Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stray Dogs Enter Zoo, Kill Mouflon

We actually learned about this breaking news story after it was reported on television in Israel. But we have been aware of the many stray dogs on the streets here for a long time. They all appear to be from the same breed = a cross between the Cananaanite and a German Shephard. We had never given these dogs, which sometimes run around in packs, too much thought. But now they are in the news.

The director of Sofia's zoo says a pack of stray dogs killed 13 of its animals. Zoo director Ivan Ivanov says an unknown number of dogs leapt through a fence and attacked eight mouflon, four fallow deer and a doe.
Associated Press, January 30, 2010

The mouflon, by the way, is a subspecies group of the wild sheep Ovis aries. According to the zoo director, the recent cold temperatures and hunger drove the usually placid stray dogs into the zoo on their attack.

But according to the Sofia News Agency, "veterinarians discovered six rabid dogs in the moat of the fallow deer space in Sofia Zoo. The rabid stray dogs were picked up by the Sofia Municipality firm, Ekoravnovesie."

We will continue to keep our distance from the stray dogs on the streets of Sofia.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chicken in a Bulgarian Pot

Jodie was eager to try out the new Bulgarian ceramic pot we had recently bought, so she prepared in it our Shabbat dinner. The recipe she found was not exactly local, but it did come out quite tasty. Jodie prepared for us Crock Pot Polynesian Chicken and cooked it to perfection.

We were lucky that the pot fit in our small oven, but getting it into our tiny refrigerator was not even considered. Luckily the weather is quite accommodating these January nights, so we put the leftovers outside on our porch where the temperatures were close to freezing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pod Lipite = Under the Linden Trees

Everyone seems to know Pod Lipite, one of the best folk-style restaurants in Sofia. When Jodie gave the address to the taxi company, they immediately knew where we were going to dine. The restaurant has been a landmark site in the city since 1926. We went there Thursday night with our friends Victor and Vicky.

Pod Lipite means "Under the Linden Trees", a name given to the place by famous Bulgarian author Elin Pelin, whose name is now the name of the street itself. Although the menus we received were in English, the history of the place was written in an imperfect, Bulgarian folk-style sort of way. "This pub has been part of the everyday life of those, who are no doubt given a honoured place at the Bulgarian classics nowadays." The restaurant itself was in an old house with stone walls and wooden fixtures.

Our friends helped us with our selection of dinner, as there were not too many non-pork items on the menu. Jodie enjoyed her Spinach Soup, while I opted for a Lamb Kurban Soup, and our friends started with Tripe Soup. We all shared a number of Bulgarian salads, included eggplant balls and a village salad. For the main course, our original choices were not available so Jodie and I shared a sizzling hot dish of chicken and vegetables. We couldn't go without dessert = homemade icecream for Jodie and biscuit cake for me. All this and wine and water, and our share of the bill came to a very reasonable 65 Leva.

The restaurant was crowded with both locals and some tourists, who came to get a taste of true Bulgarian cuisine. The entertainment was only a short few minutes of bagpipe music and singing, straight from the Rhodope Mountains, but the atmosphere and food made the evening a very unique cultural experience.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More Bulgarian Humor = Bulgarian Customs

David Copperfield was heading for a performance in Bulgaria. However, he was stopped at the Bulgarian border by Bulgarian customs officers who started to search him thoroughly.

"Don't you recognize me?! I am the world famous illusionist David Copperfield!" And to prove his point he made a few tricks for the customs officer.

"This is nothing," said the Bulgarian customs officer. - "Do you see that truck over there? It is carrying cigarettes."

"Yes," said David Copperfield.

The customs officer pulled out a seal, blew at it, sealed and signed some kind of a document.

"Now it is carrying canned food," the Bulgarian customs officer declared complacently.

Sofia Morning News

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A “Fancy” Restaurant

One of our favorite restaurants that Ellis and I like to eat at, is “Fancy”, at the mall near our home.

“Fancy” is part of a chain, with restaurants all over Bulgaria. It isn’t actually a “fancy” restaurant, but, on the menu, you will probably find something that “tickles your fancy”. They have a very varied menu, with some of the usual salads, pastas and pizzas, but also some healthy choices and more unusual items. Monday nights are sushi nights.

