A Little “Side” Note

If you leave me comments (please do!!! I like to read what you are thinking about our adventure),and you are wondering if I responded…click on the comments section again. When I respond to a comment, that’s where it goes….

History of Bulgaria, Part 1: Pre-History

I would be remiss in my duties if I did not spend some amount of blogging time/space to recount the history of this fine country. But, like most countries in Europe, the history is thousands and thousands of years old. And I would hate to bore you. So, I will give you snippets of the history here and there, and you can piece them all together as you so choose. I, for one, would keep an illustrated time line that would include key dates and facts with a small picture to represent the event. But you can do as you see fit.

Let’s begin at, well, the beginning. What historians like to call Pre-history, meaning the history before history was actually written down, or recorded. The evidence of the first people to live in this region dates back to 40,000 BC. For you dinosaur lovers out there, this is like a little less than 65 million years AFTER the dinosaurs died. There are some clues in caves on the mountains that people lived here then.

The first people to really move in and hang out here came in 6,000 BC. Again, dinosaur lovers, 65 million years AFTER all your reptilian friends died from a giant asteroid. At first these people lived in caves, but then later moved into smaller, round mud huts. Scientists (to be exact, archaeologists) have found proof that they burned grain here, so they think these first people were farmers. About 200 years later, the people were no longer just farmers. They were making jewelry and other things out of copper and gold. In fact, scientists believe that these people were the first people to ever make gold jewelry.

So…how’s your timeline looking now? Might I suggest two important dates, 40,000 BC and 6,000 BC, as well as perhaps a picture of a mud hut and some jewelry? Just some ideas for you…

Next episode: Thracian Era. I know, I know, you can hardly wait!!

The Science of Laundry

Life really boils down to simple things. And it’s these simple things that we don’t even notice that make day to day living run smoothly. Or not.

Take, for example, the laundry. It’s not like I have to carry my basket of clothes to the river with a board and a bar of soap. But laundry is not as coonvenient here!

From the outside, our washing machine looks normal. It’s white and pretty much the same size as the machines at home. But, for some reason, it fits only about 6 items of clothing. Well, technically I can squeeze in up to about 10 things, but I’ve learned I shouldn’t do that if I want the clothes to actually be…….clean…….! And the detergent. Oh the detergent. There are three separate compartments for detergent. 3 DETERGENTS????

This made no sense to me at all. Plus, I can’t read the detergent bottles to know how and when to use each kind. So I bought one to try it out. Big mistake. HUGE. The first load I did, I overloaded the washer (you know, with like 4 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, some underwear and a pair of socks), poured in a capful of the detergent I bought–I knew it was for clothes because of the nice picture of a sweater on the front–turned the dial to the setting B90, which I had read was for a regular was cycle, and pushed “GO!”. Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

More than 2 hours later, the washing machine finished. Yes, you read that correctly folks, 2 hours! I know what you’re thinking. Another 45 minutes in the dryer and you’re good to go. Dryer! HA! Surely you hear me snorting and laughing at you through my computer. There are no dryers in Europe. Well, certainly there isn’t one in our apartment. So, we do the whole old-fashioned, hang it on the line thing. You know, with the cute little clothespins. As a teacher in the U.S., my only real experience with clothespins is to hang students’ work up in my classroom. But alas, clothespins really ARE used for clothes. Hmmmm, who knew?

Now, like you, I’ve seen those TV commercials where they say if you use this dryer sheet, your clothes will look and feel as if they had been dried outside. Obviously the people who write these commercials have never hung their clothes outside to dry. They don’t look and feel all special. They LOOK a little more faded and FEEL scratchy. Who are they kidding?

So, after my first load, Mark informed me he was unhappy with the state of his clothes:
“What happened to the clothes? They’re all scratchy on my poor, soft skin”, he tells me. As if only HIS clothes felt that way and I wouldn’t know.
“I don’t know. I followed the directions on the washing machine and hung them up and this is how they came out”, I explained.
“Well, we’re gonna have to work on this”, he decided.
By “we” he meant “me”, I assure you. He wasn’t going anywhere near that scary, white machine.
“Well, go ahead. I mean, you’re the one who went to college for science. Perhaps you could scientifically blend together the detergents in such a way as to make our clothes soft again”, I told him.

