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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!”).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
- 40 Inspiring Scenes From The 116th Boston Marathon [Images] (bostinno.com)
- The First Woman To Run The Boston Marathon (buzzfeed.com)
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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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.
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)!
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!
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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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My vacation in Corpus Christi, TX included an afternoon at The Sharp Shooter, one of this seaside resort’s many shooting ranges.
At the Sharp Shooter, anyone above the age of 21 can buy, sell, and trade their handguns and rifles. Anyone without restrictions can simply come and shoot for fun! There is no legal age for shooting, which is why the Sharp Shooter offers a great promotion, I quote:
Family Day on Sundays: Children (16 and under) shoot for free **With paying adult.** Bring the whole family and save.
I guess shooting has a family bonding role in Texas, just like playing monopoly or riding bikes in the park. It is also a completely gender-neutral activity, check this out:
Ladies Day – Tuesdays: Women shoot for ½ price. They also enjoy free targets, eye and ear protection, gun rentals, and classes from our expert instructors.
These instructors, by the way, were very kind Texan men who gladly showed me their entire line of guns: Taurus, Remingtons, Weatherbys, Smith & Wessons, Brownings, Springfields, etc, including the “cute” pink mini pistols, which are “ideal for a lady like you”.
In Texas, you do not need a permit or license to buy a gun or rifle; you don’t even have to register as an owner. You, however, need a permit to carry a concealed (out-of-sigh) handgun, which you can easily obtain at the gun store in exchange for an application, two color passport photos, fingerprints, and proof of residency and age, and $125. Once you’ve got that document, you can tuck your gun in your belt, put your shirt over it, and carry it whenever and wherever you’d like. Still, some establishments such as bars, schools, hospitals, and amusement parks put up a sign at the door saying that you should leave your gun in the car.
You are permitted to carry your gun out in the open if you are on your property (which explains the movie scenes where an old lady pulls out a rifle from underneath her skirt and points it at the intruder in her backyard). You can also openly carry your gun while you are hunting, attending a weapons exhibition, practicing at a shooting range, or all similar “sports” activities, which would probably be illegal in most countries.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, I said to myself, and shot a few times at the target with my friend’s rifle and guns. But still, I had a hard time understanding why my guy friends, who had just moved to Texas, had suddenly all bought a gun (or more than one, or even a whole collection of them). Even the greatest pacifist among them said he wanted to buy a taser (the thing that shoots up a metal rod in your skin and shocks you with electricity!).
“Everyone here has a gun,” the boys said, “so it’s a question of safety to have one as well.” I can’t say that I felt very safe having a burger in Hooters on a table with six guys, at least two of whom were carrying a concealed gun at that time. Kill me, I don’t get the logic (pun intended)!
What do you think? Is it ok to make guns so widely available and widely acceptable (to both children and adults)? What does this say of the American society, which has become so used to the presence of guns and violence that they don’t find it disturbing anymore?
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But then my friend asked for more barbecue sauce… and some chilly sauce, Cajun sauce, Dijon mustard, and ketchup. Why, OH WHY, would you ruin the best steaks in the world with so many sauces?!
And then there is the delicious, fresh, crunchy, natural salad… and you plop on top of it a big squirt of Caesar, Ranch, Chipotle, Blue Cheese, Honey Mustard, Thousand Island, Santa Fe Blend, Lemon Mayonnaise, Jalapeno Ranch, Sesame Ginger, Hot & Spicy, Creamy Style Miso, Romano Basil Vinaigrette, Cranberry Balsamic, Italian, French, Russian, Mediterranean, or Greek Dressings… as well as all their light, reduced fat, fat-free, or organic versions. Does salad really need so many types of dressings?
And then I go to Shaw’s or Whole Foods, and I see entire aisles with sauces, salsas, chutneys, condiments, dressings,vinegars, and marinades. It almost seems to me that you don’t like the natural taste of food because you seem to always want to flavor it with something else.
I have been taught that fish requires only lemon, salad requires only salt and olive oil, and meat requires only salt, if anything at all. Bulgarian food is so much more simple compared to American, and yet I feel like it is more flavorful because you can actually taste the different vegetables or the different herbs in it.
I call upon the readers of this blog to switch the Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing for real crumbled feta, the Fat-free Italian Dressing for freshly chopped parsley and sun-dried tomatoes, and those yellow round plastic containers with real freshly squeezed lemons.
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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:
I believe in positive thinking and make-it-happen attitude. When you believe that you can achieve something, the whole universe aligns the right way and helps you achieve it.
Imagine the thickest fog around Sofia airport – you can’t see beyond the end of your suitcase. All around you, outbound flights are being canceled and inbound flights are being transferred to another airport. But you know that you must take this flight to London and be there on time, and you are positive that you will fly. It so happens that you are scheduled to be on the only plane in the entire Bulgaria Air fleet that is able to fly during fog, so you simply take off like it’s a piece of cake!
