Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Navigating Bulgaria by GPS

The first time we drove to the Rila Monastery, I couldn't find how to list it as the destination in our rental car's GPS. In the end I listed an address in the nearby town of Blagoevgrad. When we reached the turnoff to Rila on the main highway, I turned off the GPS.

Returning to Rila this month with our children, I programmed the GPS to take us to the Rilski Manastir, realizing that the instrument recognized the Bulgarian name. We followed its instructions and wandered through the foothills, a colorful detour until we reached the village of Rila. Going home we made sure to stick to the main road.

When we drove to Veliko Turnavo, I programmed the GPS for the Veliko Turnavo Hotel, having found this on a map in my guidebook to Bulgaria. Little did I know that this hotel had closed down, because when we followed the GPS's directions, we ended up on a dead end side street. Luckily the end of the street was just meters away from the city's Tourist Information Office, where we were able to pick up a city map and better information on how to get to Tsarevets. But the GPS had not yet had the last word.

Getting back in the car, and reversing down the hilly dead end street, the GPS went crazy. "Turn left," it said, in its woman's voice. "Turn right. Turn left, turn right!" We broke out in laughter.

Later in the day, having successfully found our way to the village of Arbanasi and the Shipka Pass without electronic instructions, I programmed the GPS for our home in Sofia. We headed down the mountains and entered the village of Shipka.

Following the instructions of the GPS, we ended up making a complete circle, and our car was facing the mountains again. The GPS wanted us to return up the road towards the Shipka Pass. I turned around, and headed towards the main highway, trusting my instinct instead.

"Turn around," the GPS said. "Make a U-turn now. Make a U-turn as soon as you can," it begged us. We continued towards Sofia, and finally the GPS gave up, accepting the navigational skills of mere humans. From that point forward, it was basically quiet as we drove towards Sofia.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On top of Mt. Vitosha

We had been living at the foot of Mt. Vitosha in Sofia for over half a year but finally had a chance to go to the top. We took the cable car from Simeonovo, a 30-minute ascent over the forested hillside. At the top it was quite cool, and our three children, who were used to the heat of Tel Aviv, were cold.

Later on Sunday afternoon we took the children to one other park in Sofia, the last of their sight-seeing before heading back to Israel on Monday morning. Until our next vacation with them!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shipka Pass

We drove higher and higher into the mountains until we reached historic Shipka Pass. It was here in the years 1877-1878 that Russian and Bulgarian troops were able to fight off the might of the Ottoman Empire and liberate the country. This is one of the most important sites to Bulgarians, and the views from on top the mountain are amazing.

Below = Merav and Reut in a fashion shoot.

All of old Bulgaria in one place = Etar Ethnographic museum

Eight kilometers south of the town of Gabrovo is the Etar Ethnographic museum complex. You can experience all of old Bulgaria in one place, from the colorful architecture of the late 1800s to the arts and crafts of the Bulgarian villages. Okay, so the houses here are not really from those years, or as impressive as what we had seen in Koprishtitsa or Plovdiv, but it was still a chance to show the children about Bulgaria.

The street in Etar was full of work shops = carpentry shops and iron smiths and water mills and more.

The village of Arbanasi

We drove north of Veliko Turnovo to the nearby village of Arbanasi, known for its 17th and 18th century churches and examples of Bulgarian National Revival architecture. After having lunch, we visited a house museum, similar to those that we had seen in Koprishtista.

Veliko Turnovo

On Saturday we left the house early and drove east to the historical city of Veliko Turnovo in central Bulgaria. Veliko Turnovo is famous as capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire during the Middle Ages. When we stopped at a Tourist Information Office in the center of the city and asked how to get to the old town, the girl responded that everywhere around us is the old town.

The main attraction in the city is Tsarevets, the hill which housed the palaces of the Bulgarian rulers. The fortications of this hill were quite impressive, but not much remained of the palaces. Entering the main gate we were greeted by a group of animated puppets, who told us the story of the hill in Hebrew! The man and woman who ran this tourist trap spoke some Hebrew and apparently Emmanuel Halperin's voice was used for one of the puppets.

This royal cat, in a former life, belonged to one of the rulers of Bulgaria.

At the top of the hill is the Patriarch’s Palace, which was restored in 1981. Erez and I took the Panoramic Elevator to the top to enjoy the view.

