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Archive for April, 2014

Oops, I Did It Again!

As I wrote about earlier, on the Camino I complimented one of the French Femmes on her bracelet and she took it off and insisted I keep it. Later, I admired the other French Femme’s necklace, and she did the same. Walker told me I had to stop complimenting people on their accessories.

On Sunday here in Sofia, we went on a walking tour led by Lyuba Boyanina. We’ve known Lyuba since 2000 and I can’t imagine a better person to lead tours of Sofia. When Rick Steves is here she wirks with him. (Walker is going to write up a history lesson on a separate post.) Lyuba had just gotten back from leading a three-week tour in Iran which she said is a wonderful place to visit. Well, in addition to some pretty jewelry, she was wearing a lovely turquoise and purple scarf. As we were walking, without thinking, I verbally admired it and asked her if she had purchased it in Iran. Don’t you know that when we said our farewell after lunch, that she took it off and gave it to me? She bought it in Sofia, so I didn’t feel quite as bad, but still! Note to self – Don’t compliment anyone on anything. unless they’re wearing Manolo Blahniks!

We depart in the morning for Athens, so we’re beginning to get our things together to pack. As I looked around our hotel room, I was again reminded of the generosity of people here. As if taking time out of their busy schedules wasn’t enough, many also gave us gifts.

I made a little display which includes:
– a bottle of wine and flowers that friends had delivered to our room. There was also a bottle of bubbly, but that’s a memory
– the chakra bead bracelet from a French Camino friend
– a handmade decoupaged basket
– a notebook
– a ceramic bowl and plaid tablecloth (two of three gifts our Baba gave us! Today we found a store that sold yarn and I was able to buy enough yarn for her to knit a sweater. Georgi from the Tabitha Foundation will make sure she gets it.
– a traditional woven table mat from a young man who was a guard at the Embassy when we lived here, but has since been promoted several times and now works in the Consular Office
– the necklace originally from Senegal given to me by another French Camino friend
– a box of Cocoa Tea from Colombia

Walker and I feel so blessed by the friendships we have here that have lasted despite our being gone for twelve years.

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We’re giving away a Bulgarian souvenir. If you haven’t entered yet, just leave a comment stating what comes to mind when you think of Bulgaria.
Comment by 4:00pm EST.

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The Man In His Shoes

When Walker was debating early retirement, he often said he only wanted to be responsible for the man in his shoes. Since retiring, he has certainly enjoyed not having to supervise anyone.

He’s walked a lot in his shoes, too. Five hundred miles on the Camino Frances in 2012, over 2,185 on the Appalachian Trail in 2013, and most recently 240 miles on the Camino Portuguese. He’s gone through a few pairs of hiking shoes, which was expected, but he got a real shock Friday evening when he pulled his dress shoes from the box of clothes we shipped ahead. He put the shoes on and shuffled to the bathroom where I was getting dressed. Oh my gosh, what has happened? he said as he looked at the sole of his right shoe and the trail of black foam-like material left on the carpet.

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He then looked at the left shoe which had the same problem. We got the biggest laugh before we had to dash off to drinks at a swanky new hotel – him in his hiking shoes. Of course we told people the saga and they got a good laugh, too.

We cancelled out on a charity visit Saturday morning so we could go shopping for new shoes for him. Fourteen years ago this could have been a challenge, but we thought we’d just walk to the nearby mall and easily find a nice pair. Not so. First of all, he didn’t know his European or UK size. The stores didn’t have a measuring thingie, but after a while I had an aha moment that he should look at the tag inside his hiking shoes. From there, he saw they were 46.5. The first store only had the style he liked in navy blue. Another store had really trendy shoes that didn’t interest him. Then he found a pair he liked at the Geox store and tried to engage one of about seven sales clerks. She must have already met her quota for the day as she was clearly not interested in helping him. Not moving from her spot, or moving a muscle in her face, she said they only had that shoe in a size 40. End of conversation. Long story short, he ended up at Marks and Spencer and found a pair he liked.

Last night was the Gala Event for the International Women’s Club 25th anniversary. It was a black tie event, but we didn’t get the word on that until after we left home February 1, so we went wearing a notch above street clothes. People who knew the shoe story checked out Walker’s new pair, and somehow I ended up in my friend Maria’s Manolo Blahniks for a few minutes. A friend, (credit Paromita Sanatani) snapped this photo.

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Maria tried my shoes on – a pair of travel flats that fold in half (pretty nifty, I thought!) – and when she said they were comfortable, I offered to trade them for her pretty pink shoes. She wasn’t at all interested. I didn’t know at the time that her shoes are worth more than Walker’s beloved twenty-year-old Toyota truck. No wonder my friend Lyndsay kept saying Don’t stretch them out!

