S'mores by Yosemite

Making s’mores over the campfire by Yosemite National Park, CA

I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long! I’ve wanted to try s’mores ever since I heard about them as a freshman!
The setting is perfect: the camp fire just outside Yosemite Valley, the tents, the group of friends.
This recipe is probably engraved in every American kid’s memory, but it was a whole new world to me:
You put a marshmallow on a stick and roast it on the fire until it becomes anywhere between slightly golden to, in my case, burnt black (oops). Then you put the marshmallow on a big piece of plain milk Hershey bar and sandwich it with two half pieces of a graham cracker. Squish the s’more slightly and watch the chocolate melt over the marshmallow. Now devour.
Absolutely gourmet cuisine! The finest campfire dining experience I’ve ever had! Thank you American girl scouts!

*Plain milk chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers, and wooden skewers are sold as package in stores. That’s genius marketing thinking!

S'mores by Yosemite

You can judge my appearance, but I taste amazing!

 

This is a map of my hikes in Yosemite National Park, CA.


I used to be surprised at how dependent Americans are on their cars, but now I understand it. USA is so vast , and the cities are so spread out, that it is impossible to get by without a reliable vehicle. This is why cars and gas are so cheap, people get their driver’s license at 16, and infrastructure is so good in the States. Good roads are key to keeping this huge country connected and to enable business. No wonder why Americans love their roads and have even created legends around some of them and have raised them to the status of national symbols.

I feel lucky to have traveled the two most famous roads in the States within the same month – Highway One and Route 66. Both of them have the official status of All-American Roads, granted by the US Department of Transportation, which means that they are national scenic, cultural, historic and natural sites.

Route 66

Route 66 Road Trip

Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In is a must-visit roadside eatery along Historic Route 66. Here, Delgadillo’s old Cadillac collection

Historic Route 66, also known as The Mother Road, links Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles through Arizona, Illinois, and New Mexico (3,945m). I travelled along Route 66 roughly between Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, and Los Angeles. The best attraction on Route 66, I think, are the many roadside bars and eateries, such as Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In.

Route 66 Road Trip

Delgadillo is a famous trickster. His signature sense of humor is all over Snow Cap’s backyard

Snow Cap is a popular roadside attraction in Seligman, AZ along Route 66. Juan Delgadillo, the owner of the place, is notorious for his weird sense of humor. The front door had two doorknobs, and of course, the one I held first turned out to be a dummy. When I ordered a bottle of water, Juan Delgadillo, the man behind the counter gave me a baby bottle. Then he squirted fake ketchup on my shirt. Then he asked me if I wanted a straw for my water – and handed me a bunch of dried hay straws.  I must say, I was not prepared for the pranks, but I did appreciate them!

Route 66 Road Trip

Delgadillo’s Snow Cap offers “cheeseburgers with cheese”, “dead chicken”, snow cones, and fountain sodas.

The backyard of the Snow Cap is full of vintage automobiles with faces, hand-written signs like “Sorry, we’re open”, a wooden outdoor toilet with a TV and a hula dancing doll inside, and more random craziness. It turns out that Seligman, AZ is the prototype of Radiator Springs from Pixar’s Cars: a small town on a rather abandoned road where a great sense of humor and a few good local stars are the only way to attract tourism.

Highway One

Taking a road trip along West Coast’s Highway One is one of the quintessential “Bucket List” items that all Americans have. I took that trip twice – once from San Francisco to LA, and, three weeks later, from San Diego to San Francisco.

Some of the highlights of Highway One that I saw were:

Pebble Beach – a peninsula with beautiful bays, lodges, and vista points turned into a ritzy golf resort and gated community. Here is The Lone Cypress, which most Californians will recognize in photos.

Monterey – The two must-see attractions are the Monterey Bay Aquarium (read my previous post) and the shops and restaurants at Canary Row.

Big Sur – the most stunning coastline I have ever seen in the entire world is between Monterey and San Lius Obispo! The sheer walls of the Santa Lucia Mountains vertically drop in the Pacific Ocean to create breathtaking views of the dark blue ocean, waves crashing and foaming into the jagged rocks, the narrow white strip of Highway 1 meandering on the edge of the cliffs,  and the green mountain tops almost touching the blue sky.  I spent almost the whole ride with my hand outside the window taking photos. You have to be prepared to snap them fast because if you are a moment too late, you could just miss the perfect shot of the Bixby Creek Bridge.

Highway One Road Trip

Stunning views of Big Sur during my Highway One road trip

Highway One Road Trip

Brixby Creek Bridge is one of the most spectacular views along Big Sur but you have to have your camera ready, or you might miss the shot!

Architectural wonders – Madonna Inn and Hearst Castle  (previous post), two eccentric establishments built by America’s richest people of the day.

Beautiful beaches with seals and sea otters – harbor seals around Carmel and elephant seals around San Simeon, as well as interesting human-inhabited beaches such as Muscle Beach and Venice Beach (I took lots of cool pics here).

The desert landscape of Imperial Sand Dunes and the Chocolate Mountains – I did not expect to see this, but yes, California has everything – from lush green sequoia forests and magnificent coasts to sandy deserts south of San Diego.

In conclusion, Highway One and Route 66 have definitely met and exceeded my expectations of the perfect road trips!

 

 

Other famous streets I’ve visited in the States: The Las Vegas Strip, Broadway and 5th Avenue in NYC, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard (where I saw Katy Perry) and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, The Freedom Trail in Boston, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami (read about my awesome spring break). 


My Skydiving Tandem at The Parachude Center, Lodi, California in May 2012

In California, I discovered a new passion for extreme sports: skydiving. Too bad we don’t get to watch more extreme sports at the London 2012 Olympic Games*, but at least we got a taste of the extreme with James Bond and Queen Elizabeth’s heroic jump with a parachute from a helicopter over the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony.

Mike and I in freefall from 13,000 feet over Lodi, CA

With its all-year-round perfect weather and scenic views, California is a paradise for both first time skydivers and licensed skydiving enthusiasts. The Golden State has the largest skydiving community in the States and one of the highest number of drop zones worldwide.

I jumped for the first time in a tandem at the Parachute Center, Lodi, CA. To tell you the truth, parking the car in front of the drop zone was the most terrifying moment of the whole experience! My pulse had almost stopped and there was not even a drop of blood in my face. My legs felt like melting cheese as I was putting on the jumpsuit, and my mouth had frozen in a crooked horrified smile as people around me were cheering for me and saying that I’ll do great. My instructor was going to be Mike, a white-haired man with over 10,000jumps.

