Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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Free Sofia Tour in Photos

When my friend K. was visiting us in January, we hoofed it up the hill at my apartment complex and hopped the Metro into the city. It was my first adventure outside the apartment without Vince and it felt really liberating. After hearing about it for a few years, I figured joining the tour was a good idea and a great way to give K. an overview of Sofia’s most well known buildings and attractions. The weather was also unseasonably warm and beautiful for January, so that was a huge bonus as well!

The Free Sofia Tour is a no-cost English-language walking tour of Sofia’s center led by volunteers. Our tour started near the lion statues at the Palace of Justice and wound through the center, past many notable and important sites, before ending at the Parliament building. Our guide (I forget his name) was really nice and knowledgeable; I learned a lot more about the city’s long, interesting, and (at times) tumultuous history.

(hover over photos for titles)
Meeting the Free Sofia Tour in front of Palace of JusticeMeeting the Free Sofia Tour in front of Palace of JusticePalace of JusticeSveta Nedelya Church

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Super Duper HUGE Announcement Time!

Hmm. Where do I even start?! (and NO…I am NOT pregnant!)

First off, I want to thank all of you, both regular and new readers alike, for supporting this blog endeavor of mine. Girl Meets Bulgaria has been  a way to keep family and friends updated with my life; my inspiration in down times; a place to share my adventures, dreams, and struggles; and a creative avenue where I can explore my passion for photography and writing.

When I started GMB over two years ago, I never could have imagined that it would have grown to where it is today. I have readers in over 100 countries, a growing Facebook page, and connections with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

Even though the next few months hold a lot of changes for this blog, I sincerely hope you stick around with me through the journeys that lie ahead.

With that, I’d like to let everyone know that Vince and I are moving back to the the U.S.!

His immigration has been in the works for awhile now and barring any hiccups, should be finalized by the end of the month. Returning to the states was a hard decision for us to make. We’ve been together nearly 5 years now (holy cow! where does the time go?!) and throughout much of our relationship we’ve talked about settling in Bulgaria and making it our home. I knew it would be hard once we had kids to be away from my family and friends in the states, but I thought we would cross that bridge when we came to it.

After my stay here last winter and another summer in Alaska, we began to see that living in Bulgaria posed a lot of challenges to building our life together and starting meaningful careers. Sure, there are TONS of perks and advantages to living in Bulgaria (ahem, can you say TRAVEL!)  and many people are very successful here; however, it just didn’t feel as “right” for us as it once did. Vince is, of course, very sad to leave his parents and friends, but he is excited for the opportunities available to us in the U.S. and we hope to visit Bulgaria often. This country will always hold a very big part of our hearts and be a significant part of our life together.

OK. So are you ready for ANOTHER big announcement?

We’re moving to Alaska permanently! 

I was recently hired in a year round management position with Princess Cruises in Alaska and could not be more excited! Vince and I had already planned on returning to Denali this summer for what was likely to be our last time, when a full time, year round position opened up I knew I had to apply. Princess is an incredible company to work for and after 3 summer seasons, I am thrilled to be starting a career with them (looks like I’ll be using my tourism degree after all!).

Alaska has become a second home to us during our many summers spent working in Denali. Moving there permanently is a bit of a daunting prospect, but with so much to do and see, we are very excited to be making such a big change. Frigid (and dark) winters at-40 below should be interesting!

We will be living and working outside the tiny town of Trapper Creek (pop. 423) at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge (about 2 hours north of Anchorage). The lodge is very remote (i.e. completely by itself with nothing around for miles) and sits a mere 40 miles from the base of majestic Mt. McKinley. All 20,320 snow-covered feet are visible from the lodge on clear days; it’s a breathtaking sight!

I’m about to become a mountain woman, ya’ll! 😉

Things are happening very quickly and I will be leaving Bulgaria next week with Vince to follow early next month. My first stop is Utah for a visit with family and friends as well as life maintenance things (moving to another state requires some logistical shuffling) and major shopping trips–no more company-provided uniforms for me! I have to buy a completely new professional wardrobe. After that I am Alaska bound!

I don’t know exactly where I am going to take this blog. I am thinking a new name is inevitable–I figure it’s about time for some major changes anyway. I do know that I will keep it up and post as often as I can! Going from unemployed with endless amounts of free time to working full time will obviously affect my blogging habits, but I fully plan on blogging well into the future.

Whew! What a post, right?

Here’s to moving forward and new adventures!

W.

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Shiroka Laka’s Pesponedelnik (Kukeri) Festival 2013

We’ve only been back in Smolyan for a few days and already we are traveling up a storm! On Saturday we drove out to our village house to pick up some potatoes and bottled goods and see how the property fared over the winter (it was looking good and there wasn’t even a hint of snow left!) We then went to visit family (our adorable 14-month-old grand-nephew, Konstantin) nearby before taking a longer route back to Smolyan.

Sunday we went to the 2013 Pesponedelnik Festival in the village of Shiroka Laka. We went last year as well and knew that we had to try and make it back this year because we enjoyed it so much. I’ve said it before, but I absolutely adore Shiroka Laka. This little village is beyond charming on an ordinary day; add a lively festival with Kukeri’s, unique shopping, and yummy food and I am there!Shiroka Laka Pesponedelnik Festival 2013Shiroka Laka Pesponedelnik Festival 2013Shiroka Laka's main squareMe with some kukeri

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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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Bulgarian Liberation Day

Bulgarian Flag

135 years ago today, Bulgaria was liberated from 500 years of Ottoman rule.

As you can imagine, March 3rd is a very meaningful day in the country and most people celebrate in some way. Later this evening in Smolyan there will be a public gathering and fireworks display. Even with continued national protests and government strife, Bulgarians are proud of their country and heritage.

It is common to see statues and memorials of liberation heroes decorated with flower wreaths and handwritten notes of thanks. Yesterday, on our way to Rudozem, we passed the Polkovnik Serafimov monument–high in the mountains above Smolyan– and it was covered in beautiful flower arrangements.

bulgaria_national_day_2013-1057007-hp

Being married to a Bulgarian has made me feel much more invested in this country and its history. Our children will be half-Bulgarian and I want them to be proud of their heritage–on both sides.

To all of my Bulgarian friends and family, Happy Liberation Day!

W.

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Saturday Brunch

They may look like scones but mekitsi are SO much more than that! They are fluffy pillows of deliciousness sprinkled with powdered sugar. Most people like to eat them with jam or honey, but I just like them with plain with sugar. Mmm! I sure missed my Mother-in-Law’s cooking!

mekitsi

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