Girl Meets Bulgaria

Musings of an American expat in Bulgaria (with detours in Utah and Alaska)


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European Apartment Living

Living in a European apartment comes with its own unique set of positives and negatives. Well…Perhaps negative is the wrong word. I think quirks is a better way to describe it! Add in some uniquely Bulgarian features and it really is quite the experience! Anyone who has moved overseas probably has their own stories of odd living spaces with a list of things that took some getting used to. I’m sure many people also have a long list of things they love (or loved and miss).

We’ve been living in our apartment in the Druzhba neighborhood of Sofia for about 4 months. I’m getting around to this post now because we are actually moving out next week and it was now or never. The specifics around the move are a bit of a long story–one that I will get into in another post soon–but for now I just wanted to show you all the place we called our own for the first time in our marriage. It may have been short lived, but we have really enjoyed it.

So, here we go! A tour of our Sofia apartment; quirks included!

Our apartment enters into a long hallway. Straight ahead is our bedroom. The first door on the left is the laundry/storage room (closet, really), second door on the left is the bathroom, and the door at the end of the hall on the right leads into the living room/kitchen.
DSC_2163_bLooking down the hall towards the kitchen/living roomHall--looking towards entrance

Bulgarian tradition dictates that shoes are removed at the door. Most people have slippers for their guests as well as for themselves. Most Americans do not take their shoes off at the entrance, so this is still something that I struggle with sometimes. Oftentimes I forget and just walk into the apartment and Vince never hesitates to admonish me! We keep most of our shoes in our closet and just those that we wear the most often by the door.

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Lovey Dovey Day

To the BEST husband a girl could ever ask for…

My Hunky Bear,

(AKA The Bulgarian Stud Muffin)

Happy Valentine's Day!

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P.S. Happy V-Day to my readers as well. It may just be a greeting card holiday, but it’s darn fun! I hope you are celebrating with the one(s) you love most.

P.P.S. Happy Birthday to my Aunt S. Love you, Sher!

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2012: A Year in Review

2012_blog

It’s hard to believe that 2012 is coming to a close. This year has been very eventful indeed and saw me moving from America to Bulgaria, confronting life (and a fair amount of culture shock) as a new expat, exploring my new home, venturing back to Denali, Alaska for a third summer working for Princess Cruises; time spent at home in Utah with friends and family, another leap across the pond to Bulgaria, and reveling in a ridiculous amount of incredible travels.

While part of me is sad to see such a jam-packed year pass, the rest of me is looking forward to the BIG changes and adventures that 2013 holds. There is already a lot in the works and Vince and I are excited for everything to come.

As I reflect back on 2012 and all that I have experienced, I wanted to share some of the highlights from this year that made their way into blog posts.

(It’s a long one guys!)

January:

February:

March:

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Adjusting to the Wife Life

Vince and I have been married for over a year now. In that year, we’ve only been together for about 3 months, and those months were spent living with his parents in Smolyan.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it! 😉

Sure, it was nice having my Mother-In-Law around to make delicious meals and do most of the cleaning, but it left me feeling less a wife and more a live-in child.

One of the biggest reasons we decided to move to Sofia was so that we could have our own space and finally live together as a proper married couple (the next biggest reason being better weekend travel opportunities–what can I say, I’m addicted). I’ve been in the city for less than 48-hours, but already I am loving our little apartment and all the things that come along with being a wife–who at the moment, stays home.

Sounds completely cheesy, I know.

I’m reveling in housewife-y duties because I have waited so long to do them. I’ve never lived on my own away from home apart from my small dorm-style rooms in Alaska, so having a space that is all my responsibility is rather exciting.

I may be a strong-willed and progressive female, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a nice dinner on the table when my husband gets home from work (at least every now and then!).

I didn’t have much else to do on Thursday besides wait on my luggage, so I decided to raid our rather bare cupboards and make dinner before Vince came home.

We are putting off grocery shopping because we’ll be out of town all weekend and then gone on our cruise for 2 weeks starting next weekend. No use letting a bunch of food go to waste.

Here’s what I decided on:

Glorified Ramen noodles…

Glorfied Ramen
This screams ‘bachelor pad’ grub, don’t you think? Vince is rather cheap frugal, so inexpensive, pre-packaged, and processed stuff like this is right up his alley. He eats lots of fresh foods as well, thank goodness.
Instructions...in Bulgarian

I can’t read a lick of Bulgarian, but I can follow pictures like a champ! I gathered from these instructions that I was supposed to chop the veggies (I used a frozen mixed bag), cook the chicken, add the veggies, add the seasoning packet, and add 300ml of water.

I assumed that once all that was boiling I was supposed to add the noodles.

Easy enough.
Ingredients

The pan I used was a bit too shallow, but I added the dried noodles anyway and it turned out fine.

I had the table set, cheese and salami cut, and the wine ready to go when Vince walked in the door.

I felt rather proud of myself and he seemed happy, so there you go!

