My Bulgarian Spring Break

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It was snowing. We were driving through a blizzard on April Fool’s Day, aiming our Subaru in blind hope towards a beach on the Black Sea: our first spring break since moving from sunny Florida to Bulgaria. My crazy-meter, never designed for such rigors, had long since gone on strike.

The whole enterprise had required a leap of faith. My wife would help run the embassy school, where our nine-year-old daughter would attend the fourth grade. I would transplant my writing from the fertile soil of Tampa to the rocky Balkans.

But just now, our needs were far simpler. Watch out for the pothole, the unexpected horse cart on the highway, the mafia Mercedes speeding from behind with darkened windows.  Find our hotel on the cobbled, one-way streets of Nesebar, a history-laden peninsula on the Black Sea. Locate a restaurant that was open in the off-season.  If ancient Greek mariners could find this port town on the edge of the known world, surely we could track down a bowl of spaghetti. Continue reading

The lawyers are coming, the lawyers are coming!

How many ways are there to entertain a 9-year-old in Europe? Apparently at least two: the American way and the local way. Guess which one requires more legal waivers?

On Sunday my daughter and I decided we needed a swim. And with most outdoor pools already closed for the season here in Sofia, we turned to the Holiday Inn.

To be sure, it’s a swanky setup. There’s a jacuzzi and miles of picture windows and a sauna hot enough to poach an egg. But first we had to sign a pile of documents. Did we examine all the rules? Check. Agree to supervise our children? Of course. Sign away all legal rights forever in the unlikely event that something unfortunate occurs in said pool? Naturally.

Holiday Inn Sofia / motoroads.com

We had a very nice swim. But for the two of us it cost $24 US for a single visit, plus $4 more for an exquisite bottle of Italian water, thank you very much.

On Monday we went to Kokolandia, a ropes course at the southern end of the magnificent Boris’s Garden, Sofia’s forested city park. For $2.75 US  and not a single signature, my daughter hitched into a harness and climbed happily up into the trees. She clambered over obstacles, grunted past obstructions, pleaded once or twice for divine intervention, and flew down a zipwire. “I can’t believe I did it!” she said afterwards. Continue reading

On the museum trail

As any parent of a nine-year-old will tell you, visiting museums while traveling can be a hit-or-miss affair. Sometimes you strike gold with a user-friendly layout, activities for children, and art with a whimsical touch. Sometimes it’s a complete bust.

Over the last month in Bulgaria we’ve been batting around .400 — not bad for a professional baseball player, but a bit tense in the child-rearing game.

Last weekend we visited the glorious State Gallery of Fine Arts in the old town section of Plovdiv. Even at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, it appeared we were the only visitors. But for an admission fee of 3 lev ($2.17US,) an attendant scurried up three flights to turn on all the gallery lights for us.

Truth be told, not all members of our party were in the mood for art. But the spacious, bright layout showed off the museum’s collection of 19th and 20th century Bulgarian paintings and sculpture to full advantage.

We were particularly taken with the folk art of Bulgarian master Zlatyu Boyadjiev, above, whose partial paralysis in 1951 prompted a switch of hands (from right to left) and a new appreciation for village life that recalls Marc Chagall. There’s some magic in the approach of artists like Hristo Hristov (left,) and the historic portraits recalling struggles long overlooked in the West.

That’s the good news. But our visit to the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia earned decidedly mixed reviews from our nine-year-old naturalist in residence. Continue reading