Monday, June 27, 2011

Ciao Bulgaria

The time has come. Ten months have gone by. Some of these months were super exciting. Some of them were pretty boring. I have learned a lot, but am definitely ready to move on. We met some really cool friends, but, with the help of technology and cheaper and cheaper airline flights, this won't be the end. I hope all of them can visit us in Korea and, if not, I'm sure we'll see each other stateside.
One of the most important things that happened while in Bulgaria was my disillusionment with politics. I always looked at politicians skeptically, but felt that there were some white knights out there who actually were out there to act as the voice of people. Living in Bulgaria, it is quite easy to see the motivation of politicians: money, power and influence. This insight helped me look at US politics with a more discerning eye. Although Bulgaria is not as democratized as the US, I would not say the US is a shining example of political enlightenment. I don't even know what that would look like.
This has helped shape my next steps. I was originally planning on getting my Masters degree in public policy, but I think it will more likely be in International Development or Economics. Diplomacy has lost its appeal for me. For now, I'm going to go back to Korea, teach English, and try to become fluent in Korean. I don't know how many years that will take!
From June 29th to July 28th, BH and I, along with our friend Katy, will be traveling from Venice down the Aegean Coast through northern Greece and making our way to Istanbul. It should be pretty epic, and I'll try to post some pictures and thoughts while we are traveling.
Чао България!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gay Pride Sofia

Gay pride Sofia was bigger than I expected. It was BH's second pride and my third. I went to MN pride back in 2009, which was huge and a blast, and then BH and I went to Seoul pride in 2010. While I was just an observer in Minnesota, in Bulgaria the parade is more of a demonstration march. We met up at Lover's Bridge (an apt place to start a pride parade) and marched through downtown Sofia ending up near Sofia University.
GLBT rights in Bulgaria are comparable to Korea. That's not a good thing. Gay sex is legal here, but public displays of affection are dangerous and the status of GLBT individuals is nowhere near the level in Western Europe. There are some public gay figures in Bulgaria, but I can think of only one at the moment. Azis is a Bulgarian chalga singer and 'married' to his partner. His music videos are ridiculous, and very homoerotic, and Perez Hilton has a crush on him:
Perez's links to Azis
Unfortunately, we did not meet up with Azis during the parade. There were a couple of politicians at the parade and one of the UN Human Rights Commissioners. A group of us got together and joined the parade. The weather was great, the atmosphere was lovely, and there was loud music playing the entire time. People on the street stared, some waved, and some looked openly disgusted. The only negative of the parade happened at 8pm. Apparently, as the crowd was dissipating, some 'hooligans' attacked a five of the marchers. Nobody was seriously injured, but it definitely reflects the homophobic and conservative elements of Bulgarian society. These attacks were not considered hate crimes because, under Bulgarian law, sexual minorities are not given equal protection as other minorities. Thank God none of us were hurt.

Hillary with our watermelon + mastika

That's pride!

Sophia with our new friend Whitney and a GLBT activist that lives in Greece

Love how they painted this monument

Playing flip-cup back at the apartment with our new friends

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Back to Sofia

BH and I had originally wanted to also see Varna, but after six days on the beach we were a little broke and pretty tired.
Goodbye Lozana!
 So we headed back to Burgas and bought our tickets to get back to Sofia (18 leva).
For lunch, we ended up in this Turkish restaurant. I think it was called Nan. They had delicious fresh-baked bread and Turkish pizza (lachmacun).

Yum... where can I find this in Sofia for just two leva? 
The train ride back to Sofia was slow and, of course, delayed. However, it did take us through some beautiful mountains. You gotta take the good with the bad, huh?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sunny Beach

