Saturday, September 26, 2009

довиждане лято, здравей есен

Like much of the US, Bulgaria is a place of four seasons. Unless I unexpectedly return home early or extend my stay, I’ll be in Bulgaria for eight full seasons and parts of two others. It’s difficult to believe, but two of those seasons have already come and gone. We arrived just in time to see spring (пролет) usher in summer (лято), and summer has now given way to fall (есен).

Having roots in Wisconsin, early fall conjures up images of crisp air, colorful leaves, apple orchards, migratory birds heading south, and, of course, football. As the days grow shorter, folks reluctantly bring in their docks and store their boats for the winter. Lawnmowers are replaced by snowblowers. And the sights and sounds of children playing outside until dark become but a memory. For many families, summer is largely a time of leisure, and fall offers one last chance to play in the sun.

Conversely, summer is the busy season in Bulgaria. Gardens are tended to and cellars are stocked. And fall in Bulgaria means not a final chance to play in the fading summer sun, but rather a final opportunity to prepare for winter (зима). More fruits and vegetables are jarred, and charcoal is delivered, chopped, and stored. As in the states, the air becomes crisp, birds head south, and it’s apple-picking time. Soon, I hope, the leaves will begin changing. But there will be no football, at least there won’t be any Американски футьол (American football). Still, this is a great time to be in Bulgaria.

This has become an increasingly common sight in my town. Large piles of charcoal are being delivered in anticipation of winter.

We have three different apple trees in our yard. I have been picking an apple or two every day after school. It almost makes up for the lack of football.

I have no idea what varieties of apples we have, but the big red ones are tart yet sweet, very crisp, and very juicy. Almost like a honeycrisp. I'll just call them Bulgarian Delicious.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Recipe #3: Леща (Lentils)

I’m not sure how Bulgarian they are, but леща (lentils) are an extremely popular dish. And given how cheap they are and how easy they are to make, I suspect I’ll be eating them frequently. There are many ways to prepare lentils, but this recipe (which comes out like a thick soup) is foolproof.

1 & ½ cups dry lentils
1 onion - diced
3 carrots – peeled and diced
1 bell pepper – seeded and diced
1 hot pepper – diced (omit if you dislike spicy foods)
1 tomato - diced
2 cloves garlic – diced
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
cayenne pepper

Wash lentils. Cover lentils in water and let sit for 1-2 hours. Drain and wash lentils. Put lentils in pot, cover in water, and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add oil. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and herbs to taste. Add flour to thicken. Simmer 10-15 minutes. Enjoy.


One of things most Americans take for granted is the convenience of American society. Only the larger Bulgarian cities have anything resembling what we would consider a grocery store. Moreover, the typical Bulgarian fridge is no bigger than the fridges usually associated with American dorm rooms. Consequently, for most Bulgarians shopping involves daily walks to a local магазин (shop) for staples such as bread and beer and weekly walks to the local пазар (market) to purchase whatever fruits and vegetables they don’t grow in their gardens at home.

Like most towns, the town I live in has a specific market day. Our market, which consists of a small produce market and what I consider to be a ьоклук (garbage) market, is open every Sunday from approximately 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The available produce, most of which is grown locally, changes with the season. Early in the summer, nearly every vendor is selling strawberries and raspberries. As summer gives way to fall, these same vendors are selling pumpkins and eggplant. It’s not a particularly interesting market, nor is it anything special, but it is a decent place to buy fruits and veggies and get at least a glimpse into traditional Bulgarian life.

A couple shots of the produce market.

люти чушки





The "ьоклук" market.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The First Day of School

Today was the first day of school. In Bulgaria that means something very different than what it means back home. At our school, here’s what happened on the first day. At nine this morning, all the students and teachers gathered in front of the school. The Bulgarian flag was then raised while the national anthem blared. Then the school principal and deputy mayor gave short speeches, after which the principal rang a large bell. The students entered the school for a few minutes and then dispersed and either hung around school listening to Bulgarian music or went home (or went to the café or various and sundry other places). The teachers left school shortly thereafter before reconvening at a local restaurant for lunch. And that was it. So went my first official day as a teacher.

It’s sometimes difficult trying to explain differences between how Bulgarians think and how Americans think, but yesterday I heard a joke that sums up at least some of them. In preparation for the first day of school and the upcoming school year, all of the teachers met. At times, the discussion got rather heated. On one such occasion, after restoring some calm, the principal told the following joke: “Three men – an American, a Frenchman, and Bulgarian – came upon a bridge. The American marveled at the bridge’s technological design and wondered how long it had taken to design and build the bridge, what it cost, and how much manpower it required. The Frenchman then admired the bridge for its artistic qualities. After listening to the other two, the Bulgarian said, ‘It would only take five sticks of dynamite to blow up this bridge.’” Three months ago, I would have politely smiled and perhaps chuckled upon hearing this joke. But when I heard it yesterday, I heartily laughed.

The opening ceremony marking the first day of school.

The back side of the school.

A couple pictures of the schoolyard and the school.

One of the school's mascots. This pair of storks nests annually on the school roof. They, and their offspring, have departed for their wintering grounds leaving the other unofficial mascot by himself (look closely two photos back...).

Велико Търново (Veliko Turnovo)

Last week, I attended a project design and management conference in Велико Търново (in English sometimes spelled Veliko Turnovo and sometimes spelled Veliko Tarnovo). Steeped in history and boasting a picturesque hillside setting, Veliko Turnovo is an extremely popular tourist destination. Hoping to explore the city before the conference, we arrived early in the afternoon the day before. Unfortunately, steady rains prevented us from doing anything other than driving around a bit, and a full schedule during the conference left no time on those days either. Then, on the last day of the conference, I got hit with a wicked case of either food poisoning or the flu (I wasn't alone in my misery, as perhaps half the people who were in attendance at the conference also spent time hugging porcelain). In any event, I was unable to properly explore what on the surface appeared to be one of Bulgaria’s most interesting, pleasant, and eye-catching cities. On the bright side, it gives me an excuse to return.

A few shots of the city.

This is Anesid Monument, featuring a huge sword surrounded by four Bulgarian tsars. Even if you aren't interested in Bulgarian history, it's a good spot from which to view the city.