During the flight, you sit in seat 6B, nervously chewing on your free paper cup and hastily skimming over your notes for tomorrow. The person in 6A looks over at the paper in your lap and strikes up a conversation. It turns out, he also conducts interviews and is happy to give you a few good tips and even quiz you a bit. The 3-hour flight flies by. Then, he and his colleague offer to give you a ride to your hotel. They go way out of their way and spend an extra 25 minutes to get you exactly to the front door so that you don’t get wet in the rain. They both wish you good luck for tomorrow.
On the next morning, you talk to a very kind taxi driver who wishes you good luck wholeheartedly. When it’s time for the interview, you enjoy yourself tremendously. “Whatever happens”, you say to yourself, “I’m glad I did that.” But you secretly know that you have just found the place where you belong.
While waiting for a taxi, you have a great conversation with the company’s mailroom man, who wishes you good luck. You get in the taxi, but it turns out that another car is blocking your way out of the parking. By the license plate that spells out your favorite drink’s name, it becomes clear that it’s the car of the big boss that’s not letting you leave the office.
Later that night, you meet good friends of yours at a pub and realize that your favorite drink is made by this same company and is not a summer drink only, but also has a winter edition. Your friends order it for you and wish you good luck. On the way back, you see the gorgeous St. Paul’s cathedral and find a lucky penny on the ground.
As you wait at the airport to go home, you meet an employee of the same company in the duty free shop and have a great conversation. He wishes you good luck.
Your flight is 2 hours late, so you decide to sit down and write a post for your blog. You finish the post with the words “Friends, please wish me good luck because I’m expecting a call.”
You are just about to post it on your blog when you receive a call, which you would not have been able to receive had the plane not been delayed. When you finish the call, you delete the last line and instead write:
Dear friends, I just got my dream job!
My Christmas present this year was tickets to the Boston Celtics vs Toronto Raptors pre-season game at Boston’s TD Garden. This means that for my four years at BU, I’ve checked off two out of Boston’s four great teams. Yep, I have to speed up the process and see the other two before graduation!
Boston is said to be America’s top sports city. There’s the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins, and the New England Patriots (baseball, basketball, hockey, and American football). You can imagine my motivation to see all these teams play since we don’t even have three of these sports in Bulgaria (and we are not really that good at basketball either)! Even these teams’ home arenas are considered key tourist destinations: Fenway Park, TD Garden (for both the Celtics and the Bruins), and the Gillette Stadium.
Of course I wanted to do the whole ritual right: I went to TD Garden by T as a true Bostonian, had some Sam Adams at an Irish pub before the game, bought a green t-shirt from a street vendor, got a green shamrock painted on my face, and cheered with the crowd throughout the game! Naturally, we won!
So after I check off the Bruins and the Pats, I also need to go to a NASCAR race and to a rodeo! Any suggestions when and where to do this?
And while we are still talking about sports, did you know that Bulgaria has one of the best fencing teams in the world? I certainly did not! I didn’t even know there was fencing here, and as it turns out, the best fencers are from Easter Europe and the Former Soviet Union! Who knew?!
It kills me that Bulgarians do all these amazing things but we don’t know how to popularize our achievements even among our own people. I wish someone popularized this game and taught Bulgarians to be proud of our teams and their victories! Sports always bring people together, and if someone made sports more popular in Bulgaria*, our people would have more reasons to feel national pride.
*(The only really popular sport in Bulgaria is soccer – and we do have some great soccer players like Dimitar Berbatov and Hristo Stoichkov)
- Spent a semester studying and interning in London
- Jumped off a 10 meter rock into the sea at the North Pembrokshire coastline, Wales, UK
- Traveled A LOT: Visited Stonehenge, Manchester, Oxford, Brighton, Bristol, Bath, Brussels, Milano, New Orleans, LA, Miami, FL and San Antonio, TX for the first time
- Participated in a swimming competition and earned three ribbons
- Put Bulgaria on the rout of a girl’s trip around the world and spent 10 days roadtripping with her. Brought two other American girls to Bulgaria and left them with amazing memories
- Went to the International Bagpipe Festival in Gela, Rhodope Mountain and danced horo with hundreds of people in the open
- Windsurfed and kayaked off the coast of Sozopol at the Black Sea, Bulgaria
- Spent an entire night, from sunset to sunrise, dancing on the beach under Armin Van Buuren’s techno beat in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria
- Went to a Joe Cocker and to a Sting live concert in Sofia (Sting for the second time :), saw Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a replica of the Globe, Aida in the London Opera, Cirque du Soleil in the Royal Albert Hall (the fourth show I’ve seen by them), and a Celtics game in Boston’s TD Garden
- Rode a horse on the beach, danced at a country bar with a cowboy hat on, rode a motorbike, and shot a rifle in Texas
- Saw the beginning of the building of the family winery
- Made some great new friendships all over the world
Happy New 2012! May it be better than 2011!