As I was walking to the airplane, I was silently cursing Ethan who persuaded me to do it. I had already accepted my doomed fate as I was watching the airport below us become smaller and smaller. At 13,000feet (4,000 meters), my instructor tightened the straps that secured my back to him and gave me a signal to go up to the door. I remember thinking: “Whatever. Just do it!” … And we jumped.

These were the most amazing 60 seconds of my life!

Pure adrenaline rush!

Pure bliss!

If you’ve never been in freefall, you don’t know what you’re missing! The speed and sound of the air rushing past you in the first moment and the sight of the airplane flying away somewhere above you. Then the sensation of floating or even being lifted up due to the air friction and the view of the blue sky, the thin horizon, and the fields and mountains below you. Time stretches, and for those 60 seconds, you are very aware of everything you see and feel. Just take it all in!

When Mike opened the parachute and we went under canopy, my first thought was “WOW, this was awesome!” From there, I just enjoyed the relaxing flight over Lodi and then a perfectly soft landing.

My Solo Jump at Skydive Sofia, Bulgaria

Most people say that they would like to jump at least once in their lifetime. A small portion of them really do, and they love it! An even smaller portion of those love it so much that they want to do it over and over and over again!

About a month after my first tandem jump, I had already completed AFF, the Accelerated Freefall Program, at the Parachute Center, which enables me to solo jump. The program consists of seven jumps with an instructor who at first only holds you stable during the freefall, and later only watches you from a distance while you maintain a stable position and perform basic maneuvers in the air. My AFF instructor was Zak Tessier, check out his skydiving, wingsuit flying, and BASE jumping with Team Go 4 It!

Take a look at Ethan’s TheExtremeEJDe video blog on YouTube as well for more from the world of skydiving, scuba diving, and motorcycling.

When I came back to Bulgaria after my California trip, I immediately went to jump at Skydive Sofia. As the skydivers in Sofia say, “Don’t worry about the fear.  Worry about the addiction.”

And although there isn’t a skydiving competition in the London 2012 Olympic Games, we all saw who arrived at the Opening Ceremony with a parachute – James Bond and Queen Elizabeth! They have already done it, and so should you!

Blue skies!

 

*Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing skydiving, water ski, scuba diving, power boating, auto racing, or motorcycle racing in the Olympics any time soon because the International Olympic Body deems sports with an element of motorization to be ineligible for the Games.

By the way, the closest I’ve gotten to an Olympic gold medal is when I won three ribbons at the intramural swimming competition at Boston University. Read about it in the link. 


Seals are such beautiful creatures. They are big and mighty when they argue, nudge and shove each other, but then become gentle and peaceful when napping cuddled together. They are very clumsy on the shore, but fast and graceful in the water.

During my trip, I saw elephant seals, sea lions, and common harbor seals everywhere from the beaches of Big Sur and Carmel to the harbors of Santa Cruz and San Francisco. These are some of the pictures I took.

Pier 39, San Francisco

Elephant Seals by San Simeon

Seals by Santa Cruz

Seal kiss by the Santa Cruz harbor

I also went to the San Diego Zoo, which is one of the biggest zoos in the world. It’s marvelous how they have recreated the natural habitats of various animals with unique plants and environments: the pandas are in a bamboo forest, the alligators are in a swamp, the kangaroos are in an outback-like desert, the exotic birds are in a jungle. They also have many animal-themed shows and performances such as the Chinese Theatre we saw near the Asian section of the zoo. Thus, the San Diego zoo combines an animal park, a botanical garden, and an entertainment center where children and parents can observe, learn about, and interact with nature.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the world.

Monterey Bay in California holds an abundance of interesting, unique ocean animals and plants, which make the region a paradise for scuba divers and ocean explorers. At the Aquarium, I saw a bunch of interactive exhibits where biologists were feeding the otters, the deep sea fish (imagine a school of thousands of herring moving in giant tank along with hammerheads and sharks), and the inhabitants of a kelp forest. I also saw a sea horses exhibit, a jellyfish exhibit, and a playground where you could touch various creatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the San Diego Zoo, I encountered several California species that I had never seen in the wild before: blue jays, a humming bird in Mount Diablo, seals, otters, two scary snakes, a herd of very friendly elk by Grand Canyon, redwoods and giant sequoias in Yosemite, and of course, the yellow California poppy. So my number one advice to travelers is: always combine sightseeing in the cities with exploring the local nature and wild life!

A dead Giant Sequoia at Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite

A herd of elk came just a few feet from our campsite near Grand Canyon

The golden poppy, the state’s flower, welcomes us to California


Roman pool, Hearst Castle

 

As Shakespeare said, “Two houses both alike in dignity…” and eccentricity. 

While traveling on Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, I visited two almost equally peculiar “homes”, Hearst Castle and Madonna Inn.

Hearst Castle is the mansion of the notorious American media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Built between 1919 and 1947 near San Simeon by architect Julia Morgan, “La Cuesta Encantada”(the Enchanted Hill), as it is also known, today is a national historic landmark . It is a huge castle build on a hill with a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by open fields that used to be orchards and a private zoo for exotic animals.

Indoors mosaics pool, Hearst Castle

Yes, exotic animals. Hearst was a millionaire and a very eccentric person. Together with Julia Morgan, he designed an eclectic, flamboyant castle that combines many architectural styles and epochs in one. Inspired by the wonderful cathedrals, castles, palaces, fortresses, chateaus, and villas he had seen while traveling through Europe with his mother as a child, Hearst incorporated everything in his mansion. “The Ranch”, as Hearst himself called it, has an ancient Roman mosaics pool, Medieval tapestry, Gothic hallways, a collection of antique furniture and Mediterranean art, a modern movie theatre, church-like bell towers, painted and wood carved ceilings, marvelous gardens and patios, and much more.  It is architectural madness and genius at the same time. It used to be frequented by the political elite and the highlife of Hearst’s time like Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt.

Dining room, Madonna Inn

Hearst Castle is magnificent, no doubt about that, and it does feel like something out of a dream about the Mediterranean. Still, I would recommend to anyone, if possible, to visit the European palaces and learn about the Mediterranean cultures that inspired Hearst to build his dream ranch.

