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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?

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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.

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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

 


The Texas and American flags by the Riverwalk, San Antonio, TX

After visiting Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, the next top destination on my list was Texas. I must say, I love the Sudurn (that’s how you pronounce Southern, right?) culture! People are relaxed and negligee. They stroll instead of rush, look at you in the eye when you pass each other in the street, and are keen on starting and carrying on a conversation with strangers.

Cowboy cookbooks at a souvenir shop in San Antonio, TX

What made the strongest impression on me in San Antonio is the abundance of the Texas flag. I have been to many American states but have never before seen such evident display of state pride. Actually, I don’t think I even know what the rest of the state flags look like, other than the Massachusetts one (Massachusetts is probably the only other place where I’ve noticed similar state-patriotism).

The decorations on the Christmas tree in San Antonio, TX include: stars, cacti, cowboy boots, the outlines of the state, horse, longhorn, etc.

You can sense the Texas pride not only from the profusion of lone-star merchandise in the souvenir shops or the ambiance in touristy restaurants; it’s also in the decoration in public places, the flags on many of the private houses, and the way people dress. Yes, everything about the cowboy hats, big buckle belts and the string-like bolo ties is true. It’s as if Texas has its own culture, which is of course influenced by the American and the Mexican culture, but also has its unique features (read my post about the Tejano culture). That’s why the cuisine is predominantly Mexican and you can freely communicate with almost anyone in Spanish (this reminded me of my vacation in Miami).

I was even a little bit surprised at how many times I saw the Texan flag next to the American flag or even the former taking precedence over the latter.  It didn’t exactly become clear to me whether they two were like the two sides of one coin or if they were juxtaposed.

In Texas, I also became aware that each state has its own nickname, license plate, motto, animal, plant, etc.  For example, Texas is the Lone Star State, Massachusetts is the Bay State, Florida – The Sunshine State,  California – the Golden State, New York – the Empire State, etc.

Regional Pride in Bulgaria

The Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria

We do have regional pride in Bulgaria, but our regions are cultural rather than administrative, and are in no way semi-autonomous like the American states. There are no such things are regional flags, mottos, or license plates. However, regions are defined by their folklore. Basically our mountains shape the Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria.

Counterclockwise from West to East, they are: the Shopski region (around Sofia), the Pirin region (around Blagoevgrad and Melnik), the Rhodope region (around Shiroka Luka and Smolyan), the Thracia region (around Plovidv, Kazanluk and the Rose Valley), Strandjanski region (around Burgas), Dobrudjanski region (around Dobrudja and Varna), and the northern Severnyashki region (around Veliko Turnovo and the Danube river).

National costumes, musical rhythm and dances have some major differences in each of these parts of the country. Other than that, we have some unspoken opinions about the characters of people in each region. My mother is from the Shopski region and my father is from the Pirinski (also known as the Macedonian region), and people say that this is a dangerous combination!

Equipped with my cowboy hat and leather jacket, ready to ride the bull in Corpus Christi, TX

A postcard from the Riverwalk in San Antonio.Can you spot the lone stars?

The Alamo in San Antonio was the site of a battle between the Mexicans and the Texian Army


 

IRé is a combination of imagination and reality, the artist says. Her music is a beautiful marriage of jazz, world music, pop, folk, soul, and blues.

You can trace flamenco, African, Brazilian, and Oriental motifs in IRé’s first album, but the artist clearly gets most of her inspiration from the Bulgarian folklore. Visit her MySpace page, YouTube channel or Facebook page. 

IRé, or Irina Zhekova, is a mathematician from Bulgaria who discovered her strong bond with Bulgarian folk music while studying in Paris. There, she met with her partner, Charlie Dalin, with whom she shares a passion for music that transcends styles and flows like pure imagination. Together, the artistic duo conquered France – Irina with her voice, guitar, and piano, and  Charlie with his percussions, whistles, and special effects.

IRé, as Irina’s friends and family have nicknamed her, describes her work as ethno jazz, but in fact it is a mixture of many styles.  IRé transfers her love for Slavic mythology into the lyrics she composes – for example her songs about beautiful samodivi maidens and vicious zmei dragons. The duo captured audiences throughout France with their “modern folklore” and unconventional performances of traditional Bulgarian songs.  Most of her lyrics are in Bulgarian, but some are in a melodious made-up language, where the sound takes precedence over content.

After her enormous success in France, IRé was warmly welcomed by the Bulgarian audience as a promising young ambassador of our culture and folklore.

