Because it’s Opposite Day, obviously

I’ve been AWOL for the last week-plus because I’ve been mired in organizing something at school that I’m probably not even allowed to talk about, but it involves a lot of paper and exchanges like the following:

Copy Machine Repair Guy (in Bulgarian): Hello, I am here responding to your service call again, even though I was just here yesterday. My manager is with me this time.

Administrative Assistant (in Bulgarian): Oh, good! Only…wait a few minutes, I don’t have the key to the copy room.

Repair Company Manager (in Bulgarian): Who has the key?

Admin Assistant: Oh, this random American teacher has it. We’ll call her as soon as the period’s over – she’s teaching, you see.

Manager: Can’t someone just go run and get the key from her?

Admin Assistant: Well no, you see she also has to stand in the copy room with you while you’re in there, because there’s a top secret project going on that you’re not allowed to see, so she has to supervise you to make sure you don’t steal any piece of our top secret project or see anything you’re not supposed to see. In fact, that’s why she’s the only one with the key – because none of the Bulgarian staff are allowed in there, either.

Repair Guy & Manager: …

LATER…

Manager (in English): What exactly is the problem with the machine?

American Teacher (i.e., Me): Well, it keeps jamming.

Manager: Can you be more specific?

Me: Umm…we try to make packets and it keeps jamming. Continue reading

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Budapest yellow

I posted most of my photos on facebook, but I wanted to share a little mini-collection here. If I had to assign colors to cities, I would say Budapest is definitely yellow, based on the high number of yellow buildings and yellow paint I saw there. Prague to me is pink, although there aren’t that many pink buildings in Prague – the city just feels “pink” to me. Sofia is…sort of grey, at the moment. Belgrade is a kind of copper color. I’ll have to think of the rest later.

But anyway, here are some examples of Budapest yellow:

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C is for cookie…

The same day that I had a discussion in my senior Conversation class about how American hamburgers are and how the rest of the world just doesn’t get it, I decided to embark on a baking project to create something else you don’t find much outside the U.S., or at least not in Bulgaria: chocolate chip cookies.

Bulgaria has cookies, of course – very tasty ones, too. But they’re not like American cookies. They’re often sort of doughy or shortbread-y, with a dollop of chocolate or fruit preserve on top or inside. Often there’s honey involved, somewhere. And they’re small. You don’t get big, thick, moist, chewy American-style cookies here; grocery stores don’t sell chocolate chips, or even really baking chocolate of any kind. But they do sell chocolate for consumption – LOTS of it. So yesterday I decided to try out these two recipes, substituting broken-up dark chocolate bars for chocolate chips in both, and mint dark chocolate squares instead of thin mints in the second. 

I should also say that I had plenty to do instead of baking last night. I’d just felt terrible the entire day – sick and exhausted and possibly on the verge of throwing up, and I’d only slept 5 hours each night the previous two nights and had been getting up at 5 am to finish work for the day before school, and I’d failed utterly at taking a nap after school, but somehow I really felt like baking. I even went out to Billa to get the chocolate bars. I had energy for nothing else except this.

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Kavehaz confusion

Need to go to bed for a 5 am wakeup and 7 am flight but the under 25-year-olds are all talking in the room before going out drinking, namely two new under-25’s who talk as if they are about 15 (every other word is “like”…I didn’t even know that still happened; I’ve been spoiled for 6 years by city kids who punctuate their speech with different fillers and Bulgarian ESL kids who punctuate theirs with “mm”s and often speak strangely formally in their second language). I wish they would just hurry up and go out drinking. Definitely done with hostels; will have to look into alternatives in Italy for spring break.

I intended to go out to a little 24-hour bakery/kavehaz nearby to read for a couple hours before bed, but I accidentally walked into the wrong place (they had similar names) and before I fully processed where I was, they had taken my coat and seated me and I didn’t feel I could get up and ask to leave. The problem was, this place was much more upscale than the one I had intended to go to, and I only had 1920 forints on me (the equivalent of about $10) and no cards because I wasn’t carrying my wallet since I was carrying my Kindle and wanted to dump extra weight from my bag. So there I was, schlubby American in my Threadless t-shirt, sweater, skinny jeans, and slouchy boots in a take-your-coat, full-tablecloth, live-piano-player type of place.

Luckily the prices weren’t as egregious as they could have been, and despite what I perceived to be odd looks at my minimalist order (I might’ve just been overly sensitive, though), I was able to get a tea and dessert for 1700 forints including tip for the waiter, though I refused to tip the coat lady (I don’t like tipping for extra services that you can’t opt out of) and instead gave the extra 220 forints to the bums a couple blocks up from the hostel whom I’ve passed every time I walked north toward the Pest city centre. It’s been really cold here at night, and I figured they could use it more than the coat check lady.

Back to Sofia and the real world tomorrow. Pics to come eventually, after I conquer the grading and planning that await me. Budapest, it’s been real. Don’t let the under-25’s get you down.

Showing my age

I think I may have grown out of hostels.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like the cheap rates, the good locations (usually), and meeting the people there, both the hostel workers and other guests. I think hostels are still fine and fun and great for small traveling groups – I really liked our hostel in Berlin – but for solo travelers, at least for me as a solo traveler, I think I may have reached my limit here in Budapest.

It’s not the communal sleeping, the smells, the snores. A lot of it is just that everyone is so damn YOUNG.

We can still talk and I Iike meeting them and all, but it just seems strange to me to have two 22 year olds inviting a 29 year old out to a bar with them to meet up with their 22 year old friends or some 22 year old locals. It’s also hard to have a sustained conversation with someone who’s still in college. You’re just not on equal footing – your experiences are totally different. Much of what you have to talk about stems from your work experience, and…oh wait, they don’t HAVE any work experience. You end up feeling sort of like a parent, educating them about what their life will be like in 7 years.

Or grandparent. I’ve been going to bed insanely early, which also separates/alienates me from the typical hostel crowd. (I might’ve gone to bed at something like 9:30 last night =/ ). But i’m TIRED. And I feel like there’s not much point in doing all this traveling on weekends just to be exhausted by it all and then go back to work on Monday feeling like crap. I also don’t feel the need to party so much – how is getting drunk any more valid a traveling experience than going to bed on time, getting up early, and going for a walk in a local park? I’m finding that just about everything I want to do on my own can be done during the day, and I’m pretty much done by sunset. And in the winter, the sun sets early.

But I’m finding that living abroad and traveling more has actually taught me that it’s the little things that make a city memorable, and you can’t force them by staying out late or doing every tourist event in town. Since I’ve been living in Sofia, I no longer feel such a compulsion to “do” a city the way I once did.

In that sense, maybe I am more like the retired Hungarian men and women surrounding me at the Szechenyi Baths this morning (I went early, before breakfast was even out at the hostel) than the fellow travelers sleeping around me. But I think I’m ok with that.

Baba Marta

Честита Баба Марта to all! Today was my first experience with this holiday and tradition, and while I had heard about it, nothing prepared me for how charming and lovely it was in real life.

There’s nothing really to it, and I think the simplicity is a large part of the appeal. It’s not tied to any religious holidays, there are no ceremonies, rituals, or stressful dinners associated with it. It’s just a day for friends, family, and co-workers to give each other мартеници for health and happiness and wish each other “Честита Баба Марта” and await the spring.

What are мартеници, my American readers ask?

These are мартеници:

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