Having graduated from college, I've decided to set out on an adventure: a year in Bulgaria. I'll be teaching English at a city in central Bulgaria, and I'll be travelling as much as possible. Stop by for updates!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Final Days

As most of you already know, I'm back home in the States. I spent two days in Sofia before heading home and was able to say goodbye to a lot of favorite places as well as do some last minute discovering of new ones. I went out for one last drink with some of the girls, toured Nevski Cathedral, went for a long walk in the park, stopped for soup at Supastar, had one last meal with the Fulbright Commission, and then had a night of Chalga. I actually got to see Kali, a famous Bulgarian Chalga singer, perform live at Nightflight, one of the Chalga clubs in Sofia.

This has been an amazing, life-changing year, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. I can't believe it's already come to an end, and it's time to start a new chapter in my life. It seems like just yesterday that I was arriving in Bansko, nervous and uncertain about the year ahead of me. Over the course of this year, I have become a much stronger, more confident person, and I have met some truly incredible people. Hopefully, I will see them again sooner rather than later. Even if I never see them again, though, I will always remember them and the warmth with which they welcomed me into their homes and their community. Bulgaria is a truly remarkable place, and I wish it and all its people the best.

Out for a beer my second to last night in Bulgaria

Saying goodbye to Nevski Cathedral with my friends, Olivia and Laura

Beautiful Nevski

An AWESOME statue of a Lada in the park

A final lunch at Supastar with Sophia, Olivia, and Laura

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Last Days in Sunny Stara

I'm wrapping up my last weekend here in Stara Zagora. I leave Wednesday afternoon for Sofia, where I'll spend my last day before flying home. In five days and fourteen hours, I'll be landing in Chicago. Before heading out, I've been trying to enjoy my last few days here by spending as much time out in the city as possible. On Friday, I paid a visit to Viktor Tattoo where I added some more ink to my collection. I went with the Bulgarian phrase "zashto ne," which means "why not." It's been my philosophy for the last year, and I think it is an excellent one. I'm still young and have plenty of time to explore the world, and I like being confident and independent enough that when opportunities arise, I respond with "why not."

After visiting Viktor, I had lunch with my mentor, Tanya, ran a few errands, and then had dinner with one of my colleagues, Sylvia. As my time comes to an end, I'm trying to have dinner and chat with as many of my new friends and colleagues as I can. Tuesday night, I will be getting together with a large chunk of the English department at my school to have dinner and say goodbye.

When Saturday rolled around, I had a special visitor in the form of my friend, Hillary. We went to the market in Dimitrovgrad (about an hour away) in the morning, and then spent the afternoon in Stara. We had champagne for lunch and then visited both malls in town for some last minute shopping. I finally bought some clothes for myself! It's a really cute top and pants that I'll wear out on our last night in Sofia. After hitting the malls, we wandered over to the old Roman ampitheater to frolic amongst the ruins. And by frolic, I mean sit on top of them and enjoy the sunset. As the sun finished setting, we went out for a long and relaxed dinner before grabbing a drink at Drums, a local bar where all the ex-pats hang out. This morning, we grabbed some palachinki (pancakes with filling - I prefer chocolate). It was nice to have Hillary come visit because it gave me a chance to wander my town with someone for the last time and to go out to some of the restaurants I wanted to try before I left. It was also great to see her again before we leave.

My new tattoo

Champagne Lunch. It felt really sophisticated. Like I should also have one of those cigarettes in a long holder or something.

Sitting on top of the theater

Saying goodbye to one part of Stara

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lounging in Lovech

I spent last weekend in the little town of Lovech in northern Bulgaria. My friend, Dena, lives there, and she invited us up for a small party before the end of our grants. In addition to being an adorable little town, Lovech is one of the sites where Vassil Levski planned the Bulgarian uprising against the Ottoman Empire, and it is also home to a medieval fortress. Being a site attached to Levski, Lovech has a giant Levski statue along with a Levski Museum. We visited both as well as the fortress and a nineteenth century home that you can tour. Then, we all had dinner and did a lot of talking and catching up. I have one more weekend here in Stara Zagora. I head to Sofia in one week and one day and then two days after that, I head home. In ten days, July 1, I will be safely back home in the Quad Cities hanging up my adventuring cape for awhile. Not for too long, though, I hope!

Levski and Me

The fortress

Pledging my oath to Levski at the Levski Museum

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Leaving the EU

Two weekends ago, my friend Laura and I went to Serbia for a visit to an Eastern European, non-EU country. As soon as you cross the border, you can tell you’ve left the EU. The roads aren’t quite as good and everything is just a little bit dirtier. Our first stop was the southern town of Nis. After a long bus ride, we were ready to get out and explore. We spent a day and a half exploring the beautiful city and getting our fill of history. During the period of Ottoman occupation, the Serbians in Nis tried to rise up and overthrow the regime. Instead, they were all killed, and their heads were cut off and made into a tower as a warning to all others considering rising up. You can still visit Skull Tower (Cele Kula) today, and we did. It was incredible. Normal people would have probably been a little freaked out by the sight of a tower of skulls, but we were fascinated. Sign number one that I would be an awesome archaeologist. Skulls intrigue instead of repulse. Also in Nis is a concentration camp from WWII. Unlike most German camps, this one is built in the center of town as a warning to Serbian citizens. It held mostly political prisoners (communists) as they awaited transport to larger concentration camps in Germany and Norway. Over the course of the war, 30,000 prisoners passed through Crveni Krst Concentration camp about 1,000 at a time. Although no one was killed at the camp, a total of 12,000 prisoners were taken to a hill outside Nis and shot.

