Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bulgaria’s “Non-Holiday” Holidays

This past week Bulgaria celebrated its Independence Day. As this fell on a Tuesday, the government decided on a long weekend, making Monday a “bridge” day. As we saw before, this “bridge” day had to be returned to the workplace, and as a result, this Saturday was a regular work day for most Bulgarians.

Having grown up in the U.S. and lived in Israel since I was a teenager, I was eager to find out how Bulgarians celebrate Independence Day. Would they have parades? BBQs? Fireworks? Would there be huge, televised ceremonies as in Israel?

Well, I have to admit that I was disappointed. It seems that there is no real tradition for celebrating Independence Day. The city of Sofia emptied out as people headed “home” to their families in smaller towns in other parts of the country, or else, just stayed at home and relaxed.

Everyone that I asked about their traditions for celebrating, told me that there aren’t any. Apparently there are some celebrations in the town of Veliko Turnovo, which was the ancient capitol of Bulgaria before Ottoman rule, but that seems to be the extent of it.

We witnessed this in a few other national holidays, like Unification Day, which was at the beginning of the month, and marked the unification of different sections of Bulgaria. Again, there didn’t seem to be anything special to mark this day. And the previous week, the city of Sofia celebrated a holiday for the city and St. Sofia, but it was no different from any other day. We’ve heard that Christmas and New Years are the big celebrations here is Bulgaria, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Bulgarians: Wake up and learn how to party and celebrate your holidays! And, Happy Independence Day!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tikva

In Hebrew, tikva means hope. In Bulgarian, tikva is a type of pumpkin. Recently we saw in the supermarket a pumpkin and we wondered what you would do with it. It was quite heavy and we brought it home.


Jodie searched the Internet looking for a suitable recipe. She said the pumpkin was very difficult to cut up, and in the end concocted a very tasty, Tomato Pumpkin soup.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Buda Castle

On Sunday morning we continued our city bus tour.


We crossed the Danube and went up the hill to the Citadel, with its panoramic views of the city.


Then, on to Buda Castle itself.



Erez, Merav, Nir and I climbed to the top of the castle's dome for more views of the city below and across the river.


From the castle we continued on our walk through the Buda side of the river.



A view of the Parliament:


Fishermen's Bastion reflected in the windows of the Hilton Hotel:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Budapest: Fridays on Saturday Night

The food in Budapest was good. We all had a taste of hot, spicy Hungarian goulash, something that was a bit too heavy for me. Gundel pancakes, a local specialty, was not appreciated too much. What the kids did enjoy, was a visit to TGI Fridays, a restaurant not too far from our hotel on Saturday night.


Budapest: Heroes Square, a Castle, and a Street Fair

When we left our hotel on Saturday morning we discovered that nearby Andrassy Street had been closed down for a weekend Street Fair, although we could never discover exactly what the theme was. There were booths devoted to the environment, street performers, food stands, and other things with signs only in Hungarian.



We took the Metro to an indoor market, crowded with people buying fruits, vegetables and other products. Upstairs were more shops with Budapest souvenirs and clothing. There were dried peppers for sale everywhere.


And paprika! In a number of stalls we saw goulash soup kits with the recipe in many languages, including Hebrew.


We started a city bus tour, and the first stop was Heroes Square, a huge square with statues and tourists surrounded by museums.


And we all know, statues are meant for climbing.


A statuesque pose:



From the square we walked into the nearby park, where we saw the colorful Vajdahunyad Castle. Inside was an agriculture museum, so we passed on that.




Ah, Tic Tacs, my favorite!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Budapest with the Family

It was a complicated vacation to arrange, but everything feel into place. Jodie and I flew from Sofia on Thursday afternoon and arrived at Budapest's airport just a short time before the flight from Israel arrived. Reut and Nir, Merav and Erez, had all flown to Hungary as well to join us for the four days of the Rosh Hashanah weekend. A driver was waiting to take us into the city where I had booked rooms at a centrally located hotel. The first evening was rainy, but the rest of our stay in Budapest had perfect weather for a perfect vacation.

Our sightseeing on Friday began with a walk to the nearby Synagogue. As it was just before the holiday we were unable to see the inside, so that will have to wait for our next visit.


We looked out across the Danube River at Buda Castle, on the Buda side.




The Chain Bridge:


Everywhere we went, there were dried peppers for sale.


In the afternoon, Jodie and I took a guided tour of the Opera House, which was just around the corner of our hotel. One evening we even were resting in our hotel room and we could hear opera music, although this was from a street performance just outside the Opera House. The Opera House was quite impressive.


Below, Erez at the Basilica.


On Friday night, we took a dinner cruise on the Danube River.


Budapest Castle at night.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

First day of the Bulgarian School Year

Many Bulgarian children typically leave the city during the summer and spend time with their grandparents in their summer home in the mountains. But today, they were all back in full force for the start of the school year.

We live right near a school. When I left the house for work, I was confronted with the sight of lots of school children, accompanied by their mothers, on the way to school. Although I’ve been told that there are no school uniforms, the younger children were all dressed in a uniform – girls with a dark plaid skirt, and jacket, and the boys with dark pants and the same jacket. Maybe this was a requirement of this particular school.

But the most unusual thing for me was that all of the children, from all age groups, were bringing fancy bouquets of flowers to the teacher. We’ve mentioned before that giving flowers is a Bulgarian custom, and this seems to be one more occasion where flowers are called for! I just wish that I’d been around at the end of the day so I could see how the teachers managed to carry all their flowers home.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ellis's Company Trip = Bansko

My company went on its annual company trip this week to the ski resort town of Bansko, in southwestern Bulgaria. In September, Bansko was quite deserted, with dozens of hotels and resort apartments standing empty, and others being built for the coming winter season. The mountains were hard to see among the clouds and it was drizzling and chilly.

My young coworkers came to party, and they started their consumption of alcohol already at lunchtime. They will have to excuse me if I did not partake in the noisy, all-night disco party. Instead I found time for a walk in the mountains. I did some hiking in Pirin National Park on the slopes leading up to the ski paths.





A view of Bansko itself, with the cloud-covered mountains in the background:


With Milan, the company driver:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bacho Kiro Cave

After a short visit to a waterfall up the stream behind the monastery, we took a walk through the forest to the Bacho Kiro Cave, the second cave we've visited in Bulgaria.


The oldest signs of human life in the Balkans were found inside this cave, as was the skelton of a 3-meter tall bear.


Jodie says the cave was boring, but Ellis enjoyed it.


The Dryanovo Monastery

The Dryanovo Monastery, located 5 kilometers outside the town, played an important role in the April Rebellion against the Ottomans in 1878. It is now an educational and cultural center.


We ate lunch in the grounds of the monastery. Service was slow.



Kolyo Ficheto and the town of Dryanovo

We stayed overnight at the Park Hotel in Dryanovo. The next day we visited the town, including the museum devoted to Kolya Ficheto, one of the major figures in Bulgarian renaissance architecture. His statue is pictured below:


Ficheto designed many churches, bridges, wooden doors and ornaments and other important buildings from the 1860s. Across the street was a house museum built with no nails which we toured.


Street scene in Dryanovo:


Some of the woodwork designed by the master in the Ficheto Museum:


Vladi and Jodie in the town square: