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Showing posts from March, 2009

The night Jodie giggled after drinking a glass of Rakia

I discovered the restaurant on one of my walks to work. Golden Apple is located just around the corner from our house, and it looked like an island of modern cuisine in a relatively dumpy neighborhood. The waiter spoke to me in English and apologized that they didn't have any menus in English. I promised him that I would be back with my wife for dinner.

It turned out to be our best meal in Bulgaria so far. But for Jodie, much of it may have been a blur, for we were served Rakia with our starter carrot salad.

Rakia is a popular fruit brandy in Bulgaria, and I guess you could call it the national beverage. Jodie's head was spinning after our first course.

We enjoyed a delicious steak dinner and the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon just made our heads spin even further. Jodie ended up giggling, but I didn't feel anything until I stood up to go to the bathroom. The meal concluded with a shared piece of homemade cake and for Jodie, a strong cup of coffee.

It was a good thing that our hou…

What? No Applesauce in Bulgaria?

We had company for Saturday lunch, and when planning the meal, Jodie wanted to bake her favorite chocolate cake. The recipe called for applesauce, but alas, we couldn't find any in the local supermarket. We searched high and low, and two employees sent us off on wild goose chases in the direction of jams and canned fruits, but no applesauce.

Needless to say, there was no chocolate cake for lunch that day. At least two local women have since confirmed that applesauce is not on sale in Bulgaria. We'll keep our eyes open.

The day Ellis got a 5 Leva haircut

I had passed the barbershop/beauty salon many times on my way to work. I had seen men getting their haircut there, but there was always a line waiting for the scissors. The opening hours were posted on the door - from 07:00 to 19:00. Today, on my way home from work, I bravely stepped in.

"Dobre vecher," I said. I knew how to say "Good evening." I followed that by "Ne gevorya Bulgarski," informing the entire room that I didn't speak Bulgarian.

There were three women working in the shop, and none of them spoke English. But under a hair drier, her hair rolled up in curlers, one customer knew English. She stood up and asked me, on behalf of the staff, what sort of haircut I wanted.

"Kus," I said, proud that I had learned the Bulgarian word for "short" in preparation for my visit.

"How short," the lady in hair curlers asked. "1, 2 or 3?"

I hadn't realized that there were these variations of the adjective "short.&…

Pictures from Koprivshtitsa

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These are just a few of the pictures we took on our visit to the museum town of Koprivshtitsa. More pictures have been posted on Ellis's Facebook page = you can see them by clicking here.

Panorama Hotel.

The colorful street near our hotel, with the main color being white.
Oskelov House.
Village resident.
Snowy Koprivshtitsa.

The Georgi Benkovski house. Street scene.

The Karavelov House.
The Bulgarian symbol of Spring, which has not yet come to Bulgaria.

Winter Visit to Koprivshtitsa

We woke up on Saturday morning to see that Sofia had turned into a wintry, slushy mess. Should we go away for the weekend as planned? We decided to brave the elements and took a taxi to the Central Station.

The Central Station is actually two separate buildings. The cavernous Central Train Station was very cold, and the level near the platforms was like a freezer. Jodie noted that the woman's bathrooms were just holes in the ground (please aim carefully). The Central Bus Station was more modern, more crowded, and much warmer. In both stations, you could book your travel to destinations all across Europe.

Our bus left from the Traffic Market parking lot between the two stations. We boarded the bus, and only after it departed, the ticket lady came down the isle collecting fares. It was 10 Leva one way. The bus was a local line, stopping in villages along the way. The direction we traveled was eastward, towards Burgas. As we drove, we climbed into snowy mountains, but in other flat are…

Banitsa

Last week I had lunch with some of my co-workers, and one of them ordered Banitsa (Accent on the first syllable) – and he told me a little about this dish.

This dish is made with phyllo dough, feta cheese and many variations from there on. There is a sweet version made with pumpkin and honey, and a more savory version with either just cheeses, or with an addition of spinach, or green onions. I was told that many Bulgarians eat this for breakfast, along with yogurt – apparently, you can also see people buying it on the street on their way to work.

There is a lot of Greek and Turkish influence in Bulgarian food, and you can see it in this dish also. It reminds me of the Turkish spiraled “spinach bareka” that you see in Israel. The frozen variety that I saw in the supermarket (now that I know what I was looking at!) looks a lot like this.

I searched for recipes on the Internet, and the recipe that I found and tried was from a site called Traditional Bulgarian Recipes from Ralitsa’s Kitchen.

March is Woman's Month

On Wednesday we woke up to snow flurries, with the weather forecast predicting more of the same throughout the day, and throughout the coming week. However, by the time I walked to work (and yes, on many mornings Jodies goes in a taxi while I walk), it had stopped snowing and there were only gray skies threatening from above.

During the morning, the snow resumed, and Jodie reported that it was hailing as well. A short while later I looked outside the window, and the sun was shining. There were patches of blue in the sky, and it looked like winter was behind us at last.

An hour later, and the snow flurries were back. Nothing was sticking to the ground, but it was cold, very, very cold. But half an hour later, and the sky was blue again. The wind was strong, but in the sunshine you could imagine that it was spring.

On and off through the day, the snow flurries came and went, alternating with hints of warmth.

The Bulgarians call March the Woman's Month. No, this is not a tribute to women…

Getting Your Hair Done in Bulgarian

Today, I took the leap, and got my hair colored and cut locally....

