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Click for: Istanbul NEW YEARS EVE PICTURES!
Merry Christmakuhwanza and Happy New Year!
While most of you celebrated the holidays in countries and cities filled with the commercialized holiday spirit, which admittedly I love and did not realize precisely how much until I came here, I had the privilege of celebrating Christmas the Bulgarian way with bits of British mixed in. By decorating my house with cheap Christmas décor found at the pazaar, baking millions of Christmas cookies for classroom parties, putting my seventy-seven song Christmas playlist on constant repeat, and downloading every good and bad holiday movie for a non-stop Christmas movie marathon, I brought a bit of the American Christmas spirit into my life here. However, after teaching my students a number of lessons on the British Christmas tradition from my UK printed textbooks and being asked what the holiday is like in the States, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps a naughty Pilgrim threw the package carrying Christmas tradition off the Mayflower on its way to America. My children found it bizarre that my family eats Mexican food for Christmas Eve, can only open one present before Santa comes, goes to the movies on Christmas and does not have the unlucky animal whose meat will fill our carnivorous bellies at dinner every year predetermined. After inquiring about the reason to which I could only shrug my shoulders and reply “I don’t know,” I started to wonder who created tradition in the first place. Regardless, I got my taste of a more longstanding Christmas tradition this year. It started with a Christmas program at school, most of which I did not understand, but a video of some beautiful traditional music can be seen if you click here. A few days before vacation started, a few of the Brits up in Govedartsi had a proper Christmas meal where I ate my first share of brussel sprouts and leeks and pulled my first Christmas cracker. All in all it was a good time, but after spending the last few weeks exhausted from school and all the Christmasing, I was more than ready for a relaxing holiday.
Winter break started with a wintery bang. With a fresh pouring of snow, Kevin and I planned a late night sledding excursion with Ruth and Noah, our new young friends in Samokov. Ruth is an English girl who bought a house in our town and brought her American boyfriend Noah with her. Its good to have young people around, as that is generally not the case. Spending the whole day looking for one of those flying plastic saucers that propelled kids down the hill next to my house in Oklahoma as a kid, I got the goods and we were set. Sledding was good fun and Kevin’s first experience with the “sport”. We went up to the motorcross track, which was covered with fresh and untouched snow and the dark sky brightened with a full moon. Although the beauty of the snow here in Bulgaria is that it covers up all the crap that lies beneath, it is quite deceiving at the worst moments. Like when you step up a curb to find that solid ground is actually two feet beneath. Or when you end up lying in a ditch of snow on a motorcross track to find water seeping on all sides. The next day Chris, an English friend from Govedartsi, and I headed up to Maleovitsa, a beautiful tiny ski resort deep in the mountains. So deep the road ends there. If one was ambitious enough, 20 km hiked can lead to the Rila Monastery - it is that secluded. It is also free of foreigners and mainly a Bulgarian ski destination, but the run looked like it could kill, so do not expect me to give my snowboarding skills a test on that death trap. We took our sleds up a bit of the run and flew down so fast I honestly could have ended up in the parking lot. It was great fun and probably the best sledding spot in all of Bulgaria. The river that runs through Samokov originates up in these mountains and there is a trail through the national forest that runs along it. We started walking along/hiking up it and the snow on the sides was seriously like four feet. It is by far the most beautiful scene I have witnessed in Bulgaria thus far. I felt like I was in Chronicles of Narnia stepping out of a closet into a winter fantasy. It looked as though there were diamonds in the snow it sparkled so amazingly. I have never seen anything similar. The trail was a proper hike and although not previously planned, I was excited to sled downhill. We made it pretty far up near the treeline and began descent on the sleds. It was like a water slide with loops, curves, hills and dips with the five-foot snow banks on each side keeping us inside of the trail and out of the river. Tremendously fun, I found the gem of Bulgaria in the winter.
