lucky perro

I'm Laura. I live in DC and blog about real dogs, downward dogs, and my latest eats, reads, and adventures.

Month: March, 2013

Souvenirs from Sofia

Since I’m leaving early tomorrow for Cuba, I’ve got to wrap up the Bulgaria posts!  Guided by Nicole and The New York Times, I found some wonderful souvenirs there.

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Bulgaria is one of the largest producers of Rosa Damascena oil, so I picked up some vials of that.  I also bought some delicious Bulgarian wine, including a couple bottles made from the local Mavrud grapes.  The doll and wooden toy I picked up for Jude, the doll from an amazing shop called Le Petit Salon that only carries items made by Bulgarian artisans.  I got a few other great things there that I’ve already given to others.  It was a beautiful shop and the owner was one of those people who can wear long skirts and art-y things and look really great, not just weird.  I wish I knew how to do that…

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The doll came with a card that the owner helpfully translated for me.  It says his name is Filip and he likes to ride his bicycle and eat bread with lutenitsa (a Bulgarian sort of tomato and onion relish).

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I bought this little nightshirt because it was good quality and pretty cheap, and it reminded me of something.  Later I realized it’s like the one Carla Bruni is wearing on the cover of her No Promises album.  I’m pretty sure if I wear it I will look just like Carla Bruni.  That’s how that works, right?

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I also picked up a few things at Shipka, which stocks organic beauty products in a converted butchery.  I was disappointed that they had nothing from Bulgaria, but it was truly one of the most well-designed shops and spaces (business card included) that I had ever seen, anywhere.  I also had a great conversation with the owner about the Environmental Working Group and its Cosmetic Database, and she ended up giving me a deal on the one product I did buy, because I didn’t have small bills.  (On a side note, what is with Europeans not being able to deal with large denominations of cash?!  You might as well be carrying gold bars if you try to pay with a 50 euro note elsewhere, and in Bulgaria people sometimes freaked when I tried to give them a 20 leva note.  I mean, why do they even have these denominations if no one wants them?)  I still had a great time exploring the city looking for these little shops and talking to the owners.

The Wedding

And now for the main event!  The ceremony was set to begin at 12:40 at the Oborishte Ritual Hall.

I spent the morning having coffee and reading, and then got dressed for the wedding.  It was another nice day, and it seemed like every Bulgarian family was out for a stroll.  It was also Bulgaria’s Liberation Day, and a day when big protests  were scheduled (the Bulgarian government had recently fallen), but the protests were pretty tame.  Fortunately the Ritual Hall was within walking distance, so road closures didn’t affect me, and I recorded on my way to the ceremony.

Nicole said that the hall is a Communist relic used for civil ceremonies, whose name translates to something like, “Hall for the Celebration of Joyous Rituals.”  Here is the exterior.  photo

First I walked right past it.  I guess I was expecting something that looked a little more…I don’t know…celebratory?  Then I saw a different wedding party leaving and asked a man carrying flowers if I was in the right place.  Turns out he was going to Nicole and Nikola’s wedding as well–Bulgarians have a nice custom of bringing flowers to a wedding.  We went inside and awaited the bride and groom.

N&dadDSC02560Nicole looked beautiful and very happy.  wedding

A Bulgarian civil servant (I don’t know what her title was) performed the ceremony very beautifully (the former U.S. Ambassador’s interpreter interpreted).  She was serious but kind of poetic too.

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The ceremony included drinking champagne–a custom I can really get behind.

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Nikola with his bride.IMG_2394

Nikola is a tailor, so who better to do the bustle?

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The view from the hotel where the reception was held.  The protests broke up a couple hours later.

IMG_2405   They worked in a few of the many Bulgarian wedding traditions.  This one involved holding a loaf of bread over their heads and breaking it.  Whoever gets the bigger half will wear the pants in the family.  Nikola proudly shows up his bigger half. IMG_2398

This beautiful (and delicious) cake was made by Nicole’s boss (who I happened to work for years ago).  She and her husband are not professional bakers–but should be!

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Nicole throwing her bouquet.

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I was among the last to leave the reception that night around 10:45.  If you’re doing the math, that’s 10 hours of partying–probably a record for any wedding I’ve ever been to–including my own!  These former FS buddies of mine definitely outdid me.  By the way, it was lovely how many of Nicole’s friends traveled from afar for the wedding–people came from Iraq, Brazil, Nicaragua, Poland, and Mongolia, as well as the U.S.–truly amazing.