All good fun; we went to sleep again with smiles on our faces.

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Babas and More…

We are having such a good time in Sofia meeting old friends, walking the streets marveling at new things, and eating delicious food. Since we left here in 2002, Walker and I have both been back independently, and it is great to be here together to share old memories and make new ones.

As many of you know, when we lived here I took an active part in charity related matters and have maintained a relationship with Albena of the Tabitha Foundation. Together with three friends, I pay 1/4 the annual salary of a baba, Baba Ivanka, an older woman who spends four hours, five days a week at an orphanage especially caring for two children. The difference these Babas make in the children’s lives would require a separate blog post, but it is extraordinary. Yesterday we went on a visit to an orphanage in Dren, one hour outside of Sofia. Like old times on charity visits, we piled into the Tabitha bus with Albena, the director; Georgi the driver; Lyndsay – a British friend (who lives in Athens) who is also a contributor to Baba Ivanka’s income; Eileen – a British friend (who lives in Bogota, Colombia), Marie – a French lady living in Shanghai, and for the first time ever, we let men come with us – Walker and Alexis (Lyndsay’s Lebanese husband) I give you the nationalities, etc. because as diverse as we are, we all feel the same deep imprint Bulgaria left on our hearts . The trip was especially exciting for me and Lyndsay as we were going to meet our Baba Ivanka for the first time! We had heard great things about her, and we were not disappointed. Right off, we could tell she had a great sense of humor. We chatted as best we could in her Bulgarian and our mixed languages, but we all got our points across. She is an amazing woman…69 years old, a widow for 17 years with a 40-something handicapped son at home. We were served salad that she made from vegetables she grew, wine she had made, and rakia (a brandy of sorts) that she made from plums. Besides gardening and cooking, she also likes to knit. I gather these things are not hobbies but are essential elements of life in a Bulgarian village.

There were also six or seven other Babas there who work with the children. They had prepared a feast for us including homemade banitsa, cakes, breads, eggs, salad, plus the homemade beverages. The director told us the women had a friendly competition over their goodies; we awarded each of them a “10”. Eileen brought a London keychain for each of them and Lyndsay brought nice chocolates from both of us. I am going to try and find some nice yarn here to send to Baba Ivanka.

Five of the female orphans sang for us. Their voices and harmonization was incredible. In a few weeks they are going to be in a competition here in Sofia. I hope they win!

The Babas are all paid by donated funds. One of the ladies told us she had been a teacher in Bulgaria for 38 years, and her monthly pension is 187 leva, – about $131.00 – which seems impossible to live on. Her Baba salary is about the same, so you can imagine how these part time jobs affect their quality of life. Plus the role these women play in the children’s lives…it is definitely a win-win situation.

Last evening we had “welcome drinks” at a new hotel’s rooftop bar. The view of Sofia from the top was gorgeous. Again, we saw old friends and met people who had come here after us. After that we had dinner with a smaller group of friends and laughed so hard we thought we wouldn’t be able to go to sleep.

As good as the Camino was for our souls, this trip is as good for our hearts. Indeed they are full.

Photos:
Me and Lyndsay with Baba Ivanka
Twilight view of Nevsky Cathedral

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For those of you wondering why we are in Bulgaria…we lived here from January 2000 – July 2002 when Walker was the Naval Attaché at the American Embassy. I was a member of the International Women’s Club (President for one year) which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this weekend. Many friends are back for the celebration, and we are thrilled to be here as well.

Last night we took a taxi to one of our favorite restaurants where we used to
enjoy the traditional food. The fare was about 12 leva so Walker handed him a twenty (about $15). The driver didn’t have change; Walker had to get smaller bills from the restaurant. It was then that I remembered how important it is to carry smaller bills. We were seated at a table and handed menus in English. Nowhere did we see the traditional dishes we were anticipating. Long story short, the waiter talked to the chef and he prepared what we wanted…red peppers stuffed with eggs and cheese and then fried, and some grilled meats for Walker. It all tasted really good. A SWS (small world story) about this restaurant is that we mentioned it to The Bulgariños we met on the Camino, and turns out she had worked there as an accountant last summer!

After dinner we walked to our old house. It appeared someone lived there, but it looked lifeless. Then we rang the bell of our neighbor’s house. There was no answer, no dog barking, and no lights on; I had the feeling Nikolai has moved on. I felt melancholy for the rest of the night.