After the winter weather fun and for the holidays, I headed back to my host family and village in Boboshevo with little more than my fleece pjs, a week’s worth of Days of our Lives downloaded and The Nanny Diaries as the primary choice of read. However, my plans of doing nothing important and everything indulgent were quickly thwarted. Problem #1: the location I imagined doing nothing had no heating, thus providing no place other than the kitchen to occupy myself for three days. Problem #2: the alone time I imagined having was quickly overtaken by children wanting to play Uno or have me draw snowmen all day. Problem #3: every paragraph read was interrupted by MamaVanya asking me if I wanted to eat an orange, apple, kiwi, potato, chocolate, meatball etc. etc… Problem #4: I accidentally drank some not-so-kosher steamed milk. I later found this milk in a Fanta bottle, which means it came straight from the cow. Probably the neighbor’s. Needless to say, this skim-milk drinking girl spent Christmas evening trying to calm her upset and chunky whole-milk hating stomach and digestive system. And Problem #5 and most troubling: I had to SHARE a make-shift bed in the kitchen with my crazy host mother. No Days of our Lives. No alone time. No thinking. No spread eagle under the covers. No sleeping. No late night reading. None of it. Instead, I found my Christmas nights spent with the ipod full blast trying to drown out the snores of a woman who I swear, does not know that allergy and cold medicine existed. Its one thing if you snore. I mean I certainly do not like it. However, it is another if your stores are topped off with a high frequency, liquidy snot-shifting noise coming from deep with the nasal canal. She was alright if she was on her stomach, but the last night I spent probably thirty minutes kicking, poking and even pinching her to see if she would wake up since my not-so-quiet curses, blanket pulls or intentional elbows to her side did not do the trick. She did not budge. Not once. I ended up relocating my head near her feet so at least the snotty sound would not permeate my full blast savior of an ipod. In the morning she looked at me strangely saying she did not understand how I made it over there. I kept mum. It is best she does not know I can become really violent when my sleep is disputed.
However, not all was terrible. In fact, it was one of the more interesting experiences here in Bulgaria and I was given great insight into the culture of this country. I do not understand any of it, but hey, I can appreciate! In Bulgaria, Christmas is a three-day celebration with Christmas Eve being the most important holiday. However, during the communist era people could not celebrate Christmas so New Years was and continues to be a much bigger and more festive holiday; it is also when most people give gifts. A bit of Western Christmas tradition has seeped in over the last ten years so one can see trees, stockings and cheesy décor, but Bulgaria largely remains a New Years centric holiday.
Christmas Eve is a vegan day with the primary dishes being bean soup, sarmi (rice with a carroty/peppery sauce wrapped in on-its-way-to-being-pickled cabbage), baklava (a Turkish desert with fortunes inside), fruits of all kind and pitka, a bread made of only flour and water. You cannot eat any product that comes from an animal. I am unaware of the reasoning behind any of these traditions but after considering the lack that accompanies my own, I figure it does not really matter. I spent all day watching/helping MamaVanya and Nelly prepare the food while everyone stayed inside the house. Unlike in America with all the last minute shopping and visiting friends, it is not custom to leave the house or your family on Christmas Eve. Kiko stayed with MamaVanya and I to eat dinner #1 at her house, which is eaten at a specific hour. Everything has to be on the table at one time and remains there until the next morning or bad luck will commence. The first thing that takes place is each person breaks off a piece of the bread as there is some sort of fortune attached to how large a portion ends up being pulled. Bulgarians set aside a piece for all non-present members of the family, as well as for God and the house. They cook a button, a stotinki (coined money), and a little stick into the bread, which each person searches to find in their piece. At our dinner the house got the button, so I guess that means luck - I am not entirely sure. At first I was really confused wondering why everyone was picking through the bread and for what reason it was being placed strategically at different spots on the table rather than on the plate. I figured just don’t touch until someone else did or I was told what to do. I did find the stick in my piece of bread, but I am not sure what that means. A video of the whole thing going down, as well as a good sample of Bulgarian language can be seen if you click here.
