Sunday, January 30, 2011

Busy Busy Times

As we round the corner to February, 2011 has proven to be a busy busy year so far!  All of our Christmas gifts finally arrived last week so we are finally caught up on the mailing back log from December!  It seems we haven't had much time to relax and life has been full, which is wonderful.

I have been busy doing some part time work for a company in washington.  I think that may be coming to an end, but my fingers are crossed that I'll be able to do some more work for them.  It's such a great set up for both parties, I think.  Plus, it feels nice to contribute some money to the family pot :) 

I have also FINALLY started Bulgarian language classes.  It's an 8 week course that meets 3 times a week for 2 hours at a time.  There are 5 of us in the class and I am actually really enjoying the class, the teacher and the students.  It's a great way to meet some folks that I may not have known too well before.  The bad part is, since it's a course at the embassy a lot of the things that we practice have to do with world affairs, geography, etc.  I have had some pretty amazing moments in class for example, we were sounding out words (in Bulgarian of course) and then we had to say what country or continent they were on.  My word was Tokoyo...after I sounded out the word I  confidently say "oh, it's in China!!"  The whole room just looked at my blankly.  I was relaying this story to a friend of mine and her 9 year old said "no Mandy, Tokoyo is in Japan and Bejing is in China!"  Thanks for that...sounds like a need a little refresh in geography and need to start reading the news more often as well. ha.

I've also been busy knitting away.  One of the women in our knit group had a fabulous idea to knit Chemo Caps for the kids at the hospital.  She has been in touch with the doctros and psychiatrist for the child cancer patients and they are SO very happy that we are doing this.  The kids have no hats at all right now so they are very excited.  There are about 25 kids who are either in the hospital or receiving cancer treatments at the hospital and our goal is to make one for each of them in time for Valentine's Day. Of course I'm like the worst knitter ever and our knitting "teacher" has to constantly do surgery on my hat.  I THINK I am finally finished with my first hat...most of the people in the group are on their 3rd hat.  sweet. 

I've continued to do fundraising for the children of a local soup kitchen as well.  Fundraising sure can be exhausting!!  A couple weeks ago we had a "Chili cook-off lunch" to raise money for the kids and this past friday we had a bake sale too.  Would you know that at the bake sale (which was MUCH MUCH easier than organizing the chili cook off) we made 1.5 times what we made at chili lunch.  I'm new to this whole bake sale thing, but evidently that's where the fundraising money is at!!  The best part is, we now have all the money we need to provide food to about 20 kids that frequent this soup kitchen for the months of February and March.  We'll start our grocery shopping this week and I am so so happy that we are going to be able to help in providing these less than fortunate kids with some warm meals this winter. 

We've been a little cultural the past couple weekends and we took a trip to Plovdiv which is a nearby city with Roman ruins.  It's a great town (some might even say, much nicer than Sofia) and we enjoyed our over night stay there.  Yesterday we headed in the opposite direction to another near by town for a Mummers/Kukeri Festival and we found that a bit interesting.  There is currently a flu epidemic in, so bad that the bulgarian schools have closed for a week and a half because so many people are sick.  I am hyper sensitive to this because we have a BIG trip planned for next weekend and I would be devestated if I was too sick to go.  The group of people at this festival just kinda freaked me out since I'm apparently a germ-o-phobe lately. But it was still cool to see. 

Ok, onto some photos...

First some photos of the kids from the local soup kitchen.  These precious children are really in dire staits.  Most of them come from single, unemployed, disabled mothers.  By the looks of things we aren't even sure if they have running water in their homes. 

Some photos from our trip to Plovidiv.  There are some ancient roman ruins as well as some really neat Revival Period architecture.  Definitely NOT your typical Bulgaria :)
The cute hotel cat, basking in the sun.  Oddly enough we did not see many stray dogs at all and instead saw a bunch of stray kittys.

Our cute little hotel

Pretty sure these are ancient roman columns, with spray paint all over them...

Since it looks like we will be in this region for several more years, we have decided that it may be an OK idea to buy a car for me (I have been practicing my stick shift skills lately too!)  and this is the kind of car Matt wants me to get SO badly.  It's a russian SUV type thingy and this one happend to be for sale.  ha! Can you imagine?  I cannot!!

This little old lady convinced us to buy a painting from that we weren't even that interested in.  But we both have a hard time saying no and I got suckered in.  She hugged and kissed us after we bought it.  Of course we walked about 100 feet in the opposite direction and found better paintings that were cheaper....

