Friday, December 31, 2010

Carrefour Days


In mid December, our offices moved to The Mall, the fourth and biggest mall in Sofia. This mall is also known as Carrefour, as that is the main store there. Carrefour is a huge supermarket, clothing goods store, electronics shop, and more, all rolled into one. And that is just one of the stores in The Mall.

Our offices were in one of the buildings alongside The Mall. I (Ellis) was no longer able to walk to work, as getting there was a 20 minute taxi ride at best, and a burden that could be more than an hour in the evening traffic. The new offices were very nice. Jodie's company was on the 8th floor, while my company was on the 5th floor. We tried out the many different restaurants in the fast food court during our lunch breaks.

Our Carrefour days are over now, as Thursday was our last day of work and we begin our preparations for our upcoming return to Israel.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sofia at Christmas Time




Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Good Lunch at JJ Murphy's


Another restaurant on our list of must-try dining experiences in Sofia was finally visited this past Sunday. JJ Murphy's is a very authentic Irish pub in the center of the city and we had lunch there.

Jodie had the Leprauchan Burger and I had the Steak Sandwich. We had a side order of Onion Rings which topped off the good food. To drink, Jodie had a Guinness while I went for a half pint of Murphys Stout.

(And, by the way, the sign pictured in the previous post is in the building entrance just across the street).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

If You Just Visited the Bar Across the Street...


Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Only Snow Left is On Mt. Vitosha


Friday, December 24, 2010

Pigeons


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bulgarian Humor = Traffic Cop Stops Car

A Bulgarian traffic policeman pulls over a car for speeding.

"You were driving with 60 km/h, and there is 50-km/h limit here!" the officer tells the driver.

"No, I was driving 40 km/h," the driver starts arguing.

"I can show you what the radar detected!" retorts the officer, already getting upset.

The driver's wife speaks from the back seat, "There is no point, officer - when my husband is drunk it is really no use arguing with him!"


From the Sofia News Agency.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Scenes from a Snowy Park




Monday, December 20, 2010

Talking on Cell Phone While Sledding Down a Hill


Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the Snowy Streets of Sofia


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Approaches in Bulgaria

The special Christmas tram on Vitosha:







Thursday, December 16, 2010

December Snow







Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moroccan Dining in Sofia

Despite the -5 degrees Celsius on Sunday, we took a long walk with the successful goal of buying me jeans. After completing this purchase at a shop below the NDK plaza, Jodie agreed to continue walking towards the center of the city.

Eventually we found ourselves on Angel Kunchev Street and this time we were able to try out Annette, Sofia's Morrocan restaurant. We were the only lunchtime diners and enjoyed the ambience that was, well, very Moroccan in style. We found so many tasty dishes listed on the menu, attributed to the owner's mother's original Moroccan recipes. But as we were there for lunch, we selected sandwiches.

I had a pita meatball sandwich; the pita was also filled with aubergines, carrots and a tomato paste. Jodie chose the pita with falafel, tahina, and aubergines. Our sandwiches were served with a very tasty green salad. We drank homemade lemonade. The food was very good and we may end up returning to try Annette's main courses.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Technicians - Part 2

As I mentioned last week, we were having problems with our televeision reception, and had to have the cable guys out here twice last weekend to fix the problem. Although they restored most of the channels, they still left us with poor reception on a few, since it was "raining".

We had good reception on all of the channels for a couple days, but as the weather became more unpredictable, so did the reception - until we lost all reception on any channel above 28. This, by the way, was true only in the evening, when we're actually home and want to watch TV - during the day, the reception was just fine.

After another call to the cable guys, they promised to contact us on Friday, which they finally did at around 5:00 pm - promising to come out the next morning at 11:00. Of course, at this point, we had perfect reception on all the channels, as the weather was clear and crisp outside.

The two technicians showed up the next day at 10:40, turned on our TV, and then went to find the key to the roof. One went up to the roof, and the other was busy at the box outside our front door. And that was the last we ever saw of them!

