Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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Tough Times in Bulgaria

I’m not sure how much attention Bulgaria’s current political climate is receiving overseas, but here in the country it’s {obviously} the most important topic of the day.

About a week and a half ago, as protests were raging over rising electricity costs, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, resigned. With him went his entire cabinet, which left Bulgaria without a functioning government. A caretaker government is in the works, but so far, nothing (and no one) has been officially announced.

Since that day–February 20th–things have only gotten more heated. Protests continue across the country and many parts of downtown Sofia are affected daily as crowds gather and march on government offices and buildings.

Yesterday, March 3rd (Bulgaria’s Liberation Day), only saw more public protests and heated debates amidst shows of national pride and remembrance of Bulgarian national hero, Vasil Levski. The majority of Sofia’s downtown was blocked by thousands of protesters shouting through megaphones, marching with banners, and waving the Bulgarian flag. In addition to rising electricity costs, the most pressing issues include austerity measures, government corruption, poverty, and a lack of civilians in governmental positions.

While there have been little reports of damage or violence, it’s still a bit of a scary situation for a foreigner (such as myself) to find themselves in. Being married to a Bulgarian and learning more each day about the true nature of how things work here and what the current political policies are like, I cannot blame the citizens of this country for finally thinking that enough is enough. Everyone has a breaking point and it seems as if that point has come for this nation. With Bulgaria listed as the poorest country in the European Union, it is clear that there are major issues that need to be dealt with.

I am by no means an expert on this topic. I am an outsider looking in. I’m just watching and reading English-language news reports as things develop. However, I do feel invested in the outcome of this tumultuous time in Bulgaria as I am connected now, not only through marriage but through a deep love for the country and its people. My heart breaks for the citizens of Bulgaria who are so greatly affected by a cost of living that in no way lines up with average salaries and pensions. Change is inevitable because the country simply cannot carry on as it has been.

For those wondering, I do not feel unsafe or unwelcome in Bulgaria, quite the contrary. People are still as gracious and welcoming as ever, even in these shaky times. Everyone is just trying to live their lives, love their families, and get through each day as best they can.

Hope. I see a lot of hope for Bulgaria’s future. If there is any silver lining to these tough times, it’s that.

I’d love to start a dialogue on this topic and see what others think–both Bulgarians and expats–so please comment below. 

W.

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Iced Tea and Kidney Stones

Iced tea for me

You know that feeling when something you thought was good for you actually turns out to be the opposite?

Yeah, that’s what happened to me recently when I read some articles that were published late last summer detailing the links between drinking iced tea and developing kidney stones (oh, the joys of browsing Reddit!). Contrary to what many of the articles say, there was no study done on the issue. Rather, a Urologist at Loyola University hypothesized that because iced tea (all tea, really) is high in oxalate (what the majority of kidney stones are made of), it can increase development of stones.

I LOVE tea and iced tea especially. In fact, I rarely drink soda and over the summer I drank iced tea all day every day. I practically mainlined the stuff. Employee dining at the lodge where I work in Alaska has a soda machine that has tea and rather than drink soda or the odd-tasting tap water, I drank the unsweetened iced tea. I thought I was being all healthy and whatnot.

Ice Tea at Borough Market

So how does all this apply to me?

You see, I suffer from kidney stones. Err, stone. Luckily, I’ve only had one so far and I try to do all that I can to prevent more. They are horrid little beasts!

Now I am heartbroken that I can’t drink my weight in iced deliciousness everyday like I once did.

#firstworldproblems

Do any of you suffer from devil kidney stones? Are you as devastated by this news as I am? Discuss! 

W.

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A Roman Cat Fight

Hello, all!

I am slowly but surely going through all my photos from our vacation, so expect lots of posts soon.

Tonight, however, I had to put up a quick post about the infamous feline residents of Sacra di Largo Argentina or Torre Argentina, an area of important ruins in central Rome.

