Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Cats of Bulgaria = Sofia Steps


Saturday, October 30, 2010

First Snow Flurries

Walking to work on Thursday I witnessed the first snow flurries of the season, exciting me so much I had to call Jodie with this news. She was not as pleased.

The snow flurries continued throughout the day but nothing stuck to the ground. Although it's been dipping below freezing on many nights, the days are typically much warmer and winter can still be held off for now.

However, all the local news agencies are predicting a colder than usual winter this year, with one agency saying that the first real snow should fall on or about November 20. We shall see!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Colors of Sofia = NDK Plaza


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bulgarian Humor = Israeli Mossad Chief in Sofia

This part is true = Israel's Mossad Agency Chief Meir Dagan just made a visit to Bulgaria and the two countries pledged mutual assistance in intelligence gathering efforts.

A joke circulated in the Bulgarian Internet forums on the meeting of Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov with Mossad Director Dagan in Sofia.

The tete-a-tete meeting between Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov and Mossad Director Dagan went as follows:

Borisov: "Am I still in power?"

Dagan: "Yes."

Borisov: "Whew!"

From the Sofia News Agency.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Best Bread in Bulgaria

According to what we’ve learned, John Hulsbosch first came to Bulgaria from the Netherlands on a volunteer program back in 2003. He had studied baking back in his home country and while in Bulgaria he came into contact with the owner of a local bakery. John purchased the bakery, and combined his own name with the popular Bulgarian name Ivan to call his new business “JoVan the Dutch Baker”.

We stopped by the bakery on Sunday and purchased a round loaf of brown bread. Sorry, but I don’t know the name of this particular bread, but it was unbelievably good. We ate half of it on Monday, and froze the other half for breakfast today. It was truly the best bread we’ve ever eaten in Bulgaria.

The bakery is located on Angel Kanchev Street, and we only discovered it because we were looking for a restaurant in that neighborhood. It’s walking distance from our home, but quite a walk. That’s a shame, because the bread from this bakery is so good!


Articles about this bakery:

Feeding Bulgarians Fresh Bread: the Dutch Baker in Sofia
Sofia News Agency, January 25, 2010

The Netherlands in Bulgaria: The best bread in Bulgaria
Sofia Echo, April 25, 2008

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Colors of Sofia = Autumn


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Degas Statues

On our weekend cultural tour in central Sofia, we also visited the National Art Gallery, located in the former royal palace of Bulgaria and home to a huge collection of Bulgarian art.

The reason for our visit was an exhibition of Degas statues. However, only one of the statues was actually done by Degas himself. The others were sculpted by his students after the artist's death, however they were cast in the molds he had created.

Even so, the collection of ballerinas and wild horses, all in black and vivid motion, was quite interesting.

Note the photographer and his wife in the mirror!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

National Archaeological Museum

One of the museums in Sofia that we had yet to see was the National Archaeological Museum, located in the city center. We finally had a chance to visit and we were very impressed.



The museum had a fascinating collection of artifacts from Bulgaria's rich history, including coins, jewelry, statues, sarcophagi and more. Particulaly interesting were the collections of golden and silver Thracian treasures. One small example is pictured below.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Street Repairs

Over the last two months, we've been following the progress of the laying of new pipes on our street.

The work started at the far corner and included tearing up the cobblestones, and digging deep holes in the road. After the work was finished in one section, the hole would be filled up and the large machines would move further down the street. The cobblestones would be relaid, and this section of the street would go back to being a street.

This morning when I left the house, I noticed that the machines were now only half a block away from us. As a result of the street being torn up, it meant that some of the side streets leading to our street from the main street a block away, have been blocked for use. I guess that this would explain the increased amount of cars turning up the wrong way on our one-way street, in order to reach their destinations.......

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Cost of Bulgarian Umbrellas

Let's make it clear right from the start - it could very well be that there are no umbrellas produced in Bulgaria. Therefore, we're talking about imported ones, and more specifically about umbrellas made in China but sold locally.

It all started back in August, on our family trip to Prague. It was pouring rain. Merav, Erez and I were walking around Prague Castle while Jodie, Reut, Nir and Daniela went back to the center of the town to wait for us. I had a nice umbrella then. Merav was without an umbrella so as we left the castle, I bought one for her.

The red umbrella bought in Prague was not a good one, so I ended up trading what I had with Merav. I returned to Bulgaria with a defective umbrella.

Since the beginning of October, we have only seen the sun once in Sofia, and that was yesterday. On most mornings I've walked to work in a mist, and at other times it's been drizzling. Never really pouring rain, but always rain.