Because the dinner was just us three, it was less formal than any other Christmas dinner I have been involved in with the TV on and pjs worn. However, we soon received a call from Nelly and were on our way to their house for dinner #2. Much more formal and decorative at hers, we arrived just in time for another breaking of the bread. Unfortunately, I was stuffed from dinner #1. Christmas Eve rather than Christmas is also when the family gives each other presents, yet I noticed the holiday is far less centered on presents and gifts than in America. I bought a few different things for the kids and everyone seemed to think this was a lot of presents, but the kids loved it and I was happy to see them so excited. Nelly’s family gives all the presents on Christmas Eve, including those from Santa, but I think this may be different than other Bulgarians. Christmas ended pretty early and MV and I headed back home to go to sleep, something I had not been getting much of.
Christmas Day seemed to be to be just like any other – of course with a Bulgarian twist. Unlike Eve, this is the time during the 3-day celebration that na gosting (visiting friends) resumes. The kids came over way too early in the morning wanting to play with the gifts I had given them. I gave in for a bit, although I really just wanted to read my book. I definitely missed how in the States my family wakes up late and then heads over to Uncle Greg’s house just to fall asleep with movies or books on the couch. After trying to say no, I was dragged out with Nelly and family to Dupnitsa. They wanted to “walk around” somewhere and although Dupnitsa would not exactly be my Christmas Day excursion of choice, I figured they would go to the center and take a little razhodka (walk). Wrong. We ended up in some dirty, smelly, had not been cleaned in weeks internet café, which was packed with high school boys gaming. Apparently the mayor of Boboshevo who lives in Dup has a son who works there. Now how a mayor of a town or village can be elected without even living in the city that elected them is beyond me. And here would be the appropriate place for a very amusing side story: a month or so back when I called MamaVanya to check in I asked her about the elections in Bobo, which she said went great and the mafioso crook of a mayor was replaced with one that Nelly, a social worker at the municipality, really liked. She then told me that she herself had started working a 9-5 job, at which I was surprised. I was informed she was working at the municipality of a nearby village for the mayor. However, when I showed up in Bobo and asked her how her job was and what she did, she kept saying “mayor.” I asked a few more times suggesting she was the secretary and various other things attempting to clarify, but no, she simply repeated “mayor.” I came to figure out that she does not work for the mayor, she is the mayor. Admittedly shocked, I felt somewhat retarded and wondered if I offended her. But to be honest, I am not sure how my crazy host mother can run a town, even if it is only of sixty people. But this story relates, because like this new Bobo mayor, MV does not even live in the village she is the mayor of. I do not get it. Anyhow, back to the story at hand, the kids wanted to play games so Nelly and I being the only two females aside from Deni loitered around this nasty place being stared at by pervy boys while the kids and Kiko played games. Eventually the owner came in and started speaking to me in English. He lives in Moldova while attending pharmacy school. He began telling me about his beautiful Moldovan girlfriend and how she owned a “marriage agency.” Right away a red flag went up and I wondered if what I was thinking he was talking about really was what he was talking about. It was. He proceeded to tell me how great he thought this business that sold 18-22 year old Moldovan girls to be wives of American men was. My eyes widening and mouth opening at an accelerating rate, I kept saying how horrible this is, for these American men are generally married and incredibly skeezy, while these girls are put in the position to be exploited, but he did not seem fazed. He responded by saying what a great opportunity it was for these girls to leave Moldova and get a green card. I could not believe this was happening. Nelly seemed intrigued and I turned to her and explained desperately in Bulgarian how awful this was so she did not buy for his defense for a single second. Regardless, as I sat sending my family and a few of you a quick Christmas greeting, I was laughing as I realized my Christmas was being spent in the company of a man who supported a somewhat legal version of sex trafficking in a dirty internet café all while Whitney Houston was screaming she “will always love you” and Toni Braxton pleaded “unbreak my heart.” Welcome to Bulgaria I guess.