An hour later, we were wondering if they were still around - should we stay home, or could we go out (actually it was much too cold to go out, but we wondered in principle if we could leave the house). We watched some TV, we had our lunch, and 2 1/2 hours later, we heard them again outside our front door, and then, I guess they were gone. They never came back into our house to check the reception and make sure that everything was working ok. But, when we checked the signal on the menu, we saw that it was at least 50% stronger than it had been before they came, so, hopefully, this time they got it right, and the signal will hold even in the bad weather!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Farewell to Mandarin

Since our arrival in Sofia, Ellis and I have been working in the Mandarin Office Center. This constitutes 2 very modern glass buildings which house quite a number of businesses, including a few connected Israeli businesses.

We have enjoyed working at Mandarin. Aside from the modern offices, the building is fairly close to where we live - a 7 min. taxi ride for me (if there isn't too much traffic) and a 25 min. walk for Ellis.

In a desire to have all the connected companies closer to each other, and with more office space than is currently available (companies are split between different floors and buildings), it was decided to move all the companies to new offices. The new offices are next to the third largest mall in Sofia, and near the airport. This will mean a much longer trip to and from work each day, and Ellis will have to come with me in the taxi, as it is too far to walk.

My company is moving out this weekend, and we will all meet at the new offices on Monday morning. Ellis's company will be moving in the middle of next week. So - yesterday, I packed my desk and bade farewell to the Mandarin Office Center. And farewell also to our favorite restaurants where we have enjoyed many lunches - Rainbow, Dobro and La Pastaria.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the Last Night of Hanukkah

This evening, members from Bulgaria's Chabad Jewish Community Center came to our office building for a Hanukkah candlelighting ceremony. They knew that there are many Israelis working in our building and this was their way of ensuring that as many Jews as possible observed the mitzvah of lighting the Hanukkah candles.

Many curious Bulgarians from the various companies in our building also joined the ceremony and heard an explanation about Hanukkah. The blessings were recited and the candles on the Hanukkiah were lit. Traditional Sufganiyot doughnuts were given out to all (very small and with no traces of jam inside).

Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Technicians

Recently, we've had problems with some of our channels on TV, with poor or no signal, which comes and goes at will. This, of course, always happens at the most tense moment of the show that you happen to be watching.

After extremely strong winds last week, we lost all of our channels totally. I called the satellite company, and managed to find someone who spoke English. She very nicely listened to the problem, and asked me to hold while she put me through to the service dept. I was connected to someone who also spoke some English, and who walked me through a series of steps and menus on the TV to restore our signal. This worked for channels 1-12, but all the channels above that still had no signal. After trying a few more things, I was told that someone would contact us in the next 3 days, and come and realign the satellite.

On the third day, after still no word from the company, I called again, and got the same, pleasant speaking English speaker that I spoke to a few nights earlier. She was surprised to hear that we still hadn't heard from the technicians, and promised to get back to me and let me know when they were coming.

A couple of hours later, she called to tell me that they were on their way, and shortly afterwards, 2 technicians showed up at the house. They spoke little English, turned on the TV and tried to show me that it was all working. I then directed them to the Hallmark channel (which has recently become Diva Universal), and they saw that there was still no signal. From there on, it seemed like they were playing a guessing game - they were looking for something behind the wall unit that the TV is on, they looked for the satellite - went out onto our other porch, and upstairs to the roof. They played with the box outside our front door. They kept coming back to the TV, and trying different menus and calling people on the phone and playing with the menus again. At this point, none of the channels were working.

After looking behind the wall unit again, and speaking to someone on the phone while playing some more with the menus, they informed me that someone would call us the next day (Sat) about the TV. I looked at them and said - "But now there's no TV" - they agreed with me - "no TV". I looked at them and said " But, when you came, there was some TV - now there's no TV". Again, they agreed - "no TV". I asked them if they couldn't at least return the channels that I had before they came, and I was told that they couldn't - "no TV", and they left.

