Pet Food

I feel like I’ve found a home here in Bulgaria, after only 24 hours. Our hostess, Dee, is basically me in 20 more years… she also has six dogs, countless cats, and she moved to Bulgaria so she could have horses again. Her lifestyle is simple and uncomplicated and revolves around her son and her animals. This is the life I want to have, one where it doesn’t really matter how dirty my floors are because I’m not inside enough to notice.

We spent the day watching the dogs enjoy their freedom here for a few hours before we embarked on an adventure to find pet food. Feeding the animals has easily been one of the most challenging parts of our trip. In England, my dogs were fed a custom dog food made specifically for each of them individually. Six different bags were delivered every month, along with their cups already measured to serving size. The dogs had beautiful coats, normal bowel movements, and were happy and healthy. My cats were on Royal Cabin Ragdoll, also a custom made food for the breed.

For the first month of travel we had stocked up enough of their custom food that we had no issues with feeding. We knew we’d have to switch eventually, but figured we wouldn’t have too many issues finding a new, quality food. How wrong we were. Pet food is different in every country, and the prices vary from super cheap to insanely pricey. We’re on a budget obviously, so were looking for decent quality without breaking the bank.

We learned quickly that switching dog foods was the fastest way to dogs with constantly upset stomachs. No matter how hard we tried, we often couldn’t find the same brand to keep the food consistent. In fact, there are only two brands that we can find with absolute surety no matter where we are: Royal Canin and Pedigree. Now I love Royal Canin, but the pricing is often crippling, especially because usually it’s found at a vet’s office. Moreover, finding consistency within the brand has been challenging, and finding the Ragdoll feed specifically has been impossible. We went a few rounds with it early on, but we ended up with more upset stomachs and a screaming bank account.

After nearly three months, I had to admit defeat. Pedigree is everywhere, they sell the exact same type in all countries, they have a puppy food for Wasi, and the price doesn’t break the bank. I wince every time I feed, because I’m a pet food snob and would never have imagined feeding my precious animals such a low quality food. But with consistency has come calm tummies and much happier dogs. The cats have to settle for Whiskas, another brand that sells everywhere in the world apparently. They’re less impressed with their lot then the dogs, but they eat it so that’s something.

Even though these two brands are sold everywhere, normal people don’t have six large dogs to feed, and finding the big bags is always hard. We spent over three hours this afternoon, driving from pet store to pet store trying to track down the big bags so we wouldn’t have to buy a million smaller ones (one 15 kg bag lasts us about 5 days, imagine how many small bags we’d need). Eventually, we stumbled on a store that had two bags of adult, one bag of puppy, and lots of Whiskas for the cats. The store has agreed to stock those bags for us every two weeks while we are here, so score for having a regular supply! I wonder if we can talk Pedigree and Whiskas in to sponsoring us, we could be the spokesperson for them literally around the world at this point!

Country 15

Short post.

We have made it safely to Bulgaria, our 15th country of the trip! The border crossing from Serbia to here was the easiest we’ve encountered so far, mostly just a smile and wave after stamping our passports.

Our hosts are lovely, a British lady and her young son who are living the dream life here in Bulgaria with their dogs, cats, and horses (they have as many as we do)! I already feel super comfortable here, as these are definitely my kind of people. There’s another Brit and her two daughters living nearby; its made me a bit homesick hearing their accents and wishing for England.

Oddly, I’ve found the three kids we’ve met to be very entertaining. I’m not a kid person, as anyone who knows me is aware, and usually I tolerate children rather then enjoy their company. Maybe it’s just the British accent that has me so charmed but I was genuinely enjoying talking with them and learning about their lives here. It helps that they range from ages 8 to 11, the age group that I generally find to be the most tolerable. It will be interesting to spend more time with them.

It’s FREEZING here, the coldest weather we’ve encountered so far that we’ve had to sleep in without heat of some kind. Tomorrow we will sort that aspect out, as there is no way I can sleep in the caravan without a heat source other then the dogs and cats as the temperatures dip the deeper in to winter we get! But for tonight, I’m going to force all five cats to sleep with me and snuggle the dogs as close as I can. Wish us luck we survive till tomorrow!