Cele Kula - Skull Tower; Nis

Solitary Confinement in the Concentration Camp; Nis

Guard Towers around the Camp; Nis

After Nis, we visited Belgrade (woohoo!). It was not nearly as cute as Nis. We did do a lot of wandering and visited a number of different cultural and historical sites including all of the government buildings, Republic Square, the Bohemian District, and the fortress. While at the fortress, we found a church that was used as a military depot by the Austrians in the early 20th century. After Serbia gained independence, they used leftover bullet casings and sabers from the depots to make chandeliers for the church. It was super cool! We even wandered into an anti-NATO protest. NATO held a meeting in Belgrade this past week amidst bitter protests to their presence on Serbian soil after the 1999 bombings. Overall, we liked Nis much better. Belgrade was a lot more dirty and run down. Despite that, we had a good time, and I’m glad I made it to Serbia. I do not think I will go back anytime soon, but I would regret it if I had not gone.

Republic Square; Belgrade

Anti-NATO protest; Belgrade

At the fortress; Belgrade

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hangin' with Some Awesome Ladies

I went to visit my friend Laura Y in Shumen the first weekend in June. Hillary met us there, and we spent two days wandering Shumen, climbing all over the monument (which is at the top of 1400 torturous steps), and going out to a dance club. Then, we took an hour long bus ride to the sea side to visit Olivia, Katie, and Keith in Varna. The six of us went out for dinner and spent the night hanging out and saying our goodbyes since Katie and Keith leave in just a few more days. It is the first of many goodbyes to come, and it was difficult to reconcile myself to the knowledge that it's just about over. It doesn't feel like it's over. It feels like I just got here. Where on earth did this year go???

Hillary and I touching the hoof of the Khan's horse for luck

The statues on the Shumen Monument look like Transformers. They are SOOOO cool.

We also explored some caves while up on the monument. They led to some incredible views.

I'm going to miss these ladies!

Climbing down the 1400 steps. Way easier than climbing up!

Hillary telling a story to Katie and Laura at dinner. We were on a pirate ship in Varna. It happens. :)

Weird demon birds circling the church in Varna

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lazy Days and Greek Wine

I went back to Greece!! Originally, I wasn’t intending to return to Greece this year, but my friend, Hillary, wanted to go to Greece for six days and invited me and our friend Laura along. Hillary and I went to the town of Thessaloniki in northern Greece for two days. We ate many gyros, drank white wine by the Aegean Sea, and wandered all over town. During the course of our two days, we managed to visit quite a few ruins and walk off all the gyros we were eating. We also took two cruises around the harbor. Basically, the cruises are free as long as you buy an overpriced drink on board, and we were happy to pay since our drink price included a thirty minute boat ride!

Ruins of an old church in Thessaloniki by night

White wine sitting next to the church ruins

The Pirate Cruise

On board the Reggae Cruise

Ruins of an old arch in front of ruins of an old church

After Thessaloniki, we headed to the town of Kavala where we caught a ferry to the island of Thassos. Our friend, Laura, met us on the ferry, and we headed off for adventure. On the ferry, we made friends with the captain and his crew, and they let us pretend to steer the boat for awhile. It was quite fun. After we arrived on Thassos, we spent two nights in Prinos, the port village (and when I say village, I mean village; it was TINY) and two nights in Potos, a village on the other side of the island. Despite the sun burn I acquired, I had an incredible time. Greek food, Greek wine, and Greek sunsets all contributed to a wonderful stay on the island. There’s something about relaxing on the beach with a glass of white wine that makes the world seem wonderful. As my friend Laura said, “When you visit an island like Thassos, you can really understand why the ancient Greeks believed that the gods dwelt in Greece.” If I was a goddess, I would probably choose someplace like Greece to live, too.

Driving the ferry boat!

Our new ferryboat friends

Parking is forbitten

Laura and I at dinner in Potos

A view of the sea in Potos. It looks like a Corona commercial...

The sea gulls would catch the breeze from our ferry boat and drift in our wake

Approaching Kavala and the end of our trip in Greece

Mommy and Daddy!!

Mom and dad finally made it out to Bulgaria on May 13, just in time to watch Much Ado about Nothing. The morning after the show, I took them out to the Black Sea for several days of surf and sand. We decided to focus on relaxing, eating, and wandering the twisted alleys of Old Town Sozopol for several days. No intense running around on this vacation. After returning from the Sea, we spent three lovely days in Stara Zagora, and I showed my parents all of the important sights. They got to see the History Museum, the Roman Forum and Ampitheater, several of the parks, the art shops, and the long pedestrian walkway of cafes. We spent a lot of time just sitting around, drinking coffee, and catching up. I didn’t realize how much I missed my parents until I had them here to talk to and then had to put them back on a plane and say goodbye. While I’m sad about leaving and know that I will miss this place greatly, I am looking forward to getting back to my family again. I miss those crazy fools.

Having lunch at a seaside cafe in Sozopol

The view from our cafe

Playing pool at our hotel. Mom and dad kicked my friend Ellen and my butt.

Cutest family in the whole world

My parents in the ruins of the old church in Sozopol

On the way back from Sozopol, we stopped at the Malinov Brothers Winery to pick up some Cycle Wine. Ellen and I asked for a picture since we love this wine!

At the Regional History Museum in Stara Zagora, there was a display on puppetry.

My mommy and I beside the roses in the Roman Forum

My parents in the Roman Forum on their last day in Stara Zagora