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Having spent a little time at my mum's house over Christmas I was reacquainted with some of the more curious behavioural quirks of our island nation. And so - a little nostalgically perhaps - I thought I would indulge in one of the great British pastimes, that is, discussing the weather. It's our first winter out here in Bulgaria. We are currently experiencing the coldest weather in the country and of this winter so far, a minute (or mighty?) -18°C, and needless to say we are keeping our outdoor trips to a minimum (random trivia: did you know that diesel begins to solidify at -9.5°C?). We have had an apparently unusual time so far; the first snow was somewhere at the end of November and continued until we went back to the UK just before Christmas. Then we checked the news just after Christmas and it was hitting +18°C in most parts of the country! All the snow had melted and we were very jealous. The day we arrived back in mid-January it started snowing again - boo! But it's not all gloom and staying indoors - it is absolutely stunning when the sun comes out and illuminates the frozen branches of the trees. It's perfect photo-taking weather.
Weather forecasts here are a bit more predictable than in the UK - if you are from the UK you will be familiar with the concept of treating the weather reporters with a certain amount of disdain. Most members of the public would concede that it's not actually the weatherman's fault that you can't believe what he says, but you can't believe what he says nonetheless. Over here on mainland Europe, Tom and I are slowly forming a relationship of trust with that queer breed. They have certainly been invaluable to us during the coldest period of the year... which leads me on to some tips for enduring the cold winters here.
From about mid-November, snow is very likely to occur. We checked out the annual average temperatures and precipitation in the upcoming months: this will give a rough idea of what is in store in any specific area, but of course the average is rarely the reality of things as we experienced this year. It has been known to snow in Northern Bulgaria before mid-November, and by January it is pretty much a certainty that there will be a foot of snow. This cold weather endures for a month or two before the snow melts, so it is really worth stocking up on staples. I have about 8kg of flour, 10 litres of milk, a kg of butter and sugar (because I need cake), plenty of beans and pulses and fruit and veg. A chest freezer is a great idea in this kind of weather, because you can freeze just about anything (even milk, as my mum does; she lives in Hampshire though so it's not really necessary - I think she just hates shopping). Another good reason to stock up early is that stocks of even basics such as milk and bread are really dwindling in local shops; at least that has been our experience lately.
So you're stocked up on food, great! How about water? It is worth getting tens of litres of water in bottles in case the pipes freeze up. Well, the actual recommended quantity is difficult to give and I don't want to be responsible for giving a specific figure, so you are better off speaking to locals to see what their experience is, as water services and pipe runs will differ. If you have a direct-fed boiler (i.e. you don't have a storage tank) you can always dip into this as it is basically mains hot water, but drinking repeatedly boiled water as is what may be in your boiler is generally not a good idea. You can do your best to prevent pipes within your home from freezing by lagging them with whatever insulating material you can find. Unless you are confident at plumbing and have the tools and the materials, you will be very hard pressed to find someone to fix it in the deep winter. As residents will know, nothing much happens in these months.