Recently I looked for a new umbrella at the mall near our house. The only place I found umbrellas on sale was at Marks and Spencers, where they were going for 65 BGN (almost 170 Israeli shekels). I decided to make due with my defective red umbrella a little while longer.

Jodie's coworker said she bought umbrellas on the second floor at the open market near our office for only 2 BGN. They broke quickly, she admitted, but then she would just buy a new one.

I wondered how there could be a second floor at an open market, but surely enough, when I came to the market on my walk home for work, I found a set of stairs near the grocery store leading up to a second floor bazaar, full of small shops with household goods and clothing.

I bought a new umbrella, of course made in China, for 3 BGN. I wonder how long it will last me. In the meantime, the weather forecast is promising more sunshine over the weekend. We'll see if the sun shines in Sofia or if I end up needing yet another new umbrella.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Colors of Sofia = 4


A school not far from our house.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Colors of Sofia = 3


Monday, October 18, 2010

The Colors of Sofia = 2


The Red Hall cultural center.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Colors of Sofia = 1


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Potholes


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Julio Iglesias - Live in Sofia


In my (Jodie) opinion, there is only one word that sums up the Julio Iglesias concert we went to last night – and that is Sensuous.

To start off, even at 67, Julio Iglesias is still a very sexy man. And when he sings, his voice just adds to the aura. And Spanish is such a beautiful language – you don’t have to understand the words – just feel them flowing over you.

The lighting was soft – blues, purples and pinks. The backup band was just that – they provided the soft background for the honey tones of Julio’s voice.

The female singers with Julio swayed sexily to his music – especially the girl from Columbia. And for three of the songs, we were treated to a pair of dancers dancing the tango to his singing, which, as Julio said, is the sexiest dance there is.

Julio sang songs in Spanish and English. His eyes, his voice (and his hands, when he was next to his female singers) caressed the audience. There is no question but that he performs for the women in the audience.

I have to mention the saxophonist – Dave Koz. He played a number of solos to Julio’s singing - and he was really good. His music just added to the whole atmosphere and was a welcome addition to the songs. And when Julio introduced him to the audience, he told how Dave met a Bulgarian girl on their first visit to Bulgaria (this was their 4th) – and he later married her.

For his encore, he sang my favorite song: “For All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”, and finished up with Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love”.

Two weeks ago, his son, Enrique Iglesias performed in Sofia. Most of the young women I talked to are crazy for him. All I can say is – if he’s today’s sexy singer, you don’t have far to look to see where he got it from . And I can only wish for him, that after 42 years of performing, that he can hope to measure up to his father as he was last night.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Best Little Bed and Breakfast in Belgrade


As we planned our recent trip to Serbia I consulted with TravelAdvisor.com to determine where to stay. The hotel that immediately interested me was Vila Marija, especially since someone I know had given it a very good recommendation.


Well, now my own review of Vila Marija has been posted on TravelAdvisor.com. Although we got lost driving into Belgrade (our GPS did not show Belgrade streets), we eventually found the hotel and Igor, the owner was waiting to receive us. We thought we were very late in arriving (due to the heavy traffic on the road) but only the next morning we discovered that Serbia is in a different time zone so were not that late at all.


The hotel was very comfortable (10 rooms in total) and it was nice to be able to talk to Igor and his wife, and to see their family. The hotel is not exactly in the center of Belgrade, but we were able to get a taxi to take us there. And there were some very nice restaurants within walking distance of Vila Marija, so plenty of choices where to eat.


We had a very nice visit to Belgrade as we've posted here on the blog, and especially nice was our stay at Vila Marija, the best little Bed and Breakfast in town.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cobblestone Work on Our Street

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cholent in a Bulgarian Pot

Since I knew I would be working today, and not have a lot of time to cook a Shabbat meal, I was looking for something easy to make for dinner. As the temperatures had dropped drastically this week, and it's expected to go down to 2 C tonight, I decided that the best thing to make would be cholent - or "Hamin" in Hebrew.

This traditional Shabbat dish was invented due to the religious restriction of cooking on the Sabbath, but the need to still have a hot meal. Basically, you make a big pot with beans, barley, potatoes, onions and carrots, with either chicken or beef, and often whole eggs, which cook slowly. The seasonings and some of the ingredients vary according to your origins, but the idea is the same. Once everything is placed in the pot, it is left on a very low oven to cook for around 12 hours (often overnight) so that there is a hot meal the next day.

On Thursday evening, I soaked the beans and cut up the carrots, onions and potatoes. When I got up this morning, I was quickly able to assemble the rest of the ingredients and to place it all in my very large Bulgarian ceramic pot, which is actually perfect for this type of cooking. I placed it all in the oven on a low temperature, and went to work.

