Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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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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It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later

The remains of fall
Saying goodbyes are hard for me. I tend to shut down and just rush through them to get it all over with. Thankfully, it’s gotten easier for me over the past few years. I come and go a lot. For all of 2012, I have only been in Utah for 2 months. The rest of the year was spent in Bulgaria and Alaska.

No matter how I cut it, I am always saying goodbye to someone, whether it’s Vince and the in-laws, co-workers and friends in Alaska, or family and friends in Utah…departures are becoming way of life.

One of the hardest people to leave is my cousin, A. I’ve written about her quite a bit so you may be familiar with her already. She just turned 7 and is seriously awesome; I just adore her. I’ve spent a lot of time with her this month but it still never seems like enough. Today we spent one last afternoon hanging out and being silly before my flight on Tuesday.
Toesies

The weather was nice so we played with her bubble gun in the front yard. Bubbles led, to laying on the grass (I asked her to crack my back and all was good until she decided to jump up and down. Little spaz!), taking lots of photos, and decorating our hair with daisies and lavender.
Bubbles galore
Best 'buds' :)

She even modeled for me for a quick minute.
pretty little lady
After painting her nails we headed out to dinner with the rest of the family. I hate to admit it, but I gorged myself on root beer floats, onion rings, and a big, fat patty melt. Apparently I wanted the full American experience before heading back to Europe. Dinners like this will be non-existent a few days from now. I am really looking forward to more veggies (shopska salad!) and fish. Mmm. Bulgarian food is DE-LISH!

Later on it was hugs all around. I won’t see one of my cousin’s until about 2 years from now as she will be leaving on a mission for the LDS church early next year. It totally bums me out that I won’t see her for so long, but it’s definitely for a good reason.

I’ll be back in Utah for a visit in the spring, so it really isn’t goodbye, it’s just see you later!

W.

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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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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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Running Low on Steam

With just over 6 weeks left in the summer season, the general feeling in Denali these days seems to be one of excitement for the end mixed with a small dose of apathy. My recent trip home for my grandmother’s funeral certainly did not help things in my case. Being back in Utah felt strange and uncomfortable for the first few hours, however, I soon adjusted and being back in the company of my family felt great (even though the circumstances of our gathering were unfortunate). After a few summers away from Salt Lake, I had forgotten how beautiful the city could be—even in the oven-like temperatures. It was extremely hard to head back up to Alaska. My family is grieving and in need of some support and I hated having to leave so soon after arriving. But Denali (and work) was calling my name.

Now I am here and trying to get my head back in the game. It isn’t proving too difficult, thank goodness. Fall is quickly upon us here in the interior and that makes me happy. The autumn colors in Denali are a sight to behold.

With lots of exciting (and scary!) adventures and life changes looming on the horizon, I keep reminding myself to live in the moment and enjoy each day as it comes. I am so incredibly lucky and blessed to be where I am and I never want to take that for granted.

Thanks for sticking around!

W.

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Adventures in Bulgarian: Beginnings

I am embarrassed to admit it, but the last time I posted about my attempts to learn Bulgarian was in August of 2010.

It was my first month of blogging and I was hell bent on getting serious with my self-study of the language.

That gung-ho attitude lasted all of about 5 seconds.

(Typical Whitney, unfortunately)

Well, I don’t think I can put it off any longer.

In just 3 short months I’ll be back on a plane bound for Bulgaria. No more sitting on my butt hanging out with the hubs in our living room. This time around, we’ll be living in Sofia, working (him for sure, me hopefully), and doing a lot more socializing with friends.

I don’t want to be “that American girl” who doesn’t speak a lick of the language. Not anymore!

In August of 2010 I was simply dating a Bulgarian. Now, nearly two years later, I am married to a Bulgarian and living in Bulgaria. If that’s not enough reason to buckle down and learn the language, I don’t know what is!

I have to say, it’s more than a little shameful to admit to those who ask that I speak little to no Bulgarian. Even after three months living in the country (and with my Bulgarian-speaking in-laws, no less), I only know a few words and phrases. Granted, I understand a lot more than I give myself credit for, but I am nowhere near where I should be after being in a relationship with a Bulgarian for 4 years.

One of my “textbooks”… An activity book for 1st graders!

So, here I am. Starting over. Starting small.

My goal for July is to simply master the Cyrillic alphabet.

(Baby steps to learning Bulgarian…)

Learning my letters

It’s a daunting prospect in and of itself. I have memorized it many times in the past few years, but when it comes to recognizing the letters and their sounds, pssh…I stink!

I think a month is more than enough time to nail it down.If I’m feeling extra studious, I think I’ll throw in some small phrases and greetings. I have most of the colors down as well as the basic formal greetings. Now it’s just recalling them that I need to focus on!

I am surrounded by Bulgarians and hear the language spoken daily. It really shouldn’t be too hard to find someone to practice with. Ventsi and I also talk multiple times a day, so some over-the-phone coaching might be in order as well.

A section in my activity book. Reminded me of the wildlife up here in Alaska!

I’ll be posting on my progress regularly, so stay tuned.

Do any of you bilinguals/multilinguals out there have some advice or tips on how to approach learning a second language? Steps to effective self-study? Please share! 🙂

W.

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