Wide shot of  Sacra di Largo Argentina, Rome

Why did I have to? Well, today as I was working I was listening to NPR on my computer (fairly typical daily activity). I saw the headline for a recent story they did on Morning Edition called Cat Fight In Rome: Beloved Shelter Faces Closure. (Give it a listen!)

The second the audio started I knew they were talking about an area Vince and I happened upon during our walk about the city a few weeks ago. At first glance the spot is typically Roman: ruined temples, crumbling walls, column remnants, etc. But then…BAM! You suddenly begin to notice one cat after another. I’m talking about dozens upon dozens of cats in a one block area. Spotting them was almost like playing an odd version of Where’s Waldo. They were mostly napping (some in a clump under a tree) on this particular day, but a few were stalking the darker recesses of the ruins, no doubt on the hunt for some rodent snacks.

Pile o' cats at  Sacra di Largo Argentina, Rome Continue reading


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Up, Up and Away!

 airplane shadow

By the time you read this I will be well on my way to Sofia, Bulgaria. EEK! HUBBY, HERE I COME!

I’m not at all comfortable with my flights this time around. I almost exclusively fly Delta when I go overseas, but their flights were outrageously expensive to Europe a few months ago when I booked. At the time I thought it would be fine to go with the flight that was the least expensive but didn’t have any massive layovers; I still spent over $1,000 for a round trip ticket. Boo.

I ended up booking an American Airlines flight that had some legs partnered with British Airways. Delta partners with Air France (which I despise), so I thought a change might be nice, even if I didn’t get to accrue any beloved Skymiles for the flights.

Oh, was I wrong–at least so far.

Trying to pick a seat on my transatlantic flight from Chicago to Heathrow has been nearly impossible. I might just come unglued if they stick me in a middle seat between: a) people with what I like to call “tree trunk legs,” who have no problem pressing themselves against perfect strangers for 8+ hours, b) screaming babies/unruly children (God bless parents who are brave enough to travel with kids, they truly are rock stars. I just like to sleep when I fly and noisy little ones make that nearly impossible.), or c) the person with the bladder the size of a squirrel’s who gets up every 5 minutes to pee.

Stick me in a window seat and I’m just dandy. I usually fall asleep before the plane has even taken off and I rarely get up to use the restroom. In all my many long haul flights, I think I have used an airplane bathroom maybe three times total. I make it a priority to drink lots of water when I fly, so I have no clue how that one works out.

One thing I am extremely grateful for is that I will be 30,000 feet in the air when the new President is elected (or re-elected, as the case may be–and I certainly hope and pray that it is). I’ve had about all the campaigning/debates/political smugness/Facebook insanity that I can handle. Coincidentally, I was in Bulgaria in January of ’09 when Obama took office. You’d think it was the 2nd coming based on how most Bulgarians I encountered reacted; they loved that man! I don’t know if that still holds true, but it will be interesting to see who won and what the reaction is when I land in Sofia on Wednesday.

While I am glad the election will soon be over, that certainly does not mean that I am not interested and deeply concerned. I don’t often discuss political views on my blog, but I will break that rule for such an important event. I wholeheartedly support President Obama and, while not all of his views/actions may be perfect (what President’s have been?), I believe he is by far the best person for the job. His repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, support for same-sex marriage, healthcare reform, and unwavering stance on women’s medical and workplace rights are just a few of the things I greatly admire and respect him for. Coming from Utah, I have to say that I am well in the minority on this opinion–too bad.

Well…I think that’s about all the rambling I have in me (how did I go from flights to politics?)! My next post will be coming to you live from our new apartment in Sofia!

I’m going to try Tweeting and/or posting updates on Facebook throughout my travels (gotta do something to maintain sanity!). So check those out if you care to follow along!

Talk to you soon,

W.

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(photo credit: Kevin Dean)


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Alaska 2012: Going Out with a Bang

This has been the craziest week I have ever had in Alaska.

So many things have gone wrong that I can’t even keep track of them anymore!