A quick word about my outfit.  When Nicole mentioned it was a Bulgarian holiday I decided to dress accordingly–in the colors of the Bulgarian flag.  I knew it would be chilly there, so I also wanted to wear tights with a warm-ish dress.  I had this wool Kate Spade dress and I remembered that it had been styled online in a colorful way.  So, considering my lack of fashion know-how (thus far only the librarians of DC have recognized my style), I decided to straight-up copy the look.  Here’s the original:

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And here’s my version:

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I think it ultimately worked, but my bright tights and shoes definitely got some weird looks on my Sunday afternoon walk to the ritual hall!

Sofia

Saturday I took the Free Sofia Tour, which was a great way to get my bearings and learn more about the city, immediately followed by a private tour Nicole arranged of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was great because we got to go up into the bell tower, which is otherwise not allowed.

Saint SofiaSaint Sofia

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The center of Sofia is paved in distinctive yellow bricks; my guide said the stone is stupidly expensive and they are very slippery.

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I liked this combination of old ad and graffiti.

ruins mosqueThey are still excavating and preserving Roman ruins all over town. What’s interesting about this corner is that the building on the right is the mosque, and a stone’s throw away from it is an important Orthodox church, Sofia’s only Catholic church, and the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe.
big bath houseAn old, closed mineral springs bath house (but you can still get drinking water at the fountain)

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The interior of the synagogue. synagogue synagoge   comm building

A number of Communist-era government buildings are still imposing government buildings. Below, the Presidential guards.   presidency guards

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral architecture and details.churchdomes  IMG_2359

Climbing up, we got to see the beautiful interior from above.dome viewbelltowerview

View from the bell tower.  These bells have been rung by the same woman for years.  She’s 84.

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Monday I also did lots of sightseeing and shopping (souvenirs will be covered in another post). I visited Boyana Church, a short taxi ride out of the city, which was amazing.  I couldn’t take pictures, so the shot below is from the New York Times.

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Since Monday was a beautiful day, I enjoyed walking around and seeing things like this street art (love the Orthodox priest bird with the beard).

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Roasted pumpkin–sometimes servednwith yogurt or cream and honey and nuts–is a traditional dessert.

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And I finally found the tea house I was looking for the first day–which was totally worth it.  Best beet salad of my life!

Back from Bulgaria

I got back last week from a fabulous trip to Sofia for my friend Nicole’s wedding to Nikola (yes, you read that right–their names are Nicole and Nikola).  Nicole is serving at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, where she met Nikola.  It was so fun to be there for their wedding, explore Sofia, and hang out with new and old friends.  I’m dividing my Bulgaria recap into a few parts, because I have so many photos.  Image

March 1 was an auspicious date to arrive in Bulgaria.  This is the day when Bulgarians traditionally celebrate the transition to spring by giving each other martenitsa.  I was given one at the airport in Sofia and this made me inordinately happy, because I have wanted one ever since I spotted them on the wrists of Bulgarian Fulbrighters at a conference in Berlin back in 2002.  Seriously.  I don’t know why I found this little bit of folklore so compelling, but I did.  The first few days of March you can buy martenitsa all over town, so I brought some back for friends and family.  Now I have four, and I can’t take them off until I spot a stork or a flowering tree (but in DC, that should be about two weeks).  You could also spot martenitsa on buildings, cakes and even cookies.

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(I don’t know what’s going on here.)

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I picked these up at a cute and tasty shop called 100 Grams of Sweets, which had other delicious pastries.

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But, first things first.  I spent the first afternoon I arrived in Sofia wandering around enjoying the beautiful sunny weather.  I was looking for a tea house, actually, but was jetlagged and disoriented and literally walking in circles.  (I did finally find the tea house on Monday.)  But I saw the Russian church and the Ivan Vazov national theater and some musicians playing in the square.

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Then I headed to a delicious and wine-filled traditional Bulgarian dinner with Nicole, Nikola, their families and other out-of-town visitors at Manastirska Magernitsa.  Here is a video of what that was like:

Then, not surprisingly, I slept for a solid 12 hours.  More to come!