Sunday, March 28, 2010

Plana Planina

This weekend, the Hiking Club took a trip to Plana Planina, about an hour by bus from Sofia. For the first time, we were on a route that no club members had taken before, so we got to practice using map and compass when, time after time, two roads diverged in a wood. Since they were all pretty much less traveled, we really couldn't go wrong. The great part about hiking in Bulgaria is the ease with which you can get to great hiking locations and the relative absence of people there. During our 8-hour hike, we saw three people. This hike felt a little like a British amble, as we traipsed over open expanses of countryside, only descending into trees at the very end. This wasn't a well-marked trail with shelters and campsites; it was more like a simple walk through Bulgaria.

En route, we passed several old trees that were marked on our map as points of interest. This one provided a nice resting spot for all 12 of the kids on the hike.

We had 70-degree weather and bright sun for much of the day. The wild flowers took full advantage to poke through their winter dress.

This abandoned house is literally built of sticks.

Toward the end of the hike, we made a side trip to a monastery, peacefully set on the hillside. It was immaculately cared for, and the friendly monks inside replenished our dwindling water supply.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but you get an idea for the tranquility of the place from the doorway.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Vitosha Monday

Since we had to work yesterday to administer the ACS entrance exam, the school gave us Monday off, so we took advantage of the 60-degree weather to head up to Vitosha and enjoy the relative solitude. On our way down, we stopped at an old mill turned microbrewery and shared a handful of appetizers as lunch. Two salads, cucumber-dill yoghurt dip, cheese-stuffed peppers, shredded carrots with lemon, chicken livers (my own personal order), pitka bread, and cheese drizzled with honey, basil, and olive oil. And of course some rakia to wash it down. Yum.

Spring in Sofia

Spring has finally hit this weekend, perfectly timed for Sarah and Micah's visit. We spent Saturday giving them the downtown tour, and were pleasantly surprised to see grown men playing hopscotch, a group of college students engaged in a lifesize game of Risk with plastic army toys, and of course, the first martenitza hanging from trees.

Martenitza are red and white bracelets that are commonly given on March 1, or "Baba Marta," in Bulgaria. It's a popular holiday that welcomes "Grandmother March" and holds the promise of imminent spring. People wear the bracelets until they either see a stork or the first buds blossoming on a tree. At that point, you can take off the bracelet and tie it to the tree branch.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Fairy Tale

The following fairy tale was written by two of my students, Katherine Krem and Hrisi Dimitrova. Not only does it exceed the requirements of the assignment (inlcuding descriptive language, figurative language, and all the literary elements of a fairy tale that we studied), but also it has a couple of...shall we say...compelling protagonists.

Potashius the Magnificent

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a powerful wizard. His name was Potashius. But all the people called him “Potashius the Magnificent” because of the many wonderful and magical things he could do. Potashius lived high on a hill in a huge castle made all of stone. The castle had been built by giants ten thousand years before Potashius was born. The giants had built the castle in only two days for Potashius’ grandfather, who was also a powerful wizard. In fact, everyone in Potashius’family was a wizard – as far back as the beginning of time. Still, it was a surprise when Potashius grew into the wisest, most clever and most powerful wizard that the family – or the castle – had ever seen.

Potashius lived one thousand years ago, in a time called the Dark Ages. The time was called the Dark Ages because most people could not read or write and only a few could even count to ten. Education had been forgotten. Only a very few wise people still cared about learning. Potashius the Magnificent was one who did. He was friends with other wise people, too. Although Potashius was 1 000 years old, he always looked young and handsome. This was of course very strange. It was also strange that everything Potahsius did turned out for the best. Once, he wanted to build a water slide, and created the Niagara Falls. He invented skiing, and created mountains so that people could slide down them. He made the sun smiling. He made sunsets red, so romantic people could enjoy waking in the early evenings. He even made the cheeks of little children red, just for fun. Everything he did was magnificent. That is how he got his name.