Ventsi and the spread

There it is…my very first dinner cooked in our new apartment. Not the most glamorous or gourmet meal ever, but it was yummy all the same!

I can’t wait to try out new recipes and become more adventurous in the kitchen.

Here’s to finally feeling like a grown up!

W.

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Welcome, November!

Hello, November!

SO glad to see you! Sit down and stay awhile!

Your arrival brings some pretty cool things for this girl…

First, I am finally heading back to be with my love in our new home in Bulgaria. *Fingers crossed* these past 7 months will be the last we ever spend apart. This month we will be settling into our new apartment, exploring our new home of Sofia, and just generally enjoying being back together. Our relationship has been anything but conventional, but we’re ready to make it just that. No more of this long distance stuff for us!

Second, I’ll be celebrating another year of life. Yep, 27 is coming up fast! I am definitely well on my way to 30 now and, quite frankly, it’s a daunting prospect. BUT, I truly feel like our lives are going along full steam ahead and our long term goals are slowly, but surely, being tackled. The next year holds some incredible journeys for us and we can’t wait!

Third, lots of amazing travels are coming up! Soon after I land in Sofia we’ll be heading down to Smolyan for a quick weekend visit with the parentals. We’ll likely spend some time at our country house in Elhovets as well (I can’t wait to see all the new renovations). As much as I am going to love living on our own, in our own space, in Sofia; I know I am going to miss Smolyan (and my MIL’s cooking) a lot.

The weekend after visiting Smolyan, Vince and I are off on our long awaited honeymoon! We’re going to spend a few days bee-boppin’ around The Eternal City (good ol’ Roma) before setting sail on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise. I’m so excited that I can’t even think about it anymore; it just makes me giddy as a school girl. I had originally hoped to cook Vince an amazing American-style Thanksgiving feast, but we’ll be on the ship over the holiday, so I will just let them do all the cooking (can’t say that I am too put out about that!).  Our last Mediterranean cruise was great, but not romantic in the least as my mom and friend accompanied us. This time…IT’S ALL US! Candlelit dinners over wine, long walks on deserted decks, kissy time in hot tubs…here we come!

November, you’ve always been one of my favorite months and, I have to say, this year…you definitely take the cake!

W.

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NaBloPoMo_image

This year I am participating in BlogHer’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The goal is to write and post daily. I am sure that I’ll miss a few days, especially when I’m on the ship, but I’m going to do my best to post as much as I can (even if they are just little daily snippet’s from my iPod or Kindle).

If you are participating, please feel free to post a link in the comments below. I’d love to stop by and check out what you’ve got going!


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Long-stay Bulgarian Visa: Success at Last!

I have been getting quite a few questions lately via my blog email about the {horrendous} Type D, Long-stay Bulgarian visa process.

(feel free to keep your questions/comments/advice/etc. coming, either here in the comments section or through my email: whitney@girlmeetsbugaria.com).

I thought now would be as good a time as any to update you all on my progress and to go over my experiences as a whole.

First off, I should announce that…

I GOT THE VISA!!!

finally!

Now that I am on the other side of this long and expensive ordeal (for that is what it was, a total ordeal), I can take a deep breath, evaluate how it went, and look back with some clarity.

(this is a reaaallly long post, so you may want to come back another day if all this doesn’t interest you)

Last time I wrote about the visa, I detailed my specifics situation as well as what documentation was required in order to apply.

 Back then I had planned on returning to the Bulgarian Consulate in Chicago (where I went in November to ask some questions on a visa trip turned birthday trip because I didn’t have all the necessary paperwork in order). I actually ended up applying at the consulate in Los Angeles at the end of last month after leaving Alaska.

I spent the entire summer gathering all of the documents, getting translations, and planning my brief stop in L.A.

I am not a fan of Los Angeles, so I wanted my stay there to be as brief as possible. And brief it certainly was!

I arrived at LAX on a direct flight from Anchorage at about 10am. I purposely booked a hotel close to the airport (the always classy Super 8) which offered a free shuttle. I arrived at the hotel (motel?) which was practically ON the runway–and immediately walked across the street to the Avis office to rent a car (again, I went the classy route and got a Hyundai Accent).

Because my appointment at the Consulate (yes appointments are required and I called to schedule mine early on in the summer) was the next morning, I had nothing to do for the rest of the day but watch TV and eat delicious Greek food, courtesy of the restaurant literally 10 steps from my hotel room door.

I got an early start the next morning because I was terrified of getting lost on L.A.’s crazy freeways. The consulate, which is located on Wilshire Blvd.-right off the interstate, was easy enough to find and I made it there well before my 9:30a appointment time. I found a meter, talked out some of my nerves over the phone with my lovely husband, and waited in the lobby of the building.

My meter only gave me a max of 2 hours, so I asked the security woman if I could possibly head up to the consulate a little early so I wouldn’t get a ticket. She not so nicely informed me that the building–which also houses the consulates for several other nations–is extremely secure and I would not be allowed entry onto the elevators until my scheduled time.