Here’s a short list of the insanity that has permeated my last week in the 49th state:

  • Multiple power outages, including one that lasted nearly 7 hours (during which we also had no water at the lodge, or in the entire canyon for that matter). 1,000+ guests with no access to flushing toilets is BAD!
  • Crazy weather–High winds were the cause of the major power outage, but we also experienced snow at the higher elevations, rain, and even some sunshine; all just in the past week.
  • A shooting about 25 miles north of where I live (the Troopers shot and killed a man who had shot another man)
  • Some horrible cases of fraud against many of my co-workers (not going to go into more on that)
  • The biggest, and most inconvenient issue… Flooding/extremely high river levels–Many of the river systems in the interior of Alaska, and even as far south as Seward, experienced the highest water levels on record this week. The flooding of the Talkeetna River, and breach of the local levee, caused the small town of Talkeetna to be evacuated.

The Nenana River–which runs right through the heart of Denali and Healy–was a sight to behold. The normally slow-moving, glacier-fed river turned into a roiling, opaque, screaming mass of water overnight. I have never seen anything like it. There were entire pine trees being swept downstream at highway speeds.

By early Friday afternoon, it was clear that the river was doing some major damage. An entire portion of the Parks Highway (the only road linking Anchorage and Fairbanks) was being eaten away by the river. With each passing hour, the river grew ever higher and wider and eroded more and more of the embankment. By about 7:00p on Friday night, it was clear that the road was in serious trouble. I got the call to head back to the lodge (about a 15 minute drive from where I live) with an overnight bag–I would be spending the night at the hotel in case the road was closed.

That one night turned into two. Two scary, frustrating, and bizarre nights, to be sure. I was never worried for my safety or the safety of our lodge guests. My biggest concern was how I would be able to get back to my room in Healy, pack my bags, clean, and catch my transportation to Anchorage on Tuesday if the road were closed.

We all woke up this morning still not knowing if we had a functioning road or not or whether we would be spending a third night in-house. The Alaska Department of Transportation has been working around the clock to fix the road, and as of this evening when I was headed back to Healy (yep, didn’t have to spend another night at the lodge), everything seemed to be stabilized. Luckily, the river levels have started to go down and the DOT was able to drop large boulders and dirt onto the embankment to strengthen the road.

It has been truly amazing to see our company jump into action and solve problems and situations one after another. It certainly has taught us all some lessons and it was nothing if not exciting.

After all this, however, I am more than ready for the season to be over. I fly out of Anchorage late Tuesday night bound for Los Angeles. I’ll only be spending one night there (to apply for my Bulgarian visa) before heading back to Utah for a month-long visit with my family and friends.

It’s been a summer to remember!

Here are some photos I snapped of the highway before the crews started repair work:

I’m looking forward to sleeping in, going to a few movies, eating my favorite foods, and spending time with all my peeps before going back to Bulgaria in early November.

I hope you continue to follow my adventures!

W.

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A Sobering Reminder

Toklat River–NPS photo

Early this morning I got an email at work with a press release from the National Park Service in Denali:

Denali Park, AK: Denali National Park and Preserve officials confirm that a solo backpacker was killed by a grizzly bear along the Toklat River the afternoon of Friday, August 24.A wallet with probable identification of the victim was found near the kill site, and NPS rangers are working to make positive confirmation and notify next of kin.

Friday afternoon, three dayhikers first discovered an abandoned backpack along the Toklat River approximately 3 miles south of the Toklat River Rest Area.Upon further investigation, they saw evidence of a violent struggle, including torn clothing and blood.They immediately hiked back to the Rest Area and notified the NPS staff of the findings at approximately 5:30 pm.

Park rangers launched a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft from park headquarters at 8:00 pm.Searchers on the aircraft located the scene at 8:35 pm.At least one grizzly bear was still at the site, although there may have been multiple bears.The bear(s) moved away when the helicopter approached and landed.Two rangers on board the helicopter got out and confirmed the location of the victim’s remains.

