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Surviving a Bulgarian market

My first experience of shopping in a large Bulgarian market came as something of a shock. I was feeling very proud that I'd worked out how to get there and what time was best; amazed as ever that I had survived a road journey.

Parking had suddenly become a nightmare with parking not allowed in my usual place as it was market day.

The car park was also full, so I had to keep driving round and round looking hopefully for someone coming out of a space. Nothing unusual in much of that. What I hadn't bargained for were the Bulgarian 'babas' and senior ladies who, I discovered, were much more terrifying than their homicidal male counterparts behind a steering wheel!

These ladies are up and about before sunrise because they know this is how they will get the best pick of the produce available at market. Goodness help you if you pick out the same juicy oranges they have their beady eye on. Well-nigh snatched from my hand, the baba next to me was going to stop short of nothing to get the oranges I wanted. For me, I didn't really mind, although I was surprised. They were only oranges after all but it seemed to me that to her only those oranges would do.

I backed off and decided to survey what was going on a little before making another approach to a vegetable stand. Queues and pushing and barging all over the place. Groups seemed to gather in front of the stands as friends bumped into each other and decided to stop for a chat. They are not going to move for you: they have important matters to discuss. So, forget about politely asking them to move, simply push past. Don't worry, they won't for a moment think you are remotely being rude.

Equallly, don't be surprised if you tack onto the end of a queue for a stand selling partifularly mouthwatering vegetables, only to find that you will be queue-jumped on several occasions.

There is so much choice and often quite a bit of variation in prices, it is worth walking the whole way through and up and down every aisle, before deciding.

All around the market were stalls selling cooked foods, snacks and drinks, next to which were small plastic tables. Every table was full with locals catching up on gossip and meeting friends or neighbours.

Ploughing through the milling crowds was exhausting and you'll need to keep a firm clutch on your grocery bag otherwise those hard earned oranges are likely to go tumbling across the ground as your shopping bag is knocked from your hand. Towards closing time it's worth trudging all the way around again as the traders are often keen to get rid of stock and you may be able to get what you want at a much lower price.