How to use this blog

First: What is a blog? Well, it is like my own journal, only it is written on the internet so everyone can read it. “Blog” is short for “weblog” which means a log, or journal on the web (another word for Internet).

Before you start reading about my adventures, here are some directions on how to use the blog:
* A “post” is the little story that I write.
* The words in the post that are in a different color mean you can click on them and see a picture or read some extra information.
* If you want to say something about a post, just click on the word “comments” below the post and write what you want to say. ****Remember to write your name after your comment, or I won’t know who wrote the comment!******

I really like reading your comments. Tell me what you learned or what you think about what I wrote. Maybe you will have some questions. Ask them in the comments section, and I will try my best to answer them! I hope you enjoy reading about my year in Bulgaria!!!

Landing on the Moon

Wednesday, August 15th: We arrived in Sofia,Bulgaria with very little sleep, a lot of luggage, and a newly world-traveled dog named Guiseppe. The plane trips (more than one!) were a bit wild, with us running through the airport to make our connections. But more on that later….

Upon our arrival, we began our search for Guiseppe. He had been put with the suitcases on the plane and we had to go find him. Mark was looking all over for somebody who understood English to help us find the dog. Meanwhile, I turned my head, and there he was!!! Going around in circles on the luggage conveyor belt, as if he were just another suitcase. Poor doggie:(

It took nearly an hour, but we were finally able to clear Guiseppe through Customs (Customs is where the government makes sure you aren’t bringing anything illegal into the country, like drugs or stolen things), gather all of our suitcases, and meet Mark’s partner, Andrey. Andrey predicted we would have too many suitcases for his car, so he brought a friend with another car to help move all our things to the hotel. He was right—it did indeed take TWO CARS! We loaded everything up, and we were off!!

I have never been to Bulgaria (have you???), so everything seemed very different to me. I stared out the car window and tried to understand what my new life was going to be like. It would be completely different from life in San Diego, that’s for sure! The Bulgarian language uses different letters than our alphabet, so I could not even read the signs. Of course, I did not understand a word anyone was saying. And I had no idea where I was. This would be an adventure.

The ride to the hotel was a bit scary. The streets here are very narrow and the cars drive extremely fast. I just closed my eyes and held on tight. Once we got to the hotel, I took poor Guiseppe, who had been in his crate for 23 hours now, out for a walk. He really had to go to the bathroom!!! Once we got checked into the hotel, we carried all of our luggage upstairs. Did I mention there are almost no elevators here and everything is upstairs? Well, that’s true. Andrey left us to get settled in and we agreed to meet for dinner at 7:30 Bulgarian time.

We took a small nap (we hadn’t really slept on the planes), took a shower, changed our clothes and walked to Mark’s office. There, we met Mark’s other business partner, Niki. (In Bulgaria, Niki is a man’s name). Niki had been in the United States a few years ago, so I already knew him. When I first saw Niki at the office, he said, “Well, you are finally here!!! How do you feel? Like you have landed on the moon???” Yes, that’s exactly how I felt, like I had landed on the moon!!

(to be continued)

Landing on the Moon, Part 2

The second day we were here, we got started looking for a place to live. We can’t live in a hotel forever!!! Andrey had set up some meetings to look at some apartments. Apartments here are called “flats”. We spent the whole day looking at flats. Of course, we don’t have a car, so we had to walk all over town. We saw two flats that we liked and two flats that we didn’t like. Most of the flats cost about 1,000 Euro a month. Click here to figure out how many dollars that is. That seems like a lot of money, I know. But it includes ALL the bills, including the TV and the electricity. That means I can use the air conditioning all I want, and not pay extra for it!!

After looking at flats all day, we went back to the hotel, walked Guiseppe, and took a nice, long nap! Then we woke up, had a snack, and went back to sleep. The time here is opposite from San Diego. For example, when it is 10:00 at night here, it is 12:00 (lunch time) there. So we were all confused! We kept sleeping during the day and waking up in the middle of the night.

The third day we were here, we looked at a whole bunch of flats again. But we really did not like any of them. So, we looked again at two flats from yesterday that we liked. We picked one, signed up, and moved in, all in less than 2 hours. It is easy to move when you only have suitcases and no furniture!! Click in the pictures section on the side to see pictures of our new home.

Then, we set out to learn about our new city. Most of the weekend, we walked around to try to figure out where everything was. For example, where do you buy food? Well, there are markets for that. Only, the stores here are very small. You would never find a Wal Mart here. You have to go to different stores to buy all your food. We bought enough food to last a few days and went home and started cooking.

