Showing posts from November, 2010

Riding the Tram

After living in Sofia for close to two years, Ellis and I decided that it was time to try riding the tram. Ellis had already purchased 10 tickets at 1 leva each over 6 months ago, but somehow, we never seemed to actually have the chance to use them.

So, on Sunday, we took the plunge and caught the tram near our house, in order to go to another mall to see a movie.

The Number 6 arrived, and we got on the tram, and looked around for where we were supposed to punch our tickets, since we knew that this was not done by the driver. We saw one box that looked promising, but there was no place to put the ticket. Another, different looking box was also a false lead. Finally, one woman pointed out a small, old looking metal box which was attached to the space between two windows. Ellis put in his ticket, and pressed, but nothing really happened except for some round indentations that appeared on the ticket. He then did the same with my ticket, and we went to sit down further along in the carriage…

The Movie "Red" in Bulgaria

Jodie and I went to see the movie "Red," starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, and Helen Mirren. The movie was an action thriller with a very strong dose of humor and we enjoyed it.

In English, "Red" stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous, which referred to the fact that Willis and friends were former CIA agents who suddenly found themselves once again involved in an operation.

In Bulgarian, the name of the film was "БСП - Бесни Страшни Пенсии" which means "BSP - Furious Frightful Pensioners". BSP is also a mock title referring to the abbreviation of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Its political color is red and its voters are mainly elder and retired people - just like the "reds" in the film.

Bulgarian Restaurant Service

The service in Bulgarian restaurants never ceases to amaze me - both for the good and the bad. We have been to average restaurants where the service is quite professional, and fancier restaurants where the service has been poor. There doesn't seem to be any real logic in it.

Some of the things that we have experienced:

1. Some waiters bring you your drink, open the bottle, put one hand behind their back, and pour your drink for you. They will then close the bottle and leave it next to your glass. Some of them will watch your glass and refill it when needed. Sometimes it seems that this is done solely so that they can remove the bottle from your table as they walk by.

2. One of my major issues regarding service, is the order in which your courses are brought out. Many restaurants will bring out your food according to whenever it is ready, as for example:
Your order is ready, but your companion's is not. This leads you to either start eating so that your food won't get cold, or…

Sofia Restaurant Reviews

Jodie and I continue with our efforts to sample the cuisine in as many of Sofia's fine dining establishments as possible. Here are three of our recent findings.

We stopped in at The Fox & Hound on Angel Kanchev Street for a Sunday lunch recently. This is an Irish pub and we both had Kilkenny ale to accompany our meal. While I enjoyed my fish and chips, Jodie was a bit disappointed with the Fox & Hound burger, which was served without a bun.

We had previously dined at La Pastaria in Varna, where we enjoyed a luxurious dinner on our recent weekend there. We knew that La Pastaria had another of its Italian restaurants in a neighborhood not far from our office, so last week we went there for lunch. The noon time menu was just as good as what we remembered from Varna, and there was a special business lunch offer for under 10 Leva. We both ate the delicious vegetable lasagna of the day and we plan to eat there again.

This past Saturday we again went for a walk on Angel Kanchev Stre…

The Cats of Bulgaria = Sofia Window Sill


We Dine at the Contessa

I had previously written of my efforts to find the Contessa Restaurant in September, when Jodie was in Israel. Last Saturday, we decided to go there for lunch. We also were determined to travel there by tram, as we have lived near a tram line for nearly two years yet have never traveled on one.

We waited at the tram stop for about 10 minutes, wondering why it was so late in coming, and also why there was no one else waiting for it. I noticed a paper pasted on top of the tram schedule, and while I couldn't read it all, I saw that dates were listed. Apparently the line was closed for a ten-day period.

This turned out to indeed be the case. When we walked over to the City Center Sofia Mall we saw tractors digging up the tram lines there. We got into a taxi instead and took it to 76 Pirotska Street. And that is where we finally found the Contessa.

The waitress handed us menus and we were about to ask if she had menus in English when we noticed something very strange. The menus were liste…

The Cats of Bulgaria = Varna


Bulgarian Humor = Rakia

A middle aged Bulgarian family. The wife starts shouting at her husband at 2 in the morning:

"I left two bottles of rakia in the fridge! Why is there one bottle left?!"

"Because I didn't see the second one," explains the husband.

From the Sofia News Agency.

Dobrich, Bulgaria

We drove north of Varna to the small town of Dobrich, located in the Dobrudzha, Bulgaria's main grain producing region. We found the town to be quite laid back, with a very large pedestrian zone and a beautiful central park.

Dobrich has a recreated "old town", with crafts shops showing how various products are made. Unfortunately, all these shops were closed on the weekend. And, the town's museums were also closed.

Varna's Cathedral of the Assumption


Who Enjoys the Varna Beach in November?

The answer to that question can be seen in these photographs.

The Beautiful Cape Kaliakra

According to a Bulgarian legend, during the Ottoman conquest forty local maidens tied their hair together and jumped from the rocks of Cape Kaliakra to the sea below in order to escape being raped at the hands of the Turks.