Ladies’ Bathrooms, Madonna Inn

The second peculiar mansion I visited in California was the Madonna Inn. It is a hostel on US Route 101 near San Luis Obispo  built by construction magnate Alex Madonna. The Madonna Inn is famous because each of its 110 guest rooms is uniquely themed: heaven, whisky factory, desert sands, caveman room, rock bottom, safari, love nest, old mill, Bridal Falls, jungle, flowers, cloud Nine, amusement park, etc.  The outside of the Inn looks like a palace-chalet from a Swiss alps fairytale – adorned with decorative rocks, a giant fireplace made up of boulders, stained glass depicting the owner’s businesses with construction, cattle, and limber, hand-carved stairs, a dining room that looks like a hot pink flower cave, and bathrooms resembling an underwater cove.

This time, I only went in for a few minutes, but I bet that staying in this landmark resort hotel is an experience in and of itself.

Hearst Castle and Madonna Inn reminded me a lot of the palace in Cintra, Portugal. Take a look here

 


I was considering posting this as a thumbs down review on Yelp, but instead, I decided to turn it into a “funny”misadventure story on my blog.

Irinka and I had chosen what we thought was the perfect youth hostel in LA: Hollywood International Youth Hostel – centrally located in front of the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and dirt cheap (that already should have set the alarm bells ringing).

So we moved in our four-girls bedroom around 9pm and went out for dinner and a drink. The day had been action-packed with travel and sightseeing, so all we really wanted to do as we headed back to the hostel around 11:30pm was go to sleep.

As we entered the lobby, a gray wall of thick smoke hit our faces. “Since when is it allowed to smoke indoors in America?!” was the first thought that crossed my mind. My second thought was, “Oh, shit!” There was blasting music and disco lights in the lobby! There were teenagers all over the place (it’s a youth hostel!) dancing around the couches, smoking around the computer desks, playing pool near the kitchenette, and drinking on the dining table. The common room was turned into a night club!

We were offered free beer – on the hostel! Yes, the hostel provided free cans of Budweiser to the “youths”! The walls were shaking under the sound of Lady Gaga and Usher (later someone bragged to me that this was the owner’s new sound system: “Isn’t it sweet!”).

Katy Perry dressed as popcorn and movie film rolls performing in front of the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood

Did I mention that our room was exactly next to this common room and that it didn’t make any difference whether we would leave the door open or closed – we could hear the loud music equally well.Irinka and I immediately googled other hostels nearby  and tried to check-out only to find out that our hostel won’t return our money, which we had to pay in advance for the entire four-day stay.

With her performance on June 26, the singer promoted her new movie, “Katy Perry: Part of Me”

She and I tried picking up a conversation, repacking our suitcases, and taking a looong time to brush teeth, take a shower and get ready for bed, hoping that the party nextdoor will end by 2am. Nope! I guess this hostel had transformed into one of the few clubs in America where the party goes on all night long. Eventually, I just ended up sticking my head under the pillow and passing out from exhaustion.

The only thing I didn’t understand is why on earth would you want to be at a party in the common room of a hostel on Sunday night when there are plenty of other real clubs everywhere around you in Hollywood. Wasn’t a hostel a place for tired travelers to sleep?

Thousands gather in Hollywood Boulevard for Katy Perry’s performance. We ended up hiding somewhere between the bushes on the right

On the following day, Irinka and I had assumed that this little incident was something of the past… Yeah, right! The same thing happened every single night while we stayed there! FML!

As I told you, I was going to post this on Yelp, but you know what, the Hollywood International Youth Hostel eventually atoned itself. There was a free Katy Perry concert right outside of it in front of the Kodak Theatre. Irinka and I managed to find the perfect vantage point (after some squabble with the security guards) and watched the show hidden inside a decorative bush very close to the stage.  Well, there is a trade off to choosing the most central hostel in Hollywood.


The famous Venice Beach Marijuana Doctors

My impulse for self-preservation was triggered in Venice Beach: “Get me out of this madhouse!”

Venic Beach is a strange mixture of something very commercialized and touristy and something absolutely alternative and controversial. Why did those people dress like that? Why did they behave in such a way? Are they so eccentric? Are they simply crazy?  Do they have some unhealthy urge to express themselves in the weirdest ways? Or is this just the pot fumes of Venice Beach? You tell me! This is what I saw; the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • A guy playing the guitar while rollerblading on Oceanfront, Venice Beach

    The Marijuana Doctor: booths that sell Medical Marijuana Licenses. You pay to see the doctor, tell him that you have chronic migraine/dislocated shoulder/high stress levels/ stage fright/toothache, etc and he grants you a license that allows you to buy medical marijuana.

  • A Real Freakshow: I saw double-headed turtles and the famous wolf-man from the Guinness World Records. Find more pictures of the show on Yelp (not for weak stomachs!). 
  • Muscle Beach: the home of bodybuilding, where very athletic people perform gymnastics and acrobatics on special installations
  • You can take a pic with the sand octopus for a tip

    A skinny guy who had the skin color of the Tanning Mom in rollerblades wearing a thong and a helmet with the American flag

  • A guy playing a piano on the street
  • Completely stoned hobos lying by the side of the street
  • Very creative beggars by Santa Monica Pier had made cardboard  “targets”  where you have to throw throw coins through tiny slits. It’s a fun way to give money to the homeless!
  • Artworks of Marilyn Monroe as a Lakers player
  • Paintings drawn on old skateboards, sculptures made out of spare car parts, lots of graffiti, homeless people making sand sculptures, tattoo and piercing parlors, henna tattoos, bong shops
  • Street art or just creative begging under the Santa Monica Pier? Ask a question – throw a coin to get an answer!

    Sexy girls in bikini riding bicycles and rollerblades; lots of silicone

  • Gangster boys on longboards
  • Lifeguards who look like they came out of the TV show Baywatch
  • Lots and lots of surfers and street performers

Venice Beach reminded me a lot of Camden Market in London. Where else have you ever seen such eccentric street dwellers?

Muscle Beach athletes


As a sophomore, I was thinking about spending a semester “abroad” in LA, but my employer at the time and good friend Scott told me that this place wasn’t for me. He told me that it was dirty, overcrowded, superficial, drained your energy, and invariably enticed you to dye your hair blond and fill your lips with collagen. I ended up studying abroad in London instead, but I always remained curious about this strange place called Los Angeles.

Olvera Street is the oldest part of LA and testifies of the city’s Hispanic heritage

Scott was right. The City of Angels is one of those places in the US that I very much enjoy visiting but where I don’t see myself staying. Like New York, LA offers more than you could take in just a few days:

The Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard is as crowded and touristy as Times Square. Rodeo Drive is as jaw-dropping glamorous as Fifth Avenue. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is as impressive as the Guggenheim. Beverly Hills, with its multi-million dollar houses and palm-lined boulevards, is exactly what you see on TV.

