Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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Visiting Our Village House

Our village houseVince (and me by default, I suppose) owns a small house and quite a bit of land in the Bulgarian village of Elhovets. The house originally belonged to his dad and uncles, but he saved up some of his Alaska money and bought it from them before we met. His parents still live in the house in the summer months because they farm the land and do a lot of canning and bottling there. In fact, there is a HUGE underground cellar where we store all manner of food stuffs. It’s slightly creepy, but oh-so-efficient.Road towards Greece

It’s the most adorable cottage-y type house ever. We are really proud of it and have spent quite a lot of money over the past few years building additions and doing renovations. When all is said and done–in addition to the already-finished bathroom, kitchen, and living room–it will have 4 bedrooms and an outdoor kitchen/entertaining area. We still have a long way to go, but it’s coming along very nicely.

While my mom was visiting in December we went down to introduce her to my in-laws and spend a few nights in Smolyan. Of course we had to take a little day trip and show her our future retirement digs.

It was snowy but still accessible. I haven’t been to the house since last winter and the changes in that time are nothing short of amazing. We’ve now got a fully functioning indoor bathroom, kitchen addition, new doors, and a new staircase leading to the 2nd floor. There was a toilet before, but it was located in a building outside. No bueno.Bathroom renovation--DONE!Kitchen addition--cabinets ready to hangNew staircaseRaising the roof is a must!Mom and V.Our land

Our future plans include finishing up the kitchen, raising the height of the 2nd floor, finishing off the 3 bedrooms on that floor, redoing the balconies, replacing the exterior materials, and building an epic outdoor patio area that includes a built-in fireplace, benches, lighting…the works. The house is situated just feet from a beautiful river (with fish in it!), so this outdoor area is going to be amazing! I’m thinking a wall with cut-out candle niches and lots of fairy lights will make their way into the design somehow!

I’ve never been able to visit the house in the summer and it totally bums me out. I can only imagine how charming and pretty it is when all the flowers, trees, and grape vines are out and in bloom. I am sure the forested hillside behind the house is gorgeous as well.

One day…

Our village house

Owning property and a village/country house is common for Bulgarians. As jobs became more and more scarce in the smaller towns and villages after the fall of Communism, many people left to find work in the big cities. Now most people use their country properties as weekend and summer retreats. Between our apartment in Smolyan and house in Elhovets, Vince and I are set when it comes time to retire. That’s a pretty darn good feeling these days.

For all my Bulgarian readers, do you or your family have a village house? How often are you able to enjoy it?

I love hearing about other people’s relaxation getaways!

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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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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Learning a new language

I am back on the Bulgarian language bandwagon.

My move to Bulgaria is fast approaching and I have finally realized that it’s crunch time when it comes to learning Bulgarian. My future in-laws speak zero English, so I had better speak at least some basic Bulgarian. On top of just getting through normal day-to-day interactions, I would love to be able to learn from my Mother-in-Law. She is an amazing cook and gardener and I am dying to pick her brain.

I am committed to learning as much as I can before I move. So, it’s back to the textbooks, CDs, MP3s, and podcasts for me. My goal is to set aside at least 2 hours twice per week to study. Sadly, I don’t know any Bulgarians here in Utah and the closest university Bulgarian language courses are in California. I’m going to have to do this on my own (with a little help from V., of course).

I have “liked” a few Bulgaria related groups on Facebook, and the other day one of them posted a link to this blog post, “6 ways to stop being shy and learn a foreign language.”

The author, Dan Benson, lists 6 steps to help learning a new language.

  1. Give up control
  2. Talk to strangers
  3. Be confident
  4. Write it down first
  5. Decrease the size of your ego
  6. Get drunk!

I think I’ll remember these in my quest to learn Bulgarian, especially #6! 😉

W.