School field trip!

Sorry for the backlog, I’ve been very busy. No photos since my camera was stolen (details in a later post)

Last weekend I went on an end of the year trip with students from a local school. This trip took us to Western Bulgaria and was an overnight-er. We met at the statue of Vasil Levski (the Bulgarian George Washington. I’m pretty sure every city and village in Bulgaria is required to have a street and school named after him). We climbed on board (with more people than seats), the driver turned to me, pointed forward and said: Let’s go! My weekend excursion was on it’s way! Our first stop was the mountain town of Unola. It was absolutely gorgeous. I love travelling through the Rhodopies. After a short break there, we headed Southwest to the picturesque town of Bansko. Bansko was different than most mountain towns I’d been to since it was heavily commercialized. Bansko is in prime skiing location and the Bulgarian government is taking advantage of it by suffocating it with resorts and tacky tourist traps. The town itself is quaint and beautiful. We stopped there to have lunch. Since most of the students were too cool to talk to the American, I had lunch with some of the teachers. Most of the conversation was in Bulgarian and I was happy to get some practice in. After lunch we went site-seeing around town. There was a huge statue of Kliment of Ohrid (the namesake of my school), the first Bulgarian historian.

After stopping in Bansko, it was off to Blagovgrad, one of the largest cities in Southwest Bulgaria. I had been to B-town before; it was the closest large city to my training site in Rila. I went there to buy my host family a bottle of Jack as a token of my appreciation. We checked into the hotel, wisely located outside of town and completely isolated. We headed to the center and I, again, hung out with some teachers at a local cafe. It was great fun. We returned to the hotel and I ate dinner in the restaurant while watching the Eurocup match between Russia and Sweden (?). I got a kick out of the fact that the Russian team wore red. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the Russian players were from the CSKA team, one of the most popular teams in Bulgaria. They’re in a lot of trouble with their fans because their debts were payed and they weren’t credited by UEFA, making them ineligible to participate in the Champions League. The CFO of the team was nearly lynched and there was a protest outside the Bulgarian consulate in New York City. Bulgarians take their football seriously.

The following day, Sunday, we headed out to the Rila Monastery. This was my fourth time there. Don’t get me wrong, the Rila Monastery is a beautiful place, tucked away in the Rila Mountains, but after four visits in 10 months, it gets a bit wearing. I didn’t stick around within the walls itself. I instead went hiking with some students. We tried to find St. Ivan Rilski’s cave where he lived for several years. We couldn’t find it and only got dirty and one twisted ankle for our efforts. From the Monastery we headed to Seprava Banya to gwak at the hottest gyser in Europe. I have no idea if it’s true or not since Bulgarians have extreme national pride. I have been to the “oldest monastery in Europe” while in Bulgaria and heard that a Bulgarian invented the computer and discovered America. After getting our fill of sulfur, we then headed to Borvets, a high mountain resort town. It was absolutely gorgeous there! I was blown away by the thick, lush forests. It’s a place I want to go back to. We went to the the first Prime Minister’s house turned museum. It was huge and locked. So we wondered around the estate. He had a private chapel separate the house. We piled back into the car and headed to Samokov for lunch. Lunch was cut short by a rainstorm and we got back in the bus and headed home.

I had a great time and made some new friends. I got several offers of people willing to contact friends and relatives who work on the Black Sea for a place to stay or discounts if I want to go there on holiday. The bus driver was a bit disappointed that we didn’t have enough time to go drinking. I still  have plenty of time to do that. One of the things I got out of this trip is a greater understanding how geographically diverse this country is. It’s amazing that a country the size of Tennesse has so many dialects and regions.

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