The Mexican marketplace at Olvera Street offers souvenirs and sweets

When I imagined LA, I used to think about the movie industry, the music industry, the fashion industry, and the luxurious houses of America’s highlife. I used to think of starving artists struggling to make their breakthrough and rich businessmen living a thrilling life. But in fact, there is a whole other LA that I saw. I saw what seemed to be two distinct cities: an American and a Mexican city.

To my surprise, Los Angeles carries very old Hispanic heritage. It’s history began with the establishment of a Spanish mission in 1782 – El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles. From 1821 to 1848, the town was under Mexican rule. The influx of English and continental Europeans came in the 1880s and to a great extent changed the face of the city. More recently since the 1920s, the immigration of Mexicans and other Hispanics to the States has been steadily increasing, and data shows that LA receives the most such immigrants out of any city in the West. Therefore, LA is being increasingly influenced by the Latino culture anew.

Pico House is the oldest hotel in LA, constructed by the last governor of Alta California, Pío Pico in 1870

It was very interesting to see the old part of LA: El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, only a short walk from Downtown.  My friend Irinka and I visited Olvera Street, which is painfully cheesy but still cute with its colorful souvenir shops and stands with mouth-watering sweets. We saw the oldest house in LA, Avila Adobe, and the city’s first grand hotel, Pico House.

Built in 1818, the historic house museum Avila Adobe is the oldest residence in LA

Later, though, we had an even more authentic contemporary experience.  We took a 50 minute trip by public transport from Downtown LA to Citadel Outlets in East LA. Now this was very different from the city we had seen earlier: many of the signs were in Spanish; the cafes offered Mexican food; many of the girls were dressed as latino divas. East LA clearly carried a Hispanic vibe.

We didn’t have much time to explore that part of town because it was getting late and dark, but I wish someone had told me that East and West LA are so different – I would have probably spent less time in Hollywood!


I’ve always dreamt of doing a road trip around the States! So after my Graduation, I spent  a month and a half trekking and touring the West Coast.

For the trekking portion of the trip, my Bulgarian friend Irinka, who also just graduated from a university in the UK, and I booked a professional service, TrekAmerica. We joined a group of fourteen internationals from Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Ireland for a two week adventure. We traveled by van and camped all over California, Nevada, and Arizona.

I’ve created this map in Google where you can follow my trip as I upload more posts and pictures. I’ve also included some side trips that were not part of the organized tour as well as posts about things that made an impression on me in California.

So buckle up and off we go! First stop: LA!


Three years ago when I started this blog as a sophomore at Boston University, I couldn’t even imagine how soon I would be writing this:

I graduated from college!

As I reflect back on my experience as a Bulgarian coming to the States for university, I feel that I have accomplished some very significant achievements. I immersed myself in the American culture, conquered a few personal goals, and even managed to learn a thing or two about Marketing and Management.

This is my list of the greatest things I did while studying in America:

Soak In the American Culture

1. Attended two 4th of July fireworks, 3 Boston Marathons, 4 Thanksgiving celebrations (a very German one, one at Disneyworld, a very American one, and a very Arab one)

2. Went to two Red Sox games, a Celtics game, a Giants game, and a BU vs BC hockey game

3. Watched the Superbowl twice

4. Went whale watching near Cape Cod

5. Saw the Blue Angels in Florida

6. Went to several Broadway musicals in New York, The Blue Man Group and the Boston Pops Orchestra in Boston, drag queen shows in Provincetown

7. Played the slot machines in Las Vegas, Foxwoods, CT and Mohegan Sun, CT

8. Witnessed Obama’s election, learned a lot about American politics, and was there when the global financial system crashed (this is not necessarily my achievement)

9. Interacted with the US military and learned a lot about the philosophy of the enlisted, ROTC, and those who support them

10. Learned about ADHD and how common the misuse of Adderall is at universities

11. Did a pull up at Muscle Beach, LA

12. Partied all night long in Miami

13. Ate like an American: tried Twinkies, s’mores, New England clam chowder, Main lobster, Cajun cuisine and jambalayas, Tex-Mex fajitas, lots of bagels with cream cheese, San Francisco crab bisque in a sourdough bowl, (ate and shucked) oysters, hotdog at the ballpark, salt water taffy, Reese’s peanut butter cups, cranberries (even visited a cranberry bog), a ton of salad dressings, avocado on everything

14. NEVER TRIED A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH (I just realized that! Must fix that!)

15. Went to some of America’s most beloved chain restaurants: Hooters, Jamba Juice, In-N-Out, Bubba Gump, Hard Rock Café, Krispy Kreme, The Cheesecake Factory

16. Bought something from Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, American Apparel, and Urban Outfitters

Enhance My College Career

17. Met interesting people from all over the world

18. Tailored my education to the area of business and the industry I’m interested in and landed my dream job

19. Had an internship every semester and summer

20. Picked up a third foreign language, Russian

21. Became good friends with some of my professors

22. Visited some of the world’s top universities: Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Brown, Berkeley, and Columbia U

23. Joined several student groups

24. Went to frat parties and witnessed a lot of MIT frat hazing

25. Attended a house party that got busted by the police

26. Played beer pong, cups, and gunshotting during 21st birthday celebrations

27. Used a fake international ID to get into clubs before I was 21 (very offended because I had been clubbing in Bulgaria since 16)

28. Spent spring break in Cancun with the entire US college population

29. Got my university to pay me for tutoring Writing 100 and Writing 150 students

30. Was in the top 7% of the class.. who would have thought?

Travel As Much As Possible

31. Travelled all over the East and West Coast: Niagara Falls, Walden Pond, Salem, Boston, Plymouth, Cape Cod, Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Providence, New Haven, Pittsburgh, State College, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, New Orleans, Jackson MI, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Cancun, The Bahamas, Sierra Nevada, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Monterey, Berkeley, San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Ramon, Lodi, Napa and Sonoma Valley, Point Reyes.

32. Had a road trip on Route 66 as well as on Highway 1 (in both directions)

33. Soaked my feet both in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean

34. Took advantage of Boston University’s study abroad programs for a semester in London and in Madrid, where I even lived with a Spanish family.

35. Brought four American friends to Bulgaria, was their tour guide, and left them with wonderful impressions of the Bulgarian people, culture, and nature

Get In Some Thrill:

36. Overcame my fear of the deep, learned how to swim (freestyle, breaststroke, back and butterfly), and won recognitions for second and third place at a swimming competition.

