The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bulgaria: First Impressions

Bulgaria: A Time Capsule:
Bulgaria is a very curious country, and leaving the capital, Sofia for my next destination I felt a bit like I just left an experiment in a time travel capsule:

Land of Cross Roads and Contrasts:
Bulgaria’s geographic location has always been one to desire and as a result, newly discovered and escavated, well preserved architecture of the Roman Empire rubs elbows with Communist cement blocks and modern homes. Mosques, stand next to, or in some cases, on top of orthodox Russian churches. "Klek" (knee) shops, a remnant of a socialist era where the shopping outlet is at knee level are nestled between trendy restaurants and coffee shops.

It is poor in many places, but not like what I experienced in Nicaragua or parts of the Caribbean or Venezuela.
It is beyond rich in ancient history, with documented history dating back to the Stone Age, but not like the crowded and overtraveled Rome.
It has strong culture but it's genuine and immersive versus popularized to be more palatable to the outsider.
The food is organic, not to be trendy or healthy but because they know no alternative.
BMWs and Mercedes mingle easily with horse carts and vintage Ladas; sometimes with a goat in the backseat. No matter the wheels or the company they keep, most drivers are holding on to a cellphone and a cigarette.

Deserted Villages and Towns:
As you drive through the countryside, it's impossible to not notice the many deserted villages, the empty school, and houses with overgrown gardens and caved in roofs. People here began migrating, first to the cities during the years of communism: 1946-1989, then with Bulgaria joining the EU in 2007, to other countries in hope of better opportunities and lives.

However, the tide is turning, and several villages are now experiencing a rebirth, as younger people re-evaluate their lives and values and return to, and resettle in their home town.

The People:
Bulgarians are friendly but generally don't smile until the end of a conversation. They are funny - a slapstick kind of funny. And they are, for the most part, helpful to those who don't speak their very unique language- just remember to not be deterred by point number one above.

There are still smokers live in Bulgaria.
Lots of them, and they have converted seasonal outdoor caf├ęs to year round smoking sections under the logic that they are outdoors.

Then there are the Romas: a complex topic to say the least, and I claim to be no expert but this is what I learned so far: The Romas are a nomadic tribe with their own language and customs, yet within the borders of Bulgaria they are considered Bulgarian, effectively living an in-between existence of being a part of society and being nomads, which has led to ripe conflicts not only in Bulgaria but all over Europe. Modern times have forced them to adjust, and as an example, today, some 70,000 Romas have settled outside of Sofia, living in terrible conditions.

Bulgarians like to eat, and I don't blame them: The food here is characterized by the freshness of the ingredients, first and foremost: everything is fresh, with nothing - in the true sense of the world - is added for texture, color, taste or otherwise twisted ways of making foods more “attractive” for human consumption. The result? Flavors like no others: roasted cashew nuts where you taste the smoky, salty flavor without there being any added salt; melon gelato that tastes like fresh, organic melon. Only better. Desserts that don't taste like chemicals, and shockingly (or maybe not) don't have a habit of glueing themselves to your waste line if you as much as look at them…
Fresh, delicious yoghurt, gelato and cheese is everywhere, and seemingly in a mocking way, to point out the obvious, cheese is called processed if it's anything but fresh cheese.

As the icing on the cake, Bulgaria is an incredibly economical destination, so splurging on delicacies and a five star hotel is totally possible, without putting as much as a pimple sized mark in your wallet.

Looking ahead:
Without a doubt, over the coming years, private and public investments in tourism will continue to grow - beyond the Black Sea, currently popular with the European drinking crowd:
Plovdiv, the 8th oldest city in the world is the 2019 European Capital of Culture; a new north-south highway currently under construction will expediate road travel to more remote parts of the country; and with more visitors and an increasingly strong global connection- Bulgaria will be the new European Destination within five years.

In closing, my final reflection:

if you seek the Real and Raw, and the road less travelled, go now. Or if that is beyond your comfort zone, wait for the new highway to be built.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spring is here: A little bird told me.

North of Boston, April 16, 2017

Around here we all expect several more weeks of unpredictable weather, and know that a hot day with temperatures in the 80s, like today is but an utter fluke and a tease for the warmer weather we so long for after several months of winter.

Brave flowers have stuck their colorful noses out but may be covered in frost tomorrow.

We have broken in to the summer clothes but won't yet pack away the winter coats, and the snow shovels may best be left out handy for another day or two.

But today I saw the first swallow of the season fight her way into the stiff breeze of Marblehead harbor, a sure symbol of spring.

The swallow is said to represent love, care and affection toward friends and family, and to carry a drowned sailor's soul to heaven. They also symbolize freedom and hope so I'm putting that shovel away tonight.

Friday, March 24, 2017