When I arrived home at 3:00, our doorman stopped me and started saying somthing to me in Bulgarian - of which I understood nothing. But, by some of his hand gestures, I realized that he was trying to tell me something about my pot that I left in the oven. Since my cleaning lady had been in earlier, I could only assume that they were concerned that I left a pot cooking in the oven for so long, when I wasn't home.

I came into the apt., and the smell of the cholent was wonderful. I took the pot out of the oven, and checked that it was finished cooking. At that point, I decided to go back to our doorman with a bowl of cholent. When I went downstairs and gave it to him, I managed to tell him in my little bit of Bulgarian - "Many, many hours - perfecto!!" I think he understood me, and when Ellis came home a little later, he returned the empty bowl to him - so I hope he liked it!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Guide to Serbian Mentality

Before our visit to Belgrade I didn’t really know too much about Serbia, except that it had recently been involved in a war and some massacres against civilians in the Balkans. The United States and its NATO allies had bombed Serbia only a short time ago and today Kosovo in Serbia’s south has declared its independence. But Serbia is no longer an enemy and I wondered what the people who were Bulgaria’s neighbors were like.

While we were visiting Trg Republike Square in the center of Belgrade we came across the city’s Tourist Information Bureau. There were a number of souvenirs offered inside and I chose something that I felt would make my understanding of Serbia more complete. The book A Guide to the Serbian Mentality was a collection of short essays geared to help the reader grasp the essence of the Serbian people and their way of life. The author, Momo Kapor, was described as the Serbian Efraim Kishon, and this humorous approach interested me and I bought the book.

Some of the essays were about Serbian food. First I learned that in the country, the only time one eats chicken is either if the chicken is sick, or you are sick. Also, although Serbian cuisine is very tasty (and Jodie herself bought a Serbian cookbook), there is no food that really originated in Serbia. Everything you eat in Serbia has its origins in Turkey, Greece, or elsewhere in the Balkans. We found this to be true in Belgrade’s restaurants, where shopska salad and rakia were offered as local cuisine just like in Bulgaria.

But wait, there is one Serbian food that is unique according to Kapor, and apparently found nowhere else in the world. There is a white cheese called kajmak that is skimmed from freshly boiled milk and which bears no resemblance to other cheeses like mozzarella or sour cream. In fact, when we had lunch at a restaurant in Niš, the owner came to our table with a dish of kajmak that his wife had made, and we found it quite tasty. As Kapor relates in one of his essay, kajmak is so revered among Serbian émigrés all over the world that he used to sneak it through customs to them on his visits, hidden inside Nivea cosmetic cream containers.

I found the essays in the book quite amusing, and together they did paint the picture of Serbians and their way of life.

Momo Kapor (1937 – 2010) was a Serbian painter, novelist and short story writer. By training he was a painter, having graduated from the Academy of Figurative Art in Belgrade in 1961. He exhibited his works all over the world and has illustrated his own books and the books of others. His literary career began in the 1960s when he served as a writer of radio, television, and theater dramas. His novels and books, which have been translated into a number of languages, are still on the Serbian best seller lists.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Don't Bulgarians Like Their Soups Served Hot?

Today was rainy and cold in Sofia, so both Jodie and I ordered the Tomato Cream Soup for lunch at the Rainbow Restaurant near our office. The soup was good, but was served luke warm.

On Sunday I ate at the Dobro Restaurant, also not far from our office. I ordered the Vegetable Cream Soup, which was tasty, but also served luke warm.

Why don't Bulgarians like their soups hot? Jodie once asked her coworker about this, and the answer was that Bulgarians prefer to have their soups served at a comfortably warm temperature.

We have come to appreciate Bulgarian soups. We squeeze fresh lemon juice into our chicken soup and Jodie has made Bulgarian Meatball Soup. In the summer, Tarator Soup, made of cucumbers and yoghurt, is a cool refresher, and that is just fine. But in the winter, when you need to warm yourself up from the cold winds and rain, we prefer the soups to be served hot.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Autumn Leaves

Friday, October 1, 2010

Spinach News from Bulgaria

A picture of a Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Miroslav Naydenov frowning as he tasted spinach soup at a nursery school in Sofia caused some “confusion” in the public, media reports said this week.

The sour expression on the minister’s face as he visited the school with Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova led many to conclude that the food given to school children is of bad quality.

Mayor Fandakova responded to the uproar by saying, "The problem was not that the food was bad but that Minister Naydenov doesn't like spinach.., The food in kindergartens is perfect."

I enjoyed two spinach dishes at Sofia restaurants this week and believe the local vegetable is quite tasty. I hope the school kids feel the same way.