Potashius was fascinated by time. Time seemed to move forward only – never backward- and only one day at a time. It never jumped ahead a week or a month or a year when the sun rose the next morning.

“How can this be?” he wondered. “I can read a book in any direction I want, and I can skip to any page I want. I can go forward and backward in my books. Surely, time must be the same.” Still wondering about this mystery, he set out to build a Time Machine that would allow him to travel to the past or to the future. Potashius worked day and night on his idea. Years of hard work and some very dangerous experiments followed. Once he left his cat in a nest of dinosaur eggs by mistake and had to rush back and rescue it. Another time, he found himself in the Ice Age without a jacket or gloves. He finally managed to fulfill his dream. He could step into his Time Machine and visit any time he wanted into it. It was magnificent.

One day, Potashius decided to travel 1 000 years into the future. So, he dialed in the date he wanted and with a whoosh and a whistle, he found himself in the twentieth century, a time not so long ago – about the time today’s little children were being born to their happy mothers and overjoyed fathers.

When he opened the door of his Time Machine, Potashius the Magnificent was amazed by what he saw. He had never seen a car or a train or an airplane, an electric light or glass windows or tall buildings or elevators or radios, televisions or telephones.

“What wonderful wizards they must have here,” Potashius thought.

He marveled at everything. He also marveled at the litter that he saw. Huge fields filled with rusting automobiles. Rivers so dirty they caught on fire and could not be put out. Air so dirty that it made the sky brown and hid the mountains and made people cough to breath it. Litter was everywhere.

“What is this?” thought Potashius the Magnificent. “These people have so many wonderful things, yet they do not take care of the earth, the water or the air. They are very clever with little unimportant inventions like zippers or Velcro, but do not care for Mother Nature herself.”

He marveled that a people so clever could be so foolish.

As he wandered and wondered, Potashius saw a girl as pretty as a spring flower, sitting on a little green wooden bench in the park and looking very sad.

“Hello,” he said. “Why do you look so sad?”

“Hello,” answered the pretty girl. “I am sad because this beautiful park is filled with litter, the sky is brown not blue and the river is still on fire. I don’t know what to do about it.” They introduced themselves. Potashius found out that the pretty girl was named Betsy and she lived in a place called Oh-High-Oh. He explained who he was and how he had time traveled over one thousand years to come to Oh-High-Oh. She was as amazed by Potashius’ story as he was about her wonderful – and very dirty - world.

“I can help clean things up,” said Potashius. “I can make machines to clean the water and scrub the air, and clean the land. But, first, we need to make people aware of the beauty of nature, so they do not put garbage in the air and rivers and ground. It will be easy to explain this, and people will be happy to do good.”

But Potashius did not know about the Smoke Makers. These were the people who filled the air and rivers and ground with rubbish. The Smoke Makers were more interested in making money than keeping Mother Nature clean and beautiful. They would not be happy. But Potashius did not know this. Yet.

So, he and Betsy worked hard to clean up the world. Potashius used his Time Machine to travel to the future and find ways to make inventions that did not fill the air and water and ground with litter. Betsy wrote articles that people read.

“We can clean up our world!” the people said, and they began to complain to the Smoke Makers about their job. The people passed new laws that made the Smoke Makers do things in a good way. This made the Smoke Makers very angry.

High in their cold, tall buildings of steel and glass, sitting at large tables in air conditioned rooms where they could not feel the sun on their faces or the breeze in their hair, the Smoke Makers met together and growled, “Who is doing this to us? Who is waking up the people and reminding them of the beauties of Nature? Whoever he is, he is hurting us, and costing us big money. Find him!”

The Smoke Makers send out their dogs who sniffed the ground, and their weasels who sniffed the air, and their nosey friends who poked around and asked questions. Soon, they learned about Potashius and his Time Machine. They learned about Pretty Betsy and how she was talking to the people.

“Let’s hurt this man who likes a beautiful world and wants us to be good,” the Smoke Makers said.