 

Read more about Bulgarian music and folklore:

The Bagpipe Festival in Gela and Shiroka Luka in Rhodope Mountain 

Legends of the Bulgarian Samodivi

Festival of the Bulgarian National Costumer in Zheravna

The Kukeri Dance: Scaring Away Evil Spirits

 

 


A few days ago, I told you about a Po Zhitzata, the First Bulgarian Online School, which offers lessons in Bulgarian grammar, literature, history and geography to the children of expatriates and foreigners wishing to learn the language.

Today, I want to tell you about another entrepreneurial venture that serves as an ambassador of Bulgaria, Zelen restaurant in Seoul, Korea.

Zelen (which means green) was opened by two Bulgarian brothers, Mihal and Filip Ashminov and their Korean partner in 2007.  Mihal, who was previously a chef at the Sheraton Hotel in Sofia came to Korea when he was 21 to work at the Westin Chosun Hotel. There, he noticed that health-consious Korean women love his Bulgarian dishes. When he and his Korean partner came up with the idea to open a Bulgarian restaurant, Mihal called his brother, who was at that time a chef in Ireland, to come and get involved with the brave project.

Mihal and Filip Ashminovi, founders of Zelen Bulgarian Restaurant in Seoul

Since 2010, Zelen has two branches and is wildly popular among food aficionados in Seoul. There are four Bulgarian chefs and six Korean sous chefs. Mihal and Filip say that they do not adapt their recipes to the Korean taste: everything is prepared according to traditional Bulgarian recipes: Shopska salad, eggplant salad, tarator (cold cucumber soup), salami and mezze, sarmi (cabbage roll stuffed with rice and beef), stuffed peppers, vegetable moussaka, St. George’s style roasted leg of lamb, kiufte (meatball), shishche (skewers), yoghurt with honey, Bulgarian red wine, and so much more typical BG goodies.

Zelen is featured in ALL of Seoul’s BEST RESTAURANT GUIDES (seoulstyle.com, seouleats.com), and most articles recommend that you call in advance to book a table because the place is always full! MOST articles call Zelen “one of Seoul’s favorite restaurants”.

Well done, Bulgarian entrepreneurs! Keep up the good cooking!

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More on Bulgarian Cuisine from My Blog: 

Buy Bulgarian Specialties at Trader Joe’s (photo)

Taking my Friends to The Crazy Cock, the Bulgarian Restaurant in London (many photos)

Preparing Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner (yum-yum photos)

Apres-ski: feasting on in Bansko (more eye-tearing photos)

The best Bulgarian cookbook IN ENGLISH that you can buy on Amazon


During the four years I’ve  been living abroad, I’ve met too many children of Bulgarian immigrants who speak broken Bulgarian.  It saddens me that some of them have completely assimilated into the foreign culture to the point that they have forgotten their origins and Bulgarian identity.

I know that London as well as some American cities have big Bulgarian communities with a church or even a school, but these are not everywhere and are not able to reach everyone. Read about the Bulgarian high school in London here. 

The solution is По жицата /Po zhitzata/, the First Bulgarian Online School.

I learned about the school through Valentin Nenkov, it’s founder, whom I met at a Bulgarian networking event at MIT. The Bulgarian virtual classroom provides classes in Bulgarian language, literature, history, and geography for both children and adults. The teachers are located in Bulgaria and the students are expatriates from all over the world as well as foreigners interested in learning the Bulgarian language. The lessons are conducted in real time every week.

I believe that knowing who you are means knowing your roots, so it’s very important to teach young Bulgarians living abroad about their country’s literature, history and geography.  This will help them preserve their culture and identity wherever in the world they might be.

This is a quote from the website of First Bulgarian Online School. If you fall into any of these categories, you know what to do:   

If you are here, chances are: you’ve been to Bulgaria; you’ve heard something about Bulgaria; you are married to a Bulgarian; you know “Zdravei” and “Blagodaria” and you are ready to learn and explore more. Whatever the reason is let us know today and start learning tomorrow with a tutor from Bulgaria.

 


Happy Holidays, Dear Friends!

I’m back at home in Sofia for the winter vacation and just celebrated a lovely Christmas Eve with my family!

I wish you to always reunite with your loved ones on such special occasions! I wish you and your families love, good health, joy, and success!

Today I have selected my favorite Bulgarian winter and Christmas children’s songs. Enjoy!

Click here to read my description of the Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner. I’d love to hear about your celebrations!