So, off to another store we went. I guess when the washing machine has 3 detergent compartments, they really do intend for you to use 3 detergents. So we bought two more. And at home, I sat down to try to read them. I learned the one I had started with the prefix “pre”, meaning before. Ahhhh. I had used only the detergent that is before washing. There is another one for the real wash and then, of course, the ever important FABRIC SOFTENER. At home, I only use fabric softener because it makes the clothes smell that much better. But here, I guess fabric softener really is for softening, making clothes soft. Hmmmmm. Imagine that.

I went into my laboratory, worked out my combinations of detergents and exactly how many clothes could be put into the washer and still come out clean and began my experimentations. They seemed to work. But I was still having one more problem. Clothespins leave little clothespin marks on the clothes and they are difficult to iron out. I looked at people on the streets and noticed that the tops of their shirts did not have these marks, like mine and Mark’s did. Hmmm, another mystery.

So I did the unthinkable. I spied on the neighbors. After they hung their clothes outside and went back into their apartments, I went outside to carefully observe their techniques and took notes. AHA! You hang the shirts upside down and fold the edge over the top of the line. And the shorts. The shorts! You hang those right side up, but fold the top part over the line. Then the marks don’t show so much. And the underwear…well we won’t discuss that!


Now I know. I follow all these rules, with the three detergents and the small loads and the upside down shirts, but still, our clothes are never as soft as they are at home. So when we come visit, don’t be surprised if we want to spend all our time sitting next to the dryer, running our fingers through soft clothes and towels…

**Edited for you, Mr. Herron :)**
Here is the writing on the detergent bottle:

Guess which detergent goes 1st, 2nd, and 3rd:

Of Minarets and Minuets

According to my Lonely Planet travel guide, there is a lovely walking tour of the main sites in Sofia you can do by yourself. So, a few Sundays ago, we set out to conquer the city. According to the plan, we would see some churches, government buildings, and the old Turkish baths which were under construction.

We started off on one of the main roads, Vitosha Blvd, where we had lunch and mapped our way around:


From there, we headed down to our first stop, a church. Mark is not so interested in churches, so I usually get two minutes to look at it and then he’s moving along. The next stop was to have been a mosque (another kind of church) and the Turkish baths. But the Lonely Planet travel guide did not tell me that they were going to start building the Metro, or train tracks, right in the middle of our path. So, we ended up turning too soon and getting ourselves all out of order on our little tour. No worries, though, we found our way back.

The book said I would see minarets at the mosque. I was imagining those tall, gold, circular towers with all kinds of art on it. Well, here’s what I got:


I suppose it is a minaret, but not exactly what I had in mind. The mosque and the Turkish baths are right next door to each other. Again, this comes back to the time when the Turks ruled the country. They built mosques to practice their Muslim religion. The baths are here because Sofia is naturally surrounded by springs of fresh, clean mineral water that come out of the earth. That is why it is safe to drink the water from the tap. The baths used to be a place where people would bathe in the water to heal their sicknesses. It looked like it would have been a cool place to visit, and maybe will again one day, if they ever finish the construction…


Then it was onwards to the government buildings. They are huge and well-kept. They are, perhaps, the only buildings in town with no graffiti. The travel book suggested we NOT take too many pictures of government buildings. The police get suspicious if you photograph the official places in town. We knew this of course because on a prior visit Mark was taking pictures of the U.S. Embassy when the police put handcuffs on him and took his camera. Well, come to find out, Colin Powell was due for a visit and they thought Mark was preparing to do something criminal. He did get out of the handcuffs, but the police kept the film.

While we were walking, Mark noticed these men working on the side of the government buildings:


Would you do that? Me, neither!

Then, we continued down our path.


