Adventures in grocery shopping

Went shopping at the Billa today (after just wandering through it yesterday). Some things I learned about shopping in Bulgaria:

1) You have to insert a coin (either 20 or 50 stotinki) to use the shopping cart. I had a long and confused exchange with a local woman who wanted to exchange her smaller coins for my 50 st. piece, because she pointed out I also had a 20 st. piece, but I didn’t understand that you could use either a 50 or a 20 to unlock a cart, the reason for this being that you get the coin back anyway when you return the cart. Inserting the coin releases a chain that holds the cart to the other carts; when you insert the chain again after you’re done using the cart, the coin pops back out. It’s actually a pretty smart system that prevents the American problem of having shopping carts strewn all over the parking lot; the only problem being, as with the local woman, you have to have a 20 or 50 st. coin with you. 

2) I didn’t figure this out on this particular trip only, but stotinki coins below 20 (i.e. 10, 5, 2, and 1) are completely useless. Even the 20 and 50 are pretty useless except for getting shopping carts. The single stotinka is sort of like the single peseta – nobody wants it. Its slogan should be: The Stotinka: Even More Useless Than a Penny. I was warned not to leave too many stotinki coins as part of a tip because waitstaff can find it insulting, and I think my Billa cashier today got annoyed when I paid in exact change because now my stupid worthless coins became HER stupid worthless coins (or, the store’s, I guess). I don’t mean to be going around insulting Bulgarians by passing off their own worthless currency back to them, but in the case of the Billa cashier, I literally had just EXACTLY the amount of money I needed to pay the bill (minus the 20 stotinki still stuck in the cart), which was…

3) 60,67 leva (about $40 US) purchased the following:

There is life outside your apartment

(Bonus to anyone who can name the musical that’s from.)

Well, after about 27 total hours of travel, I arrived at my new digs in Sofia and I LOVE it. True, all the furnishings have a sort of cheap Ikea-like quality to them, but the apartment is clean, bright, and spacious. It’s a 2-bedroom that I have all to myself, and it’s a stretch to find things to put in the second bedroom, so there is PLENTY of space for visitors! Having never lived completely by myself before (not counting college dorm rooms), I find it a luxury to be able to put all my crap just where I want it, especially in the bathroom 🙂 Also, there’s laundry in the apartment, which is AWESOME.

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1) Living room area
2) Kitchen area (this is in the same room as the living room)
3) Main hallway (I was still unpacking, as you can see)
4) My bedroom (before I’d replaced the sheets)
5) Second bedroom/office
6) Bathroom
7) The view looking to the left…
8) …and right of my balcony (yes, there’s a tiny little balcony…basically just big enough to stand and look around, or sit and have breakfast outside on a nice morning)

I’ve barely left the place at all to explore yet…I’m not in a big rush, since I know I’ll get there, and it’s important to me to have a solid home base first. I had a big adrenaline-fueled unpacking session yesterday after first arriving, then passed out for a mere hour (trying to avoid sleeping too much during the day and exacerbating jet lag/travel exhaustion issues). A bunch of the teachers, new and returning, went out to dinner last night at a nearby restaurant, and I had my first shopska salad and sampled kashkaval (on a pizza – apparently, this is the default in Bulgaria, and substituting mozzarella needs a specific request and an additional charge). My meal: a huge salad, 1/3 of a pizza, and 1/2 liter of beer = about $6.50.

I’ve got about 2 hours to kill before we head over to the school for a campus tour and paperwork, so I’m going to go walk around a bit finally. There’s a little shopping plaza nearby with a huge grocery store, so that’s really convenient. School staff already put a few basics in the kitchen (sandwich materials, juice, milk, water, etc), but I definitely need some reinforcements!

Bulgarian fight songs?

That’s kind of what it sounds like outside my apartment. There seems to be a small park or gathering place about a half block away (I can’t quite see through some trees) and a group of men there has been bellowing what sounds like college fight songs (or maybe communist propaganda??) for the last half hour or so. At one point, there was a loud bang like a firecracker, and then lots of smoke rising from beyond the trees. Hmmm…welcome to Bulgaria, I guess!

Waiting to meet up with some of the other teachers to head out for dinner; will post pictures and a more complete update on travels later. 

Eve of departure

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.
Henry David Thoreau

We have keys to all doors! The world is all gates, all opportunities, all strings of tension waiting to be struck!
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Go with a spirit that fears nothing!

Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end; then stop.
The King of Hearts