Aug 31, 2011

Glozhene Monastery

This is another day trip we took a few weeks ago.  Built in the 13th century, Glozhene was originally two monasteries connected by an underground tunnel but one was destroyed by an earthquake in 1928.  The tunnel was used many times as an escape route by Vasil Levski, the famed Bulgarian revolutionary who fought for Bulgaria's freedom from the Ottoman empire.  
Its location offers fabulous views of the mountains and villages below.

The original church had been built in the 14th century but was also destroyed by an earthquake in 1913.  The current church was constructed in 1951.
 

Aug 30, 2011

Future Francie

My sister just sent me this adorable picture and said "future Francie" and it could not be more apropos!  Later today we expect to receive her Bulgarian birth certificate and she will officially be a dual citizen of the U.S and Bulgaria/European Union.  Francie may only be 4 months old but she's already a world traveler and has her first stamp in her U.S passport. 

This picture also makes me think about my own grandmother who came to America from Italy when she was only 10 years old.  It's just amazing to me how much can change between generations.  My great grandparents came to the U.S and worked hard to make a better life for their family.  Twenty five years ago my husband would have never been able to come to the states, we would never have met under the circumstances that we did.  To me it just feels like things have come full circle with Francesca, our little dual citizen.  She is one lucky little lady and our families love for her spreads across an ocean.  It honestly brings tears to me eyes to think of the opportunities that lie ahead for our girl.  Francesca has the freedom of choice, the ability to seek out the best for herself, whether that's in the states or Europe.  At the end of the day, we are all citizens of the world, some of us are just lucky enough to have the paperwork to prove it.

Cheers to you my love, to all of life's adventures that await you!

Aug 29, 2011

Babe in Over-priced Toyland

via
One thing that I really wish I had paid more attention to before we moved to Bulgaria with a baby is toys.  Obviously, I was a bit more concerned with packing our day to day essentials and clothes and I just assumed we would buy all the stuff Francie's (and my) little heart desires once we got here.  In hindsight, I wish I would have paid the $50 bag fee and loaded up a suitcase of playthings.  We had been given a lot of toys back in the states, some hand me downs but brand new or close to it.  My personal favorite was a Gloworm.  I had one when I was little and I was so excited to give one to Francie.  Packing day came and in an effort to keep all of our stuff contained in 3 suitcases and a carry on, the Gloworm didn't make the cut.  Big mistake!  Ok, so I'm sure Francie doesn't miss it too much but I sure do.
The problem here is that toys cost almost twice what they do in the states.  That Playskool Gloworm that retails for $15 there?  $25 here.  Ouch!  Things in general tend to be more expensive in Europe than in the U.S, and especially with wages as low as they are here, one must be very choosy with how they spend their hard earned cash.  Sadly, there is no Target in Bulgaria- oh Target, how I miss our weekly visits...
But I digress, my point here is that if you're moving overseas with a little one, take toys into consideration.  Don't be like me, lamenting that left behind Gloworm.  And for all of you making your Target run today- I'm super jealous!    

Aug 26, 2011

A Few Things

- It's been a month since I left Philly and they've had an earthquake and now there's Irene, possibly the worst hurricane to hit in 50 years.  What's up with that?  Since all of my nearest and dearest live in that area, you can bet I'll be obsessively checking weather.com and facebook all weekend.

-If anybody has the solution for putting an over-tired, cranky baby to sleep, please share!  Francie's never been too keen on bedtime, but usually she conks out at the end of her bottle and eventually we can sneak her into the crib.  Lately that seems to have lost its charm and I'm beginning to dread bedtime.

-This heat wave in Bulgaria needs to come to an end ASAP.  At least drop a couple of rain clouds over Sofia, wouldya, mother nature?  I feel like I'm suffering from heat stroke on the daily.  Not fun.

