Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kardzhali

Kardzhali is the biggest town in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains in south-central Bulgaria. There is not much to do in the town, with the exception of its excellent Historical Museum. The museum's collections of rocks, minerals, archaeological finds, and ethnographical history of the region's past were shown in one of the best presentations we've seen anywhere in Bulgaria.




Below: A resident fills up water in the central square of Kardzhali.


Below: An interesting set-up for an outdoor cafe.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Folklore Parade in Plovdiv

When we were inside the Plovdiv ampitheater, we saw colorful banners announcing an international folklore festival being held that very night. While we weren't planning on staying in the city, we did manage to bump into the performers. As we walked back to our car, we witnessed a parade passing, and we saw the dancers from the region, all dressed in their native costumes.






Plovdiv with Friends

It was our second visit to Bulgaria's second biggest city. We had previously spent a weekend in Plovdiv last May. This time we returned with our friends Susan and Ron who were visiting us from England. We parked near the Old Town and began wandering up the cobblestone streets.


First stop was at the Roman ampitheater in the Old Town, and from there we continued past the colorful, beautifully restored houses dating back to the Bulgarian Revival period.

Many of the houses have been turned into museums or art galleries, and entries were very inexpensive. We visited nearly all of these historical buildings.



Below, Ron, Susan and Jodie pose in front of the most beautiful house of all, which now serves as the Ethnographic Museum.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And the Taxi driver said...

On Monday, I took Shani, Alissa and Binyamin to the center of Sofia to see the sites. On the way, we were talking in the taxi about different things -all in Hebrew. At some point, Binyamin said that it's a lot of fun when you can talk when people can't understand you.

At that point, the taxi driver turned to me and said in Bulgarian "I understand Hebrew" - and then turned to the kids and said (in Hebrew) "Ma Nishma?" (How are you?). He said that he has an uncle who lives in Tel Aviv-Yaffo.....

A good lesson for all of us - always remember that you don't always know who can understand what you're saying - so don't say anything that you would regret afterwords!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Another Visit to Rila

We're becoming excellent tour guides to the Rila Monastery; this was our second visit there this month. We know where to stop for photo opportunities (under waterfalls) and we even know when to look up at rooftops to see storks nesting.



Monday, July 26, 2010

Saving the Bears!

Before we tell you about the Dancing Bears Park, let's talk about the 11-kilometer road it takes to get there. Calling it a road is really not correct, because what we traveled on was more a collection of potholes than anything else. The signs in the village of Belitsa pointed us in the right direction, but as we made our way slowly through puddles, over rocks and around the holes, we weren't sure we should be doing this. (And later, we would have to go back the same way).

The Dancing Bears Park was founded in 2000 by Four Paws International, as one of four such parks in Europe geared to saving bears from circuses and gypsies. The bears were initially trained to dance by making them stand on hot iron plates. They have been de-clawed and the males have been castrated, but at least in this park, they get a chance to live in a natural environment.

As the bears don't have claws, and are not accustomed to hibernating, the park provides them with small caves where they can spend the winter months.

There are 27 bears at the Dancing Bears Park, but we only managed to see 3 or 4 of them. They are kept in large fenced-in pens with small ponds and woods, and seem to be quite content there.



There is no entrance fee at the Dancing Bears Park, but donations are welcome. A guide took us on a short tour of the park and gave us explanations in English. We found the experience quite interesting.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Teenagers On the Loose in Sofia

Hosting teenagers in Sofia was an interesting experience. When you take them to see historical sites, they'll snap a quick picture, and then move on. Luckily we had a computer and Internet connection to allow them to see videos and Israeli shows, and also luckily we live right near the City Center Sofia shopping mall.

The girls couldn't get in enough shopping time, and although we had warned them in advance that there's not much to really buy in Sofia, they found plenty of reasons to return to the mall on their own or to spend time at other shops in the city center when Jodie took them around.

To beat the heat on Friday afternoon, we took our visitors to see the newly released film, "The Sorceror's Apprentice," which we all enjoyed. Seeing a move late on Friday, and then going to a supermarket at 6pm, was possible because Shabbat only came in at 20:40.




Saturday, July 24, 2010

Take Me to the Sofia Zoo

On one of the hottest days yet this summer, we had planned to take our visitors, Shani, Binyamin and Alissa, up the cable car to the top of Mt. Vitosha, where we hoped it would be cooler, but when we arrived at the cable car station, we found it closed. We went to the Sofia Zoo instead.

The Sofia Zoo is located not that far from our house. This was the first time we had visited it, but we had previously posted how a pack of stray dogs broke into the zoo in January and killed some mouflon. We didn't see any mouflon on our visit to the zoo.







Friday, July 23, 2010

Kosher in Sofia

As our nieces and nephew were coming to visit us for the weekend, our observance of Kashrut in the apartment had to be upped a notch, so we made preparations. How does one keep Kosher in Sofia?

The Sofia Synagogue sells Kosher cheeses. In the end we didn't buy any cheeses there, but we found on the synagogue's website a very helpful list of products that you can buy in Bulgaria that have been determined to be Kosher. This way we were able to know, for example, that Kraft Philadelphia cream cheeses produced in Germany are Kosher, as well as Kellogg's cereal and Orbit chewing gum. And our teenage visitors would certainly enjoy the fact that soft drinks, like Coca Cola and Sprite, are Kosher.

