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Archive for December, 2008

I’ve been in Vienna since Monday afternoon.  It’s a great city.  We took the Orange bus from Budapest to Vienna.  It was easy, quick and they serve coffee on board the bus.  (I don’t know of any trains in Eastern Europe that do this!)

The rest of the week has been devoted to getting to know the city, seeing as many museums as possible and drinking mulled wine at every opportunity.  I read somewhere that Vienna is one of the 10 best museum/art cities–and it’s true.  There is so much to see.  There are also Christmas-Markets everywhere so it’s not to hard to find hot mulled wine either.  Oh but a word to the wise, the Lions Club has stands up all over the city and they make some of the best mulled wine/hot punch I’ve had in Vienna–so look for them.  I assume that they are doing good things with the money they earn.

The big surprise has been that Bulgarian comes out of my mouth quicker and more automatically than German does.  Yes my vocabulary is much bigger in German but the it’s the Bulgarian that is on the tip of my tongue.  It’s made for a lot of laughs.  Well my friend Robyn laughs at me while who ever I am trying to talk to me just stares.  At this point,  I usually get embarrassed that I’ve just said something indistinguishable in Bulgarian and then can’t say anything in either German or English.  (more…)

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Hello everyone!

Unlike past years where I’ve gotten my act together and mailed my friends and family Christmas cards, this year I recorded you a video message.  I know, I know… I did the same thing for Thanksgiving.   But I have to say that it’s quick and easy to do.  It’s actually taking longer for me to upload the video to YouTube than it took for me to record the message.  I am not sure if that’s good or bad.

Oh and one last thing, I can’t get enough of the Christmas trees here.  They are all Charlie Brown trees.  It’s really wonderful.

Charlie Brown Trees!

Charlie Brown Trees!

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Christmas has come early this year!

Christmas has come early this year!

The post office in Sofia is a catch all.  It’s like the drawer in your kitchen that is officially the junk-drawer.  But it’s a junk-drawer in a good way.  You know, you go there to grab a pair of scissors, or a rubber band, a piece of string or a postage stamp.  The problem is that you don’t always know if what you’re looking for will be there or if it will be the right size, length or amount–so you dig through old playing cards, nails, bits left over from do it yourself Ikea projects where inexplicably at the end you have left over pieces…

Well in Sofia, the post office is similar and I might add almost completely unusable if you don’t speak Bulgarian.  At post offices in Bulgaria, you can do tons of different things.  You can play bills, you can bank and I think that given the number of windows you must be able do other things as well–like mail letters or pick up packages.  This means that there are tons of windows with disaffected employees sitting behind them to take your money.

Luckily, I don’t have to go to the post office to pay my utility bills.  My landlord does this for me and then brings me the receipts which I then reimburse him for.  I have a hunch it would be craze inducing to pay your bills in the post office if you were a Bulgarian let alone if I had to do so navigating in my limited Bulgarian.  And I think that this is how most people pay their bills–in person and in cash.  It should however be noted that I don’t know this for sure.  In the states, I thought writing out checks and remembering to mail them each month was tedious.  Well now that I’ve seen this other system, I think that writing a check isn’t so bad. (more…)

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Carolyn & Kate at Rila

Carolyn & Kate at Rila

I went to Rila Monastery today with my friend Kate who’s visiting and my friend from high school Matty and his girlfriend.  I think that a group of four was the perfect size to make the trip to Rila Monastery.  Also, I was happy to have Matty along.  His Bulgarian is much better than mine but given the trip I could have done this on my own as well.  It’s just that I still get a little flustered when someone speaks to me to fast or I don’t recognize any of the words they are saying to me.

So you can take a bus from the West bus station in Sofia right to the monastery–the round trip ride is 20 Leva. One important thing to know is that this is not the main (or central) bus station so depending where you are living in the city it might be a little bit out of the way.  Nonetheless, this is apparently an improvement from earlier days where you had to take one bus to the city of Rila and then another bus up the mountain to get to the monastery.