The company actually called us that evening at 8:30 (while we were enjoying our lovely dinner at the restaurant) to tell us that they would come the next day around 12:30. Quite amazingly, they did come on time, and proceeded to change the cable and get the TV up and running again.

Before they left, I asked to check the Hallmark channel - and dicovered that this channel still had no signal (as you can guess, this is a channel that I actually watch, so it was important to me that it would be working!). Their answer - the rain is inteferring right now with the signal, which is why it wasn't working..... Amazingly, after the rain stopped, the signal was restored, and the channel is working again. At least, until the next time that it rains.....

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Armenian Dining in Sofia at Egur, Egur

On the occasion of my birthday, Jodie and I made reservations at Egur, Egur, an Armenian restaurant in Sofia. We didn't know what to expect but we had heard good reviews of the place. Egur means "come" in Armenian, so we felt we were being invited to try something new.

A taxi navigated the narrow one-way streets in the center of the city and dropped us off in front of the restaurant. We felt like we were walking into someone's home, as the dining areas were separate rooms and we had a table reserved in the non-smoking area. There was a piano along one wall and everywhere there were framed sheets of music. The waiter brought us the English language menus as well as some "welcome bread" (similar to pita) and small bowls of cheese.

Everything on the menu sounded so interesting, and different from what we were used to eating, however Jodie's plan to start with Olive Soup met with an apology from the waiter. Soups were only served at lunchtime.

Jodie started with a plate of stuffed grape leaves, which were unusual because the stuffing included cinnamon and raisins. My starter was called the Golden Dobrudzha. Dobrudzha is the name of the grain-producing region of northeastern Bulgaria, and also the name of the street on which the Egur, Egur restaurant is located. This starter was a plate of small grains mixed with onion, garlic, parsley and olives. Both Jodie and I enjoyed these dishes.

For her main course, Jodie selected the Lamb Roll, which was garnished with a green salad and another grain dish. I chose the Duck Fillet with Forest Mushrooms and a side dish of "Homemade Potatoes", wondering how they made these potatoes themselves! We were both extremely pleased with the food, which was filling and very tasty.

The minute we had sat down at our table, the waiter filled our glasses with cold water, which he continued to pour throughout the meal. We selected a small bottle of red No Man's Land wine (from Bulgaria) to accompany our meal, and the waiter made sure our glasses were never empty.

We still had room for dessert! Jodie has taken a liking to Baklava since our arrival in Bulgaria, and that is what she chose. I took the cool Ice Cream Cake. We were both stuffed when the dishes were cleared.

The entire bill came to 78 Levas including the wine, which we thought was quite reasonable, and we gladly added a tip to show our appreciation for a very good meal.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bulgarian Firefighters Arrive in Israel to Fight Fire

According to media reports both here and in Israel, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry announced late on Thursday that some 90 Bulgarian firefighters will fly to Israel at the order of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to help combat the fire on the Carmel. Later, the Ministry said the operation was called off but the firemen did leave for Israel eventually. This morning the Israeli media reported that the firefighters had arrived in Israel.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Israel and to those affected by this horrific fire.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jewish Preschool Dedicated in Sofia on Chanukah

On the eve of the first night of Chanukah, a new Jewish preschool was dedicated in Sofia. Gan Balagan is a collaborative project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Shalom, Bulgarian Jewry's social and cultural organization. Gan Balagan is the first Jewish preschool to open its doors in the city in the more than half a century since the "Anna Ventura" school property was confiscated from the Jewish community by the government in 1958.

Gan Balagan is located in the Beit Shalom Jewish Community Center across from the Sofia synagogue and caters to more than 20 children, ages 2-5 years. The preschool provides the children with kosher meals, Hebrew and Jewish education, and Jewish-themed toys.

More information can be found on the JDC website.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bulgarian Humor = Romantic Bulgarian Men

A Bulgarian woman is talking to her fiance.

"Honey, my eyes are blue like the pretty sky, right?"