Since we don’t know the language too well (OK, we don’t know it at all, it sounds like Chinese to us!), it is hard to order at a restaurant without one of Mark’s partners to help us translate. I think we’ll figure this out quickly, since we like to eat!! We are starting to understand how things work here and we are feeling more comfortable about living here now. The first 3 days were a little difficult, but now we are doing better. It doesn’t feel so much like the moon!!

Why Are We Here?

You might be asking yourself: Why are you living in Bulgaria???? Good question, I say!! But it is a little tricky to answer….

About 4 years ago, Mark used to work for a company that was owned by Bulgarians. We used to joke: “Where in the world is Bulgaria?” haha! (Did you find it on the map?) Then, one day, Mark came home from work and said the company was sending him to Bulgaria. Well, we quickly got out a map and looked up where Bulgaria was!! He came over here for the first time several weeks after that.

While he was here for the first time, Mark befriended many people. Later on, the company he worked for brought one of the Bulgarians (Niki) out to the United States. Mark and Niki decided to start their own company. They create websites (like, when you go to Disney on the internet, somebody had to make it look all fancy, and that’s what their company does).

Well, for the past couple of years, the company grew and grew. All of the designers (the people who actually make the websites) are in Bulgaria. Since the company was getting bigger and bigger, Mark wanted to live in Bulgaria for one year to help hire and teach new people. My job would be to teach English to people who want to learn it. And there you have it!! That’s why we are here.

I miss living in San Diego and teaching at Logan Elementary, but this is only for one year, and then I will be back. Until then, I am enjoying my time here in Bulgaria. I am learning a new language and meeting a lot of new people. I will never get the chance to live in another country again, so I am trying to have a lot of fun!!

**Some geography for you: Can you name 5 or more countries in Eastern Europe (hint:use the map you just saw). What are their capitals?

Sudoku, anyone???

So, as most of you know, I am a Sudoku puzzle addict. (Don’t know what Sudoku is? Click here.) When I say addict, I mean ADDICT. I MUST do at least one or two puzzles a day or I just don’t feel like myself. I find that doing math puzzles relaxes me, especially in intense situations, you know, like moving to a new country…Hey, you Crossword fanatics are just as bad!

Well, during all of our plane shifting and running, I managed to lose not one, but TWO pencils. The only two I had, in fact. And as any mathematician will tell you, it is impossible to complete a math puzzle in pen. I mean, what if I make a mistake??? No problem, I thought. Surely they have pencils in Sofia. I mean, it’s not like it’s another planet or something.

So, after we moved into the flat and got a little more comfortable, I was desperate to get back to my Sudoku ways. I began my quest for a pencil. For days, I walked the streets, looking for a store that looked like it might sell pencils. But to no avail. I vaguely remembered seeing a sign that said Office Superstore. Now surely, they must sell pencils. Clearly, offices need pencils. If I could only remember where that store was. So, everyday, on the way to the office, I would force Mark to walk a few side streets with me in search of the mysterious Office Superstore. We never found it.

On the third day, I could wait no longer. I had to do a puzzle. So I did the unthinkable. I did it in pen, complete with scratch marks and scribbles. Unacceptable. I would continue my search. Or, dare I say it, ask for help. So I did. I asked Niki:

“Hey, Niki, are there any pencils in Sofia?”
“Of course”, he replied. “I have some in the office. Do you want one?”
“It’s because she can’t live without her dumb Sudoku puzzles”, Mark chimed in. Who asked him, anyways???
“Sure, I’ll take one”, I responded.
“Ahh, but the real question is where to get them. You need to know where things are”, Niki said.
“Well, yes, I would prefer to know where to get them”, I said.

So, Niki walked me to a computer store. A computer store? Weird, I thought. All I saw were computers. But alas, there was a downstairs. A beautiful, glorious shiny downstairs complete with every imaginable office supply! Imagine my delight. I mean, I am a teacher. And as everyone knows, teachers have a bizarre love for all things office-y. It felt like home. I just wanted to bring my blanket and pillow, curl up and snuggle in the aisles of the office store. Ahhhhh.

So, I bought a pencil, and some Post-Its in pretty pink and orange for good measure. I mean what’s a teacher without Post-Its???? I went home and began my flurry of Sudoku solving, and magically, much of the stress of moving disappeared. Never underestimate the power of a pencil!!!

By the way, guess what I found yesterday?? You guessed it! The Office Superstore!! But no matter, I’m in love with the computer store.

My shiny, new pencil and sticky notes:


What’s your vector, Victor?