Today, Cape Kaliakra, on a rocky, narrow peninsula jutting into the Black Sea north of Varna, is highly revered by the locals for its beautiful scenery more than its history serving as a fortress in both Roman and Byzantine times.

There is a connection to more recent history at the cape, as it overlooks the area of the Black Sea where two important naval battles took place. In 1791, the Russian navy defeated the Turkish fleet here. And more recently, the Bulgarian navy sunk the Ottoman gunship Hamidie here in 1912. In one of the caves on the cape there is a museum which marks these naval battles, but unfortunately it was closed when we visited.

And finally, two more legends about Cape Kaliakra. Muslims believe that one of the caves contains the grave of Sari Saltuk, a…

Wind Power

It was not particularly a windy day as we drove north along the Black Sea coast, but the wind turbines we saw lined up in rows across the fields were turning slowly, generating power.

We arrived at the Kaliakra Cape, and the wind turbines provided a fitting background to the views.

The stunning shoreline at the cape.

Balchik = Summer Home of the Romanian Queen

We drove north of Varna along the Black Sea coast to the small town of Balchik. The town itself doesn't have much in the way of beaches but its claim to fame is that it served as the summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania, when that country ruled this part of Bulgaria before 1940. Marie, a granddaughter of England's Queen Victoria, started the construction of a palace here in 1936. Today you can visit the palace and the adjacent botanical gardens.

Below is the guardhouse at the entrance to the palace grounds.

The palace grounds are like a small park, with many paths, a waterfall, a stream, all leading down to the Black Sea shore.

We tasted sweet wine (with very strong tastes of honey and almonds). Some of the below bottles may have been from the queen's personal collection.

Overlooking the Black Sea. Queen Marie loved her palace in Balchik so much that she asked for her heart to be kept there after her death. This wish was fulfilled, but in 1941, the area was returned to B…

The Best Little Restaurant in Bulgaria

On our first night in Varna, we decided to go to Acant Rouge, a restaurant that was recommended by our hotel, and which was within walking distance from where we were staying.

We found the building tucked away on a small side street, and were surprised to see that it was located in a historical building, with an explanation of the history posted on a sign outside.

The building was built in 1864 by Hadji Yanaki Flori, who was a prominent grain merchant. In 1867, Varna's first charity ball was held there. In July 1878, with the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire, the building became the headquarters for the Russian Army. From 1888-1898 it was a Girl's Secondary School, and in 1900 to 1910, it housed the first Machine School of the Navy. Over the next 80 years, the building was used as a boarding school for hearing-impaired children, a school for the visually impaired and a kindergarten. Today, there is a restaurant, and upstairs there are offices for rent.

We entered th…

The Malls of Sofia

When we first arrived in Sofia, there were two malls in the city. The larger mall "Mall of Sofia" was in the city center, and the second, smaller mall "City Center Sofia", is right near our apartment.

We visit "our" mall quite frequently - mainly we go to the supermarket on the lower floor for most of our grocery shopping. There are 2 restaurants that we like, my hairdresser is there, and of course, the cinema. Most of the shops are international designer shops, and the prices are high, and we don't usually shop there. We see shops with a couple of sales personel, but very rarely do we see shoppers inside. We've often wondered how these shops keep in business, since Bulgarian salaries are not high, and we don't understand who can afford the high prices.

We've also noticed that there are a certain number of types of shops that are missing from Bulgarian malls, that you would find in most malls in Israel - for instance, a home improvement shop…

The Old Ruins On Our Street

I had noticed them before, but only recently did I have a chance to visit the old ruins on our street. This is an archaeological site about four blocks down. I haven't a clue what was here, or when, but my feeling is that this was a church. There is a large central hall and two covered graves, which made me immediately think of sarcophagi.

On one of my walks I noticed a large group of people, both young and old, cleaning away the weeds and garbage from these ruins. It is now very clean there, so obviously somebody knows more than I about the historical significance of these ruins.

Lonely Planet: Visit Bulgaria in 2011

Lonely Planet Magazine has named Bulgaria as one of the top ten countries to visit in 2011. The selection was made at the same time Lonely Planet chose Tel Aviv as one of the top cities to visit next year.

According to the magazine, "Bulgaria sometimes feels like the odd guy out in this corner of Europe. But things are changing. Now proudly part of the 21st-century EU, Bulgaria has enjoyed more attention – and self confidence. Its ski slopes are de facto destinations for Europeans looking for cheaper alternatives, empty patches of lovely Black Sea beaches can still be found, and its quietly brilliant wine industry is flourishing."

Other countries selected include Albania, Brazil, Panama, Japan, Italy, Syria, Tanzania and the unusual choices of Cape Verde and Vanuatu.

Bulgarian Humor = Brazil's New President of Bulgarian Origins

Two Bulgarian sociologists discuss the effects of Dilma Rousseff's election as President of Brazil on the Bulgarian-Brazilian relations.

"I think Dilma Rousseff's election will make Brazil more popular in Bulgaria, and we will therefore observe an increased number of Bulgarians eager to emigrate to Brazil."

"Are you crazy? How do you imagine that any person would decide to leave a country where the rulers are Bulgarian only to go to another country where the rulers are Bulgarian?!"

From the Sofia News Agency.

Another View of Autumn