But, we were happy to see that there are now proper asphalt sidewalks where there had been broken tiles and holes, and also the cobblestone street has been paved. Additionally, there were a lot of big, new houses on the street.

Other changes we have noticed are that signs – both informational and street signs – are now in Bulgarian and English. Also, cars don’t seem to be parked on the sidewalks as much. The biggest change is that with every meal, a small bucket of ice has been served with the beverages. I remember when we lived here in the early 2000’s, it was a feat to get even two pieces of ice in a drink.

This morning I had to go to the bank to make a deposit in to the account of the International Women’s Club for our tickets for Saturday night’s Gala. I had the account number and all of the information to deposit less than $100, yet still my passport was required as was the bank manager’s approval. Plus, a 3 leva tax for the transaction! I then asked for four fives for a 20 leva note and the teller held up two fingers. I said ten twos would be fine, and he said no, he only had two fives, and he was sorry, but he could not give them to me. So much for trying to get ahead!

After the bank we met Vicki, the wonderful girl who used to babysit our son, for coffee. She is a lawyer now, married with a daughter. Her husband came to the café to say hello, to, it was great to see them.

The next stop was the American Embassy, a beautiful new building, where we met with Walker’s former driver, translator, and other Embassy people. It was terrific to see them as well, and to catch up on the last twelve years.

The next stop was another coffee shop, this time to meet old friends and meet new ones all connected with the IWC. We talked and had ice cream before we had to dash off for our appointments with Pepi, our friseur (hairstylist). We both got much needed hair cuts and had a great time catching up with him.

With our hair freshly “done” and it pouring rain, we caught a taxi to meet British, Lebanese and Bulgarian friends for dinner. Lots of reminiscing and laughter ensued and we’re all looking forward to tomorrow.

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…after we ate the free pilgrim lunch at the plush hotel, we walked around the old town discovering some new alleyways we hadn’t walked before. What still surprises us is to see stores that appear shuttered -as if they’re completely shut down (kaput) at siesta, only to see that they are thriving businesses during working hours. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out their hours – which aren’t always posted. Walker went to a store right when it opened at 11:00. It was the employee’s first day of work and she couldn’t find the light switch. She called the boss, but didn’t get an answer, so she told him to come back later! A store I wanted to visit was only open from 5-8:30. I missed it the first day but scheduled it in for the next.

As our free lunch was quite filling, we opted to have dinner in a bar vs. a restaurant. I thought I had figured out the difference in tapas (portions) and ponchos (bites), but I hadn’t. Nevertheless, we sat at the bar and pointed to the various small dishes we wanted. We then wandered around town to find our favorite ice cream bars on a stick – Magnums. Walker noticed a sign at another bar advertising the Atletico Madrid (his team) vs. Chelsea (our son’s team) futbol game, but he couldn’t convince me to watch it there with him. So back to the hotel where we finished packing up and set our alarms for a 4:00 am wake up.

Now on the Bulgarian Air flight to Sofia, my head is reeling with languages. Our simple thank you is obrigado in Portuguese, muchas gracias in Spanish, and now blagodariya in Bulgarian. It takes a little bit of thought to be polite!

Sitting in the waiting area at the airport and hearing conversations around us, I was reminded of one of our earliest struggles in Bulgaria. Before our car arrived, we needed to go to the store and get some groceries and household goods. Walker used our house phone to dial 2121, which was conveniently the name and number of a taxi company. In Bulgarian, he requested a taxi and relayed our address. He stayed on the phone for a while before he heard the dial tone and said They hung up on me. He called again and went through the same routine only to hear chakai (wait), so again he patiently waited until he got the dial tone again. The third time this routine was repeated, he was getting angry and frustrated. He said They’re laughing at me!
Again, the dial tone followed by a beep beep out front. We looked outside and there were two taxis waiting. They had been telling him to wait for the taxi, not wait on the line!

So far, we’re off to a much better start this time. However, after I told the hotel doorman goodbye instead of hello when he opened the taxi door for me, Walker said you suck at languages; it’s a good thing you have a good personality. Hrmph…I think I get by because I’m willing to try and at ease laughing at myself. Besides, I was just excited!

Sent from my iPad

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Another Give-Away!

We have souvenirs from Portugal and Spain for previous winners; now it’s your chance to win a prize from Bulgaria! That’s our next destination. We lived there from January 2000 – July 2002 and are excited to go back and see old friends, and Sofia, the capital city we called home.

To enter, just leave a comment saying what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘Bulgaria’. We appreciate humor, but as usual, the winner will be determined by the infamous Random Number Generator.

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