Next up was the Russian Orthodox Church. Now, here is what I was expecting to see!! I’ve visited many churches in several countries, but this is one of my all-time favorites:


Plus, there is a little garden right next to it with flowers and a lawn. I should say here that even though Sofia is a busy city with lots of graffiti and trash, there are many parks. The parks are large and peaceful and have nice trails to walk around on. Sometimes they also have funny statues, Here are some examples:



Also, Sofia is full of people who perform music on the streets. You will see an accordion player playing a little minuet on the sidewalk, or a kid playing the violin. I think it is nice to hear music when you are walking around the city! They think it is nice if you give them some money….

Once we passed the Russian church, the next stop on the path was the Nevski Church and we had already been there. So we walked around the streets a bit and saw some ambassadors’ houses. An ambassador is an official from another country who lives in Bulgaria. So, for example, the United States has a person who is in charge of taking care of all the United States business and all the people from the United States who visit Bulgaria. If we had a problem, we would go to the United States embassy and they would help us. The ambassador is the boss of the embassy. Other countries have ambassadors here, too. Right next to our apartment are two others: India and Hungary. It is fun to walk by the ambassadors’ houses because they are huge and fancy. And they are always cleaned up. So we walked by a few houses, and then decided to head home.

The next day, Niki asked us what we did that weekend.
“Oh, we went all around and saw the Russian church and the Turkish baths”, I said.
“We have Turkish baths here?” he said.

So, I guess I know more about Sofia than even the Sofians do…hahaha!

**If you want to see lots more pictures of our walking tour, I made a new photo album for them. Just click on the picture of the big, yellow church on the right that says “Click here for pictures of Bulgaria” in teeny tiny writing…

The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Ugly

The Good: I got a little job today. And I do mean little. I am a freelance journalist for the English newspaper. Basically, I write a couple of newspaper articles a month, they pay me a couple of dollars a month (Not kidding about the couple of dollars!). First up, a story on another foreigner living in Bulgaria and a restaurant review. The job I am really after is as the copy-editor of the newspaper. That means I would edit the paper every week. I am competing against a man from England for this job–we both will do it for 2 weeks and see who gets it.

I will win.

The Bad: Our internet was down for the past day. That happens here sometimes–the internet disappears and reappears, like magic. Problem is, our phone is also linked through the internet. So, about 2 minutes after I finally sent out my phone number (local to San Diego so people can call me FOR FREE), and I’m thinking surely I will finally hear a phone ring in my house, the internet dies. Fun times.

The Just Plain Ugly: New fact about our flat. Our neighbor on the third floor controls our electricity, and when he is bored or unhappy, he likes to turn ours off. Usually right about the time I am putting dinner in the oven, effectively squashing my hopes of a home-cooked meal. And my hopes of hearing my phone ring…It often comes back on right about the time we call the landlord. Again, like magic.

First Day of School–Bulgaria Style

September 15th is always the first day of school here in Bulgaria. Even though today is a Friday, it was still the first day of school here. We had read that there is always some sort of celebration on September 15th, but we had no idea!

We were out walking the dog at about 10:00am and there were school-aged children everywhere. Hmmmm, we thought. If it’s the first day of school, shouldn’t the kids be in school? Turns out…….no! Apparently, on the first day of school, all the students bring their teachers flowers, go to an orientation for about an hour to learn the school rules, then go home and have a celebration.


That’s right, my teacher friends! No teaching on the first day of school. Only getting gifts! Imagine it….not a bad idea. I think we should try this back home in the United States! Kids–think about it…you just bring flowers to your teacher and get the rest of the day to have a party. You see?? It works for all of us.

Now you understand why we like it here!!

**A note about flower giving in Bulgaria. Flowers are given in odd numbers, so 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. You never get an even number of flowers unless you are going to a funeral. Also, if you visit somebody’s house, let’s say they invite you over for dinner, the visiting man brings flowers and candy to the house. The flowers are for the lady and the candy is for the children in the house.

Just saying–they really know how to treat us women (and children) over here!

How We Lost The Amazing Race…

…and it’s all Mark’s fault!

One of the main attractions here in Sofia is to go about 10 kilometers (6.6 miles for you Americans) out of town and take a ski lift up to the top of Mount Vitosha. You can see this mountain from our balcony:


We really wanted to do this before it got too cold. So, Mark asked his partners how to get there, and they said to just show a taxi driver the map and point to the area of the ski lift. Make sure to point at the right lift—there are two, one that is just the little chair and one that is a gondola.