Just in case you were planning on coming to Bulgaria, you should be fully informed about the travels and travails of the many airplane ventures you will encounter. Here’s a perfect example:


Let us begin by discussing the packing nightmare. When you fly internationally, there are some serious rules regarding how many bags you are allowed to take and how much they can weigh. Basically, each person gets two bags that can weigh 50 pounds each, plus your “carry-on”. Now the carry-on is supposed to be like a purse or a backpack. Anyone who has traveled on planes knows that the “carry-on” rules are always broken. Everyone brings more than a purse on board the plane. After all, you need a lot of things, like books, puzzles, cards, iPods, computers, and surely a week’s worth of clothes. Nobody can fit all this in a purse!

So we were no different. We planned on breaking the “carry-on” rules with each of us carrying on a computer bag and a duffel bag, both of which would barely pass the permissible size check. This brought us each to having 4 bags. (Although Mark insisted on bringing suits and a computer, which put us up to 6 bags, for which we would pay a fine). So, all week I carefully packed each suitcase, making sure to flatten the clothes as much as possible. I strategically placed several books in each bag so that none of them would be over the weight requirements. I left all the toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, makeup) for the carry-on bags, thinking they are lighter and we may need them in case our other luggage gets lost.

And then there was the London terrorist plot

So,…no more liquids on the plane. This led to Saturday and Sunday spent rearranging all the careful packing I had already done. Most importantly, I replaced nearly all the books in the other suitcases for all the liquid items. This meant that we would carry the books on to the plane. No big deal, right? Except here are all the books we brought:


Anyways, after fixing all the bags, we were ready. Monday, we drove up to Los Angeles to stay the night in a hotel there since our flight left early in the morning. Once at the airport, we put Guiseppe in his crate, with a couple of pills to help him sleep since he would be in there a long time.


Uni*ted Air*lines was fabulous. They helped us with all our luggage and took very good care of our dog. We boarded our plane, but at 8:00, they announced that they weren’t sure when we would be leaving as one of the flight crew had not shown up for work quite yet. Hahaha we laughed. Isn’t that funny? We are going to be a little late because someone didn’t come to work. Hahaha. But then they announced that everyone had to leave the plane because it would be several hours until they could solve the problem. We weren’t laughing anymore. If we were 2 hours late, then we would miss our next flight.

So, Mark and I gathered our HEAVY carry-on bags and got off the plane. We set all 4 of them down and Mark went to re-schedule our next flight, since we were obviously going to miss it. While I was babysitting the bags (never leave them unattended!!), I heard my name on the loudspeaker. Oh no! How could I move all these bags and go find out why they want me? And why do they want me??? Like Superman, I lifted the car, I mean, bags and went to the desk.

“Somebody called me”, I panted.
“No, we didn’t call anyone”, said the not-very-kind man.
“Ummm, yes, somebody did”, I informed him.
“Hey, (to some lady near him), did you page anyone?” he called.
“Yes”, she replied.
Harumph!! I told you so, I thought.

Why did she page, you ask? Was someone in trouble? Had Mark fallen in the airport and hurt himself? Oh, no no no. She called me to let me know that Guiseppe was not being left on the plane during the delay. They would let him out for some fresh air and give him some water. Now, surely I sound ungrateful when this kind, helpful lady was just taking care of my beloved dog, but it’s just that those bags WERE.SO.HEAVY. and I thought something bad had happened.

Mark, on the other hand, had some great success with re-scheduling our next flights. So, we sat calmly in the airport until it was time to get on the plane again, at 10:00. They said the pilot had not come to work because he was in a car accident. Well, I guess that’s a good reason. But really, don’t they have any other pilots around who could do a quick flight to Washington D.C?

When we got to Washington, DC, again they called us on the loudspeaker on the plane. When we got to the front of the plane (after a bit of shoving and elbowing other people), the flight attendants informed us that Guiseppe was already being sent to the next plane which was scheduled to leave in 10 minutes, so we had to HURRY HURRY HURRY to get there. Cool, we thought. We’re going to make all our original flights. So, once again, we gathered the HEAVY bags and began to run. We thought it would be just a few gates away. Ahhh, but no. It was across the whole airport!!!!But we made it. All that triathlon training really came in handy! They quickly checked us in.

But then I asked about the dog.

“Is our dog on the plane?”
“Dog? I don’t know. But you just need to go and if he doesn’t make it, we’ll send him on the next one”, said the man, we’ll call him Mr. Helpful.
“Umm, the next plane is in like 8 hours from now, so that’s not going to work”, I explained.
“Well, I’m not delaying this plane for a dog”, Mr. Helpful informed me.
“Well, we’re not getting on until you confirm that my dog is on THIS plane”, I said.
Big sigh….”Fine then, I’ll call”, Mr. Helpful conceded.