 

“Santa Claus is Clattering in His Red Boots”

 

“The Puppy Sharo and the First Snow” – it’s about the puppy Sharo who is looking out the window and sees, in utter dismay, snow for the first time!

 

“Over the Quiet Hills” – a village is nestled in the snowy hills of a mountain and quietly watches the flight of a Santa’s sleigh.

 


St. Nikola, a Bulgarian icon

Today, December 6th, is one of the bigger holidays in Bulgaria: Nikylden, or the Day of St. Nikola Mirlikiiski, or St. Nikola the Miracle-Maker. St. Nikola is the guardian of fishermen, sailors, travelers, tradesmen, and bankers (Who can tell me what the connection between them is ?). Nikola was a historical figure born in 270 BC in Patara (today in Turkey). Legend says he inherited a great fortune from his father but gave it all away to those in need. The saint also performed many miracles that delivered sailors and fishermen safely from sea tempests. According to another legend, he plugged a hole in a ship with a carp fish and thus saved it from sinking!

Nikylden is more than a religious day for the Orthodox Christians; it is also a nameday for all bearers of the name Nikola, Nick, Nikoleta, Kolio, Nikolai, Nicholas, etc; actually, most Bulgarian families celebrate the holiday even if they don’t have a Nick in the family.

Poseidon (Neptune) puts a pagan spin on the celebration of St. Nikola

St. Nikola is also associated with the sea, ocean, rivers, and lakes, and in this sense is similar to the Greek god Poseidon (called Neptune in Roman mythology). Germanic nations also celebrate St. Nicholas’ day, although slightly differently, and even associate this saint with Santa Claus.

In Bulgaria, we eat fish on December 6th – preferably fish with scales like carp or sheat-fish because “naked” fish without scales symbolized poverty. We bake the fish whole and stuff it with walnuts (check out a few typical Bulgarian Nikylden recipes here).

To me and my family, the Nikylden feast is the equivalent of a Thanksgiving Feast because my father is called Nikola and he is a “tradesman”. This means that my house is always full of guests on this day!

Traditionally, you don’t send official invitations for your nameday: you are supposed to prepare a big meal and expect your closest people to show up for dinner by themselves. So you basically never know who is showing up until they do, but you expect your closest relatives, godparents, best man and woman, and good neighbors to pay a visit. They might bring flowers, alcohol, and other presents.  Don’t expect them to leave before 2am.

Stuffed carp - I want to be home right now!

The table is, naturally, very festive! In addition to the stuffed carp, my mother also prepares salmon, shark, scard fish and turbot (eh, probably not all of them every time!). We have a variety of salads and other yummy dishes and lots of wine – Villa Melnik of course!

I’m so angry I missed it again this year, but HAPPY NIKYLDEN, DAD!

The Russian church St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker in Sofia, Bulgaria

Namedays are very big in Bulgaria, maybe even bigger than birthdays. There are less presents for the person celebrating but more of a communal feel since this day is not a personal celebration, but a celebration of all people who bear the same name, of the saint, and of all the virtues that the saint represents. I love my name, Militza, because it is the name of my great-grandmother and is very rare, but I’ve always been jealous that it is too rare to have a saint or a nameday associated with it! Oh well, I just get to celebrate my birthday and half-birthday!

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You Might Also Enjoy:

The Newborn Baby and the Naming Dilemma

St. Sophia and Her Daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love

Tsvetnitsa: Name Day for All Flowers


Dilma Rousseff and Georgi Parvanov

On October 5th, the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, returned to her father’s birthplace – Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Read more about Dilma’s Bulgarian roots in my previous post.

The Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov held his welcoming speech for Dilma Rousseff in front of the symbol of Gabrovo, the April High-School, where Dilma’s father, Petar (Pedro) Rousseff had studied as a child. While walking around the school earlier, the two presidents had spontaneously decided to set up a Portuguese class there, as well as to encourage the study of Bulgarian in Brazil. Dilma’s visit, according to Parvanov, was one step further towards bringing our nations closer.

Dilma Rousseff's Family Tree at the Gabrovo museum

Mrs. Rousseff’s speech in front of the April School startled the citizens of Gabrovo with its warmth and wholeheartedness: she shared that this day was one of the most emotional in her life, comparing it to the birth of her child and grandchild and her election as president, because she was fulfilling her father’s dream of one day returning to Bulgaria. She said, “Part of Bulgaria lives in Brazil in the face of her President.” Rousseff also spoke of creating a new world of tolerance where differences in religion, culture, and ethnicity do not matter.