Initial evidence indicates that the attack occurred proximate to the river’s open braided gravel bar, although the bear subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site.After conducting an initial surveillance of the site, the rangers determined that the recovery of the remains would need to wait until daylight due to the presence of bears and the waning light.

Park officials believe that there are no other registered backpackers in the immediate vicinity.An emergency closure has been put in place, prohibiting all backcountry hiking and camping in that backcountry unit until further notice.

Park rangers will return to the incident scene on Saturday morning, August 25, to secure the site, recover the remains, and attempt to locate the predatory bear.Wildlife biologists estimate that roughly 12 grizzly bears have been residing in the vicinity of the kill site this summer.

This incident is the first known bear mauling fatality recorded in Denali National Park and Preserve. All backpackers in the park receive mandatory ‘Bear Aware’ training prior to receiving a backcountry permit, including a 30-minute safety video, a safety briefing from the backcountry ranger staff, and all backpackers are required to carry a Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC). (http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/bearsafety.htm).

More details on this fatal incident will be released as the investigation continues.

An update from this evening is here.

(More details: The hiker was far too close to the bear; taking photos for at least 8 minutes from no more than 50 yards away. Park Rangers still haven’t been able to recover the body, and a suspect bear was shot and killed.)

Denali National Park is an amazing place filled with incredible wildlife. This incident should not put people off from visiting the park and venturing into the back country. What it should do is serve as a reminder that these are wild animals, in a rugged and unforgiving environment,  and no photo is worth losing your life over.

Not only did a person lose their life for simply being careless, but a bear had to lose its life over following its natural instincts.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of the hiker.

W.

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Saying Goodbye to the Olympics

via mirror.co.uk

Another Olympic games has come and gone.

For 17 days, the eyes of the world were on London and the amazing feats of athleticism shown by the world’s most seasoned athletes.

♥I loved it♥

I am a HUGE fan of the Olympics, specifically the Summer Olympics.

Sure, the Winter Games are cool–especially when they are held in your own hometown, like they were for me in Salt Lake City in 2002 (side note: can’t believe it’s already been 10 years!). But the Summer Games are where it’s at.

Normally I am not a huge sports fan. I enjoy watching all types of sports, but I am not a diehard fan for any particular sport or team. However, when the Olympics come around my uber-competitive and patriotic spirit comes out in full force.

These games were especially fun as I was rooting for two teams at once: USA and Bulgaria. I am a bicultural girl now, so showing my pride in both sides is a must!

As these games come to a close, here are a few of my thoughts and observations:

  • The Opening Ceremonies–Snooooze.
  • The Olympic cauldron–BEAUTIFUL!
  • Michael Phelps–Still a total stud and much less cocky this time around.
  • It’s absolutely insane how much 1/10 of a second can matter. The difference between getting a medal and going home empty handed.
  • I never grew tired of seeing cute William and Kate cheering on Great Britain from the stands. They are adorable.
  • Aly Raisman’s parents are hilarious, in a totally awkward and embarrassing sort of way.
  • What exactly is the proper protocol for the medals ceremony? Should the athletes place their hands over their hearts for the U.S. national anthem? Mouth the words? Yes…things like this concern me.
  • I’m sorry…I know it is incredibly tough and strenuous, but water polo is amongst the more lame Olympic events.
  • Badminton. Enough said.
  • Oscar Pistorius–Completely inspirational
  • Usain Bolt–An egomaniac of epic proportions, but deservedly so.
  • Gymnastics, swimming, and diving continue to be my favorite events. Rowing is fast becoming one.
  • One that note… male rowers=yum!
  • I never cease to get choked up when watching the U.S. flag being raised and our national anthem playing for all the world to hear.

Here’s to London 2012 and the amazing show of athleticism and national pride!

Perhaps I can experience Rio 2016 in person!

W.

What are your thoughts on London 2012? Any standout moments or favorite events?

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