Our last full day on the Black Sea was spent on the most popular beach on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Sunny Beach (Слънче бряг) is about a mile north of Nesebar. Even though Nesebar is the UNESCO Site, all of the signs lead you to Sunny Beach.
We are lucky we came here in June. Although the weather wasn’t the best, we were still able to swim and lay out in the sun. The beach wasn’t too crowded, but there were still plenty of people enjoying the sun. 
BH on the beach with an old scary man walking toward him
Afterward, we went to the center and just wandered around. This is the first place I’ve been in Bulgaria that really doesn’t feel anything like Bulgaria. The crowd was very mixed, and there were definitely a lot more foreigners than Bulgarians. Also, there were so many nice looking hotels and they were all new. 
Burger King, Chinese restaurants, o my goodness
 This is where all of Bulgaria’s money is! Sunny Beach also had a lot of international restaurants. Not only did it have the ubiquitous Chinese restaurants found in most Bulgarian cities, it also had Mexican, Italian, Indian, and British restaurants. Crazy! People were inviting us into their stores and restaurants in the same way that they do it in Istanbul. There were also English-speaking foreigners working as club and restaurant promoters.
All of this development also meant more expensive price tags. BH and I didn’t really feel like spending 20 leva on a meal, so we headed back to Aheloy, ate some mackerel, and then went back to our little UFOs on the beach where we met a very interesting guy named Ivan (typical Bulgarian name). He worked as a priest back in Sofia, and was on vacation with his daughter. We chatted away and he invited me to go fishing with him the next day. He was drinking wine, and before I knew it he was really drunk. At about midnight, he wanted to head out to the clubs, but BH and I declined. It was a Monday night! Orthodox priests can have so much fun; they can get married and drink. Hilarious. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Heading North to Aheloy and Nesebar

Sunday morning was a slow start. We checked out, got some pizza (we’ve been eating a lot of pizza on the Black Sea) and then took a bus to Burgas. Once we got there, we changed to a different bus to go up north near Nesebar. If you are ever traveling in southern Bulgaria on the Black Sea, use the buses. They are cheap, run pretty often, and stop where you need to stop! We got to Aheloy and went to Complex Lozena: Camping Aheloy. I would definitely recommend this camp spot. It is right on the water and they have these sweet bungalows. For ten leva a person, you can stay in these pods that come in all sorts of colors and fall asleep to the sound of the Black Sea. Чудесно.
Sleeping in UFOs

We spent the evening in the old city of Nesebar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built on a peninsula in the Black Sea, Nesebar has been inhabited since antiquity. At the entrance to Nesebar, you see this giant windmill:
Nesebar is known for the 19th century wooden houses as well as the large number of churches built under the Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman rule. Nowadays, it is a little overrun with tourists, but it was great to just walk around the small streets and people watch. 
Church of Christ Pantocator

Detail of one of the churches
Wooden houses of Nesebar

For dinner, we had beer and цаца (tsatsa), which in English maybe translates to skad. We also had something that they translated into English as wolfish. This is what Wikipedia says a wolfish is:

And this is what we ate:
Less scary
So I’m not sure what we actually ate, but it was fine. The цаца were particularly delicious. After dinner, we headed back to our Bungalows and spent a nice night in comfortable beds.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Back to Sozopol

BH and I originally planned to visit Sozopol on Thursday because the Deaf festival was in Primorsko. It turns out, however, that people are just staying in Primorsko, but the festivities were in Sozopol. Our friends drove us to Sozopol and we spent a couple of hours watching different performances.
One of the groups, I think from Serbia, did some sort of play about a woman that was stolen by an Arab. Her husband then goes off to find her. Maybe it was an important story for the actors, but it was not only boring, it also was verging on racism. 
Saving the girl from the Arab

Now she needs to become a nun? WTF
A lot of people translated songs. These were usually really boring­—not just for me, but for the Deaf people as well. In order to be interesting, you have to put some of yourself into the song. Or interpret it in an interesting way. That's why I like this guy: 
My favorite performance was by the Macedonian actors. Their play was about a group of Deaf people who go to a café and throughout the skit all of the actors would freeze save one, who would then talk about her dreams.

Our friend Radmila acting as a model
 The rest of the evening was spent at the hotel; we danced Bulgarian folk dances, drank Bulgarian beer, and swam in the hotel's swimming pool.
The Macedonians all went for a swim so we joined them!

