Keys

This is a small detail, but funny nonetheless…when is the last time you saw a key that looked like this?

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Well, that funky green one is the key to my heart apartment. Very modern.

Cricket—Not Just An Insect Anymore

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Also…a game.  A game similar to baseball played all over the world, but especially popular in England, India, Pakistan, Australia, and South Africa (among other places).  Sure, I had heard of it before.  I even saw a game being played while I was cruising Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.  There were a bunch of grown men dressed in white suits trying to hit a ball with something that looked like a baseball bat.  And that was all I knew about it…

Until now.

Now, I am an expert.  Well, sort of.  For the newspaper, I had to interview the coach of the Bulgarian National Cricket Team.  Who knew there was a national team?  I sure didn’t.  Turns out, most of the Bulgarians I asked didn’t know there was one.  But, alas, there is, and how it got started is a pretty cool story.

This guy moved here from Pakistan and decided that he wanted to have a cricket team here.  He asked some friends to meet him one day and he was going to teach them.  Unfortunately, he asked them to come play during the winter!  Cricket, like baseball, entails a lot of standing around, waiting for something to happen.  So these poor guys were standing around in the freezing cold, learning how to play a foreign sport.  Can you imagine it?

Well, that’s how it all started.  They formed a team of Bulgarians (with one or two guys from India) and went to the European cricket tournament, where they finished 6th in their division.  They were pretty proud of themselves, since all the other countries either had played cricket for a long time or had recruited foreigners to play on the team.  Now, Bulgaria has 8 cricket teams, and they are starting to teach kids in elementary school how to play so they can build the program up.  Neat story, huh??

But here’s the best part.  After my interview, I went to watch a practice and the coach convinced me to try the game.  Yes, folks, I played cricket! HA!  And I liked it.  A lot!  The bat is waaaaaayyyyyy heavier than a baseball bat and the ball is much harder.  Here is a picture of the equipment:

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I think I even got cricket shoulder (like tennis elbow…you know what I mean?), but I hit the ball a few times.  Granted, they didn’t do the crazy pitch, mostly a nice soft lob, but I hit it.  In cricket, there are not four bases like in baseball—there are only two, so once you hit the ball you just run back and forth (there’s a teammate at the other base and you keep switching places).  So a game could have like 300 runs.

Oh yeah, and here’s the funniest part.  There are two different types of cricket games, one that lasts just one day (like 8 hours with a lunch break) and one that lasts 5 days and they have a lunch break AND a tea break.  Funny, don’t you think?  We could try that in baseball—stop the game for a tea time.

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They actually have an American baseball team here, too.  I don’t know who they would play since there really aren’t any European teams.  The coach from that team was also at the cricket practice and he thought it was hilarious that an American girl was playing cricket.  So he took a picture of this phenomenon with his cell phone camera.

Glad to see I’m so entertaining to others!

How Do We Get To Our Own Backyard?

We can see it from our balcony. We know it exists.  A green, grassy area shaded by trees, enclosed by a sturdy fence.  Other dogs roam freely down there….

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And yet, Guiseppe can only stare longingly down at them.  Well actually, I lie.  He can’t even see down there because our balcony has a concrete wall about 4 feet high and Guiseppe only stands about 4 inches high.  But he knows the other dogs are there, I’m sure of that!  Why? Because we don’t know how to get to our own backyard!

It’s not that the walks are so bad.  (Well, sometimes they are, like early in the morning when it’s cold and I just want to sleep.)  It’s that winter is coming and the ground will be covered with snow, and how will Guiseppe go out walking then?  Each step of his short, stumpy legs will surely sink so far into the powdery snow that he will certainly be stuck and we will have to pry him out of the ice with our own frozen hands.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just go out the back door (wherever that is) and let the hound do his business, then return to the sizzly comfort of our own home?  And if he still needs exercise, we could run up and down the hallway like 200 times?

We thought maybe that wasn’t the yard for our building…until we saw our neighbor and his dog down there.  Then I took up my infamous spying tricks and noticed he entered and exited through a door I thought was used only for electricity boxes and the like.  But I think it is actually the “back door”.  I imagine it to be like the Chronicles of Narnia, where the kids enter the closet and end up in a magical land.

Of course, I wouldn’t know because when I tried all three of our keys—building key, flat key, mailbox key—none of them worked in the magic back door.  So we called the landlord.  He’s not sure if it’s possible but he’s going to “try” to get us a key for our own backyard.

Don’t ask.

“Yours” is a subjective word here in Bulgaria.  The backyard is “ours” but we just aren’t allowed to use it.  Kind of like how the heat, electricity, internet, iron, toaster and DVD player are “ours”, but often, we just can’t use them.

Rain + 0 Degrees = SNOW!