Alas, Guiseppe was on his way over in a special trolley-like car. Now I will get on the plane. This flight took us to Frankfurt. When we got on the plane, it was daylight. While on the plane, night came and went in less than 4 hours. Now you know where you lose the day. Suddenly, it was a whole day later, and we really hadn’t slept at all. When we went to board our third plane (the last one, thank God!!), we saw Guiseppe in his crate, tail wagging, just as they put him on. I guess he was fine. After this flight, we landed in Sofia. Finally, we had arrived!!!

So, if you ever plan on traveling here, just be warned—travel light because you never know when you’ll have to run, say, a mile with all your suitcases in your hands!!

New Features

Mark, or as he prefers to be called, “The Webmaster”, has added some new features to the sidebar. There is an audio player which has traditional Bulgarian music on it, if you want to hear what it sounds like. There is also a weather feed so you know what the weather is like here each day…except you’ll have to figure out the Celsius/Fahrenheit conversion: (C x 1.8) + 32.

Or, just go here.

I know, it’s pretty fancy…soon we’ll be sending out space probes from our blog!

Who is Aleksander Nevski and why is a church named after him?

Last weekend, Mark and I set out to find the glorious Nevski church, one of the most famous landmarks here in Sofia. I spent all 7 of my college years (I’m including my Master’s degree—I didn’t just go through college slowly) at a Catholic University, so I have developed a love for giant, overly decorated churches. Imagine my excitement when I saw this:

Perhaps you are thinking, “WOW! What a huge church. They must have built that centuries ago”, which is what I thought, too. But, no. The Nevski church was built between 1882 and 1912. Not so long ago. Without giving away too much of a future history lesson, I will tell you that the Turks ruled Bulgaria for 500 years and the Bulgarians were not happy to have them here. In the late 1800s, the Russians helped the Bulgarians beat the Turks. So, the Bulgarians basically love the Russians and hate the Turks.

The church is named after Saint Aleksander Nevsky, who was a famous warrior in Russian history. The Bulgarians built the church as a way to remember the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting in the war to free them from the Turks.

This church is one of the largest, fanciest Orthodox churches in Europe. The Orthodox religion is similar to the Catholic church, but not exactly the same…more on that later. Inside the church was painted by Russian and Bulgarian artists and there are scenes from the Bible on the walls and ceilings. As with any church, you are not allowed to take photos inside because it ruins the artwork, and because the inside of a church is a holy place. But you can see what the inside of the church looks like here.

Under the church, in the crypt, is a museum that holds Orthodox religious icons found all over Europe since the 12th Century, and is considered to be one of the largest and most valuable collections to exist. In case you don’t know, an icon is a painting or a sculpture of anything that is considered to be holy. Here is an example.

On the outside, Nevski church is huge and fills up a whole square in the city. Next to the church is a park with small, meandering paths and benches.


On the other side is a bizarre where vendors sell some handmade items, some junk. Bulgaria is known for its embroidery, so some of the women sell their embroidered pieces here. Men sell old Russian army uniforms and paraphernalia. On a nice day, such as the day we visited, you can walk through the square and have lunch at a café in the park.

So, Nevski Church. Stop 1 on our Sofia sightseeing tour.

p.s. I loaded more photos of the church in the gallery. Click on the picture on the right to see them!

Shopping, Shopping, Shopping

Sofia is a town full of stores. There are countless stores that sell shoes, clothing, underwear, meats and cheeses, cell phones (called GSM here, after the technology they used to use), electronics, and books. In fact, there is even an Open Air Book Market with rows of people selling books. In a town so full of stores, it’s a wonder I had such a difficulty finding a pencil! In general, the stores are small, more like boutiques, so they are highly specialized. One store may sell ONLY underwear, and seriously, there are a lot of underwear stores around. (I mean, really, how much underwear does one person need????) This makes shopping more like a scavenger hunt.

Let’s say, on a given day, I have a normal list of items I need to buy—perhaps all things I could find in one Albertson’s at home. Here, I may need to visit 4 or 5 separate places. I would go to the pharmacy (called apteka) to buy such things as shampoo, toothpaste, and soap. I would go to the store to buy pasta, cereal, meats and cheeses. If I want eggs, however, I generally have to ask for them because they are in the back:

“Mogeli, shest yetza?” I might say.

For produce, like tomatoes, bananas, and cucumbers, I go to the Open Market, which is a series of stands all lined up with individual vendors who sell mostly the same items, but with some variation.


