Pros and cons

Thanksgiving dinner party preparations are under way – a bunch of exhausted, burned-out teachers finished entering their quarter grades by 5 pm and then headed down to the cafeteria kitchen to start burning some other stuff. I got home at 10:30 and there were still plenty of people there; when I left, the highly old-school stacked ovens that remind me somewhat uncomfortably of concentration camps and/or crematoriums had just charred the first round of apple crisps, and people were picking off the singed oats.

I’m headed back over there in about an hour or so and will be there all day, culminating in an American-style Thanksgiving dinner in Bulgaria for 150 people. It is both a really fun and bonding experience to be cooking on this scale with my colleagues in an outdated, industrial-sized kitchen and somewhat emblematic of the things that we don’t have here – namely family and friends, but also other conveniences. Since it’s too sad to talk about missing people, I thought I’d use the eve of my 3-month anniversary of arriving here to reflect on some more mundane pluses and minuses of living in Bulgaria.

Things I miss:

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Nom nom nom…

A quick off-topic note before I get down to it – yesterday I danced in a Balkan dance festival (alas, no traditional costumes). I defer you to my colleague’s blog for details and her photos. Some more pictures and possibly video to follow.

I’ve been meaning to write about Bulgarian food for a while but never got around to it. There’s no way I could cover all that I have learned about Вулгарски храна in one post, but given that our staff Thanksgiving party is next weekend (the American teachers cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for our Bulgarian colleagues) and we’re going to be mired in food prep at the tail end of this week, I thought I’d take a little time now to pirate off Google Images to show you how we chow down in Sofia.

I went to an excellent dinner last night with some colleagues at Maison Godet; this, however, is not a Bulgarian restaurant (as you might have surmised from the name), and so it is irrelevant to this post other than that I wanted to plug the restaurant because it really was very nice. Order the roasted camembert in sauce of wild strawberries. It is about as literally orgasmic a dish as you will ever have.

Anyway, in a Bulgarian restaurant, you would normally start off with a salad. The traditional salad is a шопска (shopska):

Shopska-salad

It’s tomatoes, cucumbers, sometimes green peppers, sometimes onions, and сирене (cirene, or white cheese). It’s good but I do get a little tired of it sometimes. It’s sort of emblematic of a lot of Bulgarian cuisine: good quality and filling, but not a ton of variety in flavors.

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Of cabbies, conductors, and cafes

Finally the Belgrade travel story (only one week late). 

 The first line in my journal from 29 October is, “I’m kind of amazed that I ever get anywhere.”

 I wrote that at not quite 9:00 pm, after I had

  • worked a full day – taught 4 periods and then had a Bulgarian lesson with a student 8th period, during which I asked for travel terms I might need for my trip, then promptly forgot my notebook at school
  • graded for 2+ hours AFTER school, literally up until the minute I had to run out of my apartment because I knew I’d never make my train otherwise
  • packed in about 20 minutes and simply prayed that I wasn’t missing anything vital, like, you know, my passport
  • hailed a taxi on my own because somehow there were none lined up at the gas station like there usually are
  • correctly instructed the driver on where to go – not only initially (“централна гара), but also once we got there (“не автогара, влак), then made brief conversation with him, clarifying that I was not студентка but rather “работя. учителка съм” AND tell him “искам единайсет лева” back as change from my 20 — booooooyahh!! He was a very sweet older man, and probably the only cabbie in Sofia who drives under the speed limit (though this gave me cause to bite my nails for a while, worrying that I would miss my train)
  • asked for a “билет за Белград at one of the ticket windows, then understood the woman’s directions to go to the Rila international ticket office at one end of the station. The Sofia train station, by the way, definitely feels very Eastern European – high industrial ceilings, cold cruel breezes wafting throughout, sad-looking people sitting morosely on seats.
  • purchased my ticket in Bulgarian even though I think the woman was just playing with me about not knowing English (either that or I completely misunderstood her – I thought she said “no” but I think she said “само” as in, only a little). I thought she was being mean at first but then she started flipping through my passport to look at the pictures on each page, which was sort of cute, and she wished me a good evening and safe travels
  • found the correct platform despite it being written confusingly backwards (they give the track number first, followed by the section, but when you go to the platform area, they list the section first, then the track number)

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First international adventure!

From Bulgaria, anyway. Exciting to get those first few passport stamps! (I just had it renewed a couple years ago; the only previous stamp was from the UK last summer).

This is me, a little over 48 hours ago, at the meeting of the Danube and Sava Rivers in Belgrade, Serbia:

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I’ll write about the trip in more detail later (many little stories and mundane details that I’m probably overly proud of myself for), but for right now this is the situation I’m dealing with…

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A reproachful kitty and lots of work!