Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jodie at the Ladies' Market, shortly before the gypsy pickpocket struck

More from Sofia

Here I am, I've been here over a week, and we keep on having lots of new experiences!

Firstly, we had our first lesson in Bulgarian this week. We found a private teacher who will come to the house once or twice a week, as we want. We started reviewing the alphabet, and the different letters and sounds - and both of us are already reading words, and some of them we can even understand (like fillet, Sheraton Sofia Hotel etc!!) We have our second lesson tomorrow evening.

Yesterday I prepared our first Shabbat meal, and even figured out how to use the oven. We invited one of Ellis's co-workers to join us (he lives in the apt upstairs) so that was very nice. We even bought matches this week, so we were able to light candles!

Today we woke up to a nice,sunny day. The snow is melting,and it's warming up (around 5 C),so it was very pleasant out. We decided to take a taxi to the center of the city. This was my first trip there, although Ellis had been there already twice before I came. We walked through an enclosed market - inside a very pretty old building - inside were stalls of everything ranging from meat/sausage shops (seemed to be the most popular), cheeses/yogurts,vegetable stands, cosmetics, vitamins, pots and pans jewelery, spice and other assorted items. Leaving the building from the other side, we came to the Sofia Synagogue - no visiting hours as it was Shabbat, but we met some people who seemed to be coming out of services and we talked to them for a couple minutes and wished them Shabbat Shalom.

From there we walked over to the open market. This is a very long market - going down one side were fruits and vegetable stalls, coming up the other side were clothing, underwear - lots of bras!, pajamas, socks etc - not anything we would buy on the streets! There were also quite a number of simple household item shops, where we were able to pick up some things that we needed for the house. There were many gypsys around, selling anything from parsley to cigarettes, to undershirts or sheets.

One of the stranger sites we saw, was one stall where there was a long line outside of it - we wanted to see what they were lined up for - it was potatoes. People were buying large sacks of potatoes. Most of the people we saw in the market were older, local people, and most of them were most likely from lower, socio-economic backgrounds. It was upsetting to realize that the people lined up to buy sacks of potaotes were probably getting their main staple of food. It's strange to think that in local terms, as compared to the average Bulgarian, we would be considered wealthy......

After we finished at the market, we headed back to the city center, and were planning on going to lunch. We crossed a busy street, and just after we reached the other side, on a busy corner, someone bumped into me. I tunred around, and realized that my purse, which had been zipped up, and that I was holding close to me, was open.... I looked inside, and discovered that my wallet was missing.....I got upset - there wasn't too much money in it (Ellis has been leaving most of our cash at home, and only keeping a smaller amount with him when we go out - he had just taken some more this morning, but fortunately, we didn't divide it up between us). I was worried about my credit cards, so we decided to go back home so I could contact the credit card companies. We re-crossed the street, and suddenly a young teenage girl came up to me holding my wallet....The credit cards were all there - she waited for a "reward" - Ellis gave her a little money - even though it was probably her or someone she worked with who stole it from me in the first place! I was just releived to get back my credit cards and driving license, and not to have to cancel them. We will check the cards online to make sure that they weren't copied, but I don't think they were - they check id here when you use them, not like in Israel, and I think that any of these gypsys trying to use a credit card in a shop (especially a foreign one) would arouse suspicion....I guess I'm going to have to figure out a different way to carry my money and cards around with me, at least in places like this. I think that the malls are pretty safe, but the open crowds are more risky. We did go on to have a nice lunch, and then came home to relax.

We're going to try to go to the movies at the mall tonight.

Tomorrow is a local folklore holiday - Granny March. All the street corners have vendors with booths selling red and white string bracelets, tassels, little dolls that you pin to your clothes. From what we can understand, the red and white have to do with some Bulgarian king or such who defeated a Roman army many centuries ago - I think he was wearing a white robe, but was wounded, and the robe turned red. These bracelets are supposed to symbolize good health - people exchange them, and you could get braclets from lots of friends and family. You're supposed to keep wearing them until the first sign of spring - either buds on trees, or flowers or seeing storks - and then hang them on branches of trees....

Ok, I think that's enough for this mail - it's certainly been an eventful day for us!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Impressions from Sofia #1

Today I’ve been in Sofia for 1 week. I arrived late at night on Feb 18. The next morning I woke to SNOW. This was my first impression of Sofia. The first few days that I was here, it snowed most of the time, with occasional breaks, but it was cold, snowy and stormy. The freshly fallen snow is beautiful to look at, but difficult to walk in – you really have to pick up each foot, one at a time and be careful that you don’t fall.

Some places shovel the sidewalk in front of their building, others don’t. On the narrow street near our apt. it is easier to walk in the street, as the cars help melt the snow. One block away is a major street, which leads to the nearby mall. We’ve discovered that everyone walks on the tram tracks along this street – again, the tram melts the snow, and it’s much easier to walk there. You have plenty of time to see the tram coming, and there is enough room to move over to the side and get out of the way. Unfortunately, once the snow starts to melt, it’s pretty disgusting...

At this point, it’s warming up – at least during the day – the sun is shining and it’s really quite pleasant. Although the mornings are very cold – (-) 10, it doesn’t really feel that cold – it’s more of a dry cold, and it’s bearable. Inside, the heating is very good so you can even wear light weight clothes – I don’t think I’m going to need the heavy sweaters that I brought with me!