Incredibly anxious to get home, I head back to Samokov as soon as I could on the 26th. I thought Christmas was over, but Eli and family downstairs explained to me it was still Christmas. I was over it though. Holiday overkill. Janel came over and we headed up to Borovets for some “relaxing” in the lobby of Hotel Rila, the nicest and largest hotel in Borovets right on the bottom of the ski run. We came with books, computers and knitting supplies feeling our relaxing needed a change of scenery. After a few hours and Janel’s big spill on the ice, which for the record I still have not yet experienced myself, we ended up at Ari and Aimee’s, a few of my British friends, restaurant for a Boxing Day/Ari’s birthday celebration. This time of year is when Borovets really picks up, becoming a proper ski resort, unfortunately with prices to match. We were targeted left and right by people trying to get us to eat at their restaurants. One of then said, “I speak American” and pointed to the sandwich with American cheese as an indication that they serve “American food.” Borevets is a good time however, because food not found in Bulgaria generally can be purchased there and there is so much activity. Kevin and I came up with a new plan where we will spend our weekends up there with him boarding down the mountain and me sitting in the lobby sipping hot chocolate and reading (errr.. scoping out attractive tourists).
After two days of lying on my heated floor tiles watching movies (and Kayla/Adr/Chels – I FINALLY watched Newsies) I headed out with Sehee and Sarah to meet some others in Istanbul, Turkey. I cannot rave about this city enough – it is big and beautiful, full of energy and activity, oozing history and magnificence, bleeding art and creativity and home to some of the greatest shopping and food the world has to offer. I was certainty ready for this trip having been battling a case of cabin fever in Bulgaria. It felt great to get out of the country and even though I love and have adapted quite well to Bulgaria, the timing of visiting a city that has got it right could not have been better. After a night bus and three hours at the border dealing with all sorts of ridiculousness (including being in a half-awake daze buying a visa to find myself chasing a bus driver running away with my passport – basically the twilight zone), we arrived. Unfortunately for the pocketbook, the hostel I picked was smack dab in the middle of the city’s shopping, arts and nightlife districts. We made the walk down the shop-lined Istikal Street making a few friends along the way in vintage stores and cute boutiques. We crossed the fisherman-lined bridge that looms over the Bosporus and made out way to Sultanhamet, the old town that is filled with gems of early Christian history and the later Islamic period. This is where one can find the Blue Mosque (a mosque built to trump the beauty and grandeur of the neighboring Christian Aya Sofya), Aya Sofya (a cathedral turned into a mosque after Ottoman takeover that still houses an amazing fusion of religions), Topkapi Palace (the palatial home of the Sultans complete with a haram and incredible jewels) and the Hippodrome (the outdoor market area which was the stage of political hustle and bustle during Byzatine and Ottoman times). Even though the film took place in Arabia, we found ourselves making a ridiculous number of Aladdin references, as well as singing the songs. But when does that not happen… After getting a bit lost, we found our way to the public transport, which has to be the best in the world. Completely clean and absolutely efficient, Istanbul is home to the second oldest subway system in the world, following only the Tube in London. But after using it all week, I am ready to write letters home to governors and mayors urging them to visit and take lessons from the Turks. Coming from Los Angeles, it is a breath of fresh air to finally see a city and government who has got it together.
In lieu of a shower at the hostel, we visited a Turkish bath the next day to cleanse and beautify. Dubbed one of the “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” we went all out at the Cagaloglu Hamam. It certainly was an interesting experience. Completely naked we were led to a steamed, marbled room with little alcoves housing faucets and sinks to rinse ourselves in the company of the other bath guests. After the rinse we laid on a heated marble slab in the middle of the room to wait for our bath attendant. Somewhat of a strange experience, I was certainly lost in translation as a stranger woman was massaging, exfoliating and washing my entire body. I just closed my eyes to avoid awkwardness and whenever I would get a little nudge I opened them to have a large Turkish lady peering down at my face and ask “Very, very nice?” Agreeing, I closed then again until the next nudge or push informed me it was time to flip over or relocate. After the exfoliation she again peered down and pointing to my stomach informed, “Much dead skin.” Thanks for the information lady - I live in the land of dryness. She nearly tore my head off washing my hair, and I was not prepared for the face wash as I found myself gasping for breath between bucket pours. But all in all, it was incredibly nice and very relaxing. I am coming to embrace nakedness much more in this side of the world than I ever did in the States. You might find me at the nudist beach or something upon return. When it was all over, Sarah, Sehee and I nibbled on Turkish delight in the café before returning to the little changing cubicles that came complete with a bed if one wanted to take a nappy nap.
