Girl Meets Bulgaria

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


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Fun in Plovdiv with the Denali Crew

My friend K. who is visiting from Alaska also happens to be my boss in Denali (for Princess Cruises). She’s been there for years and has always had a large staff of Bulgarians working for her–mostly big, burly Bell staff men. She sometimes refers to them as her “Bulgarian Mafia.” Don’t know how accurate that really is, but you never know! 😉 All I do know is that they are a great bunch of guys (and one gal who is a supervisor in housekeeping) that I am happy to call my friends.

*cue sappy muzak*

When she made plans to come to Bulgaria we knew that a large get together with everyone was in order. Almost all of us (besides Vince and I and another married Bulgarian/American couple who live in the states) live in or around Plovdiv and Asenovgrad. We made Plovdiv our home base for a night last weekend and booked a room at a hostel (Hostel Mostel, which wasn’t all that great, btw). All of the plans were made and all we had to do was show up at Restaurant Arbanasi ready to party.
Denali Gang

The food was delicious but the entertainment was what it was all about. We had the best table in the house (thanks F. for making the reservation “for your American friends who get the best table in the house.”) When Vince hears Bulgarian music and has any amount of alcohol in him…he turns into a dancing fool. Having a few glasses of wine myself, I eventually joined in as well.

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Fun Times Ahead

Whew! It feels like my mom just left and we already have another guest arriving from the states!

K, my friend/boss (and fellow Utah girl) flies into Sofia tomorrow afternoon. We’ve got some fun things planned for her 2-week visit.

On Saturday Vince, K, and myself are heading down to spend the night in Plovdiv. A group of about 20 Denali peeps are getting together for food, drinks, and good company. I am sure the horo will be danced at some point as well; most likely post-drinks! I haven’t seen everyone since leaving Alaska at the end of September, so it should be a good time.

Then Sunday Vince will head back to Sofia while K. and I catch a night bus (slightly scary prospect) to Istanbul. We’re meeting another friend in the city for 4 days of adventures, including consuming a ridiculous amount of baklava and Turkish coffee! I’ve been to Istanbul before but only for a day on our first Med. cruise. It was actually one of the biggest surprises of the trip; completely different than I had envisioned. And the Grand Bazaar? I am still trying to wrap my mind around it!

I am really excited to be able to see some things I missed last time around; such as the cisterns, spice market, and maybe even a whirling dervish show!

After that it’s exploring Sofia and maybe a weekend trip to Rila or Koprivshtitsa (if we can talk Vince into being our chauffeur!).

It’ll probably be a little quiet around these parts for the next few weeks as I play hostess, but I’ll be back soon enough!

W.

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Road Tripping Bulgaria

Vince and I set out on our road trip across Bulgaria today. The hotel when we are staying at in Hisarya has internet, so I thought I would take advantage and get a quick post up.

Our first stop today was in Plovdiv to get the lock on the hatchback of our car fixed. All the salt, sand, and dirt from these Bulgarian roads really does a number on moving parts!

Next we stopped by Vince’s school so that he could sign his diploma. My man officially has his Masters (and is only one exam away from another!). We will likely be returning to Plovdiv near the end of the month for his graduation party.

We gradually made our way to Koprivshtitsa–home to the most preserved examples of traditional Bulgarian architecture. The town was lovely. We toured 3 of the houses which are open to visitors and explored the cemetery where some local heroes are buried. We both left vowing to return one day when the weather is warm.

We are staying in Hisarya tonight as I have a friend from Utah who is here on The World Race. We went out to dinner with her entire group. It was great fun getting to see her and meet her traveling companions. I have to give it to them, 11 countries in 11 months. Wow!

We are going to explore more of the city tomorrow so that we can see the amazing Roman ruins by the light of day. We’ll be in Veliko Tarnovo tomorrow night and Burgas for the next few nights after that. I am so looking forward to seeing the Black Sea for the first time.

Lots more info and pictures in the coming days!

W.


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10 Observations on Our Valentine’s Day Getaway

Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, Vince and I headed to Plovdiv for a day of shopping, fun, and one-on-one time. Instead of my usual rehashing of the day’s events, I thought I would tell you all about it in a list of 10 observations I made throughout the day.

1. Dual voltage hair dryers are great, but when using one you must remember to switch the button over to 22ov from 120v–Frying my expensive blow dryer and almost starting the apartment on fire was not the best way to start off our day (and I wasn’t even using it to dry my hair, which I rarely do, I was using it to dry the sleeve of my sweater!)

2. Finally seeing the sunshine after many weeks of gloomy fog and snow is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face–I almost forgot how blue the sky could be here in Smolyan. The beautiful weather yesterday (and today!) is making me yearn all the more for spring.