37. Learned to sail a flying junior and had an amazing time sailing on the Charles every spring and fall

38. Constantly challenged myself with something new: Tried fencing, kickboxing, African dancing, belly dancing, pole dancing, snowboarding (I’m yet to perfect that!), jet ski, catamaran, windsurf, sea kayak, coasteering (jumping off rocks into the freezing sea with a wetsuit), flying a Navy flight simulator and a Cessna

39. Completed an AFF skydiving course and am currently on my 11th jump

Become Americanized:

40. Got a Massachusetts ID

41. Received a social security number

42. Filed my taxes (only twice though, should have been four times, oops)

43. Got called for Jury Duty

44. Visited the Sam Adams Brewery

45. Went to a Wal-Mart


Boston’s Marathon Monday was a blast as always! Last marathon Monday, I was impressed by the motivation, perseverance, and all-embracing sports spirit of the event both in the face of the  professional athletes and the jogging enthusiasts (read my previous article). This year, I had an even more active role in the Marathon celebrations as part of a group of wild Boston University fans.

Marathoners running up Beacon towards Kenmore Square under the scorching sun and a storm of cheers from the crowd

Let’s face the truth: the Boston Marathon would not be the same if it weren’t for the crowds of fans cheering, shouting, applauding, whistling, singing, ringing bells, drumming drums, high-five-ing, and blowing kisses at the runners.

The task of a Boston Marathon true fan is, therefore, a major responsibility. It begins a few days before the big day with drawing posters with silly slogans such as, and I only quote things that I’ve seen with my own eyes “You’re Almost There! That’s What She Said”, “The Guy In Front of You Farted, Run Faster!” and “You Got Stamina. Call Me: 7138596113.” On the weekend before Marathon Monday, the devoted fan has to also stock up on alcohol and snacks and find a place to party (be sure to make these arrangements in advance because someone told me that Blanchards, the big alcohol store near BU, was completely depleted and had to close early on Sunday).

On Marathon Monday, the true marathon junkie wakes up very early, around 7 or 8am, puts on brightly-colored running gear, and goes to a “kegs and eggs,” which, as I learned today, means to have breakfast while getting drunk or vice versa. Our breakfast of champions consisted of casserole, muffins, potato chips, sangria, bloody marry, Corona, Sam Adams, whiskey sour, and ouzo (a nice Eastern European touch on my side,  I thought).

The best locations for Marathon parties are of course along the race’s route – Beacon Street, Kenmore, Commonwealth Ave. It’s OK if you don’t have an apartment with a balcony overlooking the street like we did (hehe) because many people just bring their barbeque and boombox outside and party on the sidewalk all day. 

Some of the common sights throughout the day are: college kids dressed as Teletubbies, frat boys waving pirate flags, BU Resident Assistants chasing students off the roofs of campus housing, the BU police sniffing the content of every “water bottle” being carried around.  The best part of watching the race is chanting  “You can do it, 6472!” or “USA! USA!”  as the runners start arriving.

Let me just mention that this year’s marathoners had to deal with record high temperatures (about 30C), so the event was especially emotional – total exhaustion plus dehydration for some, and drunkenness plus sunstroke for others.  Around 2 o’clock, just at the peak heat, the most faithful marathon groupies could not resist and jumped the enclosures to join the runners for their final two miles. One of my friends even crossed the finish line in her flip flops with a red solo cup in hand. Thinking that she was a real runner, a very committed medical volunteer hurled her into a wheelchair and tried to treat her. Later, my friend told me that in the jam of wheelchairs around the medical tent near Copley, all she could see was a sea of sunburned and flushed, but very, very happy faces!

Fans dressed like for a jog - but only to show support, absolutely no intention to run for real!

Stairs and balconies offer the best vantage points, plus they are conveniently located next to the grill and the cooling bag.

This important artifact during the Boston Marathon celebrations, the Red Solo Cup, is also a staple in the American college culture.


Alas, I got distracted eating the chocolate eggs that my American roommates’ parents sent last Sunday and (for a fourth year in row) forgot to paint some eggs for my own Easter! (Bulgarians are predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christians and celebrate Easter together with the Greeks, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, and Russians. This year, our Easter is on April 15th)

So instead, I decided to post a few beautiful photos of painted Easter eggs. Enjoy!

The way you make these patterns is by wrapping a leaf around the egg using a stocking to hold it fixed and dipping it in a jar of food paint

The way you make this pattern is by pouring different paints in a piece of cotton and wrapping the egg in the cotton. It looks like a colorful cloud, doesn't it?

These you make by "painting" lines and shapes with a candle and dipping the egg in the paint. There will be white lines where the wax touched the egg. Coat the color with wax and dip the egg in another color to add more layers to your painting. Bravo, Picasso!

Leaving the religious significance of this day aside, Easter is one of my favorite family holidays! Read more about my family’s celebrations here. The whole extended family gets together for a huge party. The centerpiece of the feast is the whole slow-roasted lamb and my grandmother’s amazing traditional Easter sweet bread with rum and dried fruit), kozunak (see a recipe).

The most fun part of the day is the egg fights (read my instructions) where you duel with painted eggs – the egg that survives without a crack is the champion!

How did you celebrate Easter this year?


And speaking of the “Gypsy Nightingale” Sofi Marinova To Represent Bulgaria in Eurovision 2012, I recently stumbled upon a very interesting documentary series from the UK, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.

The series follow several gypsy families as they plan their daughters’ weddings and offers commentaries about this ethnic group’s traditions regarding interaction between the genders, family values, educating the youth, choosing a house, and so on. The 5-episode series aired for the first time in 2011 on Channel  4  ( on TLC in North America under the name My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding). The second episode got 8.7 million viewers, giving Channel 4 the highest ratings since Big Brother. Check out the series on YouTube:

 

The show distinguishes between Irish Traveler and British Romani Gypsies. What is fascinating to me is that these two communities seem completely different from the Easter European gypsies. So I made a little investigation:

There are three types or lines of Gypsies that emigrated from their land of origin in today’s Pakistan during three exoduses in the period 1000-1400s AD: Domari, the Egyptian and Middle Eastern Gypsies; Lomavren, the central gypsies of Armenia and Turkey, and Romani, who made their way to the Byzantine Empire, through the southern Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Moldova, Hungary etc) and now populate all of Europe. The Gypsies have always been a semi-nomadic cultural group with their own language (and sixty dialects) and religion.

The Irish Travelers, which the TV series also focuses on, on the other hand, are not from the same Indian ethnic origin as Gypsies, but they share a similar nomadic background and do not mind being called Gypsies. Travellers are of Irish origin, populate Ireland, the UK, and USA, and have their own language and traditions, but are often put under common denominator with Gypsies because of their similar lifestyle.