The entrance walkway to Tsarevets.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our Children in Sofia

On Friday we stayed close to home. We took the children to visit our offices and then we headed into the center of the city. The synagogue was closed as it is being renovated, so we weren't able to go inside. We walked around the indoor shopping market, saw the guards standing outside the President's Office, and stopped to admire the golden domes of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

After lunch at the Victoria Restaurant, we headed home and later in the afternoon we took a stroll through Yuzhen Park.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our Children Visit Bulgaria = Rila

At long last our children were able to come visit us in Bulgaria, to see our home and experience a bit of the life we're living in the Balkans. Reut (29), Merav (27), and Erez (26) arrived on Wednesday night, and unfortunately Reut's husband, Nir, was unable to join them on this trip.

On Thursday, we drove south from Sofia in our rented car and went into the Rila Mountains.

We had already visited the stunning Rila Monastery once, but it is one of the main attractions and because of all the visitors, it is considered the Jerusalem of Bulgaria.

Retracing our steps from our previous visit, we bought a jar of honey at a roadside stand and stopped for lunch along the banks of the river. Only Erez agreed to try the grilled trout, but everybody enjoyed the sheep's yoghurt with jam and honey.

Above = Erez and Jodie. Below = Merav and Ellis.

Below = Ellis and Reut.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Street Scenes

Random photographs from our street. The first one shows the name = Dimitar Hadzhikotsev Street.

The pothole in the intersection right outside our building. This was filled in just the other day.

The wiring along the street. This can't be safe!

There are many fruit trees along the street and in the neighborhood = apples, plums, cherries. Here are grapes on the vine.

An old-style apartment building on the street, with a Russian-made Moskvich car parked in front.

Old and new. While there are many modern apartment buildings in the neighborhood, there are also relics from the past.

At the end of the street, Yuzhen Park. Berries!

Yuzhen Park is green, with a stream and pathways through the woods. Plenty of benches, and on weekends, full of people.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jodie's Birthday in Bulgaria

Yesterday I celebrated my first birthday in Bulgaria.

Although I no longer work on Fridays, I decided to go to my office, and bring in some refreshments, as is the local custom. So, on Thursday evening, I baked a cake – for only the second time since I’ve been here. It’s not always easy trying to identify the local products and match them to the products that I’m familiar with. In addition, I don’t have all the necessary kitchen appliances that I’m used to. I decided to make my mother-in-law’s chocolate cake – still the best one that I know – and for this, I used a can of the applesauce that our friends Yossi and Sharon so kindly brought to us from Israel, since there is no applesauce to be found in Bulgaria!

The cake was successful, but I ran into problems when it came to making the icing – the beaters that I have didn’t attach properly to the wand, and there was only one speed, so all of a sudden, I had cocoa flying all over my counter and walls – resulting in my having to finish preparing the icing by hand….But, the end result was still good.

I brought the refreshments to work, where I met up with my fellow co-worker, Tony, who was also celebrating his birthday yesterday. We had already decided in advance as to the division of the goodies, and I think we had a nice spread to share with everyone – the cake was a success.

My friend Monica gave me a rose bush plant – keeping with the tradition of bringing flowers, and also, the Bulgarian love of roses. It’s now brightening up my table at home.

But, I have to mention the very special gift that Tony brought for me – he has a friend who makes models of the old-style Bulgarian homes that you can see in some of the villages, and he brought me a model of one of these homes – it is absolutely beautiful -so much attention to detail – a real memory to always cherish of our time in Bulgaria.

I continued my day by treating myself to a manicure and pedicure, and Ellis and I had a nice dinner out at a local restaurant - Checkpoint Charlie - that we hadn’t been to before - good food, although the service was slow – but we were in no hurry, so we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves!

It was great hearing from all my family and friends, and your good wishes were much appreciated!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jodie is in Bulgaria legally!

Well , of course she is, but it was a long process that only just ended this week when Jodie was issued her Card of Foreigner Residing for Long Time in the Republic of Bulgaria, good for one year.

My company had much more experience in the Bulgarian absorption process, but Jodie's company did things a little more slowly. In both cases, the process was basically the same.