3. It’s easier to appreciate the beautiful snow in Pamporovo when the roads aren’t covered in it and your car has brakes–Although there are two ways in and out of Smolyan , we always take the Pamporovo route and yesterday I was so happy that we did! It was stunning.

4. Plovdiv’s Mall Galeria is a huge waste of time–Big but half the stores are empty, there wasn’t a movie theater (that we could find, anyway), and the parking garage is like an elaborate maze.

5. Mall Plovdiv, however, is awesome–We found free parking right next to the doors, all the shops are open, and there’s a great movie theater.

6. KFC and gelato can make for a delicious Valentines Day lunch–We were both too relaxed to be bothered with finding a romantic place to eat, so we just went the mall food court route and got some chicken and fries. If mall gelato is yummy, I can only imagine how delicious the real Italian stuff must be! One day I’ll find out!

7. Romantic chick-flicks are perfect for VDay entertainment–We saw The Vow and it was pretty good. We both cried, we are sappy like that. I love that my husband is manly enough to enjoy a romance movie and tear up over it. He’s such a stud!

8. No butter topping for popcorn at the movies? Whaaaat?!–I asked Vince to ask the concessions stand worker if they had butter for the popcorn and he had no idea what we were talking about. I was bummed at first–being an American used to overly buttery popcorn–but it turns out I prefer it plain. It was delicious and we polished it offer before the previews were even over!

9. There’s nothing like receiving a girly Valentine’s Day gift from your husband on your first VDay as a married couple–Vince got me something I have coveted for many years–Miss Dior Cherie perfume. I cannot tell you how much I love it! I got him a pair of jeans and we’re still hunting for a shirt that he likes. He is worse than any girl I have ever met when it comes to clothes. That man is picky!

I LOVE this perfume!

10. I am so thankful to have Vince as my husband, best friend, and partner-in-crime–I feel it every day, but yesterday I was especially mindful of how blessed I am to have such a sweet and caring husband. I truly don’t know what I would do without him. I LOVE YOU, VENTSI!

***

I was having such a blast being out of the house that I completely forgot to take any pictures of Vince and I. I think that truly speaks for how amazing the day was if I didn’t pull my camera out every five seconds!

Hope you all had a great Valentine’s Day as well!

If I were back home in Utah I would have posted a few pictures of my vintage Valentine’s collection. I received a ton of them when my great-grandparent’s passed away. The cards and sayings are so sweet! None of the overly-commercialized character stuff like kids give out today.

Speaking of popcorn...

Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays as a kid. I loved decorating my box at school with pink, red, and white hearts and lacy doilies, and getting all the cute little notes and candies from my classmates. Aw, memories!

Much love,

W.


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Crazy Weekend in Sofia

If you are friends with Girl Meets Bulgaria over on Facebook, you probably saw that I posted about my husband and I’s visit to Sofia this past weekend.

*If we aren’t friends, click the “Like” link in the sidebar so that we can be!

I’ve held off posting about it because part of me just wants to forget the weekend even happened! Alas, I can’t help but share all the gory details.

This is a bit long… But here we go!

We got up before the sun (which never makes me happy) on Friday morning to make sure we had ample time to make it to Sofia for Saltimbanco (the Cirque du Soleil show). It was cold and snowy, but nothing we didn’t think the car or driver (my cute hubby) couldn’t handle. Vince’s cousin hitched a ride with us to Plovdiv, so we had to stop by the bus station to pick him up before leaving town.

There are two ways in and out of Smolyan. One of them passes through Pamporovo. It’s generally snowy, but the roads are more likely to be plowed so that the tourists staying at the local hotels have access to the ski resort.

Trip Hiccup #1: Right as we were about the enter the main road leading towards Plovdiv after passing through Pamporovo, we came upon a few stopped cars. Vince got out to see what was up and was told by some policemen that they were plowing the road and that we would have to wait. And wait we did! Soon there were about 3o cars behind us and everyone was out of their cars smoking and discussing the delay (such a Bulgarian thing to do!). Eventually traffic started moving and we were on our way.

You may remember me mentioning that I diagnosed myself with sudden-onset narcolepsy (sounds so official, doesn’t it!). I simply cannot stay awake on long car (or plane) rides, so I was fast asleep by Chepelare and didn’t wake up until we exited in Plovdiv to drop Vince’s cousin off.

Trip Hiccup #2: Vince took the wrong exit and we ended up driving around Plovdiv for a bit trying to get back onto the main road. Really, this wasn’t a big deal. The freak-out came after we dropped his cousin off and he ran a red light because he didn’t want to wait the 58 seconds (most Bulgarian cities have handy timers on their traffic lights, so you know exactly how long you have to wait) for the light to change. Cars started honking and driving towards us and I lost my cool. I’m a screamer sometimes, and Vince definitely found out I don’t approve of running red lights!