Finishing the night at Tekila Club

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deaf Festival Primorsko

Every other year they have a deaf festival in Primorsko, which is about 20 kilometers south of Sozopol. Without a car, we had some trouble getting there. Apparently, there aren’t any buses from Sozopol to Primorsko until July. What should have taken us twenty minutes ended up taking longer than an hour. We first had to take the bus back to Burgas and then switch to a маршутка (mini-bus). The drive was quite pleasant though. I expected us to stay along the coast, but we went through the countryside. In one of the smaller villages, every telephone pole had a crane nest. Beautiful. 

When we got to Primorsko, our friends hadn’t arrived yet so we went to the southern beach and tanned for a while. The beach wasn’t very crowded, and I would assume most of the people on the beach were Bulgarian. Near the entrance of the beach two women were tanning topless. This wouldn’t normally surprise me, but these women must have been chalga singers. They were very young, very thin, and had gigantic breasts. Plastic surgery sized breasts. Nearby, two very old men were staring at the young women. Not obviously, but not hiding it either.
I think they look so Bulgarian
 Clouds came in and we decided to find a campsite or a hotel. We were just wandering around when we ran into a group of deaf people. They brought us to a big hotel that had rooms for just ten leva per person per night. That was about the same price as our camping. After sleeping for two days on the hard ground, getting into a hotel bed with clean sheets was fantastic. I can imagine that the hotels have to compete a lot for guests. Practically every building in Primorsko was a hotel, and the few houses also had rooms for let. It was not a pretty city. 
View from the hotel
 Later in the evening, we met up with our Bulgarian friends. A couple of our friends from Macedonia was also there, which was fantastic. We went to a bar, had some margaritas, and chatted for hours. There were so many Deaf people in Primorsko! I had never seen anything like it before; you’d walk ten paces and there’d be another group of people signing. We hardly ever run into Deaf people in Sofia, so it was great to meet some other Deaf Bulgarians.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Sozopol! What a charming little town. I had come here before back in 2008 after a language seminar in Veliko Turnovo. This time, however, BH and I were keen to explore the old town, which I had neglected the first time around.
Sozopol is one of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria and was originally inhabited by the ancient Thracians. It has since then been ruled by the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire and was given to the Bulgarians in the 19th century. After the first Balkan War, almost all of the Greeks were exchanged with Bulgarians that had been living in Eastern Thrace.

After our tour of the old town, we went down to the beach for some sun. I’ve been trying to teach BH how to be a good swimmer, so we practiced treading water and the elementary backstroke. All was great until a huge sand cloud blew from the trees at the edge of the beach; within minutes, all of the people on the beach ran to the safety of their hotels. There wasn’t a huge storm, but the wind was super strong- look what it did to our tent!

For dinner, we bought some canned tuna, bread, and processed cheese. It doesn’t sound the best, but after our hours of traipsing through Sozopol and swimming at our campsite, it was a delicious and filling meal.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Къмпинг Градина

Wednesday morning BH and I headed out to the Black Sea for a weeklong vacation. There are a handful of trains from Sofia to Burgas everyday, so we took the train at 10:30 and got into Burgas around six. The train was supposed to arrive at 4:30, but this is Bulgaria. One of the most important travel words in Bulgarian is закъснение (delay). How can Bulgaria get away with their trains always being late?
We had originally planned to look around Burgas before heading on to a coastal town, but the sun was on its decline. There are tons of buses running from Burgas to Chernomorets/Sozopol; we grabbed one, paid three leva, and got stuck in traffic. For an hour. It was only a twenty-kilometer trip, but it ended up taking an hour and half.
Once we got to Chernomorets we walked some three kilometers downhill to our campsite. This was our first time camping in Bulgaria, but it was pretty ideal. We were just meters from the beach and since we are traveling in June, it was not overcrowded. Our Wal-Mart tent is decent, though a bit small, and will hopefully stay together for the entire summer. 

BH with Бургаско- the Burgas Beer

Camping Gradina is apparently one of the more famous campsites. I found it on this blog-
Balkan Travellers
While settling in to our tent with the sounds of waves breaking on the shore I can see why this campsite is popular. What a great getaway from Sofia!