When you arrive in Bulgaria, you're allowed to stay for a period of 90 days. To get an extension, you need to submit a request at the Bulgarian Embassy in your home country (Tel Aviv). That is ready after some 21 days, although it took much longer for Jodie's. The extension is good for 6 months, but during that period you must go to the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior.

Three visits to the Ministry are required, and you must go with a Bulgarian speaker! The first time you submit your application for a visa extension, on the second visit you get your extension (now good for a year) and submit two pictures, and on the third visit you get your Card.

When leaving or returning to Bulgaria, we present our Bulgarian ID card at Passport Control. Jodie has nothing to fear, because like me, she is here legally at last!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dealing with a Bulgarian speaking plumber

A week ago, Jodie noticed that the wall in the hallway leading to our bedroom was a bit damp, directly behind the kitchen sink. We had Marina, the office assistant who handles our affairs, call the landlord, and the landlord visited our apartment to assess the damage.

On Friday, Jodie stayed home in the morning waiting for the plumber to arrive. He showed up, and didn't speak a word of English. However, looking under the sink he knew what the problem was, and using phone calls to Marina as an intermediary, informed Jodie that he had to go out to buy parts.

The plumber switched a small faucet, which apparently had been leaking into the wall. He left, and Jodie went to work, assuming that our problems were over.

On Saturday morning, Jodie put up a load of laundry, only to notice that water was leaking under the woodwork onto the kitchen floor. A look under the sink revealed that the plumber had neglected to connect up the drainage pipe.

We called Marina and she called the landlord. The landlord's plumber could not be reached, so Marina found an alternative, and the landlord agreed. This new plumber showed up, of course not speaking a word of English. There is only so much you can explain in broken Bulgarian and hand signals, even though the word problem is exactly the same in both languages. Through Marina's translations over the phone, we learned that not only was the drainage pipe not connected, but that the drain was clogged.

A short while later, after some plumber magic, we were connected again and clog-free. This plumber was quite professional, and checked to ensure that the washing machine was draining properly.

We said, "Blagoderiya" and the plumber left. We could finally begin our weekend!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Purse Snatched!

Jodie's purse was stolen last night. Okay, look on the bright side. I never give her much money, she didn't have her passport in it, and afterwards we immediately canceled her credit cards. But she will still need to get new mobile phones (Israeli and Bulgarian), new driving license, health card, prescription sunglasses. Very annoying. Especially since Jodie had already been a victim of Bulgarian pickpocketing.

Okay, go back two days in time. Jodie started coming to work with her infamous red purse, the one the gypsies liked so much. I asked her why, and she said she needed a change and she was watching her purse carefully.

Yesterday evening we were about to go to the mall for a quick dinner and shopping. I told Jodie she hadn't zipped up her red purse. She did, saying she would have done so anyway when we left our building. Fast forward to the very, very crowded Food Court. We are sitting down, side by side, eating tasteless KFC, when I asked Jodie where her purse was. She moved it from the back of her chair on outer side of the table, to between the two of us. No more than 3 minutes passed, I swear, and I asked her again, where her purse was. And this time it was gone.

The security guards at the mall were worthless. Really, I have no idea what they are supposed to do. It took some time until we found one who spoke English. He never asked us what was in Jodie's purse. The guard never took our address or contact details, in case they would afterwards find the purse. He told me to come back an hour later as they have security cameras. In the meantime, I searched every bathroom and stairwell in that mall, looking for a dumped purse. Nothing.

An hour later I came back, but the guards on duty had all changed. Finally the guy in charge arrived and said I would have to go to the police station. One of the guards walked with me 15 minutes to the nearest station. To cut a long story short, they said I would need to come back in the morning with a translator from the embassy. In my broken Bulgarian I explained that it was not a big problem, no important documents were taken, and that our credit cards were "closed". And there was no security footage to view, and even so, what would it have helped? I told Jodie that she, and me, are such obvious targets.

We are lucky this didn't happen in Bucharest. Jodie had started to carry a smaller, more secure purse, so I don't know why she went back to the red one so loved by gypsies and thieves.

In Jodie's defense = she had been following the Bulgarian custom of not putting your purse on the floor due to the local belief that this would result in her fortunes being carried away. We described this custom in a previous post. Next time she vows to put her purse on the floor, tightly held betwen her feet. That is the only way to make sure her fortunes don't get carried away.