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.
Oysters are those huge shells that you might have seen in movies served raw on crushed ice with lemon juice, cocktail sauce and horseradish and slurped out by rich old businessmen while smoking a cigar. They are a sign of great luxury and an aphrodisiac.
Of course all Bostonians are cool enough to eat oysters (that is, as long as they have the guts to). My personal record I think is four raw oysters in the Union Oyster House. But after I did that I needed to lay still for a while.
We went for a free oyster shucking lesson at the North End Fish Market (on Saturdays, at 99 Salem Str). We were given gloves, a chisel-like knife and a bunch of local oysters that looked like solid rocks.
The most difficult part, I found, was slipping the knife in the hinge (imagine thrusting a knife into solid rock) and cracking the top and bottom shell open. Then you slide the knife all the way around the oyster until you actually separate the two shells – and by “slide” I mean strain your muscles and try to push the knife through until you almost break your wrist. Finally, the easy but embarrassing part is to gently slide the knife under the oyster and cut the flesh that connects it to the bottom shelf and then flip it upside-down to have “better presentation” or, if you are me, just drop it on the table and then awkwardly pick it up. At last, you can squeeze in some lemon and slurp it out with a grin on your face. Good job!
After shucking 4 oysters each and deciding that we’d better put an end on seafood for the day, we continued our tour of the North End, the Italian neighborhood in Boston.
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I just went through the highlight of my college career! Nothing can surpass the excitement and feeling of pride with myself after finishing my first swimming competition – not even the first day of classes, possibly not even graduation!
This swimming competition was probably one of the few competition sporting events I have ever participated in. But this is not the best part! The best part is that two semesters ago, I couldn’t swim!
Allow me to start from the beginning! During my sophomore year, I wanted to sign up for a sailing course here at Boston University. They told me that I needed to pass a swimming test. OK, I said to myself, thinking that I knew how to swim.
As it turned out, I knew how to move in the water from shallow point A to shallow point B using a stroke that resembles breaststroke only with my head above the water like a submarine’s periscope. No one at Sunny Beach had ever told me that this is not the right way to swim!
So needless to say, I got flunked. Not only that, but I also discovered that I am utterly terrified of the deep water (BU has an Olympic size pool) and can hardly hold my breath for more than 5 seconds (so much for hookah pipe). In other words, I almost got a heart attack and a panic attack simultaneously in that pool. I was that close to accepting that I will simply never learn how to properly swim (big deal, right..)
As a Bulgarian would say “Yes, but no!” That night, I had a nightmare about drowning and woke up drenched in sweat and determined to learn how to swim!
Since then, I completed a beginning swim class, passed the swim test, completed beginning sailing and intermediate sailing, completed intermediate swimming, tried jet skiing, catamaran, wind surfing, and kayaking, went coasteering (jumping off 10 meter rocks in freezing 3-degree C water wearing full wetsuit, boots, and a helmet, off the coast of Wales) and now, successfully completed a swimming competition!
I don’t know if you can imagine how scared I was as I was about to do each of these things, and then how proud I felt with myself for not giving up and persevering. If there is one thing I learned in college, it is that I can do anything!
I participated in five events today – three individual and two relays in a team of four. I earned ribbons for my individual events! And isn’t it just precious that the three of them – Second Place 100m backstroke, Third Place 50m breaststroke, and Fifth Place 100m freestyle, are in “White, Green, and Red”. Karma: I’m Swim Team Bulgaria!
Read more about the Bulgarian beach here:
And about rowing on the Charles here:
To all devotees of Bulgarian cuisine: Trader Joe’s sells the two gems of Bulgarian culinary genius: liutenitza and kyopolou!
Liutenitsa (liutenitza) is a heavenly spread made of, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, onion, eggplant and herbs that could be a little bit spicy or not. We spread it on bread or use it as a side to grilled meat… and actually anything else. My personal favorite is a slice of bread with liutenitza (the layer should be as thick as the bread) and Bulgarian white feta cheese! Yum-yum!
Kyopolou (kiopolo) is made of roasted eggplant, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and sometimes peppers or tomatoes. It is served cold as an appetizer or spread on bread. See recipe for both spreads (we call them salads) from BG Taste.
Several countries on the Balkans have similar products. You might have previously tried Turkish kopoglu or Serbian ajvar.
So if you are craving an authentic taste of Bulgaria – run to Trader Joe’s! They call the two products “Red Pepper Spread” and “Eggplant Garlic Spread”, but the labels clearly indicate that this is a “Product of Bulgaria” and a “Traditional Bulgarian Recipe”. Enjoy!
Find the nearest Trader Joe’s here.