"Umm, yeah...," said her beloved man.

"And my lips are like the blossom of a rose, right?"

"Aha..."

"Oh, dear, how much I love it when you say such romantic, poetic things to me."

From the Sofia News Agency.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Riding the Tram


After living in Sofia for close to two years, Ellis and I decided that it was time to try riding the tram. Ellis had already purchased 10 tickets at 1 leva each over 6 months ago, but somehow, we never seemed to actually have the chance to use them.

So, on Sunday, we took the plunge and caught the tram near our house, in order to go to another mall to see a movie.

The Number 6 arrived, and we got on the tram, and looked around for where we were supposed to punch our tickets, since we knew that this was not done by the driver. We saw one box that looked promising, but there was no place to put the ticket. Another, different looking box was also a false lead. Finally, one woman pointed out a small, old looking metal box which was attached to the space between two windows. Ellis put in his ticket, and pressed, but nothing really happened except for some round indentations that appeared on the ticket. He then did the same with my ticket, and we went to sit down further along in the carriage.

As we were riding, Ellis noticed that another woman put her ticket into a different box near where we were sitting, and she actually had a hole punched in hers. So, he took out our tickets and repunched them, and felt very pleased. And then the inspector arrived...

The inspector looked at our tickets, and was very confused, as there were "many marks". We tried to explain to her in English that we had first punched the tickets in one box, and then in another - and she kept looking at them and saying "many marks". Ellis then managed to explain in rudimentary Bulgarian that this was the first time that we were riding the tram, and we didn't really know what to do. Someone else also explained to the inspector, and she finally agreed to accept our tickets this time. Apparently, each box has a different pattern of dots and punch, and by punching our tickets in 2 different boxes, we confused the system... From what we've heard, the fine for not paying, or using an invalid ticket is 10 leva - or 10 times the price of a normal ticket.

We were expecting an electronic punch for our tickets, but instead had a very simple hole punch. I have heard that there are newer trams with electronic punches, but obviously not on all of them. There are also trams that you can purchase the ticket when you get on, and not have to buy them in advance.

Some people have magnetic cards which are prepaid for a certain number of trips, or for a certain period. We saw a couple people who swiped these cards in front of one of the other boxes.
But, a lot of people don't pay at all - until they see the inspector coming, in which case there is a mad scramble to punch your ticket before the inspector reaches you!

Coming back, we were impressed with the electronic sign that let you know when the next tram for each of the different lines was due. This was at a busy stop, where a lot of different trams passed. One of the things that we noticed at this stop, was how difficult it was for older, infirm people to climb up the very high steps to get on the tram.

The tram is obviously the cheapest means of transportation, but there is a lot that needs to be done to also make it a more modern and comfortable ride. Still, we're glad we finally tried it, and hope that we'll be able to use up our tickets while we're still here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Movie "Red" in Bulgaria

Jodie and I went to see the movie "Red," starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, and Helen Mirren. The movie was an action thriller with a very strong dose of humor and we enjoyed it.

In English, "Red" stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous, which referred to the fact that Willis and friends were former CIA agents who suddenly found themselves once again involved in an operation.

In Bulgarian, the name of the film was "БСП - Бесни Страшни Пенсии" which means "BSP - Furious Frightful Pensioners". BSP is also a mock title referring to the abbreviation of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Its political color is red and its voters are mainly elder and retired people - just like the "reds" in the film.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bulgarian Restaurant Service

The service in Bulgarian restaurants never ceases to amaze me - both for the good and the bad. We have been to average restaurants where the service is quite professional, and fancier restaurants where the service has been poor. There doesn't seem to be any real logic in it.

Some of the things that we have experienced:

1. Some waiters bring you your drink, open the bottle, put one hand behind their back, and pour your drink for you. They will then close the bottle and leave it next to your glass. Some of them will watch your glass and refill it when needed. Sometimes it seems that this is done solely so that they can remove the bottle from your table as they walk by.