No problem, we thought. So, on a Sunday morning we set out to take a taxi. Mark showed the man where we wanted to go, negotiated a price, and we were off! After a pretty short taxi ride, the man dropped us off on the side of a road. Now this was a main road, but there seemed to be little around it. We tried to ask him where the ski lift was, but he just waved his hand, collected his money, and left.

Well how hard can it be to spot a gondola? I mean, really! We started making all our funny jokes about being on the Amazing Race and where were the little gold and red markers indicating we were on the right path? hahaha. We walked up a little mountain road and began our search for large cables that would lead up the mountain, you know, possibly carrying bright orange gondolas. But we couldn’t see any. What we could see, though, was a huge, fancy hotel out in the middle of nowhere. So we went in to ask for directions.

Mark kept saying, “We are trying to get to the gondolas”. I muttered, “They don’t understand the word gondola, try to use the word ‘lift’”. But no, he insisted on using the word gondola, trying to show with his hands how a gondola would head UP the mountain. They just looked at him. I kept muttering the word lift. Finally Mark used the word lift, as if it had magically popped into his brain. And magically, they understood. Harumph! The lady said something about going back to the main road, turn left before the center of town and a river will be on your left and cross the river, or something like that. I felt we had all the necessary information—go left, cross a river, don’t go past the center of town.

I should have known better than to think I would understand the “center of town”. I foolishly expected there to be a TOWN. But there was a bus stop, a hidden restaurant and a snack shop. Later, we would learn that this area was indeed the center of town.

So, we walked on the main road. Lo and behold! There was a bright orange gondola!
(Look closely, you can see the orange gondola!)
Eureka, we thought! Even though we wasted all that time with the lift/gondola confusion, we were surely headed the right way and we could beat the other teams if we just hurried up! We turned left (remember?The lady said left! For sure this was the right way!) and headed down a small road. The gondolas were even above our heads. At this point, we praised our own navigational skills. Lesser humans would have never figured out to turn down this path. Muhahahah!(Think evil Austin Powers laugh here.) We were skipping along when we realized our little road was quickly becoming a farm road, and then even more quickly, becoming….A DEAD END. There seemed to be no way to reach the gonodolas from this road. So, we headed back up it. I thought I should just try to jump on one, Superman style:


Then we went back down the main road. We looked down each little road but Mark kept saying, “I can’t see the end. This must not be it”. Who was I to argue? Should I point out that if a road turns, you can no longer see the end? Or dare I say that if a road begins to head down a hill, you may not see the end? Well, yes, I dared say it. I DID say it, several times. But we continued to head down the main road, AWAY from the gondolas, AWAY from the river. I pointed out that the other teams in our imaginary Amazing Race were beating us now. His grand plan was to head down the main road, find a taxi that would take us directly to the lift gondola.

Yeah, because that plan worked so well the first time.

After a good half hour of walking IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, Mark found another hotel and asked for directions. Turns out…we were headed in the wrong direction. You don’t say? And, oh yeah, the lady said no taxis or buses go straight to the lift. We would have to walk BACK THE OTHER WAY and take the little road by the church. You know, the road Mark couldn’t see the end of? That one? Yeah, that one.

So, we hiked back up to where we had just come from, found the church, turned left and went to…ANOTHER DEAD END. At this point, I gave up on winning the million dollars.

But, look closely…is it really a dead end? I mean there was that little dirt path covered up by weeds and knee-high brush. Aha, the road continued here:


through a meadow, a construction site,


and a rocky path, to end up at the base of the gondolas. And look, just look!, what we saw when we got there:




Yes, folks…cabs DO indeed come right to the base. And so do cars, buses and even horses. I mean, you didn’t really believe that during ski season, people cut down brush and trounce through a snowy meadow just to get a ride up the mountain, did you? That would just be silly!