The bus that we took today was older and the seats didn’t have enough leg room for me.  It was also very full.  When we left the station the bus was completely full.  So it’s probably better to be there eariler than we were.  Oh you buy tickets on the bus so you should come prepared with the right change. The bus stopped many times along the side of the road to take on new passengers and to let off  current ones–it appears that frantic waving at the side of the road will cause the bus to stop and that when you want off you stand up walk to the front of the bus and wait.  You may also have to tell the bus driver where you want off.  Luckily for those of us going to the monastery, you just get on, sit down and wait until you get to the front gate of the monastery.  Don’t worry though, even with these small stops the ride is only 2.5 hours so it’s not absolutely horrible. (more…)

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Today I got up early and headed over to the Fulbright office to make a presentation for the “100 Days in Bulgaria” celebration. I did a little math sitting there before the program started and (gasp!) I think I’ve been here for 135 days. My presentation was cut short by a power outage so I only got to show half of my powerpoint presentation but I think that’s okay. It wasn’t the best work of my life.

I had a hard time knowing what people would be interested in so I broke it up into three sections and figured that would be good enough–my experience with the students, with the teachers and the challenges and pleasures of teaching. It was easy to give and I think that people were pretty interested in what I had to say.

The funny thing was when I realized how much of my life has been in some way or another connected to the Fulbright. My first exposure came in 1st grade; my teacher was on a Fulbright exchange and was from the UK. She taught us how to spell with extra “u”s. Then I applied in college for a Fulbright but was unsuccessful. This lead me to three years at Georgetown where I actually advised other students on Fulbright applications. Finally I decided it was time to apply again and now here I am–living and teaching English in Bulgaria on a Fulbright fellowship.

How funny and wonderful it is that the Fulbright has shaped my life over the years.

Now I am off to coffee and to the Fulbright Christmas Party. Tis the season after all!

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Starbucks Coffee Mug in Sofia

Starbucks Coffee Mug in Sofia

It’s official.  Starbucks opened in Sofia.  It’s located at the corner of Levski and Gen. Y. V. Gurko.  I guess that there used to be a Pizza Hut in the present day location of the Starbucks but it closed and in it’s placed opened another American symbol.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I don’t really see the need for a Starbucks in Sofia.  There’s lots of other great coffee throughout the city that is a lot less money.  But then Starbucks opened.  The corner store looks like it could be anywhere in a big urban American city.  This in fact scares me.

Once inside, the Sofia store I noticed that every thing is the same in Sofia as it is in the states: the colors are the same, the bags of coffee in baskets are the same, the large round cookies appear to be the same (although I didn’t see any with m&m’s), even the red holiday themed cups are the same.  I don’t love Starbucks.  I would always rather support the small local guy but in a city like DC this was sometimes hard to do given the poor quality of the little guy’s coffee.  Starbucks however always promises the same not superior but not offensive cup of coffee–latte–mocha or Americano.  It’s the same cup whether you buy it in Walla Walla, Washington DC or now it turns out Sofia. (more…)

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I didn’t think that it was going to be a very busy Christmas for me but it turns out that is wrong. So I have a hunch over

New Shoes and Sofia Friends!

New Shoes and Sofia Friends!

the next three weeks, my posts will be a little bit shorter. Don’t worry though I’ll post as much as I can and the best stories that I have.

Lights have gone up all over the city.  There is plenty of Christmas cheer in store windows.  And some of the bigger pine trees around have been turned into huge Christmas trees.  I bought a poinsettia today. The one thing is that there’s not so much Christmas music being played.  I didn’t think that I would miss the Christmas songs but I kind of do.  To make matters worse, it turns out I have only three Christmas songs on my computer.  (I blame the grinch.) But really, how can I only have three songs!? Aside from the grinch, I blame my red-curly-haired-friend for always having and playing such good Christmas music that I never bothered to get my own and the same goes to my little sister.  (more…)

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