Archive for the ‘Grand Adventure’ Category

Post Peace Corps Road Trip: Balkan Blitzkrieg

15 September, 2009

After I finish my service in the Peace Corps in the next two weeks, I will be heading out on a Balkan Road trip. To where? you ask. Here’s a handy map!

Sept 24: Anita and I pickup our rental car and we hit the road to Ohrid, Macedonia (via Skopje).

Sept 25 Spending the night in Ohird, we head to Gjirokaster, Albania where we’ll spend the night and hang out with some Albanian PCVs. I have been told that there will be a once-every-five-year Albanian folklore festival. I’m really looking forward to seeing this and meeting up with several other PCVs.

Sept 26 The next day we’ll drive up the Albania coast and spend the night somewhere along the way.

Sept 27,28 The following two days, we’ll spend the night in Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is home to the deepest fjord in Europe and is considered Dubrovnik’s little sister.

Sept 29 The next day, we’ll drive to Dubrovnik, Croatia for a short day trip. As you may remember, I have already been to Dubrovnik but it’s in the neighborhood.

Sept 29, Oct 1, 2 After spending time in Dubrovnik, we head on to Mostar, Bosnia for a day or two. After this, we head on to Sarajevo for the night. (I have three days alloted for Mostar and Sarajevo however we want to divvy them up)

Oct 3rd start heading back to Bulgaria, route to be determined! We’ll most likely spend the night in a national park in Montenegro.

Oct 4th return to Bulgaria.

Oct 6th RETURN HOME!

Buzludzha

12 July, 2009

It was one of the coolest places I’ve been to in Bulgaria. Last weekend I went to the old communist party headquarters. The building was located on top of a mountain overlooking the rose valley.  It would be hard to reach it without a car.

A perfect location for all the head hanchos to meet and lead the country, right? In the distance you can (sort of) make out a little “rook” like building. That is the site where the Bulgarian and Russian armies turned back the Ottomans in 1877-78. It was Bulgaria’s Saratoga.

Given this history of the area, it’s too bad the building they built to rule the country looked like a UFO…

I’m not really sure what they were going for there but it’s interesting nonetheless. A flying saucer with a smoke stack.
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My New Friends

22 May, 2009

Since I’ve been back I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve been hosting the PCV before me in Chirpan as well has his brother. It’s been great hanging out with his since he’s introduced me to his old friends.  But the big news is we went to the Mahala (the Roma slums). I’m going to have a lot of free time this summer so I’ve been looking for another project. What better way to finish off my service than helping the most underprivileged? Here’s how it happened:

The Roma people have historically been kicked around. During communism in Bulgaria, they were rounded up and put in separate communities only allowing them to enter town on market days. However, most Roma people are suspicious of outsiders and intentionally separate themselves. This is the biggest obstacle trying to enter the mahala-they don’t really want you there. Given this, you usually have to be invited in by someone. I didn’t have any Roma friends so this was a problem.

We walked to the edge of mahala and sat on some steps overlooking the slum, hoping to get noticed by a group of guys asking us what we were doing. We could see being out and about, some obviously wondering what those white dudes were doing looking into their neighborhood. No one came up to us to see what we wanted. We then decided to take a leap of faith and walk straight into the mahala, uninvited. We decided not to walk down the main street but a side street instead saying “hello” or “good afternoon” to everyone that made eye contact with us. We hadn’t been in the slum for more than two minutes when one of the many people eying us suspiciously asked us what we were doing in their neighborhood. We smiled, introduced ourselves, shook their hands and explained ourselves. Straight off the bat, they asked us if we were missionaries (I’ve been asked this before having been to mahalas in the past so I was prepared to dispel this quickly) As soon as I told them that I was an American looking to teach English for free, their skepticism vanished. It turns out, there is already an English group taught by the pastor of their church. We were, in fact, standing in front of their church (Adventist) and they invited us in to see their place of worship. We stressed that we were not religious and that our English lessons would be open to anyone who wanted to attend.

After our tour of their modest yet lovely church, they said their group would be meeting at six that evening. We were amazed how quickly everything went- in literally five minutes from entering the mahala, we offered a room, class and time to teach English. They then took us out to a cafe; one of the nicest I’ve been to in this country. It was on the second story, outdoors and offered a nice view of Chirpan in the not-so-far distance and the bustling street below. I wrote down my name and number for one of my new friends and he let the pastor know that an American would be joining their class that evening.

That evening we returned. I made copies of the first twenty pages or so of the text book I usually use. It’s the same book the Peace Corps provided for us to learn Bulgarian but translated for Bulgarians to learn English by a PCV. There were about eight students and the lesson went very smoothly;everyone was eager to learn. They had their second lesson the next day (Wednesday) and at the end of that class, they wanted us to return for a third day! My new friends, are quite simply, awesome.

I nearly wet the bed

16 April, 2009

This happened last night and includes this unfortunate title.

Bulgaria is a land of loud noises and things that will scare the living piss out of you. For instance, and I believe I can speak on behalf of every volunteer, past and present, have cursed the night sky when throwing out the trash and having a stray cat jump out. It always happens when you least expect it and it triples your heart rate vidnaga. These loud noises include cars backfiring. I had never heard a car backfire until I moved to the BG. Also firecrackers and gunfire. This story is about the latter.