2. One of my major issues regarding service, is the order in which your courses are brought out. Many restaurants will bring out your food according to whenever it is ready, as for example:

  • Your order is ready, but your companion's is not. This leads you to either start eating so that your food won't get cold, or, to sit and stare at your food until your companion's meal arrives.

  • You are eating your first course, and before you have finished, your second course arrives and is left on the table, in order that it has plenty of time to cool off by the time you finish eating your first course.

  • Sometimes, both of the above happen before your companion has even received his first course. This leads to an exciting meal of each of you watching the other eat while waiting for your food, or else digesting your food after you finished your meal.

  • Sometimes, second courses are brought out before the first.

3. Waiters always seem to be in a hurry to clear away your dishes. Quite frequently, this has left me holding a piece of bread or pizza that I was eating, and no place to put it down, since my plate has already been cleared away. This also holds true for napkins, which leaves me taking another clean napkin, since my (perfectly good) napkin was already cleared.

A couple more things in general regarding Bulgarian restaurants:

I believe that all waiters in Bulgaria are taught to say "Here you are" ("Zapovyadeti" in Bulgarian) with each item that they bring to your table.

EVERY restaurant, no matter what type of restaurant it is (even Chinese!), will always have Shopska Salad on the menu (the national Bulgarian salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions, with a mountain of grated white cheese on top).

Bread is generally not provided at meals. If you want bread, you will be asked how many slices you want, as you pay by the slice.

Despite, or because of, the above,we still enjoy eating out in Bulgaria. We have come to enjoy the professional service when we encounter it, and to laugh and go along with it whenever some of the more unprofessional service comes our way. If you can't beat them, join them!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sofia Restaurant Reviews

Jodie and I continue with our efforts to sample the cuisine in as many of Sofia's fine dining establishments as possible. Here are three of our recent findings.



We stopped in at The Fox & Hound on Angel Kanchev Street for a Sunday lunch recently. This is an Irish pub and we both had Kilkenny ale to accompany our meal. While I enjoyed my fish and chips, Jodie was a bit disappointed with the Fox & Hound burger, which was served without a bun.

We had previously dined at La Pastaria in Varna, where we enjoyed a luxurious dinner on our recent weekend there. We knew that La Pastaria had another of its Italian restaurants in a neighborhood not far from our office, so last week we went there for lunch. The noon time menu was just as good as what we remembered from Varna, and there was a special business lunch offer for under 10 Leva. We both ate the delicious vegetable lasagna of the day and we plan to eat there again.

This past Saturday we again went for a walk on Angel Kanchev Street and this time we stopped for lunch at The Olive Garden. The Olive Garden is a Mediterranean restaurant that serves delicious pastas and other interesting selections. I started with the tomato soup and then had the spinach penne pasta. Jodie started with a tabuli salad which was a little overladen with parsley, and then she had the steak sandwich. She said the steak could have been served a little rarer. What was nice about this restaurant is that they serve many of their dishes in lunch-size portions, with lowered prices to match.

Where will we dine next?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Cats of Bulgaria = Sofia Window Sill


Friday, November 19, 2010

We Dine at the Contessa

I had previously written of my efforts to find the Contessa Restaurant in September, when Jodie was in Israel. Last Saturday, we decided to go there for lunch. We also were determined to travel there by tram, as we have lived near a tram line for nearly two years yet have never traveled on one.

We waited at the tram stop for about 10 minutes, wondering why it was so late in coming, and also why there was no one else waiting for it. I noticed a paper pasted on top of the tram schedule, and while I couldn't read it all, I saw that dates were listed. Apparently the line was closed for a ten-day period.

This turned out to indeed be the case. When we walked over to the City Center Sofia Mall we saw tractors digging up the tram lines there. We got into a taxi instead and took it to 76 Pirotska Street. And that is where we finally found the Contessa.


The waitress handed us menus and we were about to ask if she had menus in English when we noticed something very strange. The menus were listed in Hebrew! As noted in my September posting, the restaurant is located right near Sofia's Jewish School, and apparently they get quite a few Jewish visitors.