One thing we’ve noticed – many of the tram drivers are women. We have yet to take a tram – don’t know where they go or how to use them – we get around by taxi (quite cheap here compared to Israel). I’m glad that I’m not driving here – if I thought that driving in Israel was crazy – well, as one of my co-workers put it – “driving in Bulgaria is an extreme sport.” He is absolutely correct – cars don’t always follow the lanes (if there are such things, I’m not quite sure), and there are a lot of cars making left-turns into oncoming traffic, including in front of trams! Many of the streets are very narrow, with cars parked on both sides and very little space to drive between them, which of course slows things down quite a bit! Our offices are right across from a big hospital, but the entrance street is very narrow, and I have no idea how an ambulance would get by in a hurry!

I will end this with one other comment on my first impressions of Sofia – the people are very friendly and pleasant. Many of the younger people speak English (well, where Ellis and I work, they all do), and our impression of the Bulgarian people is very positive – we’re looking forward to trying to communicate with them in Bulgarian – wish us luck – our first lesson with a private teacher is tonight! Do’vizhdane – Goodbye!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The day Jodie learned how to identify Bulgarian spices

Jodie remembered to bring our Bulgarian phrase book to the supermarket after our meeting with Jordan at Coffee Heaven. We were looking for matches (found!) and spices, as all the labels have been in Bulgarian.

Well, unbelievably if you turn the little bottles slightly, you will discover the English information on the side. Even so, we were not really searching for "Spice for Pizza" and "Barbecue Spice", so I may just sneak some known products in from Israel on my next trip back.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The day Ellis dragged Jodie off into the snow to see Picasso

I think Jodie was quite upset when she woke up on the second day of our two-day weekend to discover that once again it was snowing outside. And this, after the sun had made an appearance yesterday and the Bulgarian winter didn't prove to be all that bad.

By noon it had calmed down a bit, and I urged Jodie to come out with me to catch a taxi. We went to the National Gallery of Foreign Art and saw their Picasso exhibition. Other paintings at the gallery were quite unremarkable. We went across the street to see the Alexander Nevsky Memorial Cathedral, the main Sofia landmark, which looked different to me on my second visit with its golden domes half covered with snow.

A walk up the street brought us to a very nice restaurant where we enjoyed soup and a main course (lasagna for me and stuffed potatoes for Jodie). As we have discovered in our occasional meals on the town, service is not uniform in that Jodie had already been served her main course before my minestrone soup finally arrived.

Tomorrow it's back to work and our regular routine, until the next weekend comes along.

Yuzhen Park in Winter

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Snow!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jodie's First Day

I was about 1 hour late in arriving, and we got home and went to bed around 12:30. It took me a long time to fall asleep. Ellis woke me up around 8 this morning and told me that he had a surprise for me - when I could finally open my eyes, he opened the curtains- it was all white and snowing! This is the first snow like this that Ellis has seen since he's been here also. It's been snowing lightly all day, and it's stuck, but not too heavy - but everything is white! The cold really isn't too bad, and inside it's nice and warm.

We took a taxi to work - from what I could see just from our route, there wasn't anything very pretty, but right near our apartment there is a huge park -we didn't go through it, but I heard that it's supposed to beautiful in the spring.

Ellis brought me to my new office -they really weren't expecting me until tomorrow or Monday, so I still didn't have a computer etc. The woman I'm going to be working with, Monica, was ready for me after about 1 hour, so in the meantime someone showed me around and we talked a bit. Everyone seems very nice, finally sat with Monica for a bit, until Ellis came for me at 1:30, and we went to lunch and then I went back to the apartment and went to sleep.... When I got up, I started unpacking, and I almost finished. Still more organizing to do, and I have to organize the kitchen, but one step at a time.

Other first impressions -they drive like crazy here - left turns into oncoming traffic, no right of way for pedestrians....smoking is allowed in restaurants, so everyone around you is smoking...ugh! On the other hand, the Bulgarians that I've met seem very nice and friendly. Almost everyone in my company is Bulgarian - the 2 bosses are Israeli and there seems to be one American.

Ellis just came home, and he's going to make me dinner! There are definite advantages to the fact that he came before I did- he had to learn to do some things on his own!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The day Ellis found an English newpaper

I am not so sure Bulgarians read.

In my wanderings up and down the cobblestone streets of Sofia, I have found countless pharmacies, hair salons and banks. There are sport lottery shops and flower shops, but unbelievably no book stores.

Yes, Bulgarians read. There are many news stands and free papers are given out to the commuters at tram stops. But do they read books?

In three weeks I have seen a total of one book store, in the center of the city not far from the tourist stops and government offices. In that shop I bought an English-Bulgarian phrase book, but to find it among the cyrillic titles, I needed the saleswoman's help.

Last night, I went over to the news stand near the supermarket in the shopping mall. Very visible on the racks were the latest issues of National Geographic and Playboy - in their Bulgarian editions. But there was nothing in any other foreign language.

Wait, half hidden behind a Bulgarian version of Vogue, there it was. A napkin-thin copy of the International Herald Tribune, weekend edition.

I forked over my 5 levas and headed home a happy man. After unpacking my groceries, it took me a grand total of 5 minutes to skim through the headlines, the comic strips and the People column. But at least, I had found an English language newspaper in the Bulgarian capital!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Scenes from Sofia

The Statue of Sofia
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathederal

The Russian Church
Sveta Nedalya Church

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The walk to work and Mt. Vitosha