In Gabrovo, Dilma personally met with the relatives of her father, Petar Rousseff. She visited a museum exhibition called “The Bulgarian Roots of Dilma Rousseff” where she shed tears at the sight of her Bulgarian family tree, which dates back to 1730. She was also very impressed by the portrait of her aunt whom Dilma is named after.

Dilma Rousseff's note in the visitor's book at the Gabrovo museum

The presidential visit was indeed as emotional for Dilma as it was for the people of Gabrovo, who were completely won over by the Brazilian head’s sincerity and humanity.

I  am very impressed that one of the world’s most influential leaders took the time to pay respect to her father’s roots and to honor his people. I find it fascinating that the relationship between Petar Rousseff and Bulgaria was so strong (even after he had to flee the country) that it transferred to Dilma. To me this is a striking example of the powerful link between the emigrant and his motherland and of the burning nostalgia for home that can transcend even generations.  


 

This is the official trailer for a new travel series dedicated to Bulgaria, made entirely on high quality HD. Travel TV producer  and director of the project Victor Dimchev said that “This is Bulgaria” is a video catalog of the country’s national and historical landmarks. It aims to attract foreign tourists but also to remind Bulgarians to appreciate what we have.

So far, Dimchev’s team has passed 100, 000km and has completed 3/4 of the 13-film-long series.  It is yet to be determined which international channels will broadcast the film. A DVD version will also be available.

Simply put, I can’t wait!


The Bulgarian-Polish wedding from my previous post reminded me of an essential cultural idiosyncrasy that I must clarify in the name of the friendship between our two peoples – the difference between getting drunk in Poland and in Bulgaria.

As you probably have heard, Eastern European nations have notorious drinking habits. In other words, the drunkenness of Russians, Serbs, Polish, and Bulgarians has passed into a proverb. But as a proud Bulgarian, I feel obliged to draw an important difference between the ways the Polish and the Bulgarian drink.

The difference is not in the quantity, because both the Polish and the Bulgarian would drink legendary quantities on any particular occasion. It is not in the results either because anyone hardly ever remembers the results. The key differences, as a matter of fact, are three: the type of alcohol, the speed, and the mezze.

The Type of Alcohol: This is very straightforward: The Polish drink vodka. The Bulgarian drink rakia, mastika, beer, and wine in no particular order. This difference is determined by geography – the Bulgarian climate is favorable towards a greater agricultural variety, so we can produce more types of alcohol.

The Speed: The Polish take shots. The Bulgarians savor the drink. Therefore, a Polish gets drunk much quicker and immediately starts dancing, while a Bulgarian will drink, talk, sing, and dance (in this order) throughout the entire night.

The Mezze: The Polish just take shots. The Bulgarian take their time eating, drinking, and socializing around the table. As long as the Bulgarian munch on thinly sliced lukanka or sour pickles, their full stomachs slow down the effects of the alcohol.

In conclusion, although the Polish seem as the more mighty drinkers during a wedding, the Bulgarians will eventually catch up and will probably keep on drinking long after the Polish are under the table.


On Oriana’s last day in Bulgaria, my friends and I took her for an evening sightseeing tour of downtown Sofia and a night out dancing chalga (the notorious Balkan pop-folk style). Unfortunately, her camera had frozen three days ago and mine had exploded in my hands on the previous day. So without pictures, I guess you would just have to use your imagination!

In the end of my post series, I would like to share with you three observations:

1. Bulgarian and the Slavic alphabet are not so difficult to pick up. Bulgarian tomatoes and Bulgarian sirene can change the pallet even of the biggest food hater.  Oriana likes the pop-folk/chalga rhythm and dances surprisingly well to it, even better than many natives! J

2. I’ve really enjoyed reading Oriana’s blog about our trip because I see how the same experiences have affected us differently and have left us with different impressions.

3. Traveling the world and staying with friends is one of the best things you can do!


Nesebar is as overcrowded with tourists as Sunny Beach, but at least the beautiful ancient architecture of the city makes it feel quaint and charming. Since the Antiquity, this port town has been ruled by the Thracians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and the Bulgarians, and there is plenty of ruins and old buildings that remind tourists of Nesebar’s long history. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t go there on the best beach day.