They sent out their dogs and weasels and mean little Smoke Maker friends who searched until they found Potashius, and his wonderful Time Machine, and told their Smoke Maker Bosses in the High Buildings.

“Teach him a lesson. Break his Time Machine,” said the greedy Smoke Maker Bosses. And they did. They sent out their unkind and vicious friends to the place where Potashius and his Time Machine were. When Potashius was asleep, they snuck into his laboratory and broke his wonderful Time Machine into a million pieces.

Poor Potashius! Now there was no way for him to return home.

“What will I do now? How will I ever see my home again and my wonderful books.” He was very sad.

“Let’s fix it!” Betsy said cheerfully.

“Will you help me?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Betsy. “It sounds like fun”.

And so, together, they set out to repair the Time Machine. Potashius knew what he needed, but did not know the modern names for them. It took Betsy time to understand what he wanted and to find them. He was surprised that stores did not sell bats’ wings and wart hog hairs, blue mushroom roots and smoke filters. These were easy to find back at his castle. After much hard work and long searches, Betsy was able to find most of the items Potashius needed to fix his Time Machine. Using his clever mind, he was able to make the few things that could not be found. Instead of blue mushroom roots he used pink bubble gum. Instead of wart hog hairs, he used vanilla beans. Slowly, slowly, patiently, with much imagination, a few tears and lots of laughter, Potashius and Betsy managed to fix the wonderful Time Machine.

When the Time Machine was finally repaired, Potashius the Magnificent was so happy. Now, at last, he could go back one thousand years to his castle and to the long quiet nights with his books. Alone. All alone. In his study. Reading. Reading.

“All alone?” he thought. “What about Betsy? I don’t think I want to be all alone any more. I would rather be here, in these strange modern times, where wizards’ magic is everywhere and I can be close to Betsy. And Betsy needs help teaching the Smoke Makers to be good.”

So, to his surprise, Potashius discovered that he did not want to go home. He would rather stay with Betsy. He liked her. She liked him. Very much.

Soon, the Smoke Makers were doing better, and the air and water and earth in Oh-High-Oh were clean and beautiful again. In other places, people learned from Potashius and Betsy and they, too, cleaned up where they lived. Potashius and Betsy were very happy. One day, they realized that they actually loved one another. Soon, they married. Then, in the wink of a wizard’s eye, they had four daughters and three sons and lived happily ever after.

Now, to visit the Dark Ages, Pothashius simply took his family to Bulgaria where people still live in the Dark Ages, just the way he did before he time-travelled to the twentieth century. And the Time Machine? You will have to ask Potashius when you see him.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fairy Tales!

Every year, the 8th grade class at ACS does a community service project where they write their own fairy tales and then present them to elementary school students in the area, teaching them English as they read the story. The writing process takes two weeks, and then the students present the stories over three successive Mondays to the delight of the 4th graders. And, I might say, to the delight of the 8th graders. Below are my students doing "service," which, they are learning, isn't always that tedious. I hope to post an example of one of the fairy tales shortly...

Apartment Block Buildings

I took these photos today as I walked out in search of spring. A year and a half ago, these architectural remnants of a previous era were probably the hardest thing for me to adjust to in Bulgaria. The crumbling aesthetics of these buildings seemed to prey on my sense of peace. Not anymore. When I do notice them now, it's to admire strings of laundry or new paint jobs. Other than that, when I walk, I see small details or think my own thoughts. I don't walk to drink in the beauty of the buildings, but neither do they make me feel small and hunted.

I didn't find spring today, but I did see two trios worth mentioning. One, a group of three young mothers, each holding the handle of a plastic covered pram, standing still to chat as, in unison, they rhythmically pushed their babies back and forth in the middle of the park. The other, a group of three dogs: a huge well-manicured collie, a middle sized mutt, and one of those rinky dink dogs you expect to see in a purse. The collie was chasing the mutt, who was chasing Rinky Dinky, who flew straight to the feet of his amiable old owner. No dogs were harmed.

