Friday, March 9, 2012

Bulgaria and Back: Welcome to March

    Happy March!

    Spring has sprung in Munich--not officially, or not even really weather-wise, but in everyone's mind, at least! Boots are becoming a thing of the past, the snow is all melted, birds chirp frenetically all day, and clothing is tending more towards shorts and dresses and skirts with nylons underneath (even with the shorts. Weird). Alas, it's not happening nearly fast enough. Last weekend, the weather was sunny and beautiful and in the low 50s (or so I was told, as I was gallivanting throughout Bulgaria), and with that report, my Cali brain embraced the idea, tripled it, and anticipated coming back to blooming flowers and tanning weather. I am ready to ditch this coat. But the arrival of spring is a slow process. Though at least the days are longer, the forecast for the next few days ranges mainly between mid-20s and low 40s. With rain. Spring, where are you!?!??!

     Anyway, if you caught the brief reference above, I'm fresh off a five-day trip to Sofia to welcome Nate back from his month-long grad school audition tour in the states. Apply to him for details: I'll spare you anymore about that except you should all be glad it was him and not you!  It was a lovely trip, with pretty kind weather, and coincided nicely with some Bulgarian cultural events:
  • the tradition of Баба Марта (Baba Marta (Grandmother March)) and wearing мартеница (martenitsa). Ultimately a welcoming-spring tradition, martenitsi are red and white yarn ornaments worn around the wrist or pinned on a jacket, bringing the wearer good luck and health, and as an offering to Grandmother March to make the spring come quickly. The bracelets/ornaments are worn until the wearer sees the first stork or budding tree, and are then removed and hung on the tree. Though many Bulgarians end up with dozens, I only got one. Sad. 
  • March 3 was the Bulgarian holiday of Liberation Day, basically their version of the fourth of July. It's the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, freeing Bulgaria from nearly 500 years of Ottoman rule. A much more solemn holiday than ours (the history being a lot more recent, for one thing), there was not much observable celebration, but the advantage of being in the country's capital is seeing the main event: a parade with the Bulgarian armed forces, a speech by the new president, and fireworks and machine gun shooting, all in front of the Parliament building (a mere ten-minute's walk from Nate's apartment, I might add).
Some other general frivolity included a trip to The Mall (yes, capitalized. It's a big freaking deal), a walk around the National Palace of Culture (НДК, pronounced In-dih-kah, which led me to believe for longer than I care to admit that the neighborhood was called Indica. Not unreasonable, as there is a Serdica. I learned.), an unexpected visit to a chunk of the Berlin Wall, a walk through some Roman ruins, a trip to the hot springs, and of course some delicious local and international food (INDIAN. And DÖNER. YUM.) I also learned how to read Cyrillic! Nate got tired of my utter ignorance (as did I), so we spent an afternoon in McDonald's learning how to read the menu, with the help of Nate's very patient Bulgarian friend, Irina. 

     All-in-all, a thoroughly wonderful five days. Worked out conveniently with my family in that Anne's parents were planning a trip over anyway, and they graciously waited for me to figure out my schedule to decide when to come. And as always, a heartfelt thank-you to my handsome and knowledgeable host, Nate. 

Soldiers marching in the parade
Official colorguard

Parliament building. Note the sniper just to the right of the nearest corner! Nate was worried when I dared to take a photo of him. He didn't shoot me though. I am sneaky.
Center of the proceedings, with troops and giant lit torch. Would have been a better photo were we not behind many people and Nate only got this picture by holding the camera waaaay up high.
Fireworks! Happy Liberation Day, Bulgaria!
Oh hey, Berlin Wall, didn't see you there.
"On 13 August 1961 a wall divided Berlin, Germany, and with it Europe and the world in two. Bulgaria stayed locked east of the wall - and this until 9 November 1989, when the people overturned it. This broken piece of the Berlin Wall is a present from the people of Berlin for the citizens of Sofia - as a symbol of the reunification of Europe and proof that Bulgaria will be from now on free."
Mt. Vitosha in the background of the National Palace of Culture
National Palace of Culture (НДК) 
Skeptical Nate, probably making fun of me for being such a tourist
Crumbling monument to the greatness of Communism
Alexander Nevski Cathedral
Ruined Roman amphitheater in the lobby of a hotel. NBD.
Just hanging out in said amphitheater. I may have smuggled a chip of it home with me. Don't tell.

     Anyway, all romantic foreign vacation weekend must come to an end, and this one did as well. The only pleasant thing about my trip home was a fun moment at an airport cafe in Vienna where a waiter actually apologized for speaking to me in English--I love being mistaken for a native German. Europe: 0, Laura: 1. 

