From Southeastern Europe to Southeastern England

A year ago Yordana Shopova relocated from Bulgaria to Portsmouth… and she’s been loving every minute of it since.

The first thing that struck me about Portsmouth was its warm weather. Coming from Bulgaria, my expectations of England had been quite different, as the only three things I’d heard about it were tea, the Queen and, of course, rain. So you can imagine my surprise when Portsmouth welcomed me with beaming sunrays on a lovely September afternoon.

It was half past three and the bus was slowly making its way through the narrow Pompey streets. I was terrified – yes terrified – that all the houses looked exactly the same. What if I had to go somewhere and could not find my way back because I couldn’t tell the difference between each street? What if I mistakenly walked into someone else’s home?

This was another shock given that I come from a small town in Bulgaria where each and every house has its own shape and colour.

Anyway, I realised not everywhere in Portsmouth looks alike as soon as we came to the beach, which was surrounded by quite a few impressive tall buildings. That said, another surprise was waiting there me there – no sand! Yes, that’s right – that was the first beach I’d ever seen with every centimeter of it covered by tons of pebbles but not a single grain of sand. How weird was that? How was I supposed to sunbathe on the beach if there was no sand? (As I have since discovered it is seldom warm enough in Portsmouth for sunbathing anyway but oh well.)

I couldn’t see any pubs, cafes or restaurants on or near the beach. Unlike Portsmouth, the dining and clubbing zones of all the cities on the Bulgarian coast are located as close to the sea as possible. But it seemed to me that people in Portsmouth weren’t interested in the existence of their beach, perhaps due to the strong wind which threatens to blow away anyone who dares stand too close to the sea.

My first fortnight in Portsmouth was marked by astonishment and confusion. In my bathroom I found not one water tap but two. Two taps! Why? And, more importantly, how do I wash my hands with these two taps? In the supermarket I couldn’t figure out which coin was which, so what could I do but hand over a bunch of coins to the cashier and let them deal with it. When going outside I always found myself on the wrong side of the road.

I’ll be honest – as confusing as all this has been, I have loved it. Every single day has been a new adventure. I love the fact that, although my home culture is completely different to Pompey, I have never felt unwanted or unwelcome here. There’s always someone happy to help a lost Bulgarian girl!

Currently, a whole year later, I’m glad to say that I am already used to everything (OK well almost everything – I still don’t get the two taps part). And you know what? I am completely and absolutely in love with Portsmouth! I love everything about it. It’s gone from an unknown, almost terrifying place to being somewhere that makes me feel welcome. Welcome to have my lovely Sunday lunches at the Garage Lounge and my Friday night drinks at Tiger Tiger. Welcome to watch the sun go down from Portsmouth hill or relax on the beach (during those rare warm days!) with a book in my hands.

Now, for me, Portsmouth is the place that most feels like home.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.