Upon our arrival at the pit stop base, that skinny, blonde Australian host of the Amazing Race stood next to a Bulgarian folk dancer and informed us, “Mark and Kristy, you are the last to arrive. I’m sorry you have both been eliminated”. And that was how we lost the Amazing Race. Like I said, it was all Mark’s fault. Just don’t ask him his version….


**Oh…you want to know about the mountains? You mean, what did we do when we got there? Well, that’s a whole other story…

Our Dog Is A Rock Star!

Yes, that’s right! Besides being a world-traveler, Guiseppe is also famous. I can tell what you’re thinking:

“Oh, no, Kristy has lost it. She is so lonely that she has become one of those people. You know, the ones who spend hours talking with their dog about world politics? Sometimes they even dress their dogs up (gasp!). You know those type of people? Well now she’s one of THEM!”

That may all be true, but I am telling you the truth. Guiseppe can barely walk down the street without people stopping and staring. They point and talk. In all fairness, we don’t understand anyone here, so we don’t know exactly what they are saying, but we imagine it to be something like this:

“There it is…the most famous of all dogs. I never thought I would see one in all my life. And yet, here he is!”

Why is he so famous, you ask? Well, it’s his rugged good looks and charming breath. And the fact that he is a Hush Puppy—you know of the infamous Hush Puppies shoes? Perhaps you are too young to know about this brand of shoes (go ask your parents!) Hush Puppies are still worn over here. In fact, we even found a Hush Puppies store. And on that store was a giant picture of Guiseppe, only dressed in brown and white fur instead of his normal black and white fur.

This explains a lot. At first, we thought people were laughing and pointing at us, being the out-of-place Americans that we are. Then we thought maybe they were laughing and pointing at us because we do something nobody else here seems to do—we pick up our dog’s poop off the sidewalk. Everyone else just leaves it and then you step in it. (I did this once while wearing flip-flops! Gross, I know. Let us never speak of it again.) But we dutifully take a bag and scoop up Guiseppe’s gifts every time we go for a walk. Perhaps they found this funny? Out-of-place Americans scooping poop off Bulgarian sidewalks?

But, no. They were laughing and pointing at the hound. Eventually, people got brave enough to try to talk to us, but that never goes very far due to our inability to speak or understand Bulgarian. It usually sounds something like this—blah, blah, blah, Hush Puppy, blah, blah, blah. Although we have had two HILARIOUS exchanges:

#1: We were walking back into our apartment building when a man with a loud booming voice said, “Oh look at his ears! THEY ARE LONG, BEAUTIFUL EARS! May I just touch them, please?”

Of course we obliged. This gave Mark an idea—let’s start a business where people pay to touch his ears, he thought. Ummmm, no!

#2: I was walking Guiseppe down a very crowded street on our way to a park for the afternoon. A man was walking next to us and I had a feeling he was trying to speak to me. He kept trying to talk to me even though I didn’t answer back. So, finally I turned to him and said, “Sorry, I only speak English”. He said, “Ahhh” and held up his hand, signaling me to wait a minute while he thought of the words in English. Then he smiled all big, pointed at the hound, and exclaimed:


“Yes”, I said. “He’s a Super Star”, and we shared a good laugh.

Well, needless to say, this has all gone straight to Guiseppe’s head. He is even acting like he’s famous now. Take, for instance, this photo, where you can see him lounging on one of OUR blankets.


Of course he would choose the leopard print.

Furthermore, he DEMANDS walks early in the morning and in the evening, not caring if I am too tired to walk a hound RIGHT THIS MOMENT. He steals bread off the countertops and if I try to take it back, he sinks his teeth in further and plays tug-o-war with me. Of course I lose—my hands are no match for his death grip.

I’ve tried to talk to him about his unruly behavior. I told him I thought he was getting a little big for his britches. But he just waved his paw at me (was that flashy thing a pinky ring??) and said something like, “Daahhhhhling, without me, you are invisible in this country. Your only chance to finally make it into People Magazine is as my doggie walker. So, puhleeze, stop bothering me with your complaints and cook me up some fresh meat”, as he puffed on his pipe and straightened his silky, red robe.

And so I did. I mean, he had a point. How else am I ever going to get into People Magazine???