As far as nightlife goes, it is amazing in Istanbul and I am a sucker for the night. I remember in London how much I hated staying in knowing that an incredible city was buzzing along without me. I had the same problem in Istanbul whenever we were at the hostel – I hate to miss out. Music, art, dance and late-night food are everywhere. We ventured out to find a few live music places, including one with English covers, which was a good time. New Years Eve itself was a blast. Heading out with Eric, Will, Beckie and Amanda, we got tickets to Babylon’s Oldies but Goodies party. Primped and ready to dance, we had a fabulous time in a venue finally free of chalga and tasteless techno music. And as it goes, we were definitely the Americans in the house. I realized in London that Americans can be spotted incredibly quickly at clubs, because we dance not with each other, but on each other. And hey, I am totally okay with that (although this is what I monitored while on passion patrol at EFY), but it does not always go over real well with other cultures to find seven people just on each other – especially with reserved and reticent onlookers. The night before the others went to an Irish pub and met a few of the guys who happened to be at the same party; being contractors in Iraq and with tons of money, they bought most everyone all their drinks. The also bought a couple of “escorts” for the night, which I did not understand until Eric leaned over and whispered, “those girls are prostitutes.” Skeezy men. It was, however, amusing to watch these men become all territorial over their “purchases” after ignoring them for most of the night. Perhaps the most amusing moment was when Beckie asked, “So what’s the deal with your whore?” All in all, this New Years Eve was perhaps the only good one of my entire life. I generally hate the holiday, but this one was spent in a wonderful city in the company of good friends, fun music and a cute dress ☺ We missed the Bulgarian New Year, which I heard was crazy and full of tons of fireworks, but ours was just as good.
The most interesting adventures of our Istanbul trip came from shopping – and oh how I do love this activity. One day we headed to the Grand Bazaar, which is the largest indoor market in the world. It stretches 7 sq km. according to the Lonely Planet and is full of Turkish goods, antiques, homewares, clothing, food and anything else you can think to spend your money on. It is unbelievably large and very easy to find yourself lost. Sehee, Sarah and I got our game faces on and prepared to bargain. Unfortunately, being a really bad liar, I am not too good at this, but I feel I got a bit better. It was also interesting to listen to all of the salesmen trying out their pickup lines in efforts to work a sell and get our attention.
Turkish salesman (after I ignored him): Excuse me, you dropped something.
Turkish salesman: Your boyfriend.
Turkish salesman: Excuse me pretty lady, I have sweatshirts. Do you want sweatshirts?
Me: I don’t want a sweatshirt
Turkish salesman: How about me?
