Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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Downton Abbey Obsessed

DA

Fact: I love history, the English countryside, sparkly jewelry, beautiful clothing, intrigue, and smart-mouthed old ladies. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I am in absolute love with the BBC TV show, Downton Abbey (like most of the world).

If you’ve never seen the show…well, I feel sorry for you! It’s completely addictive and a lot of fun to watch.

The show is centered around Downton Abbey, the stately home of the Earl of Grantham and his family. The first season starts just as the Titanic sinks and the Earl’s heir, a passenger, is presumed dead. English inheritance laws dictate that the three Grantham daughters cannot take over the estate when their father dies. From there, chaos and shenanigans ensue, between the family themselves as well as their staff.

My favorite character is the uppity grandmother, Lady Grantham, the Dowager Countess, played by the marvelous Maggie Smith. Her one-liners (or zingers, as some people are calling them) are hilarious!

dowager

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Beauty Favorites

Over the past few years I have become very interested in makeup and beauty products. I can almost entirely blame this change in myself (the girl who didn’t wear a lick of makeup until she was about 20-years-old) on the YouTube “beauty community.” Essentially, this community is group of women (and some teen girls) who make videos on beauty-related topics. I stumbled upon a few “gurus” several years back and I have been addicted ever since. It’s a guilty pleasure that I don’t see myself giving up anytime soon!

Typical video topics include: makeup tutorials, shopping hauls, empties (products they have used up), monthly favorites, blog-like tags, and celebrity-inspired looks.

Because of the huge success of many beauty gurus (Michelle Phan, the original YouTube beauty guru, is now a millionaire because of her video sponsorship’s and partnership with YouTube), every 13-year-old with a camera and some makeup now plops themselves in down and talks about beauty, and more power to them!

One afternoon a few weeks back I was lovingly playing with my makeup and decided to do a post on my favorite beauty products. It’s a far cry from actually making a YouTube beauty video, but I don’t see that ever happening!

This list isn’t comprehensive as the vast majority of what I own is back in Utah, but these are the things I love the most and chose to haul over the Atlantic with me.

I like reading blog posts like these because it helps me discover new products and hear people’s opinions.

Alrighty. Here we go!

Eyes:

Beauty Favorites-EyeshadowBeauty Favorites-Eyeshadow

As a redhead, I have to be a bit more careful when it come to the makeup colors I wear. I’m a fairly conservative person when it comes to this stuff anyway, so I am ALL about the neutrals!  It’s rather sick how much eyeshadow I have, but I can’t seem to help myself!

-Too Faced Natural Eye Palette

-Wet ‘n’ Wild trio in Walking on Eggshells

-Maybelline Color Tattoo (cream shadow) in Bad to the Bronze

-Urban Decay Naked Palette (I bought Naked 2 online awhile back and can’t wait to get home and use it!)

 

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Restaurant Review: Pri Mitaka (При Митака)

Restaurant Pri Mitaka--Gradeshnitsa, BulgariaWhen Vince made the reservation for our hotel in Melnik, the employee on the phone recommended we stop at a little roadside restaurant in Kresna on our way down because they had huge grilled chicken breasts. I initially thought that was an odd selling point–oh how wrong I was! She didn’t give a name or address, so we had a bit of a hard time finding the place, but I am so glad that we did!

Restaurant Pri Mitaka (При Митака) is actually located in a little village past Kresna called Gradeshnitsa. It’s right on the main road from Sofia to Melnik; if you are looking for it, you can’t miss it!DSC_1565

It’s clearly a family run business. The young daughter sat us at a table inside (there is also ample outdoor seating), the son was running the outdoor grill, the dad was sitting about supervising, and the mom brought the food out. We ordered one chicken breast to share, a shepherd’s salad, bread, and two Cokes.

And so began my recent obsession with the Bulgarian shepherd’s salad. This delicious mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, roasted peppers, corn, ham, hard-boiled egg, olives, mushrooms and parsley (also normally comes with cheese, but I’m not a fan!) with oil and vinegar on top, is so delicious and fresh. I absolutely love it and have eaten it several times since.Shepherd's salad Homemade breadChicken fillet and Shepard's salad
The restaurant does in fact specialize in freshly grilled cuts of meat, as do several of the neighboring restaurants. The chicken breasts are hammered flat so they come out about 3 times the size of the plate. Grilling meat by the roadside

Everything we ate was incredible! The chicken was perfectly seasoned and grilled (not to mention ENORMOUS!); the bread was homemade and also hot off the grill; the salad was HUGE and made with the best quality vegetables; heck, even the Cokes tasted better than they normally do!

The second we started eating, both Vince and I agreed that it was some of the best food we’ve ever eaten in a Bulgarian restaurant. We stuffed ourselves silly for only 18 lv ($13.00). The service was awesome as well and as we were leaving, Vince told the mom how much we enjoyed the food and how it was some of the best we’d had in all our travels around Bulgaria.