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

*This is the title of a great children’s book–read it if you haven’t already!

**Don’t read this post if you are eating.

One of the things Bulgaria is known for is its cheese. They use a goat cheese, similar to feta, on everything from salad to french fries. Now, I love cheese as much as the rest of you. My favorite kind is that powdery, yellow astronaut-looking cheese you mix with milk and put on the macaroni and cheese. You know the stuff. I also enjoy a slightly rubbery, individually wrapped American single on a sandwich or in a quesadilla. If I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll cut up that jalapeno havarti cheese, or eat some brie on a cracker (this is especially popular at the thousands of baby showers, bridal showers, and tupperware/Mary Kay/Pampered Chef parties women force each other to attend).

But the cheese here….well…it’s probably something fantastic to you cheese connoisseurs. To me, it hurts. It smells like old Teva sandals worn for a few too many years. I can almost taste the curdling milk (kids–hate to tell you this, but cheese is made from milk after it is no longer good enough to drink). That being said, I like it in small doses on the salads and french fries, but not on sandwiches or crackers.

I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but Mark and I shop by looking at pictures and guessing what we think the food is. It’s a fun game we play. Sometimes we hit a homerun, like with this tomato-y salsa stuff. Other times we don’t, like today.

It looked like hummus. The roasted red pepper hummus that is especially delicious when you buy it fresh from Henry’s and slather it on pita chips. We got some crackers (as close as we could get to pita chips) and headed on our way. I made a nice ham sandwich, gathered my “hummus” and “pita chips” and relaxed into my lunch. I layered my cracker with a tomato and a giant scoop of the roasted red pepper hummus and bit right into it.

Turns out….NOT ROASTED RED PEPPER HUMMUS at all!!! It was the stinky feet cheese doctored up with some red I-don’t-know-what spice disguised just to trick me into tasting it one more time. Needless to say, I spit that right out of my mouth and ended my dining session right then and there.

Perhaps you are thinking–well, Kristy that was fairly stupid of you to just bite into something before you knew what it was. And I agree. It won’t happen again, I assure you!

To Work, or not to Work, That is the Question

See–you think I am talking about a job, like should I get a job or should I not? But, no. I am not talking about ME working. I’m talking about things in general working…

Every morning I wake up and begin this new little “game” where I walk around and see what is and is not working that day. This allows me to plan for my busy events. No electricity? Well, that’s a day for reading, writing in my journal, and Sudokuing. No internet? That’s a day for writing blog entries and saving them, or learning how to doctor photos so I look 23 years old again (seriously, though, I really have learned how to remove all my wrinkles). No toaster? Well, that’s a day for cereal. You get the idea.

But I draw the line at the TV. It is 100 % unacceptable for us not to have a functional TV. Granted, there isn’t much to watch on TV here. Here is a list of the stations we get in English:
1. CNN News
2. CNBC Business News
3. Animal Planet
4. Discovery
5. Discovery/History
6. Discovery Civilization
7. National Geographic

They usually play about 6 hours worth of programs, then play those 6 hours again and again and again. So, with such boring TV, why must I have it? The short answer is I don’t know. I just know that the sound of the TV in the background while I work relaxes me. You know where this is going….

Yesterday, the TV stopped working. No channels, only that gray/black/white static stuff. So now the toaster, DVD player, and TV aren’t working while the internet/phone, and electricity work sometimes. Ok, I’ll admit it. I got mad. Really mad. The problem is that there is nobody to get mad at. At home, I would simply call the cable company (and the internet, electric, DVD and toaster companies). But here, I can’t. There is nobody to understand me in English and I don’t understand them in Bulgarian.

Mark finally called the landlord on his vacation. We were feeling all guilty about interrupting his week off, until he called back and explained the problem. You see, in his haste to get to vacation, he had accidentally forgotten to pay the bill. Hopefully it will be working by tomorrow afternoon, he says.

I say, Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

p.s. The good thing about all this is that I am now an expert in downloading movies and TV shows off the internet and burning them on to CDs…every cloud has a silver lining, blah blah blah.