Humph.

I was a bundle of nerves, so waiting only made things worse.

Eventually 9:30a rolled around (security would not let me go up even 1 min. early!) and I was allowed onto the elevator (AKA, Fort Knox). The Bulgarian Consulate consisted of a simple waiting room with a glass window separating the offices from the customers. I walked up to the window and was immediately helped by two eager and somewhat brusque Bulgarian women. *Side note: they were by no means rude to me, rather they had the blunt personality that many Bulgarians do.

They asked (incredulously, as always) why I wanted to go to Bulgaria. I gave them the “My husband is Bulgarian and, like every normal couple, we want to be together speech.” They asked for my paperwork, which I gladly handed over in a meticulously organized envelope. They proceeded to randomly glance at each paper in no particular order whilst talking to each other in rapid-fire Bulgarian.

Turns out I was missing a few things that I did not know I needed (but which weren’t listed ANYWHERE on their websites OR told to me over the 4+ phone calls I made to THREE different consulates, as well as the embassy–TOTAL SHOCKER THERE…). They said I needed my marriage certificate/apostille/translation notarized as well as my FBI background check/apostille/translation notarized. My heart dropped and I thought I was going to be sick. My flight out of L.A. was later that night and I had no clue where or how to go get a bunch of documents notarized AND then those notarizations translated in Bulgarian. Luckily, they relieved me of another $60 and did it right there.

Thankfully, all my other paperwork seemed to be in order. They gave everything back to me besides Vince’s affidavit of support statement and the notarized copy of his passport.

At this point they started talking to each other again and seemed a little nervous. The younger woman finally told me that I would have to pay $150 to get the visa because I had not yet registered my marriage in Bulgaria. I know I had heard something about doing that but I never got around to it while I was there, so I came prepared to pay the fee. She seemed relieved that I knew I would have to pay and went about writing out all my receipts.

I paid the visa fee of $150 (plus another $25 for an express USPS envelope), handed over my beloved passport, and they said they would “be in touch.” I asked if they knew how long it might take as I had a flight to BG scheduled for early in November, and they just said I would have to wait and see, but that the average wait is 30 business days. My flight falsl on the 31st business day. CRAP.

I walked out extremely worried but just glad it was all over and out of my hands.

I got home to SLC and the waiting game began. I kicked myself for bot getting a tracking number for the envelope (and considered making Vince call the consulate to get it). After about a week I began looking into arrangements to change my flight. A few days after that, Vince called me and said that the local municipal government office in Smolyan had gone to our apartment to make sure it really existed. No one was there, of course, as Vince is living in Sofia and my in-laws live in Elhovets most of the year. A neighbor friend of ours saw the person knocking on the door and told them that no one was home. He gave them Vince’s cell phone number and they called him shortly thereafter. Basically all they wanted to do was confirm that we did indeed have someplace to live and that I hadn’t lied on any of my paperwork.

I really had no clue that anyone in locally would follow up on my visa application made in the states. It didn’t really matter as we did everything completely as we should have, but it was still a little surprising.

Then, about another week later, I got a call from the local FedEx office that an envelope was waiting for me. I knew it had to be my visa but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too soon as it had only been a little over 2 weeks since I had applied.

Well, I’m sure you have gathered by now that it was my passport WITH my shiny new Bulgarian visa taking up an entire page of much sought after real estate.

It was such a huge relief to finally be done with the process and know that I didn’t have to change my flight.

I am still in awe of all it took to get 6 MONTHS in Bulgaria. Wow. Craziness.

My biggest pieces of advice for those of you going through the visa process are:

•Start preparing all the paperwork WELL in advance. I’m talking at least 6 months. The FBI background check alone can take up to 12 weeks (mine took 9), not to mention all the time it takes to send away for apostillations and translations.

•Do your research on what the specific consulate you will be visiting requires. I got a slightly different answer from all the Bulgarian entities in America, so don’t talk to one and then think that everything they say will apply somewhere else. That being said, I found the consulate in L.A. to be the most helpful, which is contrary to what a lot of other people have reported.

•If you are married to a Bulgarian and can swing it, register your marriage in Bulgaria to save yourself $150 and a lot of hassle.

•Arrive to your appointment with plenty of cash. The L.A. consulate did not take credit or debit cards and I had to run downstairs to find an ATM to get extra cash because I was not expecting the additional $60 notarization fees.

•Just take everything one step at a time and try not to get too frustrated. Unfortunately, it seems like this is just the way things work in Bulgaria (and their respective counterparts in the U.S.), so going with the flow will help to prevent a lot of anxiety and major freak-outs. I learned this the hard way.

If you’ve read this post as well as my previous post and still have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I know I appreciated all the help and advice I could get from others when I was ass-deep in the tangled Bulgarian visa process, so I am more than happy to pass what I know and experienced along.

Best of luck!

W.

P.S. If you made it through this entire post (and all my misused commas) I commend you!

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