Something terrible happened to your credit card. It kind of slipped away from my wallet into the cashier’s hands… multiple times. But you are happy when I’m happy, right? And I got mom something nice, so that hopefully, at least she doesn’t ask for more for a while.
Your only daughter
Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and it marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season – with insane discounts! Hundreds of people camp outside the major shopping malls the night before and rush in the stores as soon as they open doors. This year, the Boston Cambridge Side Galleria opened at 1am!
My friends and I are not the extreme type, so we went shopping at 11am and still found the mall packed! “40% off until 1pm”, “Buy One Get One Free”, “2 for $30, 4 for $45”, “The More You Get, The Bigger the Discount” are only some of the attractive signs that lured us into one store after the other!
No wonder why this day is called Black! We finished shopping at 4pm, completely physically and financially exhausted! Long Live American Marketing!
It’s not easy to be an international student in the States on Thanksgiving. They kick you out of the dorm for 5 days, all of your friends scatter to their respective places of origin, and you have to be very creative in finding what to do.
My strategy has been to try to be as traditional American as possible in order to experience the culture. Funny how that turned out!
Thanksgiving 2008: Three-and-two-halves Bulgarians and one turkey
The Grosse family was so kind to invite me and two other Bulgarians to their home in New Jersey over the Thanksgiving break. The Grosses used to live in Bulgaria and their daughters, the two half-Bulgarians as I like to call them, went to my high school in Sofia. So in 2008, they got together me and two other girls from that school who currently go to college on the East Coast. For dinner, we had all the ingredients of an American Thanksgiving Feast, but prepared the German way – potato dumplings, sauerkraut (German red cabbage), turkey breast (without stuffing), mama Grosse’s secret saus, all sorts of delicious German pastry (with strudels instead of pies), and of course, Bulgarian Red Wine Tcherga. My cultural experience was further enriched with Black Friday shopping in the Short Hills Mall.
Thanksgiving 2009: Disney World, Orlando
Another not-so -typical holiday, I guess. Timmy and I went to Orlando, FL, where we spent the day riding on roller coasters, trying to get out of haunted houses, and spinning on all sorts of carousels. We saw a mini-city made up entirely of Christmas Lights, but didn’t really experience anything particularly Thanksgiving-ly other than the roasted turkey leg on the bone that Timmy and I devoured.
Thanksgiving 2010: Plymouth, It Can’t Get More American Than That
Now this was the epitome of Thanksgiving! We were in Plymouth, MA, where the Mayflower dropped anchor. We saw the Plymouth rock, which marks the symbolical spot where the pilgrims landed and the “Plimoth Plantation”, which is a living history museum. At the Plantation, we visited a 17th century English village that recreates the way the pilgrims lived. There are costumed actors who have adopted the roles of actual historical figures and pretend that it is still 1627. So when I told them that I am from Bulgaria, they asked me how things were in the Ottoman Empire! Their historical knowledge was impressive! The other part of the Plantation is the Wampanoag Homesite where you can meet real Native People and talk to them about their culture and history from a modern perspective. Finally, I had a very American, very lovely Thanksgiving lunch with Timmy’s family : with a house full of bubbly relatives, mountains of food, and football! Exactly as Thanksgivign should be!
Read more about my meeting with Timmy’s family here.
Thanksgiving 2011: The Middle Eastern Version
My roommates and I organized a pretty interesting semi-traditional feast for our friends. (Actually, Emma, who started preparing the turkey three days earlier and woke up at 7am to start cooking that day, should get all the credit. I simply decorated the living room with real fallen leaves, but then it ended up in vain because our oven exploded the night before and we eventually had to move the party to a different apartment, the so-called “Arabs’ place”.) So, Emma ended up cooking for 30 people, most of whom were… Arabs! She invited all of us to hold hands and say what each of us is grateful for. Then we all sat down on the floor, Americans, Pakistani, Saudi, Bulgarian, German, and Chinese (in front of the American and Saudi Arabian flag?!), and had the most international Thanksgiving dinner so far!
So I am pretty sure that I now fully grasp the meaning of Thanksgiving! This holiday is about bringing people together and allowing them to share a beautiful experience like one big family! Cheers!
Question: When do you know that something is important to American students?
Answer: When it becomes a Halloween costume.
1) The 1% – groups of students dressed in (sexy) business attire with “1%” and “Occupy Wall Street” signs in their hands
2) Gaddafi – costumes of the former Libyan leader, with or without blood stains (not sexy)
3) Steve Jobs – a balding old man with an Apple logo on his chest holding a laptop made out of cardboard (not particularly sexy)
4) Black Swan and White Swan – usually two girls dressed like the main character/s from the blockbuster ballet thriller (very sexy)
5) Angry Birds – people dressed in big round costumes like the cartoon characters from the popular game (anti-sexy)
And what were you for Halloween?
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.
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.
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.