Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Vitosha Clean-up

Yesterday I helped clean up Mt. Vitosha. I picked up more than 100 cigarette butts! (That’s a personal record I’ll have you know.)

I also picked up plastic bags, beer bottle lids, bits and pieces of glass bottles, crumpled up aluminum foil, what had been at one point a sweatshirt and tons of unidentifiable pieces of paper.

Why would I spend my Saturday doing this? Well, I volunteered to be a chaperone so that ACS faculty and students could participate in a Bulgaria-wide volunteer day, sponsored in part by the American Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria (“AmCham”). The project we picked to participate in was cleaning-up Mt. Vitosha.

Basically, we chose to devote a Saturday to picking up other people’s garbage. To cleaning up the Nature.

Yep, you read that correctly: the Nature. I know, I know. Grammatically, it’s incorrect to say “the nature” you don’t need the article the because we always speak generally about nature in English. This said my students and widely speaking Bulgarians regularly make this mistake and add the to nature. Making it “the nature” that they are speaking about.  This mistake makes the English teacher in me grimace but yesterday it really did feel like we were cleaning up the Nature. Vitosha was incredibly beautiful. (more…)


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I just plowed through the novel/collection of short stories entitled: Cold Snap by Cynthia Morrison Phoel.  I bought it via amazon.com this summer in hard copy–there’s no kindle version available. This said, it’s nice to read a book like this, to smell the paper to turn the pages to feel the weight of the book in your hands to see how much you’ve got left to read.

I wrote about this book the first time in June/July but I didn’t finish reading it until September and I haven’t made time to write a serious post about the book until now. It’s fitting considering winter is around the corner.

First off, this is a great book. Buy a copy of it. Read it. Love it or hate it. But read it.

Second, I can shake the feeling of burr after reading the book and thinking about this post. The book reminds me of my first winter in Sofia three years ago when I lived downtown in an older building without central heat. I spent the whole winter cold. Then in January it got even colder with the natural gas crisis. Thinking about it, I am not sure that I was really warm, warm between the November and March.  In comparison, last winter was a lot better.  And these days my classroom at ACS feels downright balmy.

Three years ago, I didn’t know that I was having a quintessential Bulgarian experience. But that’s how things like this always work. In hindsight, it’s clear at the time however, I was just cold. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that this was an experience that I would latter connect to other than to trade frustrated, humps with my teacher colleagues at the First English Language School.

Anyhow, back to the book, it’s a collection of interrelated short stories set in an imaginary town outside of Sofia.

Cynthia Morrison Phoel was a Peace Corps volunteer during the early years of the program shortly after the country opened up–post communism. From what I’ve read about her, when she was here in Sofia, she was a teacher in Pravetz.  Want to know more about her? There’s a great interview/discussion with Cynthia and Petya from the blog How to Marry a Bulgarian. (It turns out that Cynthia taught Petya English here in Bulgaria. How wonderful is that? The the foreign teacher in me loves it. The world it seems is a very, very small place.)

This said, the world that Cynthia created is stark and drab. (more…)

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Earlier this week, I posted about buying pumpkin jam in Koprivshtitsa. I’d never seen or heard of such a thing. The jar is a beautiful orange color.

I’d been thinking about eating the jam on toast or with yogurt–but then one of my readers suggested crepe/Bulgarian style pancakes. I read the comment and thought I can do that.

Crepes Step One

I meant to do it Sunday night. But I ran out of time. Monday and Tuesday were busy, busy. So Wednesday it was.

The good news is that I like pumpkin and I like jam. So I thought: perfect! (I also like the color orange but I think that might be beside the point.) Anyhow, I thought this is the perfect combination. (more…)

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Last Saturday, on my weekend out of Sofia, I bought lots of homemade jam in Koprivshtitsa.

Why? Well, I don’t have the time, the energy or the interest necessary to make my own jam.  I am much happier buying it from little old women who’ve set-up a cardboard tables of jam.

Homemade Jam

Because what’s better than homemade jam?

I got home four jars–two jars of strawberry, one blueberry and a jar of pumpkin and walnut. The strawberry and blueberry are pretty standard issue. Tiny berries, hand picked, beautiful color.

But the pumpkin and walnut jam, that’s another story. (more…)

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Goat on a wall in Koprivshtitsa


Apparently, I am the kind of girl who makes a yearly trek to Koprivshtitsa. I didn’t know this about myself but it’s true. I’ve been to Koprivshtitsa four times in a little more than 2 years. That seems pretty good.

I’ve hit up the house museums, I’ve been hiking, I’ve purchases jars upon jars of homemade jam and I’ve eaten my way through the town.

And I can’t get enough of it. (more…)

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I’ve got friends visiting Sofia this weekend which I am really excited about. I love having a chance to show Sofia off.  Only we didn’t plan/communicate very well so Saturday I am going to Koprivshtitsa on Saturday night and they’re flying in from Budapest on Saturday afternoon. Ooops! Needless to say, we’ve got plans to meet on Sunday.

It seems to me the 10 must sees in Sofia are as follows:

  1. Alexander Nevski Cathedral (and the crypt with ions!) The building is beautiful with the stone construction, the gold and green roof and the wrought iron gates.  And the icon museum is both cool and a little over the top. Clearly my austere protestant background adds to the sense that the icons are fascinating and a bit wild in their depictions of different saints. The Eastern Orthodox church St. Sofia is right next to the cathedral and worth popping into if only to look into floor and see earlier remains of a church build on the same site.
  2. Ivan Vazov National Theater and the park in front of the theater. The theater is imposing sitting on one end of a pretty little park. On the far end of the park is the Sofia City Art Gallery which is free and usually has art worth checking out. (more…)

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Bulgaria is again in the news.  More specifically, the New York Times. When this happens it’s generally bad.  American’s don’t seem to care about the good things that are happening in a country it’s the bad stuff that sells from natural disasters to corruption to war.

That’s why this headline caught my eye: Unlikely Allies in Bulgaria Reveal Fatal Mental Health Neglect. First I had no idea what the headline meant and second because issues of neglect, mental health, children and death break my heart.

Interestingly, the first two paragraphs of the article play up the shock factor:

An unusual investigation that brought together prosecutors and human rights lawyers has revealed a grisly picture of neglect at Bulgarian state homes for mentally disabled children: 238 deaths since 2000.More than three-fourths of the deaths were found to have been avoidable: 84 from physical deterioration caused by neglect; 36 from exposure to cold or long-term immobility; 31 from malnutrition; 13 from infections caused by poor hygiene; 6 from accidents; 15 were unexplained.

These numbers seem appallingly high given the fact that Bulgaria is a part of the EU.  This said, the death of children is always shocking but in my mind, the death of children who cannot advocate for themselves is that much worse.

What’s notable is what’s being done to investigate these deaths. Basically, Bulgarian prosecutors and humans rights lawyers have teamed up to collect evidence.  (more…)

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