Jodie made a special trip to Beit Chabad, where they were very eager to help her. Jodie stocked up our freezer with bread and rolls, and bought white cheeses and butter.

In the end, Ellen sent a lot of food for our Shabbat dinner, and Jodie prepared pasta which the kids like, so there was always plenty to eat!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cats of Bulgaria = Troyan

At the Troyan Monastery.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Cats of Bulgaria = Tryavna

Second in a series. The name in the Subject is the town, not the name of the cat. Jodie took this picture.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Cats of Bulgaria = Kazanlak

First part in a series.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Japanese Restaurant Anniversary Dinner


For the occasion of our 32nd Anniversary, Jodie and I decided to try a restaurant that's literally right down the block from us, but one we've never eaten at before. We reserved a table at Sasa, the Japanese Restaurant on the 18th floor of the Hemus Hotel.

The decor of the restaurant was just right, elegant and Oriental, but without overdoing it. The views from the 18th floor were quite amazing, but as the hotel is located at a distance from the center, they weren't as spectacular as our last dining experience above Sofia.

For starters, we shared a "Yasai Vegetable Tempura" and a "Sake Tsutsumini" Salmon stuffed with potato and truffle puree. We both chose fish, with Jodie enjoying the Tuna Fillet while I dined on Sea Bream Fillet, both served with a Soy Butter Sauce. Jodie elected to have grilled vegetables with her fish while I had a very tasty fried rice dish.

To accompany our meal we had a small bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and two bottles of refreshing imported mineral water, which together were almost as expensive as the wine.

The food was good, but left some room for dessert. Jodie chose the "Ich Ni San" Cream, a vanilla cream trilogy – with wasabi raspberry sauce, miso yogurt caramel sauce and almonds with Cointreau, while I chose the "Tart 18th Floor," a pancake tart with miso mascarpone cream, served with yogurt caramel sauce. Both were quite good.

We enjoyed our meal at the Sasa, and the service was excellent, but the bill was a bit expensive, 132 Leva including tip (61 Euros).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bulgarian Humor: Helpful Policemen

A lost foreign tourist approaches two Bulgarian police officers in Sofia asking them for the directions.

He first asks in English. The cops, who don't speak any foreign languages, fail to understand anything.

The tourist then asks in French, in German, in Italian, in Spanish... Still nothing from the policemen. Frustrated, he walks on.

"We should really start studying foreign languages...," says one of the Bulgarian policemen.

"No, we shouldn't, they are totally useless," goes the other,"Look at this guy! He knows so many, and they still got him nowhere..."

From Novinite.com

Monday, July 12, 2010

Miss Caprice and Goodbye to Friends

Jodie and I regularly visit a restaurant called Miss Caprice, which is a small chain that has a branch near our apartment. We took Barak and Joyce there on their last night in Bulgaria for a farewell dinner of pizza.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunflowers!

The Rough Guide to Bulgaria lists fields of sunflowers as one of the "30 Things Not to Miss" when visiting the country. We saw endless fields turned towards the sun on our drive home from Veliko Turnovo.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Veliko Turnovo with Friends

We had previously visited Veliko Turnovo in central Bulgaria last year when our children visited us. This year we returned to the city and its Tsarevets fortress with our friends Joyce and Barak.

Veliko Turnovo served as the capital of the Second Kingdom of Bulgaria in the years 1185 - 1396 until the conquest of the Turks.




Friday, July 9, 2010

Daskalov House, Tryavna

One of the most beautiful house museums we've seen in Bulgaria is the Daskalov House in Tryavna, home to a local merchant from the early 1800s. The house has an impressive display of wood carvings, the work of artist Gentcho Marangozov.

Wood carvings of Bulgarian kings, prepared in the early 1900s.




The most interesting story from Daskalov House is that of the art competition between master woodcarver Dimitur Zlatev Oshanetsa and his apprentice Ivan Bochukovetsa, to see who could prepare for Daskalov the finer ceiling in the two upstairs bedrooms. Both worked at their creations for six months, unseen by the other. Daskalov declared Bochukovetsa's work to be the winner, and the apprentice was declared a master woodcarver. However the Guild of Carvers decided in favor of Oshanetsa. Both ceilings are simply amazing to look at.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Charming Town of Tryavna

After visiting the Troyan Monastery, we set the GPS for the town of Tryavna. The GPS took us on the shortest route possible, straight to the east through forests and country villages almost off the map. The road narrowed and we worried that we would come across a car speeding at us from around the forested curves or arrive at a dead end. But after an hour's journey, we arrived in the town of Tryavna in central Bulgaria, where we had booked rooms for the night.


Hotel Familia is located right on the central square of Tryavna, where the more modern, ugly neighborhoods of the town meet up with the beautifully and charming streets of the old town. We went on a walk to explore our surroundings and came upon the Church of Archangel Michael with its slated roof.

On the Street of Old Crafts, we stopped inside a woodcarver's shop and were amazed at his work. We bought an oval-shaped piece with a flower design. Below is the artist, Petyo Damyanov, holding the piece that we bought with another work in process and the tools of his trade.




Below is the view from our hotel room.