     As sad as it always is to leave Nate and come back to the grind, it is pleasant to be greeted by these cuties upon my return:

     Spending the time in Sofia planning trips and visits and summer adventures made me feel like it is all a lot closer than it is: alas and alack, it's still the beginning of March. Crap. The monotony of the week and the realization that there's really nothing of excitement to look forward to for another month, at least, got me down for a couple of days. But I've rallied. Fear not!

     The one nice day this week gave us a chance to go to one of the nearby parks and do some bike riding. Cliona has graduated to a big-girl bike (albeit with training wheels, or stabilisers, as my family calls them), and she needs all the practice she can get. Though I feel like she's incredibly young to learn to ride a real bike, Kilian did it at the same age and he's a far better biker than I am at the age of six, so apparently it worked. Our biking went...well, okay. Cliona is a shrimpy little thing and pedaling is far more difficult for her than I think she'd ever imagined it could be. She also can't steer. I know it's awful, but I can't help but chuckle a little (read: bend in two laughing uproariously) as she pedals at the sedate speed of a racing snail straight into the grass/fence/soccer goal, screaming all the way. 

     Kilian and I had a talk the other day wherein he actually realized I was ultimately a kid, like him, really far away from home. He knows my parents exist because we've Skyped with my mom several times, but he hasn't really conceptualized that they live over there and I don't see them. Our conversation went something like "Laura, why do you never see your parents? Don't you miss them?" 
"Yes, Kilian, I do."
"Why don't you go to see them?" 
"Because they live very far away." 
"Couldn't you take an airplane?" 
"Well, I could, but it costs a lot of money and then I wouldn't be here to take care of you." 
"Oh...but don't you miss them?"
An interesting moment. Kilian's a very bright kid, and I very much enjoy talking with him (though I did just struggle through twenty minutes of him sobbing in bed because he didn't want to go to his swim lesson tomorrow..."I hate swimming!" "Why?" "Because I hate it!")

   A couple of weeks ago my buddy Leigh was staying with her host family down in Neuhaus, about an hour south of Munich, and an unexpected day off gave me the chance to schlepp down via the BOB (Bayrische Oberlandbahn) to see some real snow. 'Twas a pleasantly relaxing day of taking a couple of her kids sledding and getting dinner at a cosy little Bavarian restaurant. I love days off! 


    Other recent adventures include a visit to Toytown last night. We successfully managed to swing the online vote to have it at one of my favorite bars, Beach 38. It's full of sand and boardwalk and beach chairs and is a happy, happy place.

Leigh, Leah, Lauren, Laura. We confuse people a lot.
Foamiest beer ever

    A couple weeks ago was a trip to a new Irish pub in town, Kennedy's, for a friend's birthday celebration! In case you were wondering, you can indeed get an Irish car bomb at an Irish pub. Though they laugh at you.

    I started a new language course yesterday. This one is located a convenient fifteen minutes' walk from my house, so it's rather more practical than the last. It's also quite small: seven people, I do believe. I'm again the only American; the others hail from France, Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, and China. I'm definitely out of practice in the format of a class (my last one ended over three months ago), but it's nice to be back in some organized learning again. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

    That's about it as far as personal news. If you weren't aware, Germany recently got a new president, Joachim Gauck. Research that if you feel it's necessary. I just looked up and saw a truly massive spider on my wall. Oh shit. It just fell and is now probably in my laundry.

    Yes. Yes it was in my laundry. That was a harrowing experience. There aren't poisonous spiders in Germany, but one roughly the size of my hand (okay, a little smaller, but still) is still going to make me shriek a little. It's running around outside now. Say a little prayer to the spider gods that it didn't leave any offspring in with me! 

    I was going to try and think of more, but I'm too shook up over that spider experience. Eek! More to come soon, I hope! And happy International Women's Day! 



  1. Loved it. Read the whole thing and chuckled my way through. Miss you...come visit!!! I could use the company :)

    1. Another sweet and informative blog. It's such a pleasure reading your stories! I loved the poignant conversation with Kilian about your parents, and I'm sorry he is not enjoying swimming lessons and hope those improve soon! It's kind of sad to think that you've had this close and loving time with them, and that it will all come to an end and they won't see you again. Love you lots Miss Lou!

  2. this is awesome, your mom is lucky, my poor family is very very thankful for you.

  3. True story!! ;) Love your blog and can't wait to meet you! Soon!!