Archive for the ‘Bulgaria’ Tag

FINALLY I RELIVE BULGARIA   5 comments

So much of what I loved in Bulgaria could not be photographed – the beautiful insides of cathedrals – but there is still much to share from a country that opened my eyes to a culture of which I had not been familiar.

First of all: where we lived for a week — a unit at Balkan Jewel Resort. Unlike the sites in Portugal, Austria, and France, there was an intimacy in its very design. Its U shape embraced not only the pool, playground, and restaurant, but also the people. The sense of community was powerful, perhaps a result of the country’s history.

Balkan Jewel

The following photo is a view from our balcony where the only table available encouraged us to be outside and in the company of others.

Balkan Jewel Resort

Near our resort was evidence of another, sadder, fact of the country’s current situation. Nearby there were so many buildings — intended resorts, I think — that were left unfinished, no doubt when funds ran out with the most recent recession.

UNFINISHED

There was optimism as well in the new construction we saw, especially at the Melnik winery.

Melnik Winery

We arrived at an unscheduled time, but were kindly given a tour by the owner and her son. Not a thing was missing, at least from our point of view, including elevators taking us to various levels of the building where we had excellent views of the workings. The winery is built on land that belonged to the family for years counted in the hundreds, removed at one point into the Ottoman empire and later into the communist state, but ultimately returned.

The best part of the tour was the graciousness of Luka and her son Alex. Luka understood English and, I suspect, could speak it better than her confidence allowed, but Alex served as a really competent interpreter. (I think the English he knew was British English.)

Luka & Alex

Especially delightful was the private wine tasting, with mother and son hosting mother and son. (I’m not in the following picture for the obvious reason that I’m taking the photo.)

ALEX, LUKA, DOUG

The wine was excellent and the price was right given the dollar/Lev exchange rate.

Wine

We were not allowed to leave without being gifted a fresh melon and bunches of grapes Doug got to pick when escorted by Alex on a visit to the vineyards.

Our next stop was the Rozhen monastery.

ROZHEN MONASTERY

Of course, we were not allowed to photograph the insides, but I did sneak a peek into the chapel. The murals were outstanding, and I did get to photograph some on the outside as well.

Chapel

Mural

The next day’s visit to the Rila Monastery was extremely moving for me. Still a bustlingly active monastery, it was here, as I understand it, that, under the protection of the Ottoman empire, Bulgarian art, history, religion, and culture were preserved for the 500 years of Turkish rule. The cathedral was beyond moving with its typically, but more-so, ornate physical interior and lovely chanting during what apparently were repeated sequential masses.

People were receiving the host with tears so meaningful it evoked the same from my eyes. It seemed like a visit to Mecca for Muslims, or to the Church of the Nativity in Israel for Christians.

I wanted a photo of the inside so badly, but none were available, not even on postcards at the souvenir counter outside. That, I believe, reflects the sacredness of the spot.

But I was able to photograph some of the external murals.

outside murals

External mural

We spent the next to the last day in Bulgaria just hanging out because our planned tour was cancelled by the guide. It turns out the heat was too extreme. It was only when we got home that we realized we’d been living in a heat wave. Having too much of a good time to notice, I guess. But we were pretty much ready to ease off at that point.

And Doug managed a creative meal with one frying pan and one large pot.

Doug cooking

Served on our delightful cozy deck.

Dinner on the deck

Our final full day was spent in Bansko where there were some noteworthy things to record. One reminded me of the springs of mountain water we used to enjoy in Vermont, but much more central water supplies in the city.

public water 2

public water supply

And there was the recycling,

recycling

Especially beautiful everywhere, I thought, were the tile decorations as part of the architecture. Here is the second floor of one of the businesses. From another angle it’s included in the new header.

Tiled building

We also had the good luck to arrive in Bansko on the day of the international jazz festival. Our first inkling was the set up below.

Jazz festival

And then front row seats (because we got there early) just behind the VIP section. The entire program was in English – I guess because jazz is primarily an American product.

Jazz stage

We elected to stay in a hotel in Sofia the night before our flight home. On the way we intended to stop at a couple of recommended sites. One we never did find, which points up how terrible the signage is. It’s not just that the signs are not in English, there just was no clear indication at all. We missed one place totally, but quite by accident we did hit upon the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox Cathedrals in the world. Built to honor the dead in the war which liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, it is truly an awesome sight — in the original sense of the word.

Alexander Nevsky

As with the cathedral at the Rila monastery, we were not allowed to take photos inside, and again I found no postcards or other sources of pictures. To tell the truth, though, it didn’t evoke the emotional reaction I experienced at the Rila Monastery with it’s place in Bulgarian history.

It was at this site that we experienced a rather sour ending to our journey. We were on a large plaza surrounding this tourist attraction. Seeing a lovely restaurant we decided to have lunch before leaving the area. We carefully moved the car to an area where there was nothing to indicate that parking was banned. And we avoided areas where signs that clearly indicated restriction to handicapped parking. Consider that we were on a plaza where tourists were clearly expected.