THE PEOPLE WE MEET: Djordje and the Pig

When we were in Austria, we worked with a number of people, very few of them actually Austrians. Aside from the Finnish girls who we befriended immediately, we became friends with one of the other guys working there, Djordje from Serbia. We didn’t have much time to get to know him, as his time at the farm ended only days after ours started, but we liked him instantly and he promised to give us advice down the road when we were traversing through his home country.

Fast forward over three months and here we are in Serbia. Djordje has been in touch as we’ve drawn ever nearer, and even sent us a complete itinerary of things not to miss here. By pure luck, it turned out that Djordje would actually be in Serbia around the same time we were driving through (he’s currently working in Holland with his girlfriend, Annika, one of our Finnish friends). We made tentative plans to try and meet up, and low and behold, as we sat down yesterday for dinner at a McDonalds rest stop, Djordje messaged to say that we were a mere 15 minutes from his hometown. Thrilled to be able to make the meet up work, we arranged to meet just off the highway and join him for a drink.

One of the things we’ve really loved about the Balkan countries so far is how unbelievably warm and welcoming the people are here. It’s not like this in the States, England, or the rest of Western Europe. Here, it’s not just good manners, but genuine joy that these people feel welcoming strangers in to their midst. And Serbia is the same. Djordje’s family not only welcomed us with warm smiles, they let us use their shower, insisted on feeding us a home cooked meal, and offered us both beds inside for the night (I opted to stay with the dogs in the caravan cause I really can’t sleep without them, but Travis was thrilled to take advantage of a night out of the drivers seat).

In the morning, Djordje went to the bakery with Travis and brought back a late breakfast of traditional items. We spent the day relaxing in the house watching Animal Planet (I was shocked to see so many American TV channels here). We were originally planning to head onwards to Bulgaria today, but Djordje wanted to introduce us to his maternal grandmother (we’re staying with the paternal one; she’s head over heels in love with Travis). So we extended our stay another night and how glad we are we did.

Djordje’s family has pigs (the babies piglets are so stinking cute!) including the biggest sow I’ve ever seen in my life. This sow needed to be moved to his uncle’s farm as she will soon be having another litter of piglets and needs more room. A few days prior to our arrival, they had attempted this transport for the first time, and 100 metres in to the drive, the pig had jumped out of the horse trailer she was travelling in… which they didn’t discover until they’d arrived at his uncle’s farm. This was a shocking feat, as even a horse would struggle to make that leap, let alone a 300 kg pig! This time, they were prepared to prevent any escapes. Unfortunately, the sow seemed less then impressed with her last trip, and point blank refused to get in the trailer. No amount of coaxing, bribery with food, or pure pushing would budge her up that ramp. After 45 minutes, where I was impressed to see the genuine love they had of this animal who was clearly trying everyone’s patience, they managed to convince her to go in by putting one of her piglets in there. Djordje’s brother was so impressed by the little piglets quick accomplishment of the mission that he insisted I take photos of the little miracle worker. No hardship, the piglet was adorable!

The sow made the trip without incident this time, and we were introduced to an uncle, an aunt, a cousin, a grandfather in law, and a friend while enjoying coffee and rakia at the farm. From there we went to Djordje’s grandmother’s house, where we met another uncle (twin to the first) and had a home cooked Serbian meal. His grandmother’s stuffed paprika peppers were the best thing I’ve eaten on this trip hands down.

In 24 hours, we’ve met half of Djordje’s family and been made to feel like honoured guests… there’s few places where such an overwhelming welcome would be extended to strangers that Djordje literally knew for less then four days before we parted ways. This is why we travel, because such amazing experiences exist, with amazing people that we would never meet otherwise. Serbia will long remain one of our most treasured stops of this journey.