-A week from tonight I will be attending my first soccer/football game, Bulgaria vs. England and I am super excited!  This will also be the first time I'm leaving baby girl in the evening so we'll see how many times I make Martin call home to check in.

-Did I mention that I'm totally freaking out about this hurricane?

Aug 23, 2011

I Say Tomato, You Say ДОМАТ

One of my family's biggest questions about my life in Bulgaria is, "How do you deal with the language barrier?"  It's really not something that I give much thought to myself and I think it's because I take it for granted that I will always have Martin by my side to translate for me.  Obviously, that isn't always going to be the case.  There will be times when I'll venture out on my own and I'll need to communicate with others.  

There's been a few incidents already in stores or public restrooms where someone is talking to me and my mind goes blank.  I'll bump into someone and say "sorry" or "excuse me", then I think to myself  "you idiot!  You know the words in Bulgarian, why don't you just say them?"  It doesn't help that I'm a bit shy and I'm afraid of sounding stupid but I have found that when I put in the effort to speak to someone in Bulgarian, they truly appreciate it.

I have a pretty good understanding of common words, basic phrases, questions, and answers.  If we're out to dinner or drinks with family or friends who don't speak English, I can usually figure out what's being discussed.  It's interesting to me how in any language, the same words and topics come up over and over again.  People will always discuss the weather or the big news story of the day.

Eventually, I would like to take some formal lessons.  I think in order to feel more comfortable here I'll have to increase my language skills.  It can be very isolating when you don't know what everyone else is laughing about.  In September, my mother-in-law is hosting a party for Francie and I.  It's the Bulgarian version of a baby shower that's held after the baby arrives.  No men are allowed and no exception will be made for Martin- I'll be on my own with a non-English speaking crowd.  This will be my first real test to see how I can make it on my own.  

No translation necessary.

Aug 21, 2011

"Pizza" and Other Food Deceptions

Spend any amount of time in Bulgaria and you will quickly learn that many things are not always what they seem. Take for instance pizza.  I'm from Philadelphia-  we take our pizza, hoagies (that's "subs" to the rest of you in the states) and cheesesteaks very seriously.  I got pretty excited my first time in Sofia- there are lots of pizza restaurants!  Let's go meet up with so and so for beers and pizza!  When you begin to look over the menu you notice something is a-miss.  Why are there 2+ pages of pizza options?  Combinations of toppings of every kind, some of your favorites like corn and hot dog.  Wait-whaaaa-  who puts corn on their pizza, you ask?  Bulgarians.  Some also put mayo.  Just squirt it right on top.  So gross and so wrong.  
All it takes is your first experience with Bulgarian pizza and you will realize why all the toppings and questionable condiments.  By default, the pizzas here are made with kashkaval- just a yellow cheese.  If you would like mozzarella, it may or may not be listed for an extra charge as an option.  I found out early on that Bulgarians go light on tomato sauce not only on pizza but also on pasta.  It generally seems to be more of a plain tomato puree than a sauce.  I've pretty much given up on finding any American style pizza here; it's added to the list of must-eats I have whenever I'm back in Philly.

Last week we found ourselves at a restaurant for lunch.  It was the first time we've been out to eat since we arrived last month and I was hungry.  The menu was in Bulgarian so Martin gave me my choices- pizza, club sandwiches.  I went with the club.  There was a long list of options for type of meat on the sandwich and I settled on shunka (ham).  It came with fries, perfect!  My club sandwich arrived- white bread toasted, yellow "sandwich" cheese, ham slices, possibly some mayo (it was hard to tell), pickle slices, and black olives.  No lettuce.  No bacon.  I hate olives with a passion.  Needless to say, this is probably my last time ordering a club sandwich in Bulgaria.  I get it Bulgaria, you have enough delicious foods of your own- you don't need to make American style anything!  As long as I keep that in mind, I think we'll get along just fine.