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back to Sofia, we stopped at Burgas, Bulgaria’s biggest port city, to see the Festival of Sand Sculptures. Every July, artists from various countries (I spotted names from Australia Portugal, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, and Bulgaria) take part in the annual festival in the Sea Garden in Burgas. The sand sculptures are built with 3300 tons of special river sand mixed with C200 glue, so that they can hold strong at least until the end of September.

This year, the theme was Cinema.  Indeed, the sand sculptures can take you on a journey through the greatest Hollywood movies with their incredible scale and detail – the fine lines on Professor Dumbledore’s face from Harry Potter, the elvish writing from Lord of the Rings, the beads in Jack Sparrow’s hair from Pirates of the Caribbean, the sleeping girl by King Kong’s side. Which sculpture is your favorite?


11 August 2011 – Armin Van Buuren, DJ Number One in the World, played at Cacao Beach in Sunny Beach until 7am on the next morning!

The show was the finale grande of Solar Summer Fest 2011- an annual festival organized by Yalta Club – voted #19 in DJ Magazine Top 100 Clubs, and sponsored by Tuborg.

The concert was absolutely mind-blowing! There is something incredibly inspirational about dancing on the beach all night long under the refreshing summer rain together with thousands of young people!

As the night was progressing, Oriana and I kept moving closer and closer to the stage until we spent the last hour or two on the frontline! When the sun rose, Armin came down from the main stage and reached out to his fans! He touched both mine and Oriana’s hand and signed his name on every hat and flag that his fans threw towards him. Finally, he took a big Bulgarian flag and wrapped it around himself to show how much he loves the Bulgarian audience – and thus completely and utterly won each one of us forever!


 

Sunny Beach is exactly what this video makes you think – crazy, young, party destination! People call Sunny Beach the Ibiza of the Balkans or the Eastern European Cancun – so probably not the place to go with your grandparents.

By day – long beaches with fine golden sand and plenty of water sports opportunities!

By night – Wild nightlife in flashy restaurants, bars, and clubs! Virtually no legal drinking age – as long as you are tall enough to reach the bar.

In reality, Bulgarians tend to avoid this resort because it is very expensive, overbuilt with hotels, and overcrowded with foreigners and especially foreign high-school and college students from Western Europe who, in return, come here for cheap alcohol tourism.

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Today we went to the Preobrazhen monastery near Veliko Turnovo. It is a secluded male Orthodox monastery situated on one side of a deep gorge; on the other side of the abyss, we could see a convent.  Years ago, an earthquake had broken off three huge rocks from the cliffs just above the monastery, but miraculously none of them had damaged the bell tower or the church itself.

The brightly colored paintings on the façade of the cloister represent floral ornaments together with scenes from the Bible. The most famous mural, however, is that of the great Bulgarian icon painter Zahari Zograf, the Wheel of Life.

Wheel of Life, a mural by Zahari Zograf at Preobrazhen Monastery

The composition portrays the months, the seasons, and the cycles of life with its many meanings and symbolical layers. The outer layer shows the material possessions one aims for: the man on top of the wheel is holding a scepter and a bag of golden coins, but drops them as he moves closer to death. The inner layer represents the true virtues that one should aim for in life: to educate oneself and to work hard, so that in the end, one can gladly sit down and enjoy the old age. What do you think the woman in the middle represents? What about the two figures on both sides of the wheels?

The significance of monasteries, I explained to Oriana, is more than religious. During the liberation movement against the Ottoman Empire, these were safety havens where monk-revolutionaries hid the rebels and pointed them to secret passages leading to the mountains. The monks also preserved the Bulgarian literary and cultural heritage and helped spread it during the time when the Ottomans were suppressing it. Lastly, monasteries are holy places with special energy to which even earthquakes bow down.

The Preobrazhen Monastery was built by the great Bulgarian architect Kolio Ficheto

 

The monastery was spared by an earthquake, which caused three huge rocks to fall in the garden, just meters away from this building


On our first night in Veliko Turnovo, Oriana gave me an important lesson. It was the night of the 9th to the 10th, or the night before my birthday, when we decided to go for a cocktail at a local bar. As we were sitting down at one table, the three boys who had entered the bar just after us asked if they could join us. As Oriana later said, I had knitted my brows to form a big and shocked “go away!” Thankfully, Oriana’s ever-ready smile had outshined the clouds on my face, and the three boys sat down next to us.

They were three Italians vacationing in Bulgaria. They were coming from Sofia and were headed to Golden Sands resort at the Black Sea. Two of them were from Milano and went to Bocconi, where I have many friends, and the third one – from Florence.

