Feeling small in Plovdiv

I find myself somewhat settled in a new country. We’ve been in Bulgaria for just over a month, finding our feet and creating a new life. One American family – a dad, a mom, a kiddo, and two very adaptable cats – transplanted to the edge of the Balkans.

We’ve lived, taught, traveled and written from a good number of places over the last couple of decades. We met and got together in China. We made some good friends in New England and Florida. At night we dream about earlier travels – Prague, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Zambia – and at dawn we try to make sense of it all.

Yesterday we got back from our first Bulgarian vacation, a 36-hour jaunt to the cultural capital and second city of Plovdiv.

Our hotel was regal: a Russian-inspired palace on a hill. For around $100 US we got way more room than we needed: two bedrooms, living room, bathroom with tub, and a killer view. It was placid and yet – once someone’s wedding started in the dining room that evening, and carried on until midnight – quite noisy.

As for the cuisine, this weekend’s menu reminded us of Wisconsin: meat, cheese, cheese on meat, and yes, meaty cheese. Also great pizza. And did I mention the grilled meat?

They say Plovdiv has existed for perhaps 8,000 years. Walk half an hour and see much of it: Thracian ruins from a millennium before Christ; a Roman amphitheater ringed with cafes that charges 3 leva for a peek; modern shopping plazas; Soviet war memorials transformed into skate parks. It makes one feel rather small and occasionally a bit confused.

But confusion can be helpful, the teacher in me says. It forces us to think, chat, learn the language, take more trips, meet smart people.

Some will likely dwell on politics and history, while others — like Svetlio, a new friend at the GGBG shop on Konstantin Stoyanov Street who digs the blues — lean toward the arts, culture, or education. Many will just be trying to survive and improve their lot.

There’s room for everyone here. Please check back frequently, or visit my Twitter page at http://twitter.com/theothereurope, and see what we’re up to.

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