We chose shnitzel and chips, and it was very good! The portions were so large that we took home enough for another meal.

Now that we know where the Contessa is, and how good the food is, hopefully we'll be going back!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Cats of Bulgaria = Varna


Monday, November 15, 2010

Bulgarian Humor = Rakia

A middle aged Bulgarian family. The wife starts shouting at her husband at 2 in the morning:

"I left two bottles of rakia in the fridge! Why is there one bottle left?!"

"Because I didn't see the second one," explains the husband.

From the Sofia News Agency.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dobrich, Bulgaria

We drove north of Varna to the small town of Dobrich, located in the Dobrudzha, Bulgaria's main grain producing region. We found the town to be quite laid back, with a very large pedestrian zone and a beautiful central park.


Dobrich has a recreated "old town", with crafts shops showing how various products are made. Unfortunately, all these shops were closed on the weekend. And, the town's museums were also closed.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Varna's Cathedral of the Assumption

Friday, November 12, 2010

Who Enjoys the Varna Beach in November?

The answer to that question can be seen in these photographs.



Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Beautiful Cape Kaliakra


According to a Bulgarian legend, during the Ottoman conquest forty local maidens tied their hair together and jumped from the rocks of Cape Kaliakra to the sea below in order to escape being raped at the hands of the Turks.

Today, Cape Kaliakra, on a rocky, narrow peninsula jutting into the Black Sea north of Varna, is highly revered by the locals for its beautiful scenery more than its history serving as a fortress in both Roman and Byzantine times.


There is a connection to more recent history at the cape, as it overlooks the area of the Black Sea where two important naval battles took place. In 1791, the Russian navy defeated the Turkish fleet here. And more recently, the Bulgarian navy sunk the Ottoman gunship Hamidie here in 1912. In one of the caves on the cape there is a museum which marks these naval battles, but unfortunately it was closed when we visited.


And finally, two more legends about Cape Kaliakra. Muslims believe that one of the caves contains the grave of Sari Saltuk, a mystical Turkish hero who came here to kill a seven-headed dragon and rescue two of the sultan's daughters. As for Christians, there is a claim that the cape marks the final resting place of St. Nicholas, the savior of seafarers from shipwreck and the saint who guides fishermen towards their prey. From atop the rocky cape we could see small fishing boats dotting the sea, but no dragons, seven-headed or otherwise, were to be seen.




Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wind Power

It was not particularly a windy day as we drove north along the Black Sea coast, but the wind turbines we saw lined up in rows across the fields were turning slowly, generating power.


We arrived at the Kaliakra Cape, and the wind turbines provided a fitting background to the views.

The stunning shoreline at the cape.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Balchik = Summer Home of the Romanian Queen

We drove north of Varna along the Black Sea coast to the small town of Balchik. The town itself doesn't have much in the way of beaches but its claim to fame is that it served as the summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania, when that country ruled this part of Bulgaria before 1940. Marie, a granddaughter of England's Queen Victoria, started the construction of a palace here in 1936. Today you can visit the palace and the adjacent botanical gardens.


Below is the guardhouse at the entrance to the palace grounds.


The palace grounds are like a small park, with many paths, a waterfall, a stream, all leading down to the Black Sea shore.


We tasted sweet wine (with very strong tastes of honey and almonds). Some of the below bottles may have been from the queen's personal collection.


Overlooking the Black Sea. Queen Marie loved her palace in Balchik so much that she asked for her heart to be kept there after her death. This wish was fulfilled, but in 1941, the area was returned to Bulgaria, and the queen's last remains were moved to Bran Castle in Romania.



The queen's palace was was a very modest villa topped by a minaret. It is not a mosque. According to the guidebook we read, the queen may have adhered to the Bahai faith, or alternatively she may have had a Turkish lover. All the pictures we saw of her walking around the Balchik gardens showed her head covered by a scarf.