I personally had never seen Gypsies in the light in which Big Fat Gypsy Weddings present them!  There seem to be striking differences between the living conditions and lifestyles of Western European and Easter European gypsies. On one hand, this is normal because there are such differences between Western and Eastern European countries in general. On the other hand, it really disturbed me to see that even the most ostracized and marginal community in Europe seems to be so much better off in  the West than in the East.   

The TV shows portrays Gypsies (Romani and Travellers) as a group with ostentatious sense of fashion, yet a very conservative worldview that is driven by a very strict moral code. UK gypsies may be over-the-top and hardly compatible with the “settled community”, but their culture seems fascinatingly rich. Thus,  UK Gypsies seem worlds apart from Eastern Europeans gypsies.  

The majority of Bulgarian and Romanian gypsies  live in poor conditions in the outskirts of the cities or in very poor villages (there are exceptions of course). In the countryside, their main occupation is shepherds or day-laborers. In the cities, they often collect metal for scrap, clean cars at traffic lights, beg, or pickpocket.  None of the Gypsy slums I have seen in Eastern Europe look like the nice houses portrayed in the British series. Like in the UK, Bulgarian gypsy families are large but mainly because girls give birth at a very young age and have many, many children.

Regarding their sense of style, I have never seen Bulgarian gypsies dressed as flashy and colorful as the Travellers in the UK in their daily life (except for a wedding, as the video below demonstrates).  Our gypsies usually wear clothes that they find or that are given to them, or very cheap clothes sold in bulk – so they look more like shabby street urchins than like provocative fashion divas. They would rarely be able to afford buying new dresses for each wedding they attend like their UK counterparts. Our gypsies do, however, put on make-up sometimes and often bleach their hair – and this applies both to boys and girls. Therefore, in Bulgaria we have a saying “dressed as a gypsy”, which might mean very scruffy and ragged, but might also mean  flamboyant to the point of looking ridiculous.

Bulgarian gypsy weddings are, similarly, a great celebration for the community, but in a very different, much less glamorous way. They usually include an orchestra (often times with a dancing bear), the entire village/neighborhood as guests, and a lot of bargaining and arranging the marriages of the next daughters in line. Compare this video from a Bulgarian gypsy wedding (notice the surrounding – this is the gypsy quarter in Stara Zagora) to the UK series and tell me what other striking differences do you notice?

***

You Might Also Find Interesting: 

On The Gypsy Riots in Bulgaria from October 2011

Goran Bregovic Plays for Balkan Unity in Sofia

Gypsies in Sofia: FUNNY PICTURE

The Bulgarian English Wedding

The Polish Bulgarian Wedding,  Or Who Can Drink More: Polish or Bulgarian? 

When Marriage Stops Seeming So Far Away


The Gypsy Pearl of Bulgarian Pop-folk, Sofi Marinova, will represent us at Eurovision 2012

My favorite time of the year is coming closer! It’s time for Eurovision 2012, the pan-European music contest! It has been such a roller coaster for Bulgaria in the past six years!

We were on the way to greatness in 2007 with Elitsa and Stoyan Yankoulov (with were fifth woohoo!); then in 2008 I was sort of positive about Deep Zone coming up with their very catchy “DJ Take Me Away”; I had to close my eyes in 2009; in 2010 I put all my fate with my all-time-favorite Miro, and then in 2011 I was hoping that the European voters with find Poli Genova at least cute, but now…   now, I’m simply desperate by our choice of representative.

Bulgaria’s 2012 Eurovision contestant is Sofi Marinova with “Love Unlimited”. Don’t get me wrong, Sofi Marinova has an amazing voice and her songs become instant hits, but I think that this one is simply not one of them. Plus, her singing and image are… how can I put it… too Bulgarian for the average European taste (remember, the whole of Europe will vote for their favorite singers in the contest). But Sofi Marinova was elected during Eurovision’s national level finals on Feb 29th. She competed against 12 other Bulgarian singers and earned her title via a combination of jury and viewers’ text message votes. As you can tell, we Bulgarians love our gypsy chalga rhythms.

Sofi Marinova, also called “the gypsy pearl” or “the gypsy nightingale”, is a Bulgarian pop-folk singer of gypsy (Roma) background. She has a phenomenal 5-octave vocal range and is one of our top chalga singers. In her personal life, she is notorious for giving a son to her husband, then divorcing him, and getting with this ex-husband’s other son… but she’s cool otherwise :)

Instead of showing you her Eurovision song, I’ll show you my favorite duet of Sofi and Ustata . Of course, it’s a typical chalga video with very intelligent lyrics:

I don’t think she will reach the finals, but I’ll be crossing fingers anyways! Eurovision 2012 will take place on May 22, 24, and 26 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

*

More on Eurovision and Chalga:

Eurovision 2011: Poli Genova Urges Young Bulgarians to Stay

Bulgaria’s Heart Breaker Miro Will Compete in Eurovision 2010

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop Folk


During the first days of spring, I ironically had one of the windiest, coldest nights of my life in Vermont. As my shoulders were starting to throb with pain under the pressure of the beating wind, my fingers were turning blue and then becoming numb, and my brain was getting frostbite, all I could think about was ice cream.

Winter hat and ice cream? Never in Bulgaria - that kid will catch a cold!

In Bulgaria, I wouldn’t eat ice cream until probably mid-June, and then only until the end of August. Why would you eat something that cold unless it’s really hot outside and you are at the beach or outside in the sun? In the States, ice cream is maybe the number one dessert – everyone has at least one box of it in the freezer, and there are numerous ice cream parlors that are open and busy at any time of the year.

Ice cream (and the latest trend, frozen yogurt) is such a staple in the diet of the average college student here in Boston– it’s a treat, it’s midnight snack,  it’s comfort food, it’s exam time food, it’s after-party food. In wintertime or summer, there is always an occasion to get a cone at Ben & Jerry’s, J. P. Licks, or Emack & Bolio’s, and what is more – to eat it outside in sunshine, rain, or snow!  There is seasonal variation in the volume of sales of course, but it sort of evens out for the ice cream producers since they sell more cones through their outlets in the summer and then more boxes for home consumption through supermarkets in the winter.

We don't have sundaes or brownies/cookies with ice cream, but we love our melba - a fruit cup with ice cream, biscotti, and other goodies!