But after lunch we came out to find that our rental car had been booted.

Booted car

Not knowing the language, and having no functioning cell phone, we had to rely on the folks at the restaurant to call the indicated number for us. The three minute wait we were promised became twenty minutes before the authorities came. We had to pay a fine of 32 lev (not a huge amount) but credit cards were rarely accepted in Bulgaria, and we had been spending down our levs, so Doug was sent off to an ATM machine while the boot cops went off to free someone else, returning after about fifteen minutes to accept the levs Doug had acquired.

In the meantime, folks passing by expressed sympathy, and I searched but found nothing that looked like a “No Parking” sign. It turns out we should just have known that, to park in Sophia, one has to text the police and buy a one or two hour permit. Hardly a possibility for tourists like us with our language and cell phone limitations. It was clear there was no eagerness to make tourists feel welcome.

Still, I’d happily return for another visit with our new awareness. And, at the hotel restaurant we were treated very kindly by the host who brought us tap water and veggies even though we had declined to order them. With a smile, he indicated he knew we were almost out of levs. (Remember, credit cards are generally not acceptable.)

And so ended our four-week European adventure,with fond memories of Bulgaria in spite of the sour note at the end.

I won’t even bore you with the problems with our flight home. Well, just a hint, we were scheduled to fly from Paris to Minneapolis on a flight number that didn’t exist. Actually, we were lucky to get one the same day. Delta did give us some flight miles, but the truth is it was the fault of the travel agency, not the airline. So, thank you Delta.

ANY LANGUAGE BUT MY OWN   8 comments

ANY LANGUAGE BUT MY OWN

In responding to my previous blog, Terry and Leelah raised questions that inspire me to write about one of my gripes.

No, I don’t know the language used in Portugal. They are kind of enough – and happy enough, I guess, to have English-speaking guests – that they post signs in English, and often speak English.

Once I was pretty good at German, so in Austria and Germany I can understand the signage, and often what people are saying if they speak to me with enunciation one would use for a young child.

At one point I did study French – in fact, at many points – and with a lot of help I managed to pass the French exam on which my Ph.D. depended. (The German exam was easy.)

So what’s my gripe? Americans and their linguistic provincialism. That’s OK in a way. We aren’t nestled among countries that speak other languages, so it’s understandable that we don’t emphasize foreign languages in our schools where we could learn them easily when the brain is ready in our young years. It’s also understandable that our schools are beginning now to offer foreign languages. We are, obviously, becoming one world whether people like it or not.

What gripes me is the feeling on the part of some people that immigrants and visitors to the states “should” speak English – a demand we don’t put on ourselves when we travel. As a matter of fact, I make a point to thank people in other countries who speak to me in English.

Provincialism? One of my web friends identified herself as Norwegian. Her English is impeccable. In fact, she does most of her writing – at least what I see – in English. So I assumed she lived in Minnesota where the descendants of immigrants proudly declare themselves to be Norwegians, or Swedes, or Germans, or what have you. Bu no, she really is Norwegian.

These days I hear and see interviews on the media with people from all over the world. Guess what! They speak English. I often wonder if people listening appreciate that fact. What a gift to us that they speak our language.

OK, so this isn’t the well-organized piece I’d like to be writing, but I hope you get my drift.

One last story. My father who moved to the States from Sweden when he was 19 wouldn’t teach me Swedish. Why? Because he had suffered so much disdain for his Swedish accent. As a matter of fact, he went to college with two primary goals, one of which was to learn to speak English without an accent. And he did. The only piece left was a remnant of the delightful Scandinavian lilt. What is it about language snobbery that prevents our appreciating the skill and knowledge of multilingual folks?

Oh, I guess this is a p.s. It was in Bulgaria that we found very few (if any) signs in English. I’ll have my story in a later blog on how this affected our time there. Suffice it to say, the message is they aren’t yet crazy about entertaining English-speaking visitors. I guess that makes sense too – a country proudly re-establishing its heritage after years under the Ottoman empire and then Communist rule.

I’m told that when I write a letter of complaint, I should end it with a bit on what I want the recipient to do. So, what do I want us to do? At the very least, to appreciate the value of other languages as well as our own, to treat both with respect, and to do a better job than I have of learning languages other than English.

Four weeks in Europe   4 comments

I’ve just returned from four weeks in Europe: Portugal, Austria, France, and Bulgaria. I’ll be sharing stories and photos beginning in a few days. Right now I’m busy getting my photos labeled and organized while finding time to continue the editing of Mrs. Job — whoever she is to become.

Just one initial comment for my fellow inhabitants of Minnesota. All four of those countries impressed me with their roads — black, smooth, clear white lines. Not a single pot hole.

On the other hand, no place had the competence and clarity of signage that we enjoy here. Not even in their native languages.

I’ve met some wonderful people, enjoyed some amazing adventures, sights, and stirring emotions. And I’m anxious to share all that with you.

I’ll be back.

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