*Just an FYI- Bulgarian food is truly, amazingly delicious 

Aug 19, 2011

Flashback on a Friday

August of '09.  We had just finished our second summer in Skagway, Alaska and were flying to Philly.  We had a layover in Seattle, so we caught a bus from SeaTac to downtown and walked around for awhile.

Aug 17, 2011

Rila Monastery

Last weekend on our road trip we made it up to Rila Monastery.  It's the largest and most well known monastery in Bulgaria.  Founded in the 10th century, it's revered for its architecture and size and is hugely popular with tourists and Bulgarians alike.  In 1983 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and if you come to Bulgaria, you simply must see it for yourself.  Rila is a shining example of Bulgarian Renaissance architecture.  The artistic designs on the exterior as well as the frescoes inside the church are stunningly beautiful.

The Church
Family photo
The exterior paint is like something out of an M.C. Escher print
Entrance to the complex
Beautiful frescoes

Aug 11, 2011

Baby's First Hike- Success!


 On Saturday morning we packed up the car and headed out on a road trip to Rila Monastery.  More on the monastery in another post, but for now I need to tell you that it's named for Saint Ivan of Rila, the patron saint of the Bulgarian people.  After becoming a monk, Ivan of Rila spent his life as a hermit living in caves in the Rila mountains.  Legend says that he performed miracles and this brought many people to the mountain seeking healing and blessings.  

Aug 10, 2011

Dobarsko

In 2010, Martin and I got these little booklets called 100 National Tourist Sites of Bulgaria.  It's a program that was started in 1966 to promote tourism to places of cultural significance in Bulgaria and for each site you visit you get a unique stamp in your book.  We've been collecting our stamps throughout the country ever since (we're up to 25).  On Saturday we stopped in the village of Dobarsko to get a stamp from the Church of Theodore Tyro and Theodore Stratelates.


The church was constructed in 1614 but believed to be founded in 1122.  The interior walls are completely covered in beautiful original frescoes and icons painted in 1672, one of which supposedly depicts Jesus in a rocket ship.  Apparently this image alone has drawn many curious visitors. 

The grounds are small but beautifully kept with flowers and gardens all over.

The spring water in the courtyard is believed to have healing properties, particularly for eyes.  Legend has it that the village was founded by soldiers from the army of Tsar Samuil who were blinded in battle in 1014.  Their vision was restored when they discovered the water from the spring.




Overall, another charming little village rich with history in the mountains of Bulgaria.

Aug 7, 2011

Spied from the Balcony...

Since we live in a 5th floor apartment, a significant amount of time is spent looking out windows and hanging out on the balcony.  It makes for good people watching and if I find something interesting I'll get my camera.   So I think this will become a regular thing on my blog.  Here is the first "Spied from the Balcony":

4 p.m. on a Tuesday

Aug 4, 2011

Sofia Zoo

Yesterday was Francie's first trip to the zoo.  I don't think she got much out of it, but we certainly enjoyed ourselves.  She was awake and alert in the cat building and she was definitely checking out the lions and tigers. (I'm sure they were checking her out too as a nice afternoon snack). 

 The Sofia Zoo is...not the greatest.  But they try (I think?)  I'm sure they don't have a very big budget and we only paid two leva each to enter so I really can't complain.  Their official website states that it is the oldest and largest in the Balkans.  The current location of the zoo opened in 1982 and it seems not much has changed since then except the animals.  From what I understand from their website, they do lack in funds and so to support the upkeep of the animals a program of "adoption" was put in place.  Various companies and individuals have adopted the animals, including Prime Minister Boyko Borisov who has adopted a pair of lions and the Golden Eagle.
The zoo has applied for membership in the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums so hopefully one day improvements can be made with a more modern look and better facilities for the animals.  Until then, it is still a nice place to enjoy a day out with family.

Pelicans


This guy seemed to be the old sage of the group



Theory of evolution?  


There's some kangaroos blending in with the landscape to the left

Momma and baby

Family fun

Mechka (Bear)

Mufasa

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