My excuse for my ice cream ignorance is that I’ve always thought that you can become ill from the cold. It’s just something that every Bulgarian mother tells her kids – always sleep under a blanket or bed sheet, never stand where there is wind current, don’t sit on the cold pavement, don’t drink chilled Coca Cola with ice too fast, and don’t even think about ice cream when it’s cold outside! (Mind you, chilled beverages in Bulgaria come with three ice cubes at most! There is none of this fill-up-my-glass-with-ice-and-sprinkle-some-beverage-inside that you get at American restaurants!) Also, the most vital body parts that you should never expose to wind or cold are your waist (because your kidneys and especially the ovaries might get sick), your head (I would guess because of the brain), and your feet (because it just sucks to have cold feet?).

My Russian professor said that it was the same in Ukraine and Russia:  they also believe that you can “catch a cold from the cold” and that ice cream is only for the heat of summer. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some cultures that drink hot tea when they feel the hottest in order to cool off! What do you think, is the idea that cold can bring you diseases just an Eastern European superstition or is it wisdom?

 

Other Articles Related to Superstitions: 

Spitting on a Baby Protects in From the Evil Eye

Lucky Like a Chimney Sweeper

H.C. Andersen’s Mermaids and Slavic Samodivi, Folktales of the Spring

 


Background: Spring break is a week in late March or early April when all universities in the US give off. This is the time when all underage American college students flock to Mexico, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica or Puerto Rico and (completely legally) pass into drunken oblivion for the duration of the vacation. The most visited attractions during the break include booze cruises, bar hopping tours, and beach raves. The large majority of students come back from Spring Break with face piercings, shaved eyebrows, tattoos, or STDs. The most frequent ways of describing the Spring Break experience are “whatever happens in (insert location), stays in (insert location)” and “shit went down”.

I thought for me, a calmer trip to a relaxing tropical US destination was in order this year, so I decided to visit my good friend in Miami, FL (read about our trip to Disney World). As it turns out, Miami was very well prepared for the Spring Break invasion.

During the day, we were sunbathing in South Beach literally under the surveillance of a squad of policemen. They were walking up to every single beach towel or lounge chair and looking around for open containers, illegal substances, or suspicious behavior. It was hilarious that they were all dressed up in uniforms and equipped with truncheons and handguns under the scorching sun while the vacationers were chilling or fooling around in the sand. I’m not sure if I felt secure or amused by the police’s presence.

Miami police scrutinizes spring-breakers on the beach

Busted with an open container!

Cool Nike-s, officer!

Now I feel safe at the beach!

I also noticed that open containers are forbidden outdoors in South Beach. However, smoking is allowed in clubs and bars. In the same time, it is illegal to sunbathe topless on the public beach in Miami, so people have to go to special adult pools to enjoy that privilege.

The beach in Miami is also very wide and without any buildings on it. Ocean Drive and the beach bars are very far from the shoreline, and so are hotels. In contrast, the Bulgarian shore at our top resorts Sunny Beach and Golden Sands is scattered with beach bars that blast techno day and night or lounges with white cushions where you can grab a mojito or a bowl of watermelon and listen to some chill out music. As cool and fun as our beaches are, our bars and hotels unfortunately eat up a lot of the beach, and thus force many people to look for alternative, uninhabited beaches. Fortunately, in Bulgaria you can always drink alcohol and go topless at the beach (and not only there)!

A wide white beache in Miami

The beach in Lozenetz, Bulgaria is occupied by hotels, beach bars and lounge chairs

At night, Miami seems even more like a CSI episode. The police had cut off one lane of a street and were making every single car go through a DUI check (driving under the influence is a very, very major offence in the States). The officers were pulling over certain cars and going through them with a detection dog! As my friend, a University of Miami law student said, such random search operations are completely anti-constitutional, and the criterion for pulling a car over is that the driver looks Latino or black! But then again, I guess in Miami it feels like Spring Break all year long, so maybe all this police presence is justified!

***

You Might Also Enjoy: 

You Are Too Young To Go To Sunny Beach

Armin Van Buuren at Cacao Beach


I’ve never written a post about America’s weight issue because I think that too many people have written about it, and also it hasn’t ever particularly bothered me. Yes, I have seen more obese people (both in number and in size) here than anywhere else in the world, and I think we all know what the reasons are. But I’ve noticed that the biggest health freaks are also American. Anyways, this post is not about fat people but about fat people in wheelchairs.

It was nice to see that Disney World was very accessible to people in wheelchairs. But then I realized that these weren’t really wheelchairs but more like automatic chairs that wheeled healthy-looking people around. Eh, healthy is not the exact word. These were people who are not disabled but have trouble walking because they are obese… or as my American friend put it, because they are “lazy fat Americans”. Ouch!

Did you see that Pixar movie WALL-E where the post-apocalyptic humans move around their city in automated gravity-defying armchairs and watch life from their plasma screens while munching on burgers and milkshakes? Yep, that’s almost what I saw in real life!

Can someone explain to me why did those people use wheelchairs?


When I first went to Disneyland Paris more than ten years ago, I thought I had woken up in a fairytale.  A few years later, when I visited Disney World Orlando, I once again felt like I was being transferred into the land of magic.  I recently visited Orlando twice more as an adult (more or less), and I still felt completely entranced by the place. Disney World truly is an enchanted factory for happiness. I wish more cities could learn from the amusement park’s practices and implement them to make our living environment a little bit more pleasant.

Parents and kids burst out singing and dancing together with the actors on Main Street

What makes Disney World so magically perfect is the attention to detail. Every lamp post has a tiny little ornament, every bench leg has some sort of embellishment, every fence or grating has a little twirl or swirl that makes it look intricate and beautiful. Buildings under reconstruction are covered with panes that display what the façade will look like and pipes or technical equipment are hidden under beautiful covers that resemble bushes or rocks. Such details can make the most mundane or unattractive objects look delightful to the eye.

I wonder if the actors smile for pictures behind the masks?

I remember from ten years ago my mother’s astonishment at the perfect Disney pavement. There is not a single pothole, not a single chipped paving-stone in any of the kilometric alleys. The drainage system is constructed perfectly, so rain water seemingly washes away without forming puddles by the sidewalk. In Sofia, they pave and repave the streets every single summer, but they just don’t do it properly, so cobblestones get pulled out or asphalt cracks up and forms potholes. In Disney you do something once, but you do it at the highest quality and then maintain it.

