Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Top 10 Travel Photos

Can you guess the 10 locations?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Introducing "It Started in Bulgaria"

Over the last year I've frequently posted on some culinary adventure or other. Living in Bulgaria provided me with the impetus to learn to cook all my favorite foods, as they were not readily available here. I've blogged about burrito creation, cookie cakes, bagels and more. So as not to let such posts take over our travel blog, I've decided to start a separate site for kitchen experiments - a cooking blog.

From Another Angle, meet It Started in Bulgaria.

For those of you who like to cook and bake as well as read about travel adventures, I hope you like it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

When life gives you flour, make bagels!

We love that there's a bagel place in Sofia, and that it has smoothies. However, the bagels do come in a deep freeze all the way from the U.K, and sometimes flavor suffers.

This week, I was browsing through some well-known blogs written by teenagers to show my "Introduction to Blogging" students, when I happened upon the rather amazing blog, 17 and Baking. As my students oohed and aahed over its splendid photography and witty writing, I oohed and aahed over a bagel recipe within its pages that seemed to require only about 30 minutes of work. Was it possible? Could I really make my own bagels with a bit of evening effort?

That night I kneaded, shaped, boiled and baked. Voila! Turns out bagels are a lot easier than I thought, and suddenly a whole world of possible variations has opened up to me...

This time I sprinkled poppy seeds and rock salt over the basic bagel recipe from 17 and Baking, maybe next time I'll try cinnamon raisin, blueberry, or chocolate chip. Bulgaria just keeps making me discover that my favorite foods don't have to come from the store...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sand Animation

One of Brett's students sent him this incredible video, showing the winning performance on Ukraine's "You've Got Talent" show. The piece represents the Ukrainian experience in WWII. You have to watch this, it's one of the most creative things I've ever seen.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

We can't get enough!

Today we went back to Vitosha for the second week in a row, this time with the ACS hiking club. We stayed mostly on the middle flank of the mountain, hiking from Simeonovo to Dragalevtsi. A new layer of snow and leafless trees made for a fresh landscape and expansive views. We were once again reminded how lucky we are to have this mountain in our backyard.

Amanda and Betsy

Me with Georgi, the president of the Hiking Club. He just found out he's headed to Dartmouth next year!

Hiking = Smiling

Hiking makes happy people.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Angles on Lake Bled Island

It seemed I could never get enough pictures of the "fairytale" (as every guidebook refers to it) island in the center of Lake Bled. Every angle, every light, every contrast of snow or trees or mountains seemed to mark it with a new kind of beauty.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Spring Day in January

On a beautiful January day, Betsy, Jeff, Sam, Alex and I took a trip into winter. Clear warm days in January are rare, so we took advantage to hike up into the melting snow of Vitosha, right in our backyard. Though bursts of raincloud made for some dramatic light at first, they soon dissipated and we enjoyed distant views down to Lake Iskur and the Rila mountains from a windy, sunny plateau. We'll savor this one until spring...

Alex, Jeff, Sam, Betsy, and Annie's behind

Rain bursts threatened early...

...but cleared later.

Betsy and Sam making their final push to the hija (hut)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Classic Venice

Our apartment in Venice overlooked Piazza San Marco, an appropriate place to start when searching for classic Venice. Unfortunately, the actual population of Venice continues to decline, as it becomes more predominantly a tourist destination rather than a living city (see Betsy's post below: The Weight of Venice). The reason for this steady influx of travelers can be seen in some of the pictures below. I was rather ambivalent about these sites, feeling that they had somehow been co-opted by tourism and no longer really belonged to Venice. Hence the traveler's unenviable search for the "back door." Certainly these sights were impressive, and I'm not such a purist that something has to be "untouched" or "original" to be valuable to me. But I was never hit by a sense of cultural gravity as I was in other places I've visited (like Machu Picchu -- though the epitome of an over-visited cultural site, it still managed to exercise a spell on me). For that reason, traveling to Slovenia after Venice, where people still work the farms (even the one where we were staying) had a more authentic feel and was a refreshing glimpse into a living culture. I hope, however, that I'm not so aloof that I don't recognize some of the more striking elements of Venetian culture.

Saint Mark's Basilica forms one boundary of St. Mark's Square, and is where we went to a midnight service on Christmas Eve.

The Campanile, also in St. Mark's Square, dominates the Venetian skyline.

Though relatively traffic-free in December, the Grand Canal is the main thoroughfare for the city.

This row of homes on the south lagoon was particularly striking. The second one from the left was our favorite.

Venetian architecture is particularly compelling in the delicately curved windows.

How would you like this for a front porch?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Farmhouse Frcej

Slovenia, and particularly the area around Lake Bled, has an abundance of farmhouses that have opened their doors to tourism. It's an attempt by the country to preserve its heritage while reaping the rewards of its tremendous outdoor wealth. What a farmhouse lacks in room service, it makes up for in feather pillows and home-cooked breakfast. At least one Slovenian we met was concerned about the homogenization of Europe that comes with globalization, and he was quite proud of his country's attempts to resist this.

For the fraction of the price of a five-star hotel, you can stay with a friendly family who offers you their locally brewed brandy when you arrive, and then pampers you with homemade bread, walnuts from their grove, milk and butter from their cows, eggs from their hens, and meat from their...well, take a look at the picture below.

After making our way to breakfast at around 9:00 every morning, we would then crawl back to our room and rest until around 11:00, at which point we explored the area. We typically didn't get hungry again until around 3:00. We stayed on a working farm called Frcej, and were often greeted by the donkey, one of the cows, or one of the roosters/hens mulling about. Valentina Zupan, the overwhelmingly friendly owner of the farm, made sure we had everything we needed. Our particular house looked out to Lake Bled 4km away, and the Julian Alps in the distance (see the entry below this one).

The view from our balcony at sunrise

Where's the beef? Here it is, being smoked for two days in their outdoor chimney. Notice the enormous tongue, second from left in the front.

Everything We Needed

Before we arrived in Bled, we were slightly concerned that everything in the tiny town would be closed for the season. In the end, it didn't matter. Though pretty much everything was open, we didn't spend much time in the town itself. Instead, we focused on the natural world around us. Our first morning we awoke to a brilliant sunrise from our farmhouse balcony, watching it light up the snowy mountains in the distance. Whether we were relaxing on the farm, strolling around Lake Bled with its magnificent island, or walking through a silent wood over freshly fallen snow, the whole trip resonated with a sense of calm and peacefulness that was befitting the holiday season.

From our balcony

Lake Bled, with the castle in the background

In the Julian Alps