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In case you didn’t know, that’s the mathematical equation for snow. And YUP! We have it here today!!!! It started out as a very cold rain. VERY COLD! Then, when I was walking home from lunch, it started to snow. SNOW, PEOPLE, SNOW!! I have never seen it just snow before like that. Sure, I’ve seen snow up in the mountains or when we go skiing, but I have never just been cruising the streets and snow falls on my head. Really cool!

Just one problem–all I have here are running shoes. Running shoes, as you know, have small air holes to vent the sweat. These air holes become your enemy in the snow…the freezing air comes inside and turns your toes into tiny icicles. Seriously. So, next up on the shopping list–snow-friendly shoes (though I may wait until I come home to get them so I can buy a pair that is good for my feet).

But, aside from the icy toes, the snow thing is really fun. Especially if you get to sit inside and sip hot tea while you watch it from the window. I knew it would be cool, but I didn’t think I would like it this much (and I bet you didn’t think so either)!

And We’re Off…

Mark finally took a few days off and we are actually going to do a little traveling here in Bulgaria. On Saturday and Sunday, we will be in Plovdiv. Then on Monday, we are going to Rila, where they have a famous monastery. This is the most famous place in Bulgaria. It will surely be cold, even freezing!, but it will be fun. We should have lots of pictures when we return….

Have a nice weekend, all! We will!!

But before we go…

Just thought you would like to see some pictures of the snow outside…since you’ll never see it there in warm, sunny San Diego!

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I tried to get a picture of the actual snowflakes, but thats proved to be a little difficult. Oh, and check out the weather forecast on the side here…that’s MINUS 4, people, MINUS! And feels like MINUS 11.  Did I move to Siberia or something?
p.s. I added some new pictures to the photo gallery from a few months ago when we went to Vitosha Mountain (you’ll remember it from the Amazing Race story??). Check them out. Sorry it took so long, it’s just that the photo gallery thing is tedious and laborious and in my new retirement state of mind, I just haven’t got the energy… 😉

Oh the Places You’ll Go…

Or better yet, the places we went! All in one weekend! I have tons of stuff to write about Plovdiv and Rila, but we just got home, it’s night time and time to eat, and we’re exhausted. The short version is…IT WAS AWESOME!! WE LOVED IT!!! Both places were fantastic, way better than we even thought they would be…actually worth being here just to see these places. So, to hold you over until I can write the whole story tomorrow, I did take the time to upload a few Plovdiv pictures in the gallery on the right (you know…the one with the yellow church). Enjoy! We did! 🙂

We *heart* Plovdiv.

Plovdiv should be called P-love-div. It is such a beautiful city. We loved visiting, and we will definitely return!

Some Plovdiv background: Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, second behind Sofia (where we live). The Ottoman Empire (the Turks) controlled Bulgaria for 500 years, until the Russians helped free Bulgaria from Turkish rule in the 1880s. Unfortunately, at the time the first treaties were being signed, Plovdiv was still considered part of the Turkish Empire, so it was NOT named the capital of Bulgaria. This is their claim to fame, that they should have been the capital city. Plovdiv is the Sausalito of Bulgaria. It is where the artists and intellectuals hung out, but sadly, were killed during the Communist era for being against the regime. Think reverse McCarthy-ism.

Now, they have a beautiful center of town with clean streets and brightly colored buildings. There is a whole area where cars are not permitted, so the streets art clear for walking.

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There is also a section called Old Town where they have preserved the history. There are the original stones laid by the Romans during the Roman Empire and traditional Bulgarian houses from the Ottoman Empire.

So….here’s how the weekend went:

On Saturday afternoon, we took a bus from Sofia to Plovdiv, which took about an hour and a half. When we arrived at Plovdiv, we went to our hotel and checked in. One small problem, we didn’t bring out passports and the guy didn’t believe we lived in Sofia since we didn’t have address cards (what are those and how do we get them????) But since we were only staying one night, he let us in.

Well, we had planned to meet some of my new American friends who were also in Plovdiv later in the night, but come to find out, some of Mark’s friends were also in town that night. What a coincidence!! We met two of his friends—one American and one Bulgarian—for dinner and then we went out to play pool. Then we went out afterwards with my friends.

The next morning, we went and had brunch, then met with Mark’s friends to tour Old Town. The Bulgarian girl grew up in Plovdiv, so she took us around and told us all the history. For example, they have preserved the original stones laid by the Romans(if you would like to see the pictures better, click on them, they will enlarge):

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There was also an amphitheater that was originally built by the Romans, then restored by the Bulgarians and is still used for operas and concerts today:

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And during the time of Turkish rule, they built their houses in such a way so they could hide their children who were often taken by the Turks and turned into slaves or soldiers. They would have big walls or wooden doors and windows. Here is an example:

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Some of the streets are narrow and the houses nearly touch each other across the streets:

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While we were there, a potter came out and offered to give us a demonstration of how he makes his pots, cups, etc. He showed us in his book where he had done a demonstration for the US Ambassador and explained how the clay comes from the nearby river, the River Maritsa.

