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

Photo journal: Our Long March Through Bulgaria

You never take the trip you planned. And it’s only afterwards that the really important moments stand out.

That’s my takeaway from a recent family road trip around Bulgaria. We left on Thursday from Sofia and hit Belogradchik (famous rocks,) Vidin (famous river,) Ruse (gorgeous city on famous river,) Veliko Tarnovo (favorite town in mountains) and back to Sofia by Sunday. Google Maps calls it 873 kilometers, but I think we can safely push that up to 1,000 or so. There were a few wrong turns up there by the Danube.

Belogradchik stood out for its elderly people, in a good way. First we saw this charming trio out for a morning stroll in the town square. I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to chat with them; I suspect they’ve seen quite a lot of history pass through their mountain town. Continue reading

The Ghost Pumpkins of Bulgaria

I can always tell when the seasons are changing in our Sofia neighborhood.

In summer it’s all about watermelons. From the moment the weather turns hot, a vendor sets out huge, green pyramids fresh from Bulgaria’s fields. To seal the deal he cuts a few in half, displaying their cool red innards, as if to remind the tough or forgetful customer what’s inside.

Then, one magical day in autumn when the breeze runs cool, all is transformed. Gone are green melons, replaced by – can it be? – white pumpkins. Continue reading