Showing posts from April, 2009

Israeli Memorial Day = In Sofia

Monday night marked the start of Israel's Memorial day for soldiers who gave their lives to build and protect our country and for the victims of terror attacks. This is always a day that is felt very strongly in Israel, and at Neve Ilan, we participated in the annual ceremony that took place on the hill at 8:00 pm, when the siren was sounded and called us to attention. It was difficult to think of being far from home at this time, and not to be a part of this national experience, and the personal one at home, where we also remember Danny Wein from Neve Ilan, who was killed while in the army over 20 years ago.

Therefore, we were very pleased when we received the invitation through Ellis's office, to attend a Memorial Service at the home of the Israeli Ambassador to Bulgaria. Along with 12 Israeli colleagues, we arrived at the Ambassador's home in an attractive neighborhood at the edge of Sofia. We could tell we were at the right place, as we could see a police car by the hou…

Weekend Visit to Vratsa

On Saturday morning we took a taxi to the Central Station and there boarded a train bound for Vratsa, Bulgaria, about 120 kilometers north of Sofia. We had a very comfortable ride, with two seats in a six-seater compartment. The train took a scenic route, traveling through the picturesque Iskur Gorge. We could see the river alongside, the poor villages and the sharp mountain cliffs as we traveled north.

After two hours we arrived in the small town of Vratsa, where we took a taxi to the Zora Hotel where we had booked a room. From there it was a 20 minute walk through a light drizzle into the center of town. The unique feature of Vratsa is that the mountains of the nearby national park reach up to the very edge of the town.
After a light lunch we visited Vratsa's Historical Museum, an unimpressive, dark concrete structure whose claim to fame is its golden display of Thracian artifacts, discovered in the nearby village of Rogozen in 1985.

On Sunday morning we were picked up at the hote…

The Bulgarian head shake

I walked into a car showroom near the City Center Sofia Mall this afternoon. The showroom displayed very fancy Italian cars, but it also had a huge AVIS sign on the outer wall, and a standup AVIS poster by the window. Based on my having previously picked up an Avis pamphlet at the airport, I assumed this was an Avis office. I went inside to inquire about car rental, as if so, it would be conveniently located near our home.

The sales clerk inside didn't speak English, but he understood my question.

"Is this an Avis office?" I asked.

The sales clerk shook his up and down, the universal symbol for a positive response.

"No Avis office," he said, confusing me momentarily.

Then I remembered having read in the guidebook: Bulgarians shake their head 'yes' and nod their head 'no'.

This Bulgarian custom is a shake different from the one we know.

Spring arrives in Bulgaria

When we left Bulgaria for our Passover vacation in Israel, at the beginning of April, we had just enjoyed our first two really warm days. The long winter was over. When we returned to Sofia on April 16, everything was green. The trees were blooming, Spring had arrived at last!

The golden vessels of Thrace

Our second stop in Boyana was the National History Museum. The guidebooks said it was only 2 kilometers from the church, and as this was all downhill, I suggested we walk. This meant Jodie's feet were tired before we arrived.

The building, a former government palace, reminded us of the Knesset. What do you think?

The museum houses Bulgaria's "most worthwhile assemblage of ancient and medieval artifacts," according to the guidebook. Here the guidebook was correct, but it was out of date when it noted that "English-language labeling is almost nonexistent." This turned out not to be correct, as although the main signs were in Bulgarian, all of the items had English explanations.

What was most fascinating at the museum were the gold and silver vessels associated with the Thracians, who inhabited the eastern Balkans during the pre-Christian era. As the guidebook notes, the most eye-catching of these are the rhyta (drinking vessels) designed in the shape of animal …

The medieval frescoes of the Boyana Church

Boyana is an affluent village suburb of Sofia, on the slopes of Mt. Vitosha. We went there by taxi on a beautiful, warm Saturday morning. Our first stop was Boyana Church, a historical site included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

Boyana Church dates back to the tenth century, but most of the exquisite medieval frescoes within date back to the year 1259. When you arrive, you walk through a forested garden with some of the largest trees we've seen.

Entrance to the church was 10 Leva, and you can actually go inside only for a period of ten minutes. We had a guide who spoke excellent English, and she explained the frescoes and their significance. We saw engravings in Greek, dating from an earlier period, and many that we could read, but not fully understand, in Bulgarian.

It was forbidden to take photographs inside the church, so it will be hard to describe how beautiful the frescoes were. They were of Biblical scenes, as well as of the Bulgarian king, queen and patron saints…

And then Jodie danced...

On Friday night, we went to a Bulgarian Folklore restuarant. This was a really fun experience. To start off, although we've seen the mountains surrounding Sofia since we've been here, this is the first time that we've come close to them. We weren't quite sure where the restaurant was (recommended by one of my co-workers), but the taxi driver knew where to go. We were glad that it was still light out, so that we could enjoy the forests as we drove up the slopes of Mt. Vitosha, climbing steadily up the mountain. (The infrastructure on the roads here is horrendous, and this narrow winding road was full of potholes.)

The Vodenitzata restaurant is right near the Dragalevtsi ski-lift. It's a pretty wooden building in the mountain forest , on the site of an old mill (that's what the name means). We came in, and immediately noticed the decor - lots of stuffed animals, from chickens, rabbits, deers' heads, foxes to the wild boar head overlooking the tables. There wer…