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Of course, we bought a few items from him. This was one of the best parts of the day. He works in a little shop and sells his creations. And he had a speech in English that he knew and described everything that he was doing. Then he slammed one of the vases on to the table to show that it WILL NOT BREAK!! I already knew this because before I left I had taken a pottery class and I learned that little fact. Having tried pottery myself, it was extraordinary to watch this guy make a perfect milk vase in 2 minutes. My greatest achievement was a soy sauce dish that took 8 weeks to master, and even then, it was uneven! So I was very impressed.

After so much walking, we decided to have hot chocolate in a café and then shop for snow boots. I did not find any I liked (will have to look when I come home), so we left and headed to the bus stop, where we met up with some of my American friends. Now all this may seem amazingly coincidental to you, but Bulgaria is a very small country, so it is not unlikely that you will run into people you know.

We were lucky to have a Bulgarian with us during our tour because she could explain to us what everything was. Otherwise, we would have had to rely on guide books which don’t have as much information. One thing Mark and I have both noticed is that people here know their history well. Any Bulgarian could tell you about the main events in their country’s past, and they have thousands of years of history. It makes me that much more sad that so many Americans don’t know our basic history and we are only a couple hundred years old….

To sum it all up…we loved Plovdiv, and now call it P-love-div! We will definitely hang out there again!

***I finished the album of Plovdiv pictures—be sure to check it out!****

Dare We Discuss the Weather?

I know living in San Diego where there is only one type of weather (sunny) does not properly prepare me to deal with Autumn. But surely, even people who are used to having seasons and changing weather are scratching their heads over our past week. Last week, we had snow and ice. Then rain. Then big gusts of freezing cold wind. And today…sunny. San Diego sunny. Sunny like I can wear flip flops sunny. Turn off all the heaters we waited so long to work sunny. Take the hound to the park sunny.

And I think that’s just what I’ll do. Because, who knows? There could be a blizzard tomorrow!

Rila-y Beautiful!

As promised, a recap on our trip to Rila Monastery…

Of course, first you must know a little history (click here or here for more in depth history) of the place. In the 10th Century, a hermit named John lived in a cave and prayed near to where Rila is now located. The scholars who followed his teachings began building the monastery, particularly a guy named Ivan Rilski. Many priests and leaders in the world donated to the monastery during the first few hundred years it was built. Then the Turks invaded Bulgaria and raided the monastery in the 13th Century. Even so, the monastery was saved by the Russian Orthodox church who would send books and money to the church.

During the time of the Ottoman Empire (when the Turks had taken over), the monastery became a refuge for Bulgarian culture. Because it was in the mountains and a bit difficult to get to, the monks here were able to keep much of the culture alive during this time. For this reason, Rila Monastery is perhaps the most beloved and respected place in Bulgaria.

In the 1880s, as the Turks were being forced out of Bulgaria by the Russians, they burned the monastery down. But…because the respect people had for the place, they raised enough money and rebuilt the place in one year. This may not seem amazing to you, but this is a country that cannot even build a simple road in 5 years, let alone a huge monastery in one!

Our trip to the monastery actually began the night before, on our way home from Plovdiv. The taxi we took from the bus station was driven by a guy named Toni. We started asking about going to the monastery because I had read that it is difficult to go by bus in one day. Toni offered to drive us in his own car and we negotiated a price. My two friends, Mark and I split the price.

On Monday morning, Toni came and picked us up in his own car. He told Mark that he would be Mark’s Bulgarian teacher and Mark would be his English teacher. And that’s pretty much how the day went—those two trying to communicate in the front seat with my friend and me trying to translate between the two of them (using our Bulgarian/English dictionary, of course) from the back seat. Toni stopped at the place where the nuns stayed:

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And he stopped for us to take some scenic shots:

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(a frozen waterfall) (snow-capped mountains)

Then we got to the monastery and it was all snowy, in the mountains, and BEAUTIFUL!! Really, truly amazing. The monastery itself is bright and colorful and every inch of it is covered in artwork and…well….words really cannot convey….take a look!

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Toni walked us all around, into the monks’ quarters and up to the top to the scenic views, and he even bought us little icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. (Soooo nice of him!!! I mean, we were strangers to him!!) Of course, we had to have a snowball fight.  Mark thinks he won, but we both know that really, I WON!!! Then we headed down the mountain, stopped for lunch/dinner, and headed home.

I think this was definitely the best day I have had since we moved here! 😉
**There are meeeeeeeellions more Rila pictures in the Gallery, though I removed some of the artwork pictures which were not kid-friendly.