10,000 Miles

Today we reached 10,000 miles of travel mere minutes after we crossed the border in to our 14th country, Serbia. Luckily Travis snapped a photo of 9,999 miles because the darn counter reset itself when we hit the 10,000 mark (disappointing for photo moment)!

Looking back over those 10,000 miles it’s hard to believe what we’ve done over the past nearly five months. Mostly it’s hard to believe that we’ve actually survived this long! There have been plenty of moments when we’ve wanted to turn back, wanted to kill each other, wanted to kill the dogs (very occasionally Jäger as well for constantly escaping the caravan) or just plain wanted to give up on everything. But we haven’t. Even when things were really bad and not even the least bit fun, we’ve pushed through and kept going and here we are, 10,000 miles in. Sometimes it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other (or one miles at a time behind us) until you accomplish something, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

We don’t know what the next 10,000 miles has in store for us. We’re looking forward to making a new friend in Bulgaria and settling in again for a bit. I’ve got practical matters to deal with with the VA to try and reinstate my benefits, and in the meantime, we can’t spend too much time on the road. But Greece is still the plan for January, and from there, we can decide if we will be pushing to travel for the entire year or heading back home to England. Whatever we do, I know we’ve got a lot left to experience, and a lot more miles ahead of us.

TRAVEL POEM: Song of the Open Road

Song of the Open Road

by Walt Whitman
AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road, 
Healthy, free, the world before me, 
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune; 
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

The earth—that is sufficient; 
I do not want the constellations any nearer; 
I know they are very well where they are; 
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens; 
I carry them, men and women—I carry them with me wherever I go; 
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them; 
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.

Road Life

The last three days things have been pretty much back to “normal;” at least our version of normal on the road. They’ve consisted of a lot of driving, and a lot of time sitting around at truck stops sleeping and reading and watching the dogs get more and more restless since there’s no safe place for a proper walk. Oddly, it’s been comforting to be back to doing what we’re used to after having stopped in one place for so long. However, the lack of showers at Croatian truck stops is a real downer, and I’m starting to not be able to tell the difference between my own stench and that of the dogs (that’s when you know it’s been too long).

We haven’t had any huge excitements on the road, other than being pulled over, twice, for the first time on the entire trip. We’ve got a headlight out, which was supposed to get replaced when the Suby got its oil change and new battery, but apparently got lost in translation. In both cases, the cops spoke no English whatsoever, and eventually just gave up on trying to lecture us since we clearly had no idea what they were saying. They pointed repeatedly at the headlight, Travis nodded a lot and said he knew, and then they shrugged in disgust at these stupid American tourists and waved us on our way. Travis and I both had to laugh, because this is the first time on the entire trip that we’ve actually got all the paperwork we need for the car, and that Travis has a license in hand, and it’s just pure good luck we haven’t been pulled over before now. I was actually super disappointed when we crossed back in to Croatia and they didn’t ask to see the paperwork we worked so hard to get here!

Speaking of Croatia, we got absolutely nailed by one of their toll roads today! We spent two nights at the truck stop where we met to exchange Kova, as we generally try to avoid driving at night and she was picked up after dark. No biggie, we’ve spent plenty of multi-nights at truck stops, nobody minds. Apparently the toll roads mind though, because even though we were only on the A1 for a total of about 50 miles altogether, we had to pay a whopping €98 when we got off the road. That’s right, 98 EUROS for a road toll! The poor guy at the booth looked as shocked as we did, and I honestly thought it must be a mistake. The whole point of truck stops is so truckers (and other long distance travellers) don’t drive when they are tired; we’ve stayed overnight many times at stops on toll roads and never been hit by a fee like this before. All we can think is that two nights must be some sort of violation on a toll road, weird as that seems to us. Certainly an expensive way to find that out. In any case, we hope that’s it, because we don’t have much choice but to stay at another truck stop on another toll road tonight, and we really can’t afford to pay another €98 for the toll tomorrow when we roll out of here. So fingers crossed for us that one night is okay and that we can afford to leave here tomorrow!