I went to bed last night around midnight. And headed quickly to slumberland. Have you ever fallen asleep but your mind is still aware. You know what’s going on around you but your body doesn’t react. No? Perhaps I have a self-depreciating superpower. Anywho, I was like that for about an hour; my body was completely relaxed and my mind starting to slip into sweet sweet semi-consciousness and then… BAM BAM BAM BAM. HOOOOOOOOLY SHIT! What WAS that!? I couldn’t have been a car, too many of them; nor firecrackers. Who the hell sets off fireworks at 1am on a school night? Had to be a gun…and right under my window. Ok, back to sleep….

Wait, I left my grill gate unlocked and my door won’t put up much of a fight (hence the grill gate). This is when my body had fallen back into an unresponsive heap in bed. My mind was frantic.. WAKE UP WAKE UP! No? OK….zzzzzzzz. Two hours later BAM BAM BAM BAM! HOLY SHIT! I need to lock that grill gate. But my body refused to sense the urgency of my mind. And then out of now where…my bed room door popped open. HOLY SHIT SOMEONE IS IN MY APARTMENT AND IS GOING TO MURDER ME WHILE I LOOK LIKE I’M ASLEEP! BODY, WAKE THE FUCK UP! (Note: my door popped open because the door is too big for the frame. It wasn’t built like this, it’s just that everything in my bloc is, well, Soviet. In fact, the whole bloc is slowly sinking…)

My body stirred and I gasped for air (not why I didn’t that, perhaps my body was wondering why my heart rate was so fast). I sneak through my living room, fumble for the keys and lock my grill gate. Whew! I crawl back into bed, satisfied I wasn’t going to be murdered. I started to fall asleep. WAIT! You didn’t check the kitch……

And this is why I feel so tired today.

Turkey

20 March, 2009

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go on vacation to Istanbul, Turkey. Travelling to Turkey seems to be a rite of passage amongst Bulgarian Peace Corps Volunteers; every volunteer I know has gone. I and another volunteer, left from Plovdiv on a midnight bus after going to a very nice Turkish restaurant.

The bus was more or less empty and we hit the road southeast to Turkey. We reached the border around 03:30. As Americans, we had to purchase a 90 day, multiple entry visa for 20 USD. We crossed the border and then had our bags searched (in the most liberal sense).

Four hours later, we woke up at the MASSIVE bus station. Seriously, this bus station is the size of like, two professional football stadiums. According to wikitravel.org, you can get anywhere within 1,000 miles of Istanbul.

We then set out to explore the city. A few things came as a surprise to me as I did research: 1) Istanbul is the world’s fourth largest city with over 11 MILLION people. Pretty crazy. 2) It wasn’t officially called “Istanbul” until Attaturk ingloriously renamed the city when organizing the postal system in 1930. That fact made me feel kinda stupid since I thought it was renamed during the middle ages. And 3) “Istanbul” is Turkish for “the city”, which if you just said that, everyone way back when knew what city you were talking about as Istanbul was the wealthiest and most populous city back in the day (I’m being vague since I don’t know the time frame. This is just want i remember from a tour book in the hostel).
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Kukeri 2009

19 March, 2009

This is how you ward of the demons (from the beginning of the month). These photos were taken in Shiroka Laka. I was there last year.

From Kukeri 2009

Kukeri 2009

hmmmm

24 December, 2008

I come home and turn on the light in my foyer. Blam! The light goes out. It’s 33F outside and it’s 11pm. No light in any room. Yet my water heater is still on, I can turn on the tv and use the internet. Methinks I’m going to have a mystery to solve (or a repairman to call) when I get home after Chirstmas…

Back in Bulgaria

9 December, 2008

Coming back home was a much needed vacation and it felt absolutely fantastic to my family again. It also gave me an opportunity to see America from a new perspective and understand how much I’ve changed (as well as much I’ve missed certain foods. Never would have guessed pancakes and bacon would have been so high on that list).
An American breakfast institution (more…)

Center Excursion

3 November, 2008

Last week, I went on a field trip with the At-Risk Children’s Center I tutor at. Though it was more of a staff outing, I had a good time. We went to the historical city of Tryavna, a town nestled in the Stara Planina and kept historically accurate.

From there we headed out to the Dryanovo monastery. I was really impressed with the scenery. The monastery is tucked in between these two giant cliffs. The monastery is also home to a war memorial to the rebels who died fighting the Ottoman Empire for independence.

On the return home, we had to go through the Shipka Pass. This has a very important place in Bulgarian history-it’s where the Bulgarians, with the aid of the Russians. The Bulgarians and the Russians fought gallantly for three days, running out of ammunition and resorting to firing rocks out of their cannons and when the ran out of gun powder, they threw boulders. It’s considered the turning point of Bulgarian/Russian resistance to the Ottomans. Pretty intense stuff. So rightfully, their is a huge monument commemorating this turning point in Bulgarian history.

You can see most of the Rose Valley from the top.

All in all, it was a lovely day trip and a great bonding experience with the hard workers at the At-Risk Children Center.

Center trip

Austria and Slovenia

14 September, 2008

Last month, I went on vacation to Austria and Slovenia. It was much needed and I had a fantastic time. Another volunteer and I left from Sofia on an evening flight. The flight lasted only two and a half hours, far shorter than the time it took me to get to the airport! By the time we landed, it hardly seemed like I’d been in the air at all! I guess travelling around Bulgaria has really made me more patient. We spent five days in Vienna and three in Ljubjana (with a day trip to Lake Bled). The weather in Austria was surprisingly cool but it made a nice change from the hot weather in Bulgaria. While there, we went to all of the palaces (Vienna was the seat of power for the Hapsburgs and they had several palaces there, including the Belvedere)

From Austria and Slovenia vacation

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