But the best part of the “Fancy” dining experience is the monthly cuisine from another country. Every month, they offer a special menu featuring around 8 dishes from a selected country – usually including a soup, salads, a main dish or two, and desserts. In addition, they offer the beer of the country, served in the proper beer glasses for that particular beer. Since we’ve been here, we’ve seen menus from the Czech Republic, USA, Germany, France, Argentina and more. This month’s menu is from Ireland, and Ellis and I enjoyed a dinner of Sheppard’s Pie with Murphy’s Red beer.

The restaurant is always busy. The waiters and waitresses are always very pleasant, and the chain offers a discount card of 10% for steady customers. The noise level and cigarette smoke doesn’t make it the choice for a quiet, relaxing meal out, but if you want good food, a varied menu where everyone can find something depending on their mood, then “Fancy” is the place to go.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bulgarian Humor = Chasing Highway Robbers

A police officer tells a colleague about a lengthy special operation for the arrest of highway robbers that took place in parts of Southern Bulgaria.

"So those gangsters managed to get away at first, and made it to the mountain villages... hiding there... It was terrible... We had to chase them around for an entire week. And the worst part was there was nothing to drink - no beer, no wine, no rum, no cognac..."

"What about water??", his colleague asked.

"What do you mean - "water"? We didn't even think about showering in such a kind of tense situation!..."

Sofia Morning News

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bulgarian Ceramic Pottery

On Sunday we went to the Ladies Market in Sofia for a stop at a stall selling Bulgarian ceramic pottery. Jodie has already mastered cooking some dishes in the ceramic pots already in our collection, but there's always room for new items.

Our friends Sima and Shlomo regularly stop at this particular stall, and the couple there not only gave us good prices, but made sure that each of our selections was without flaws.

Jodie saw a wide ceramic pot that she liked, and which she noted would be more practical than the one we already own for cooking a chicken dinner. "We'll get it the next time," she commented, but I said, "Why not now?" We ended up with a set of six colorful soup bowls, a salad dish, a wide cooking dish, and the big pot, all at a very good price.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Chinese Market

On Sunday we went with our friends Sima and Shlomo to the northern neighborhoods of Sofia to an outdoor shopping bazaar known as the Chinese Market. Stokov Bazaar, or Ilientsi, is a huge area of stalls selling everything from kitchen appliances, toys, clothing, and car parts, and at very cheap prices. Many of the shopkeepers were indeed Chinese, and it was interesting to see so many Orientals in one place, speaking Bulgarian.

We managed to buy a few things we needed but it was hard to fully enjoy the experience as it was freezing cold. Either the cold, or the after-Christmas mood kept the crowds away, because we heard that the bazaar attracts many Sofia shoppers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Indian and Nepali Cooking in our Neighborhood

I had discovered this restaurant a few blocks away from our home awhile back, but the last time Jodie had come along and climbed the many stairs leading to Gurkha, the restaurant was closed.

Today I ventured out into the cold by myself, and when I saw the "Open" sign on the door, I returned home and convinced Jodie to join me.

Gurkha serves food from all over Asia, with an accent on northern Indian and Nepali cuisine. The restaurant is in an old house and we sat near the fireplace. The menu listed all the exotic dishes on offer, and like any Bulgarian restaurant it included Shopska Salad.

We started with delicious sambosa and thin Nepalese potato chips, dipped in tasty sauces. For main courses we shared pieces of mutton in Nepalese gravy and curry chicken with slices of vegetables. The garlic bread was a great addition the meal. We had the sweet, spicy chai to finish the tasty meal.

We'll be back!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Visitors to Israel = Boyko and Us

We have just returned from a week's visit in Israel, where we enjoyed seeing our family, feeling the prenatal kicking of our granddaughter, and talking to friends.

The January weather in Israel was very warm, with temperatures in the twenties Celsius, a shock after the cold winter days of Bulgaria.

Also visiting in Israel during this time was Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who met with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. These meetings were not featured too much in the Israeli press.

The last time we saw Boyko was when we nearly ran into him in Sozopol.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Snow That Stopped the City

I have already experienced firsthand the effects of bad weather on the traffic in Sofia – a little rain or snow, and traffic is backed up in all directions. Taxis take an hour to arrive after ordering them (or don’t come at all), and driving anywhere is a nightmare.

Still, nothing had prepared me for what happened Tuesday morning.

We woke up to a light snow, which was supposed to continue throughout the morning, turning into rain in the afternoon. Unfortunately, nature hadn’t read the weather report, and the snow started to come down heavier by the minute, and was settling thickly on the ground. I was therefore surprised when the taxi I ordered arrived after only 10 minutes. By chance, the driver was my company’s regular driver. We turned onto the main street near our apartment and then came to a basic standstill. After 25 minutes, we were only 2 blocks from where we started.