We liked it so much that we stopped by again for lunch on our way home! It was slightly embarrassing to be back so soon, but I think it speaks volumes to how much we liked their food. We ordered the exact same thing only we took one piece of bread to go because one piece is plenty for two people. The bread is among the best bread I’ve eaten. EVER! It’s also shaped in such a way that you can open it up and slap the chicken breast on it for a quick sandwich for the road. We saw several people pull up in their cars and order them this way.

I can’t say enough good things about Pri Mitaka. If you are ever in the area and are looking for an affordable and delicious place to stop for lunch or dinner, look no further!

More wine from Kordopulov house and another meal at Pri Mitaka: two more reasons to return to Melnik!

W.

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Two Thumbs Up for Vienna’s U-Bahn (Metro)

The S-Bahn into Vienna city center (Wien Mitte)

Vienn’s metro system, known as the U-Bahn, is awesome. So much so that I felt the need to write a post on it!

I’ve used public transportation in quite a few cities, but Vienna’s takes the cake. Or should I say, Sacher Torte!

The U-Bahn lines (of which there are 5) and stations are clean (some -ish), conveniently located, and easily connected to S-Bahn and tram lines. These connections made it easy to get to and from the {amazingly modern} airport as well as to more remote areas of the city.

Tram sign

There are no machines to stick tickets into for every trip or gates to pass through. After the ticket is validated, riders can simply get on and off trains as they please. The same is true for the tram lines (which are also included on the multi-day passes). We were never asked to show our tickets or provide proof of payment. That being said, I understand that the fines for not being able to show proper payment result in steep fines.

Mom...deep in thoughtThe hubs and I on the U-Bahn

We bought 48-hour passes, although we should have gotten 72-hours, for about € 12 each. Seeing as one-way journeys are € 2 each and using public transportation is nearly required to see different areas of the city, I think it’s a fantastic deal.

vienna_ubahn

One thing to note are the awesomely-German station names along the U-Bahn lines. It took a day or so to get used to them, but by day three we were practically pros at both pronouncing them–which we did with much delight and gusto–and going from station to station. Our hostel was located near Kettenbrückengasse and other favorites include Margaretengürel, Schlachthausgasse, and Rathaus. For those who are familiar with German, these surely aren’t as amusing as they are to people like me who don’t know their Spittelau from their Hütteldorf.

Kettenbruckengasse

Other than having a hell of a time getting a train back to the airport on Christmas Eve, we thoroughly enjoyed the city’s metro lines and trams and got great use out of them.

Basically what I’m telling you is that the metro is Vienna is the shiz and if you ever find yourself there and for some insane reason don’t use it, you are missing out!

W.

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A Dinner Date at Pizza Lachoni

Pizza Lachoni

Last Friday night Vince and I decided to ditch our plans to eat at home and head out to a restaurant for the evening.

There is a pizza restaurant in our complex, Pizza Lachoni, that we’ve been wanting to try since I got here.

Before I even mention the food, I should say that this place has a few things going for it.

Number 1: it’s literally a 5-minute walk from our apartment.
Number 2: Did I mention it’s really close?!

OK. So it’s nearby, but what about the food?

It was…good.

Not fantastic. Not horrible. Definitely a solid B.

I should interject here that I am incredibly hard to please when it comes to pizza. I love the stuff. So I can be quite judgmental on things like toppings and the type of cheese a place uses. Pizza in Bulgaria is never going to be like it is back in the states. I have come to accept that fact. But my quest to find a decent slice continues!

Alrighty, back to the subject…

The restaurant itself is fairly modern and is probably the largest I have been in in Sofia. There are long wooden tables and benches for seating. They aren’t the most comfortable option, especially for couples, but they’d probably be great for larger parties.

There is a large bar and all of the servers are smartly dressed in bright green uniforms.

V. at Pizza Lachoni
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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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229 Parks: Another Go-Round

Last season, after hearing all of the rave reviews, I visited 229 Parks with some friends.

It was AMAZING.

I have been meaning to go back since the season started, but its location (about 20 miles from where I live) coupled with the relatively high prices prevented me from going…until tonight.

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229 Parks is an incredible restaurant and tavern located at mile 229 on the Parks Highway, just outside Denali National Park.

They specialize in offering only the freshest organic and sustainable ingredients, most of which are grown in the owners’ own gardens.

Think fresh edible flowers, micro greens, and perfect herbs served alongside grass fed beef, duck, and lamb. Their fresh Alaska seafood is also a big draw.

Their website is bare bones and they don’t post a menu online because it changes daily and depends largely on the ingredients they have on hand. It’s not a flashy place. They rely on their unique food, fresh ingredients, and cozy atmosphere.

I played the part of tourist tonight (much to the chagrin of my co-diners, I am sure) and took photos of each course.

I had to start things off with a yummy wheat beer.

For a starter I had fresh Alaskan Rockfish tacos

Handmade soft corn tortillas, pan-seared rockfish dusted with cumin and lime, shredded local greens, creamy adobo sauce, house made salsa, fresh avocado, and lime.

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