She gave us friendship bracelets too.  Matt's was literally an old shoe string and mine was so tight that it was cutting off my circulation.  Matt had to saw it off with his keys. 

And lastly, the Kukeri in Pernik yesterday.  This is a traditional Bulgarian festival held each year to ward off evil spirits as well as to provide a good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.  The costumes are quite crazy and most of them have really loud bells wrapped around their waste.  It was freeeezing!  I think it was about 25 degrees!!  My toes hurt they were so cold by the end!

You can seriously but undies EVERYWHERE in festivals, farmers markets, bazaars, anywhere...

And don't forget your 1982 ski suit!!  I hear that you see a lot of this at ski resorts here as well.  Love it!
As always, sorry for the mega post.  Next weekend we are headed here:

I am so beyond excited and I just hope that the weather holds up and we don't come down with any illnesses until we are able to go and get back.  Expect LOTS and LOTS of pictures to come!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year from Sofia!  Hope everyone had a nice time over the holidays.  Too bad the Hokies didn't finish up the holiday season with a win for us.  Oh well, maybe next year darnit!

We had an eventful holiday season the ended with a trip to the Bulgarian Spa last week and then New Years was spent at a friends house.  I figured after Christmas Eve that New Years would be "low key"...NOPE!  We got home at 4am that night too!!  We are party animals...well, more like my husband is a party animal! This pup had too many 2 liters of Bulgarian beer it looks like...

It was great to get out of the city for a couple days at the spa, I loved driving to a different part of the country.  I thought the villages would be a little nicer than Sofia and it turns out they are actually in worse shape.  And they have soviet bloc apartments in these small little towns which totally surprised me.  I figured that was just a "city" thing.  I took a ton of pictures on our drive that I'll share shortly.  Also, another thing that surprised me on our road trip were all of the Sheperd's we saw with their flocks.  It was crazy.  I was hoping to see one in a long gown, but they were just in regular clothes.  One time a flock and Sheperd were crossing the road just as were were pulling up.  I couldn't get my camera out in time though. 

The spa was OK.  I didn't get a massage or anything because I was a little afraid..not sure why?  Maybe because of the language barrier.  We went into the indoor mineral pool, hit the jacuzzi, steamroom and saunce and even tried out the Turkish Bath.  Matt and I forgot our flip flops so we still aren't sure how we didn't manage to get Athlete's foot all over our bodies.  But hey, I'm not complaining!

We had an apartment for 2 nights at the spa, which was very nice and brand new.  Even smelled like new carpet.  The bathrooms were all set up to have mineral waters in the tub, shower, etc.

Above is a view of the little village that our hotel was in.  There was literally nothing in this village...I'm not sure if there was even a restaurant or bar.  It was teeny.

One day we took a drive through the countryside to a nearby village where there was a trout farm.  I wasn't pumped about having trout for breakfast/lunch but it was amazzzzing.  It was fresh trout cooked in this tile things with cheese and onions and this delicious sauce.  We got the name of the place and figure if any of you come visit us and we find ourselves out that way, we'll take you there.  It's definitely interesting.

BTW- if you notice Matt and I making funny faces in our pictures it's because 1) we take A LOT of pics of one another during our travels and it gets boring and 2) we call this face the "bulgarian."  All of the younger bulgarian women are really into their appearance and they are teeny tiny and wear 4 inch heals everywhere.  This is how a lot of them smile.  :)

Below are some photos of the country side during our drive.  We went through some really cool/scary mountain ranges.  Not sure if I totally trust the roads in the mountains here oh and there really are rocks falling here.  We saw a bunch a big rocks that had fallen during our drive.

New Year's here was crazy.  The entire city sky was lit up with BIG fireworks.  They literally went off for hours.  The continued to go off for the entire weekend.  It felt like we were under siege!  Crazy!  I guess there are no rules on fireworks here...which isn't surprising of course....I wasn't able to capture any of the fireworks though.  What I did capture (albeit not very well) was my adventurous husband doing a little late night sledding.  If you look realllll close you might be able to see him in action. When in Bulgaria-right?  Thankfully no limbs were broken and we didn't have to brave the bulgarian ER at 2am because let me tell you folks, that place is SCARY in broad daylight.  Hope i never have to go back there again!

In coming blogs I need to touch on stray dogs, soup kitchen, hookers and our new hobbies so don't let me forget!!

Happy New Year Ya'll!  Hope 2011 is your best year yet!!!