We talked about Oriana’s trip around the world and what a shame it was that she would visit Germany, France, and Bulgaria (“Heeey!..,” I objected) but not Italy, about the difference between south and north Italy (which is almost like that between Barcelona and New York), about thin-crust pizza in Venice and risotto in Milano, about what they had seen so far from Bulgaria and how much they liked our cuisine.  We exchanged blogs links and travel tips.

When the clock hit twelve, they all started singing Happy Birthday to me in different languages! Among the five of us, these were seven languages – English, Italian, Bulgarian, Spanish, German, Turkish and Chinese! So this is how thanks to Oriana’s open-heartedness and friendliness, I received an unforgettable multi-lingual birthday party!

As we were walking back to our place, having said goodbye to our new friends, Oriana shared with me her father’s words of wisdom:

Always say yes. If a boy comes up to you and invites you to a dance, just say yes. You don’t know how much courage it took this boy to ask you, and you don’t know how wonderful of an experience it might turn out to be, so just say yes. At least give him one dance only, but just say yes. It makes life so much more interesting!


After having shown Oriana Bulgaria’s nature and ethnography, I had to give her a lesson in history too.

Russian church at Shipka

From Plovdiv, we headed north towards the Balkan mountain range and the Shipka Pass. We stopped at the town of Shipka in the foothills of the mountain to pay a visit to church dedicated to the Bulgarian-Russian military friendship during the war against the Ottoman Empire.

I explained to Oriana that for about 500 years, from the 14th to the 19th century, Bulgaria and the entire Balkans were part of the Ottoman Empire. Under their yoke, our culture, language and religion were heavily suppressed; nevertheless, we did not lose our identity as a distinct people. After a series of riots and with the great help of our “Slavic brothers”, the Russians, we eventually won the liberation war, which lead to the intervention of the Great European Powers and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Shipka Memorial

Today, the memorial on Shipka peak reminds us of great battles. In 1877-78, the Russo-Turkish War, this was the main pass through the Balkan Mountain Range: the north of Bulgaria was the stronghold for the advancing Russian army, while the south was still occupied by Ottomans. Thus, it was up to the Bulgarian volunteer troops to guard the Shipka pass from the Turkish hordes until the arrival of the Russians. The poet Ivan Vazov eulogized the key battle: when the ammunition ended, the brave Bulgarian soldiers started throwing every empty gun, knife, and stone at the Turks at the foot of the peak, and when even those weapons ended, the Bulgarians lifted up the dead bodies of their fellows and threw them at the enemy.

On the way to Veliko Turnovo, we stopped to take pictures by a sunflower field. We visited Etar, an ethnographic and cultural town-museum, and Bozhentzi, a village with historical significance, which in recent years has become a place of escape for many public figures.

Sunflower fields near Shipka

Oriana was interested to know more about communism, so I told her what I tell all Americans who ask me about it: it’s nothing like what you studied in school.

Back in those days, people felt more secure: my grandmother says she always had enough food for the family, a secure job, enough time for vacation and opportunity to send her children to summer camps and trips. Yes, they didn’t listen to Western music and didn’t wear jeans, but that’s not as important, is it?

Veliko Turnovo over Yantra river

My mother and her friend started recalling stories from their teenager years, like the time when they had to hide from their parents and sneak into the basement at night to listen to the forbidden radio stations from Western Europe. Lidia remembered when as a schoolgirl, her headmaster penalized her because she was wearing long socks and had teased her hair: an indecent, Western manner.  Years later, my mom had to save money for several months to be able to buy a Beatles vinyl record.

We arrived at Veliko Turnovo in the afternoon. Veliko Turnovo is the old capital of Kingdom Bulgaria and bears the signature of the Asenevtzi dynasty, who liberated the country from Byzantine influence in the 12thcentury. One of their greatest feat of arms is that they stopped the advancement of the Fourth Crusade, which was presumably sent by the Church to protect Constantinople, but in fact looted our lands and conquered the Byzantine throne in Constantinople. The Bulgarian tzar Kaloyan captured the crusader and new emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin, and locked him up in a tower near the Tzarevetz fortress in Veliko Turnovo.

The Asenevtzi Dynasty

Oriana was particularly impressed by the unique museum-church surrounded by fortress walls at the top of the Tzarevetz hill. We were also hoping to watch the audio-visual night show at Tzarevetz, but alas, they didn’t have it that day. Oh well, Oriana needs a reason to come back, right!

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