A sea of strollers inside the theme park

What impressed me even more that some of the attractions is the order put into action in the park. Hundreds of people wait in queues at any single moment, but there is never pushing or cutting in line or any tension. Unobtrusive enclosures form very long and narrow lines that meander in front of the attraction’s entrance, so people slowly move forward in a row of one or two. A clock shows you the estimated time of waiting, which again tells you what to expect and alleviates any negative emotions associated with the wait. Moreover, waiting in these lines is enjoyable because there is music and themed sculptures or interactive screens around you. There is also a system for avoiding the wait – get a “fastpass” now from a machine by the entrance and come back in a few hours at the indicated time, and you will get through the fast lane. I hate to remember how I have to wait for hours when I need to get some administrative job done in Bulgaria in a line that is more like a crowd of aggravated people trying to cut in front of you to reach the single window/desk/counter where the bored bureaucrat sits.

Perfect decorum while waiting in line

The service in Disney, naturally, is impeccable. My friends and I were wondering how is it possible for someone to smile so much. Surely, the dancers, performers, waiters, attractions assistants, actors dresses up as characters, and tour guides, cannot possibly be always in a good mood, but they know that the visitors want to see only happiness during their vacation, so they make sure they play their part accordingly. I was also wondering, do the actors who wear big fluffy costumes with masks smile during photos? My answer is, I am sure they do! Because although the actors are just doing their job at that moment, the joyous smiles on the faces of the kids (and the grown-up kids) surely evoke reciprocal feelings in the actors.

No wonder why everyone lives their dreams in Disney World

And speaking of kids and families, it is funny how much Disney caters to parents in addition to children. With all the crying babies, whimpering toddlers, and sniveling teenagers, a vacation at Disney could soon turn into a nightmare for the parents! So there are huge parking spaces for strollers inside the park for parents’ convenience, a special menu for “little princesses and princes” consisting of macaroni & cheese, peanut butter & jelly, and chicken nuggets (apparently these are American children’s favorite foods?!) at every restaurant, and even a lot of “cooling stations” where you can enjoy tiny water droplets being sprayed on you when the Florida heat becomes unbearable.

Finally, Disney’s fireworks are more magnificent than my capital’s on our national holiday! Disney World has mesmerizing fireworks shows in two of its parks (Epcot and Magic Kingdom) every single night all year round. This makes it the second largest purchaser of explosives in the United States. Unquestionably, Disney knows how to make magic come to life!

 

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You Might Also Enjoy:

Bureaucracy in America: Iron Policy of No Compromise

My New Adventure with American Institutions: Social Security

 


It is a widely accepted idea that while Americans are comfortable with displaying violence, they often shy away from eroticism. In most places in Europe, things are reverse (except for in Britain, where they sort of look shun away from both).  In the States, this offers a great business opportunity for stirring the spirits and attracting attention by means of … showing some flesh.

Hooters girls look innocent compared to...

A great example is Hooters (hooter: 1. one that hoots, especially an owl; 2. slang for a woman’s breasts). It’s a casual beach-themed bar/restaurant with over 400 outlets in 44 states and 28 countries. The signature Hooters offerings are the spicy chicken wings, the sports on television, and the girls in scanty white-and-orange uniforms. 68% of the clientele is males, mostly in the age bracket 25-54.

Hooters greatly benefits from the scandalous use of sex appeal that the Hooters Girls are known for: the majority of American women claim that the name of the restaurant and the waitresses’ uniforms are degrading. Still, the restaurant and its huge fan base retort that the girls are as socially acceptable as any cheerleader or swimsuit model.  What is more, the “attractive, vivacious” Hooters Girls are the businesses’ staple according to its mission statement and have allowed Hooters to extend its brand with a Hooters Calendar, merchandise and apparel, and various sports events sponsorships.

...Bulgarian chalga singers and pop idols Andrea and Galena

The reason why Hooters is so notoriously successful is that as a hole, Americans are very conservative and this restaurant is one of the few places where men can commit some “socially acceptable” sins – get drunk off beer, overeat with wings, and hoot a little bit at the young girls. In fact, this is as scandalous as it can get in an American public establishment.

The reason why this restaurant concept will not work in Bulgaria is that it is way too innocent for us! In a country where the difference between the porn channels and the music channels is only in the sound, and where the ideal of beauty involves silicone, botox, and bleach blonde hair, the Hooters Girls will simply blend in (or even look way too sporty). It is very sad that Bulgarian pop culture has been completely taken over by the pop folk (chalga) singers who have plenty of sex appeal, but little other talents. And while the Hooters Girls stay within the confines of the restaurants, our distorted perception of silicone-beauty spills over everywhere: among the highlife, in the nightclubs, in cafes downtown, in the malls, and in high schools.

Read more about Bulgarian chalga pop culture:

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

Throw Napkins in Clubs in Bulgaria and Dollars in the Bahamas

BBC Close Up: Pop-Folk in Bulgaria


My next goal in life: create the best country branding campaign for Bulgaria!

But until then, let me show you what one of our favorite neighbors, Serbia, came up with their 2011 campaign. This marketing campaign puts a very innovative twist on country branding. Instead of focusing on historical, natural, and architectural sites as most such promotional videos do, Serbia has chosen to focus entirely on food.

They are very smart to do so because the Balkan cuisine is one of the most delicious in the world (I’m being objective here, honestly)! And although most of the foods they present here are common to several Balkan countries, Serbia has succeeded in personalizing this spot and making it feel unique. My only little critique is that I wish they had put typical Goran Bregovic rhythms in the background!

The message of the video is very clear: Serbia has great food produced in a clean, sustainable way. The country is heaven for those seeking an authentic food experience, village tourism or bio tourism. The simplicity of Serbian (and Balkan) cuisine is what makes it so tasty: fresh, natural ingredients that are full of flavor, juices, and aromas.  Notice that the spot is focusing on the ingredients themselves rather than the meals that can be prepared with them: so once again, it’s about the simple pleasures in life… in Serbia.

This promo video is a delight to the eye, to the taste buds, and to the soul, and I hope it attracts many tourists to Serbia!

… But, as I was looking through some forums regarding the above video, I came upon another promotional video, this time from out other beloved neighbor, Macedonia. The two videos, unfortunately, are surprisingly similar. The Macedonian one is from 2010 and once again represents a journey through the country as a journey through honey, wine, succulent meats, and enticing spices. The voice over says: Македония, мала земя, голема храна. Македония, вечна. – Macedonia, small country, great food. Macedonia, timeless.

Eh, what can I say… I guess we on the Balkans are not so creative after all… Which video do you like more?

You might also enjoy:

Branding Romania: Creative Ads

Bulgaria: Magic Lives Here. The campaign the whole nation dislikes. 

Socialism Sells: What makes Soc-themed ads so successful in Bulgaria

Dimitar Berbatov, The Brand

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