The electricity outlets are different here in Bulgaria, so I might need some adapters. For that, I go to a hardware store. And after all this walking around and carrying of bags, I might be thirsty, in need of an icy, cold Sprite. Now for that I would find a snack shop, which often look like small windows next to the ground, but are actually stores in the basement area of a building.

And what about the prices, you ask? Well, most everything is cheaper than at home. For example, a small bottle of water here is about a quarter. Produce is VERY cheap. I can buy enough fruits and vegetables for a week for about $3. And for you berry lovers out there, they have all sorts of berries here, including blackberries, fresh blueberries and raspberries. You can get 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) for about .65. Household items, like detergent and soap are closer to the same prices as at home, though still somewhat cheaper. What is expensive here, is him:


His food costs more here than at home. And with the normal doggie purchases of bones, flea medicine (just in case, you know, there are many stray dogs here!), doggie shampoo and doggie breath mints*, he so far has cost as much as TWO humans.

In order to do all this “scavenging”, I have to go shopping a few times each week. There is no way to buy a whole week’s worth of food and then carry it all home on foot. So, there you have it. Shopping in Bulgaria. A whole gym workout just to cook a meal!

*Look. You would buy doggie breath mints, too, if you lived in a small apartment all day and just the dog exhaling is enough to overpower the smell of dinner…

Up, Up and Away

I think our elevator, called a “lift” here, deserves its own post. We knew when we moved here that we would probably live in a tall building and somewhere near the top. And we knew, as Mark had learned during his previous visits, that most of the buildings only have stairs—no lifts. I know what you’re thinking—well, what about people in wheelchairs? And the answer is—I have no idea what they do, probably not live in the city. I mean, this place is not very handicapped-friendly….

As lazy as we are, we thought, “Well, if we have to walk up a bunch of stairs, at least we’ll get some exercise”. One small problem. Guiseppe is a Basset Hound, and Bassets often have back problems. So, while we can walk up 6 flights of 22 stairs each (quick you mathematicians—how many stairs are there in all??)*, Guiseppe cannot. No problem, we thought. We’ll just get some contraption and carry him up. Go ahead, laugh out loud. We know: THAT’S RIDICULOUS!!!

So, when Vesko (our real estate agent of sorts…) told us this flat had a lift, we were thrilled.

Until we saw it.

Ok, until I saw it.

I had imagined a good, old-fashioned silver elevator where the doors open and close on their own and Muzak is piped in for your 10 second ride to the top of the building. But this is what I got:



Is it just me, or is this thing actually a closet that was converted into an elevator?


It holds one person comfortably, 2 people closely, and 3 people who must really love each other. Let’s not discuss what happens when you add a slobbery dog into the mix! The buttons do not light up with the number of your floor. There is no arrow on the outside to tell you if it’s going up or down. There is no need for such fanciness. The lift does not stop until it reaches its destination. That means nobody else gets in at a different floor. You have to wait until the people ahead of you get off and the lift comes back, and THEN it’s your turn.

The ride up to our flat takes more than 40 seconds. You see each floor as it goes by. During our first ride, I asked Vesko:

“So…what happens if this lift gets stuck?”
“What do you mean?” he asked me.
“Well, you know, if it stops working while we are inside of it and I have no way to get out and I am trapped? What happens then?” I asked, as I began to hyperventilate. (Meanwhile I heard Mark snickering behind me.)
“Oh, don’t worry, that won’t happen. It is an old, German-made lift and it hasn’t broken down in the two and a half years I’ve been here”, he assures me.

Ummmm… I the only one who sees that he DIDN’T ANSWER MY QUESTION.?????I was hoping he would say, “Oh, you just push this button and the police, ambulance, and fire department come running to save you”. But what I got was, “That won’t happen”. So, for the first 3 days, I said a few Hail Marys every time I entered the lift. Then I realized it would be smarter to form an escape plan in advance. I carefully observed how the lift went up and down and came up with this plan:

1. Carry my cell phone at all times.
2. If the lift stops in at a floor, break the small window of the closet door out and use some MacGuyver trick to reach through the window to open the door and/or scream.
3. If the lift stops between floors, part of a closet door will show:
Bust open this part with my Superhuman strength. Then send the hound out to find someone to rescue me, you know, like you see them do on Animal Planet.

There you have it. That’s my plan. But I still say a Hail Mary or two during my 40 second ride!

*Even though I say I live on the 5th floor, actually it is the 6th floor, because the first floor doesn’t count as one, it counts as zero.

**Have you figured out how many stairs there are yet???