Happy Pi Day (yesterday) !

Yesterday our on-campus series of faculty potluck nights continued. Brett and I hosted "Breakfast for Dinner" last week, so this week they spoofed us with "Lunch for Dinner." There was chicken salad, egg salad, PB and J, Elvis Specials, Pesto Grilled Cheese, Apple and Cheddar Open Face, and more. And for dessert, my pies. Yes, pies. I made the crust for a cheesecake and it spilled over into pan #2 so I made a chocolate pudding pie too. Only once they were on the table did I discover it was Pi day (3/14)!

For a GREAT recipe for chocolate pudding pie (sorry, the cheese cake one is a secret), head over to From Another Angle's foodie cousin, It Started in Bulgaria.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


The intrepid ACS Hiking Club once again set out to explore the icy reaches of Bulgaria this weekend. This time we were in Lozen, a short bus ride from Sofia. When I woke up at 7:30 am to blustering winds and -7 degrees, I thought we might have a small group. But 16 hikers showed up, and all were rewarded with an emerging sun and surprising blue skies within a couple hours. Lozen is not the highest mountain in Bulgaria, but a fresh coat of overnight snow made up for it. Georgi, the Hiking Club president who meticulously plans each of our trips and makes sure that everything goes smoothly, was constantly asking if the beauty outweighed the cold. Yes, we would say repeatedly.

After about an hour of hiking, we reached the ridge, where it became clear that wind was going to be a steady companion.

Georgi and me at the peak. Sofia is far off in the distance.

On the way down, we passed by Lozen Monastery and its resident dog.

One of the more entertaining signs I've seen so far. It says, "Children don't brake!"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy Bulgarian Liberation Day

"March 3, Bulgaria's national day, symbolises the restoration of the third Bulgarian kingdom after almost 500 years of Ottoman rule. The treaty of San Stefano, signed on March 3 1878, was the milestone of this process and the day remains one of the most celebrated in Bulgaria's history. The San Stefano treaty ended the Russo-Turkish, which started in 1877.

Russian troops crossed the Danube River and invaded Bulgarian ethnic territory in the southern city of Svishtov.

In late July 1877, the Russian offensive was held up and the Turks launched an energetic counter-offensive.

At that critical moment, the assistance of the Bulgarian population was crucial. This was the moment that later gave grounds for Bulgarians to rightfully claim that their freedom was not a gift from the Russians.

The Bulgarians provided supplies to the Russian troops, helping them traverse the mountain regions, digging defences and collecting intelligence data. Armed units were sent to the enemy's rear. The Bulgarian volunteer unit, called "Opalchentsi", fought side by side with the Russian army against the Ottoman troops.

The battle for Shipka Pass in the Balkan Range was to crucially impact the course of military operations. It remains a battle revered by all Bulgarians.

In August, a battalion of Russian troops and Bulgarian volunteers miraculously managed to defend the pass from the powerful army of Suleiman Pasha, which was attacking from the south. Despite their numerical superiority, the Turks suffered a catastrophic defeat, while the defenders of Shipka worked miracles of bravery. At periods of complete despair and lack of ammunition, the defenders of the pass threw stones, tree trunks and the bodies of killed soldiers against the enemy.

A Russian detachment arrived just in time, providing crucial psychological support to the defenders. They counterattacked and sent the enemy running.

The Shipka battles became known to the world. Foreign reporters informed millions of readers about the course of the war. After Shipka, successful operations followed in Pleven, Sofia, Plovdiv and Shipka-Sheinovo and at the end, the Turkish command asked for peace.

On March 3 1878 in San Stefano, a village near Istanbul now called Yesilkoy, Turkey signed a preliminary peace treaty. Under this treaty the Bulgarian ethnic territories in Macedonia, Moesia and Thrace were liberated, and the Bulgarian state was restored after almost five centuries of Ottoman rule."

-From The Sofia Echo