The cars weren’t moving – a green light let us move forward the space of one car length. Strangely enough, there was no traffic in the opposite direction, and we saw that a number of cars were turning around in the middle of the street, to try and find a different way to go. We agreed to turn around also. We drove back a couple of blocks, thinking that we could make a turn up the hill and follow a different route that also leads towards my office. We soon saw that there was no chance to turn onto this street, as the cars were backed up all the way to the main street, and were not moving. My driver suggested that we try a different way around the park. Seeing as I knew this driver, I trusted him to do the best to find a good route to my office. We continued driving and saw that in both directions, traffic wasn’t moving. We were now farther away from my office than when we started, and faced in the opposite direction. Every way we turned, there were cars backed up. Although the city clears the major streets, a lot of the smaller streets are not cleared, and as a result, the roads were very icy, and cars were driving very slowly and trying not to slide all over the place.

My driver finally decided to head towards one of the major boulevards that the snow plows had cleared, and make our way towards the smaller back streets, in hope that they wouldn’t have as much traffic. An hour after I was picked up, we had completed almost a complete circle to where we had started out, and made our way into the back streets. Although there was less traffic, the streets had more snow, and there were cars that kept getting stuck, so we looked for streets with fewer cars, to try and make our way. My driver assured me that his tires were new, and that we needn’t worry. Of course, this didn’t make a difference when we turned up an empty street which was on a small hill, and got stuck. My driver was trying to inch the car forward and backward slowly, but wasn’t making any progress until some young man came up behind us and gave the car a push from behind, and we were able to move again.

A few streets later, we were finally on the main boulevard that leads to my office, and it was fairly empty. I arrived at work almost 2 hours after leaving home – a drive that usually takes between 7-10 minutes in the morning.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who had problems getting to work – many of my co-workers were late, even the ones who walked. My boss was in his car for 4 hours – trying to take his daughter to nursery school and turning around after 2 hours and driving back another 2 hours – and then walking to work. But the record goes to a woman from Ellis’s company, who usually gets to work in 45 min – but today made it in a mere 5 hours.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another Snow Day

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Full Moon

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve 2010

Ellis and I didn’t really know what to do about New Year’s Eve. We’re not the drinking/partying type, so we decided to forgo the get-together with Ellis’s co-workers. We heard that there was a concert in the middle of the city, but weren’t sure that we were up to wandering around for a few hours outside late at night amongst a large crowd of people. So, we decided to stay in, and just go out closer to midnight, and see what was happening.

The weather on Dec. 31 was unseasonably warm. After the cold spell and snow of 2 weeks ago, we were amazed to see that the temperature hit 17 C during the day (even though the websites all showed 17, with a promised high of 12C…..). This wasn’t exactly how we pictured New Year’s in Bulgaria (although I, for one, was pleased that there was no snow!). We left work and saw a beautiful, full moon rising on the clear sky.

Once the evening started, and it was dark, we started hearing sounds of small explosions all around. Some sounded as if they were in the far distance, others, as if they were almost in our back yard. Occasionally, the sky would light up, and we would see some fireworks between the trees. It sounded like a cross between a really loud thunder storm, and a war zone. The partying had begun!

Around 23:15, we went out and walked over to the National Palace of Culture, NDK. We thought that we would find a lot of people wandering around, but I guess that most of them were either out of the city for the holidays, at private parties/clubs or in the center of the city for the celebrations. Even at this hour, it was a mild 8 C outside, quite a difference from the -16 of 2 weeks ago!

We reached the plaza of NDK at 23:45, and sat down to wait. Most of the people who were around were setting off firecrackers or colorful flares. The noise was amazing. From all around, there was the sound of explosions.

At midnight, the sky lit up – from every direction that we looked, there were fireworks exploding in the sky – above us, in front, behind, and up on the mountain in the distance. We didn’t know where to look first – and just kept turning around in a circle, with our heads tilted back and enjoying the show. There was a layer of smoke in the air from all of the fireworks. They kept coming, even when we thought that it would finish. We finally walked home, to the sounds of explosions all around us, although by 00:30, it was calming down.

We enjoyed a glass of wine, and toasted to the New Year. May this be a year of peace and prosperity, to new beginnings, health and happiness for all.

Happy 2010!