Firstly, in my neighboorhood, every other shop is a hairdresser (or a pharmacy - I don't understand why they need so many!). I decided to stay away from the ones that looked like they only cut old ladies and mens hair. I asked at a more modern salon, but they weren't open on Saturdays. I was talking to a coworker and she made me an appointment at her hairdresser, who is close to here. She callled her in advance, and explained what I wanted, and I found the place ok.

Well....it was an experience! The "salon" was not at all modern - old painted tables in front of the mirrors, baskets with combs and scissors - I'm sure that they never heard of sterilizing anything. I'm used to having the hairdresser make small parts and carefully applying the color on small areas of hair at a time - here, she had a large comb and just kind of combed a bunch of hair to one side and "shmeared" the color on…

The dirty streets of Sofia

The snow has gone, and yesterday morning's unexpected, unpredicted snowstorm is a thing of the past. It was not a pretty snowfall. The snow was very wet, and the streets filled with dirty, mushy slush, making walking on wet, snowy sidewalks difficult and splash-dangerous.

With the snow gone, you can see the garbage piling up on the streets. Sofia's city government recently canceled the concessionaire status of its major garbage collector in 19 neighborhoods, and as a result, there is no garbage collection. The bins are full, overflowing with refuse. At least when it snowed, you couldn't see the mess.

And about the streets, someone should look into fixing them. They are full of pot holes, making trips down the cobblestones of Dimitar Hadzhikotsev, our home street, a real obstacle course.

And a final note about the streets. The city has just begun digging up Chernivrach Blvd., the main thoroughfare we travel on every day on our way to work. The reason for the construction - an …

What? Not Again!

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This is what we see out our back window this morning. Yesterday the sun was shining and it was so warm!

Food and Eating Out in Bulgaria

Grocery Shopping
Buying groceries has been a challenge. There is a large supermarket at the mall near our apartment, where we do most of our grocery shopping. There are many products which are easily recognizable, and we can manage to figure out what they are. There is very little English listed, unless the product is imported. I don’t think that there is much of a law here regarding listing of ingredients, or their nutritional value. And whatever is listed, is so small, that even my new multi-focal glasses don’t help! So, you can buy canned tomatoes, but not be sure if they are crushed, whole or chopped! Spices have been a real challenge – all the green ones look the same!

Fruits and vegetables aren’t always the best quality, and most come packed in packages, instead of loose in big bins, like we see in supermarkets in Israel. There also isn’t a great variety to choose from.

One of the things that we’ve found the hardest to adjust to, is the cheeses. The notion of “light” or “low-fat” c…

The Sofia Synagogue

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Today we went to see the Synagogue of Sofia (http://www.sofiasynagogue.com/), =which was quite interesting. The synagogue was built in 1909, and they will be celebrating 100 years in Sept. The Jewish community in the States donated money for the renovation of the synagogue, so you can see that it's being worked on and restored.

There is a beautiful chandelier, which weighs 2 tons! The decorations on the walls are of Spanish and Arabic influence. Since the original Jewish population arrived in Bulgaria from Spain, this is the influence that is seen. The Jewish population in all of Bulgaria today is 6000, of which 2000 live in Sofia. Before WW2, the Jewish population of Bulgaria was 52,000 - we have learned that the Bulgarian king at the time, although he sided with the Nazis, refused to turn over the Jews of Bulgaria to the Nazis. Most of the Jews left Bulgaria after the war and moved to Israel.

The night we dined on Raclette cheese and gherkins at a Swiss Chalet

It was drizzling when we left our apartment on Saturday evening, but amazingly, there was a taxi available right outside. We gave the taxi driver the address: 50 Botevgradsko Shousse Blvd. The driver knew where this street was - it was on the eastern side of Sofia where we had not been before. But as he drove up the street, we couldn't find number 50.

Finally the driver parked the car, apologized to us, and got out to find someone who could locate number 50. (Of course all of this was in Bulgarian, you see). He got back in after a few minutes, and we turned the corner. and there it was.

Chalet Suisse (http://chaletsuisse.eu/index-en.html) is an authentic Swiss restaurant which opened in Sofia three months ago. Two of the owners are authentic Swiss, and by coincidence, they found a an almost authentic wooden house in the city and refurbished it to look like a mountain chalet. The menu is very fondue - of the cheese and chocolate kind. But now, for the first time, they had imported Ra…

Mt. Vitosha in the sunlight

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The night Jodie drank 2 Martinis and lost her chips in a hot game of poker

We've just gone through a few days of Bulgarian holidays. The first of March is bound up with ageless folklore and is called Granny March. Ahead of the day, the locals give each other red and white strings, tassels andother ornaments, which are worn on the wrist until one sights a stork or the first buds on a tree. As there aren't too many storks these days in Sofia, we have to hope the Spring comes quickly, or else these colorful bracelets will cut off circulation to our hands.

March 3 is Liberation Day here, marking 131 years since the country, with the aid of Russia and other allies, threw off the yoke of five centuries of Ottomon oppression. Last night there were some fireworks heard in the distance, but on the whole, except for skipping work for what was in essence a 4-day weekend, we are still not sure how, or if Bulgarians celebrated.

Last night, Jodie and I joined 5 other Israeli coworkers in a poker tournament. The buy-in was 20 Leva (about 50 shekels). It was the first…