We think it might be what they to do pass the time, but we did meet a few nice ones and exchanged email addresses along the way. Kindness people. That is what gets you a friend, not skeeziness or cheap sweatshirts. That or sweepy hair, as it was love at sweepy bangs sighting for me with the salesman (whose name I immediately forgot) at a pashmina shop. First of all, these Turkish men are to die for. After being in Bulgaria for so long, I found I was convincing myself they were attractive – Bulgaria goggles if you will. But after visiting Turkey and being surrounded with the plethora of beauty, sweepiness and style, I will possibly never again find a Bulgarian man attractive. After trying to work the flirt by requesting something “warm,” my exchange with Mr. Sweepy then became a spectator sport witnessed by the other girls and the boys, who out of the entire bazaar we somehow ran into at Mr. Sweepy’s shop. After letting him very slowly and closely wrap his pasmina of choice around my neck with my face becoming bright red, he said “30lira but for you 25lira.” Giving him the eye he offered 20lira and after about ten more minutes of flirting he went down to15lira. But really, I would have paid 50lira for the scarf I did not even need from this beautiful man. Suddenly Sarah yells, “Ten and she will throw in a hug!” Life over. Beet red and I do not blush. Thankfully, I think that comment got lost in translation. He ducked down and whispered in my ear, “Ten, but don’t tell my partner.” Sold, but I was also sold twenty minutes before. After a bit more flirting and small talk, before parting he gave me his business card saying, “Come back if you need anything else.” I could think of a few more things I could have needed but could not muster the nerve to take my falling in love with Mr. Sweepy outside of the Grand Bazaar. Oh well. I know where he works. Next time.
The following day proved to be by far the most interesting experience of the trip. After New Years, the girls and I did not make it out of the house until three and headed to the MAC makeup store. We spent an hour and a half being made over by a brilliantly amusing gay Turkish man who proudly pronounced Sarah “Barbie” after doing her up. He caked patent red leather lipstick on me proclaiming, “Madonna,” but knowing I could not walk around in public like that without being solicited, we ducked into the neighboring store to spend five minutes trying to get that stuff off. After blowing a huge sum of money in MAC the saleslady said, “Charlie’s Angels” (a term we had gotten a few times with the varying ethnicities and hair colors between the three of us), and our makeup artist gayishly piped in, “And me, Charlie!” Good laughs. After MAC and upon doing a bit of research the night before, I found some vintage stores in the area, which we headed towards. Thinking it would be a quick browse because I was really the only one keenly interested in this activity, we walked into Retro to be greeted by the nicest, most generous men in the world. Right away bags and coats were taken, drinks ordered, and Turkish delight, chocolate and pistachios finger fed to us. Having been in a quite large number of vintage stores in my life, Retro was one of the largest and most interesting. It could have been a wholesaler, and I found myself quickly talking business and buying methods with the one salesman who spoke English (for the purposes of the blog, he will hereafter be referred to as Bob). He seemed enthused by my sheer excitement and was rather amused as I flew around the store throwing different clothes on, working an outfit out and wildly digging through bins of purses, belts and scarves. After inquiring about prices of items, Bob said, “At the end, very special price for you.” Uh oh. Trouble. Each of the salesmen were overwhelmingly kind, but I think the American girl thing gave us a few points. We also figured they were each gay given their apparel, jobs and mannerisms, but came to realize we missed the mark on this. Finally making it out of the dressing room with a load in my arm and heading towards the checkout, Bob and the storeowner (for the purposes of the blog, he will hereafter be referred to as Ralph) gave me ALL of my stuff for 60lira. Amazing. Sarah got a bit upset because her two things only cost 40lira so Ralph let her hunt down whatever she wanted in the store as a gift. At this point and nearly two hours later, Bob was trying to make dinner and evening plans with us, which we were somewhat skeptical about. After affirming, “You might think this is strange, but we are just really nice and friendly,” Sehee replied with, “So your intentions are pure??” We decided they were trustworthy. Sehee made a comment on my hair and indicated I needed a haircut to which Bob responded, “You need haircut? We do haircut.” At this point I found myself being led away towards Bob’s haircutting friend (for the purposes of the blog, he will hereafter be referred to as Frankie). This is where it gets really nuts. Between racks of vintage clothing on a stool in front of a mirror with scarves and vintage purses hanging from it sat on an antique Turkish rug, Frankie took one look at me up and down, wearing a vintage nightgown to keep the hair off, and went to town. My hair was an absolute mess from the air drying and frizzy ponytail I sported the whole day and I wondered how he would work through the mane. He cut my hair in fifteen minutes with scissors flying faster than I had ever seen. Frankie was amazing and incredibly gifted with haircutting. He kept pointing to his heat and heart, bringing his hands together and saying “revelation.” He also held a piece of my cut off hair saying, “bad energy” and then holding up his scissors proclaimed, “good energy.” That was the extent of his English. Unfortunately he gave me bangs, but hey, I am willing to try something new. It was all so strange with my hair being cut in store while shoppers continued to browse on all sides, Joe bringing plates of Doritos and cups of tea to everyone with Ralph sitting on an antique typewriter in the corner, all while Turkish music was blaring. Though this video is not at a good angle, you can see how many crazy things were happening at once.
