ana-Maria sees my face on the screen and asks where my dad is. I explain to her that it is only me in this picture, but as the next one is once again of me, I offer to find for her a picture of me and dad. I show one to her and her immediate reaction is: “Noooo, dad is not your real daddy!” “What do you mean?”, I ask her - “this is my dad in the picture”. “No, it isn’t!” she responds persistently. “I mean you real daddy who is upstairs.” It takes me some time to decode her thoughts and understand she means Nic. A complicated explanation comes next - “that is not my dad but my husband. As your dad is for your mum.” But as I had to use the word dad, it just confirmed her theory that Nic is my father. It is wonderful what connections the heads of little four-year-old children can do.
It is Friday today which means Aya and Eli are home - no daycare or work. So the four of us go to see the Shipwreck museum in Freo. The main attraction is a real ship that was wrecked on these shores, but next to Aya and me we meet a girl with her mum looking for rats around the room. Naturally, that is what we decide to do too. Well, I don’t mean real rats. The museum arranged rubber toy rats and have created a little scavenger hunt to excite the children to go through the museum and get their attention on some of the more interesting exhibits; A widely used practice worldwide. Aya and I go to find the instruction and start looking with confidence while Eli and Nic choose their own route around the museum. Step by step we read carefully, find our way around the rooms, find the main exhibits and then the rats. I also try to get her attention to other items around the rooms so it is not all about the rubber rats. We are both having a lot of fun.
Once we have found all ten rats we finish the tour and get back outside in the sunshine - warming up after the cold museum halls. We walk along the beach, take pictures and so Aya’s child energy is gone. Guess who falls asleep in the car on the drive back home.
To me, some of the most valuable experiences in Perth were the events around Sava. As a big part of the family’s life revolves around his, we actually had the chance to see the day-to-day of a normal Australian family. From the countless school events, to extra curricular activities and meeting with friends, through Sava you could really picture it. And through the interests he has in common with Nic such as Lego, computer games and even the trumpet, Nic even became part of Sava’s friend circle. (Not as much as Aya’s though haha.) His shyness doesn’t, however, apply when he is with other children his age. We witness his unique social nature to meet a boy on the beach and before you even know it they already have plans to meet at the park the same day. Or to form a team on the interactive prayground so they all work together. This is what you would call a social butterfly.
We make up a picnic bag for Sava and Bogi. There will be an annual comping night at school for the kids and their dads.
I can still not get used to the school traditions in the west and (in this case) the south when I compare them to my own not so dated experience. Sava’s school organised a camping evening on the grounds each year. All children are invited and it is allowed only for fathers or other male figures to accompany them. Each dad sets up a tent, blows up an air mattress and sits next to the other dads, all of them with empty hopes that they will get some sleep tonight. While the children are running wild.
We stop quickly by Sava’s school to check what they are upto and we are welcomed by the children yelling “This is camping for dads! Mums, go home!” So we do. We only manage a quick hello.
In the morning Bogi and Sava are long home after sleeping on school grounds didn’t quite work out. They are spraying each other with the hose in the garden though, so we don’t pity them too much.
Today we’re going to the end of Sava’s surf-lifesaving course. How many places around the world offer such lessons? The beach is full of children in colourful caps, bathers and rashies*, each with a surfboard under arm or running for different exercises. Bogi is also here as it is expected for each child to be accompanied by a parent - to be an example and for moral support. When they finish we all collect in the beach cafe. Yes, we are looking for every excuse to stay in the sun and to talk for as long as possible. We even chat up the South Africans that sit next to us. When there is a will you can still find common topics with people.
*Bathers is simply the Australian word for all swimwear. Rashies, on the other hand, are the colourful tops that surfers wear. It, naturally, comes from the word rash as in the past they were used as a protective layer between the skin and wetsuits. Nowadays wetsuits are breathable so there is no need for them but they are also the perfect sun protection on the ocean beaches. Remember the word as you will need it in the next post when I will be talking about our surf lessons.
Tonight we will once again dive into the life of a parent of a school child in Perth. The school year is almost over and it needs to be celebrated accordingly. So we go on a beach by the river - Bicton Baths. We are all sitting on the grass with a glass of wine and each mum has set up a spread of snacks for their children. The kids are jumping in the river, swimming and some have even climbed onto kayaks. We also brought Sava his kayak. When the breadsticks and the humus are gone, the mums get together to order some Fish & Chips - what better thing.
While the sun sets, the beach is visited by a group of black swans. With the backdrop of the pink sky, my pictures come out gorgeous. I need to find a photography competition to enter them into. Black elegant silhouettes against a pink-purple background and light reflections in the river - isn’t the winner clear?!
I apologise, but I think it is understandable why there aren’t many pictures of Sava. He has too many friends to play with, to sit around waiting for a photo of him to be taken.
A SHAGGY SHADOW
He was called Sharo - a typical Bulgarian name for a dog, but Aya’s baby pronunciation changed to Shado or Shadow. He definitely lives up to his name becoming the shadow of anyone who shows interest in him. With Nic, they found a common language very quickly - ball, chasing, wrestling and walks.
The first activity for today is to take Shadow to the beach. We get ready in a typical fashion of “with children to the beach” and we set off. In the car, there is an alternation between rap and Frozen songs according to the wishes of Aya and Sava.
