Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sofia Pride

This Saturday, Betsy and I participated in the third Sofia Pride parade, a celebration of LGBTs in Bulgaria. Two years ago, during the first parade, marchers were met with violence by neo-Nazis and skinheads, which have a visible presence in Sofia. Last year, under EU supervision, things went much more smoothly. This year was much the same. About 500 people showed up, including various diplomats and EU folk, in a show of support. The flag-waving, whistle-blowing crew followed a balloon-decked float through the main part of Sofia, dancing and walking to songs like "I Will Survive" and other 1970s hits. You can read a full report on the parade at this link:

This is the float leading the parade, complete with entertainment.

This sign says something like, "Be careful who you hate; it might be someone you love." Sorry for the terrible translation.

A significant police presence lined the route and followed the parade. This shot was taken as the bulk of them were leaving after the parade.

The parade concluded at one of the parks, and was followed by a concert. You might recognize the Soviet monument in the back from our Christmas market photos. We wondered how Stalin would feel about gay rights.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Pirins...finally!

Bulgaria has four distinct mountain ranges: the Rilas, home of Rila Monastery, Maliovitsa Peak, and the Seven Lakes, which we've blogged about in the past; the Rhodopes, an old mountain range dotted with villages and the occasional mosque, great for ambles, where we spent part of Spring Break; the Stara Planina, a long chain of mountains draped across central Bulgaria; and the Pirins, the youngest and therefore most rugged of the mountains in Bulgaria. This weekend, I finally got to see this storied range, as Georgi and I hiked past alpine lakes into deep snow (yes, still in June). We were eventually forced to turn back because the snow was so soft and I had already fallen in over my waist. That, combined with my outing on Vitosha with Jeff a few weeks ago, convinced me that hiking higher into soft snow was not a good idea. So we backtracked to an alpine lake that caught my eye on the way up. There was basically no way to go wrong on this trip. We enjoyed a peaceful evening by the lake, framed by a cirque of snowy mountains, and bordered by crocuses popping up everywhere. The Pirins were everything I expected. I only regret that I am only now discovering them.

The hike started by following a stream, heading slowly into the mountains ahead.

Georgi crosses a pasture greened by recent snowmelt.

The first lake we passed, about which I remarked to Georgi, "This would make a GREAT camp spot!"

After zig-zagging up some steep snow banks, we passed a second lake.

And then the snow just got too deep and soft, so, lo and behold, we set up shop by the first lake. This shot was taken the next morning.

This was right behind our tents. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Georgi heading down into the valley.

Monday, June 7, 2010


This past weekend, thunderstorms forced us to cancel our overnight hike. However, I got a call from Sam on Saturday asking if I wanted to see wild peonies in bloom. Tis' the season, and since the anticipated thunderstorms never really materialized, I was feeling antsy for a hike. About an hour from Sofia, near the town of Klenovik, there's a mountain famous for its peony fields. Because it doesn't lie in the rainshadow of Vitosha, the climate there is slightly different, and so is the vegetation. Our guide was Tim, a Brit who has lived here for ten years and knows the area well. On the way, he offered a handsome prize to the first person to see a peony. It didn't take long...

But first, in the car on the way there, we spotted a stork's nest on the side of the road. One of their favorite places to roost is above powerline poles. This particular nest had about five babies in it, a few of which are peeking up in this picture.

And right next to it, a field of poppies.

Finally, we got to the mountain and commenced our search.

It didn't take us long to find the first one...

And then a few more...

And more...

And bushels more...

And then a whole field!

Sam's dog Annie very much enjoyed the peony hunting.

As did the bees.

And the moths.

Overall, the day was a great success. And Tim, of course, won his own contest. Luckily he didn't specify a prize when he made his challenge. We decided his prize would be seeing more peonies.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another Hiking Club Trip

This weekend several students braved a forecast of thunderstorms to hike once more on Vitosha. We took yet another new route, and I was telling Georgi on the hike that with this trip, I think I've now covered all the main trails on the northern side of the mountain. It was a beautiful walk across a large alpine peat bog, with a hanging cloud almost always behind us. It finally stormed later that night, but the hike was beautiful (as it always seems to be). We ended up going down by Boyana waterfall, a nice bookend to my two years with Vitosha.

Athens: Temple of Zeus