After I was finished, Frankie cut Sarah’s hair as I roamed through the vintage store trying on more and more clothes. Getting quite late, Joe said he ordered in traditional Turkish food for us. Crazy! We then found ourselves eating at a table near a fully stocked bar/kitchen (in a vintage store!) with these incredible Turks! The store finally closed around 10:30 at night and Ralph offered to let us take whatever we wanted in the store. We declined but it was close to realizing my dream of being locked in a huge vintage store all night. After talking for a while, we came to learn that Bob is a promoter in Istanbul, concept creator of Retro vintage store, DJ, aspiring film director and sometimes hairdresser. Ralph is the actual business owner of Retro, famous in Turkey in the fashion industry and the son of a famous Turkish singer. And Frankie is an esteemed and famous hairdresser who studied in France and at Toni & Guy and works on runway shows. All telling us they were famous and all Istanbul knows them. I am not sure how we stumbled into the mecca of Istanbul’s art and fashion under the disguise as a vintage store, but I am glad we did. After a photo op and guarantees that I would let Bob and Ralph help me when I open my own vintage store, we said our goodbyes probably five hours after we stepped foot in there. Who knew it would come in the form of one of my favorite activities, but the cultural integration opportunities of traveling are certainly the most rewarding and memorable. Back at the hostel and after sharing the experience with Beckie and Amanda, they went the next day to have a five-hour adventure of their own.
All in all, Turkey was amazing. However, we bought way too much stuff and had to go through the trouble of hauling it all the way back to Bulgaria. A twelve hour night bus later, we arrived in dark, dreary and gray Sofia that was bruised and battered from a huge snowstorm the night before. Admittedly, it is difficult to be back in Bulgaria after being in such a wonderful place. I am not sure how something so close can be a world away, but I guess that’s the world. And Turkey seems far more western than Bulgaria so I do not know what the big deal is about joining the EU. Granted I only saw Istanbul and the country is incredibly large and diverse, I say if you can let Bulgaria and Romania in, give Turkey a chance. Anyhow, I finally landed in Samokov to be greeted with a beautiful, sunny day that glorified the two feet of snow covering the ground. I hear it only gets worse from here with regards to the snow. School and normal life resume on Monday, which I am not sure I am ready for and do not look forward to the difficulties, but that is what I am here to do, battle the difficult and challenge the status quo.
Conclusively to this really long blog, I miss everyone tremendously and would love to hear from you. Happy New Year! A very special Happy Birthday to my lovely and loved bestests Adrienne, Casey and Janaina – I love you all ridiculously. Also lotsa birthday love sent out to the beautiful Jamie Boyd (as well as wedding congrats!), Miss Katy “Frisco’s Mom” in London, my boy Jerret, my lovely Bobo and Turkey adventurer Sehee, Miss EFY Ann, Andrew the Scot, Sam Hagler my PCV friend in Paraguay, MDA buddy Gary Lee and Miss Natalie Spicola, who endured that torturous law office with me. A big Happy 30th Wedding Anniversary to my crazy parents and I think 3rd anniversary to Chels and John. Congrats to the new graduates out there, including my sisters Jen and Ali, as well as Mr. Ryan Hale - you more than anyone deserve it. Especially since you took longer than my older sister Jen and that is somewhat unimaginable ☺. Big thanks to Belkis for giving us the lowdown on Istanbul! Colin, good luck to your Bucks!! And lastly, FIGHT ON TROJANS!