The beach is a real dog beach - a dream come true for a dog lover. Hundreds of happy four-legged hounds in all sizes, shapes and colours, chasing hundreds of toys in all sizes, shapes and colours. And yet they always know which is theirs and never rush after someone else’s. So many excited, playful and wet dogs that all you want to do is sit down and cuddle them all one by one in this dog paradise. I don’t think I have the correct words to describe how happy this beach is!
Today we celebrate! It is Shadow’s second birthday so he gets a toy and a cake with a candle. Happy Birthday you troublemaker!
VASSYA, NIC AND BERTIE
Much of our time here is spent at home. We are in no rush for anything. We are happier sitting in the shade for as long as we can. When we are not with the family, most of our time is spent working or other computer entertainment. Nic is programming or playing computer games while I do my best to catch up with diaries and writing posts for the blog, if I am not watching a film. And for those two activities there isn’t much to be said other than to look for your approval that we didn’t just mope around constantly.
26th and 27th November
You know you are blessed when in six months on the road you only get ill once. And not on the road, in the dust and the heat of the tent but when you have a roof over your head, stability and time to slow down.
My cough last night was so bad that I had to move so we could both get some sleep. I took my pillow, found a blanket in the living room and got settled in the theater so I am not in the way in the morning. I don’t think I have yet mentioned that Eli and Bogi built this house themselves and therefore have planned into it all sorts of luxuries. Such as a separate room dedicated to the art of film with comfortable chairs and a projector.
Surprisingly I managed to get some sleep until the time came for school and Sava started looking for the sheet music for his trumpet lesson. And so I was found in my hideaway spot so I had to move back into bed. I slept all day … with a few wake up calls from Aya, but that is okay.
It was a rough couple of days for me. I slept, wrote and slept again … I survived!
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These days of rest are also incredibly valuable so we can pay attention to Bertie. As we know, he has started to fall apart and the return back to Sydney is under question. Therefore, as we are still in one place we try to get through all the tasks needing attention and get him back into shape. In the first few days we went to a mechanic. We sit in the waiting room as he conducts a quick diagnostic. Like worried parents we are waiting to see how bad the news is. The mechanic comes back and starts explaining. He doesn’t think anything could be done. The computer is definitely showing an issue but the only possible fix would be completely renewing the transmission box. That would cost more than the entire car and the issue doesn’t make Bertie an unsafe car to drive. The only disadvantage is that it would increase the fuel consumption but it would not stop us getting back to Sydney. Well, that is what we wanted to hear. We are glad we won’t have to overspend.
On one of days that we are alone in the house, Nic takes on the task of fixing the awning that the wind so viciously took off the car a few days ago. Fortunately, Bogi is fully equipped with tools. And it is done! Now the awning is even stronger than the original design.
Towards the end, when we have hardly any time left in Perth, Nic has an important job to finish. He orders a new coolant tank for Bertie and is intending to put in on all by himself. A brave decision which I was very worried about at first but he goes through every stop methodically and the tank has no fault. It practically glows under the bonnet next to all the other old and dusty parts.
Now Bertie is ready for action and to take us back to Sydney.
Surprisingly, I decided to set up my yoga mat which has been collecting dust for such a long time. I manage to get in a few dogs, cats and cows when Aya discovers me and joins in. Well, that was my yoga done for the day though we both actively practiced our rolly-pollies.
Today is our last full day at the Kovachevi household. And as it is Sunday everyone has their own tasks. Aya and Eli are going to the cinema while Sava has a karate ceremony for a new belt so Bogi and Mary will be there too - proud of the child. We, then, are starting to slowly pack our bags, putting on last loads of washing, checking the availability of required items and finding them in all corners of the house.
Before dinner we line up for a group photo. The whole family, together with Shadow. It takes us some time to get organised but at least mum won’t be upset we didn’t get a picture together. It is documented. We were all Down Under here together.
Well, there is no escape today. The room is emptied and the luggage goes into the car. The bedding is in the wash, the floor is vacuumed. But we promised to wait for everyone to get back from work before we leave.
And we are ready. We get water thrown in front of Bertie (a traditional Bulgarian ritual for good luck in new ventures), we say a big goodbye and set off! We are so grateful that we had the opportunity to be with you for such a long time.
You can’t imagine what the feeling is like to come from a state of constant exhaustion and non stop movement into a sudden stop and complete relaxation. To not need any plans for the next meal, the next place to sleep or to look for a way to escape the heat and the flies. Our time in Perth was not planned as a sanctuary from the Wild and the Nothing of Australia but in the end, this is exactly what it became. A place where we can get rid of the collected struggles but also to include new people into our otherwise isolated day-to-day.
And is there a better way to forget your troubles than to become part of an active and happy family. With constant tasks, preparations and games under the sound of a beginner trumpet player.
Eli and Bogi, you have a wonderful family with two loving and happy children! Nic and I can only hope that when the time comes we can follow into your steps. We are grateful that you are part of our big family! And we will come back one day!
Vassya (and Nic)
(and Eli, Bogi, Sava, Aya, Shadow Aaaaaaand Maaaaaary!)
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HOT CHILLI JAM
1kg red hot chilli peppers
1tbsp lemon juice
We removed the seeds from the chillies and cut them into 3mm wide rings.
It is advised to use gloves when cleaning and cutting the chillies.
We bring to a boil the water, vinegar and sugar and add the chillies.
We cook like standard jam - two or three times until the thickness of jam is achieved.
ABout half way through we add the zest of the orange as well as the fruit with the thin skins removed.
At the end we add 1tbsp lemon juice.
We fill the jars while they are hot and turn them upside down.