I don’t mean to dis on my husband in this post (I love you honey!), I am just telling the facts!

We made up over lunch at a roadside McDonalds. Now, I should insert that I very rarely eat at Micky D’s (except their breakfast, which I like). However, this is my second time eating there since I have been ereh, and I have officially formed the opinion that McDonalds in Bulgaria blows McDonalds in America out of the water. Yes, the menus are a little odd (like the Maharaja Mac I ate at McDonalds in India) and the prices are a bit high, but the hamburgers are so much more delicious than in the states! I think it’s the spices, as I saw bits and pieces of them in the meat.

Anywho, my hubby and I were back to being lovey dovey after scarfing down our burgers, fries, and cokes!

We made it to Sofia with plenty of time to find a parking spot, check into our hotel, and laze about for a bit before heading out to find something to eat for dinner.

Trip Hiccup #3: Our hotel was in a nice location (near the hostel where we stayed on our last visit to the city), but we probably have the black lung now thanks to the extreme smell of cigarette smoke in the room. I am the suffer-in-silence type (well, Vince would argue the silent part) and didn’t go asked to have a new room. What is the point of selecting the non-smoking option if hotels don’t honor it? Ugh.

We didn’t feel like putting a lot of thought into dinner so we just walked around for a bit and went into the first pizza place we came to (Pizzeria Roma). It looked like Italy threw up all over inside the restaurant, but the pizza was decent and their “garlic bread” was actually more like a flat bread which reminded me of yummy garlic naan. We finished up dinner with plenty of time to spare to get to the show. Until…. We got back to where our car should have been parked and, well… It was no longer there!

Trip Hiccup #4: Our immediate thought was that it had been stolen. 15+ year old VW Polos are in high demand these day, you know! We had purchased plenty of Blue Zone parking passes and displayed them nicely on the dash, which would have helped had it been a Blue Zone… Yeah. We called the number on the sign and sure enough, it had been towed.

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It’s Official!

I’m moving to Bulgaria!

Not that it wasn’t official before, but now that I have booked my airfare to Sofia, my nearly 3-year long goal of moving to Bulgaria is finally within my grasp.

I leave Salt Lake City on the morning of the 28th of December and arrive in Sofia (which I can only imagine will be foggy and frigid) the next afternoon, just in time to celebrate New Years Bulgarian style–which, from past experience, means family, food and fireworks!

I couldn’t be happier to be ringing in 2012 with my new husband in my new home!

I had a fantastic time on my previous visit to Bulgaria in 2008 (arrived end of December and stayed until the end of January) and am really looking forward to exploring more of the country and learning some Bulgarian.

Here are some pics from my visit in 2008:

Hiking the Smolyan Lakes trailhead

I ADORE the beautiful snow-covered trees

Brrrr!

Me in downtown Smolyan

One of my favorite little towns-Shiroka Laka

Outside Devil's Throat cave

Inside Devil's Throat and Yagodina caves

Rila Monastery

In Mochura (near the Greek border)

Walkin' around Plovdiv

My {now} hubby and I at the Polkovnik Serafimovo monument

If you’d like to see more of my adventures in Bulgaria, check out my Flickr!

As always, thanks for reading!

W.


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Bulgaria 2009: First Impressions

I’ve only been to Bulgaria once, so far. I arrived in Sofia at the end of December 2008 excited to be visiting with V. for a month.

We hadn’t seen each other since he left Alaska in mid-September. For a new relationship like ours that 3 months apart was hard!

After a LONG flight with a layover in Paris, I finally arrived in Sofia’s gleaming new-ish Terminal 2. Before exiting the terminal to meet V. I stopped to reapply my makeup, international flights are not great for a girl’s appearance!

I pushed open the exit doors and there he was, huge smile on his face, holding a bouquet of flowers. Needless to say we shared a long and well deserved hug and kiss.

W. & V.

Our Bulgarian adventure started from there, after he introduced me to his beloved Volkswagen Polo, of course! We didn’t spend any time in Sofia, V. was eager to get home. The drive to his hometown of Smolyan, located in southern BG,  took about 4 hours and I stared out the windows the entire time just soaking it all in. I have been to Europe before, but not Eastern Europe. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe large bronze statues dedicated to long dead Communist-era figures (they do exist, but not in the numbers I imagined), horse-drawn buggies, and the Communist hammer and sickle emblazoned on every street corner. What I expected and what I actually encountered were completely different. While it did feel like BG was in a bit of a time warp of old vs. new, globalization vs. traditions, it was much more “Western” than I would have thought, which depending on how you look at it may or may not be a good thing. Continue reading