Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our Christmas in Bulgaria

Even under normal circumstances, I don't decorate a ton for Christmas. I love other people's well-decorated houses and trees at Christmas time, but I haven't ever put in the time or money to do anything outstanding at our own house. It was pretty much the same story here in Plovdiv, but with less pressure and guilt because 1) we don't have any Christmas decorations and 2) the level of Christmas ornamentation here in Plovdiv is much less than we're used to seeing at home in the US -- there are beautiful lights and a small Christmas market on Glavnata (the main pedestrian shopping zone in the middle of Plovdiv) and many stores have modest decorations, and we saw small Christmas trees and lights in some apartments, but nothing like the Christmas markets of Germany or the sometimes amazing light displays of American houses.

Anyway, here's what we did for our Christmas decorations, in a short series of extremely mediocre photographs. (Is it possible to be extremely mediocre?)

The kids found two small artificial trees in the basement storage room in our rented house and our landlord Chavdar said we could use them. This is apparently the best picture I have of them, from a pre-Christmas dinner we had with a local friend from church, Ivan. (It's hard to get Phin to look normal for a picture.)

Mira drew this Nativity Scene and made a paper star to put at the top of the tree.

I bought one short string of Christmas lights and Lillian and Mira made lots of ornaments and other decorations from paper.

I think everyone contributed to the snowflake collection that went up on our living room windows.

Making Jon's Grandma Leah's sugar cookies is one of our Christmas traditions. Of course we don't have our cookie cutters with us, so we used a glass to cut circles. They taste the same. :)

On Christmas Eve, we observed some Bulgarian traditions. We had a vegetarian meal made up of an odd number of dishes. This is usually 7 or 9, but can be any odd number over 6. (I've also read that 12 is the correct number of dishes, but I went with what an actual Bulgarian told me.) The meal is vegetarian because it's the last day of their Lent, and on Christmas, there is feasting with meat. Some typical dishes are bean soup, pumpkin banitsa (a layered pastry dish), walnuts, a special shaped bread, and dried fruit. Seth wrote a post on his blog about our Christmas Eve meal with photos.

It's also Bulgarian tradition to burn a big log in the fireplace on Christmas Eve and to keep it burning all night. We did that, if you count reviving the fire the next morning using just the coals from the night before. We also roasted chestnuts over the open fire (cue song, and notice them on the shovel in the fire). They were pretty good and we had them in our stuffing the next day, but they weren't really worth the trouble. Next time I'll just use the oven. But I had to do it while I had the chance!

Now it's New Year's Eve and we're doing our usual boring but pleasant thing of hanging out and eating junk food (with some decent food thrown in for good measure) and waiting for 2014 to arrive, which it will do nine hours before our Mountain Time peeps back home! We've heard from everyone that it's a bigger holiday than Christmas and that people go crazy with fireworks. We already heard some pretty big stuff going off last night in an unofficial pre-New Year's Eve celebration by people apparently wandering around in the middle of the night. Our neighborhood is typically really quiet, so it will be interesting to see how it goes tonight.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Graffiti on Taksim Tepe (Таксим тепе)

For my Uncle Howard, here are pictures of some of the plentiful graffiti in and on the long-abandoned building on top of one of Plovdiv's main hills, Taksim Tepe. The building looks like it might have been some kind of state-owned community center during the Communist era.

Look! Mira's name!

In front of the wall is the top of the rock mountain, left as part of the room.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cold Plovdiv days with some sun

The days have gotten colder here. One day we had "freezing fog", which felt just like you'd expect. We bundle up with scarves and sometimes gloves. But when the sun's out for an hour here and there, it's very nice to be outside.

Near the main eastern approach to Сахат тепе/Данов хълм, off Главната. This would be a cool building with nice views when renovated:

Looking northwest from the overlook by the radio towers on Сахат тепе/Данов хълм, see the Turkish clock tower, and left and down from it many different stone stairways built into the hill going down toward a park:

We've been to Таксим тепе and the decaying building there a few times since finding it. Thanks to whoever owns it for leaving it wide open with no fences or signs to keep out!

A museum below Таксим тепе with painted-on columns typical of the areas:

A view north/northwest with the tower of църква Св. Богородица (Church of the Holy Mother of God):

Watch out what "candy" you buy without looking carefully:

There are not many, but still a few of East Germany's Trabants driving around here in good shape, without the fancy modifications many of those remaining in Germany have seen:

Sunday night Lillian and I went for a walk down Главната, the pedestrian shopping area of town, to see the Christmas lights:

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Another week in Plovdiv

Mira made her own mock MP3 player, headphones, and charger out of cardboard, tape, and yarn:

On Wednesday the whole family went to see the new Thor movie in 3D at a movie theater. The audio was in the original English and there were Bulgarian subtitles. Some sights seen on the way there and back:

Afterward we walked to Гребна база, a large rowing canal in the west of town near the river. It looks like the canal is about 2 km long, and in the winter there are people out walking, running, and biking around it:

We had the LDS sister missionaries over one night for dinner. Sister Frame is on the left. She's from Ephraim, Utah, and finishes her mission and heads home this coming week. Sister Davidson is on the right.

Yesterday I got to watch the sun set from on top of Младежки хълм:

And for the first time I found the smaller hill overlook not far from our house, Таксим тепе, where there is an abandoned building in a pretty advanced state of decay. It was fun to explore. I had a nice evening view over the Turkish mosque and Главната, the main pedestrian shopping area above the Roman stadium:

Tonight we had two other missionaries over for dinner, Elder Mock from South Carolina, who has been transferred to Sofia and leaves this week, and Elder Killpack from Idaho Falls:

Elder Killpack knows the names of all Mira's My Little Pony toys and proved it in a test today:

Some garbage cans and empty bottles are too much of a draw for these cats. Even after being scattered a few times, they kept coming back:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thanksgiving in Plovdiv

We had a very nice Thanksgiving dinner made mostly by Erin, and Jacob made rolls from scratch. We had mashed potatoes, green beans, chicken, gravy, stuffing, rolls, and water. For dessert we had apple crisp and chocolate pudding cake. We have many, many things to be thankful for, and talked about that before, during, and after the meal, alongside the eating, general silliness, and partial chaos. Here we are before beginning.

That morning Seth and I went for a run east along the south side of the Maritsa River, and entering into the Izgrev neighborhood encountered the delightful sight of these apparently unattended horses grazing on grass in the median of the 4-lane road:

On the way home we found an advertisement that was fun to read in Cyrillic because of the final word: ресторант · градина · барбекю = restaurant · garden · barbecue. Here is Seth in front of it sporting my brother Charlie's venerable Ethel Boyes Track t-shirt from Idaho Falls:

Near us in the old town are some ancient Greek columns I don't know anything about:

This is a kind of grave headstone I hadn't seen before, in the cemetery:

Here at the edge of the cemetery is a demonstration of how many types of wall you can get into a small space. This was the back side of someone's house:

A couple of days ago when it was sunny out, Erin and I went for a walk up on Nebet Tepe again, one of my favorite nearby places. From here you can see the two largest hills of Plovdiv and the city and surrounding mountains:

As we walked around town a bit we came upon this hilarious advertisement which advertises a "quinoa revolution" that I suppose I should consider supporting with what blood and treasure I have to offer:

One of the "subways" (to use the British term), a series of walkways underneath a large intersection, has some great tile art showing several of the names of Plovdiv, and paintings of nice old buildings.

Here we have Philippopolis and Пловдив (Plovdiv):

And here Филибе (Filibe) and Пълдин (Puldin):

Jacob, Phin, and I went for a run northwest on the north side of the Maritsa River:

I suggest they consider this photo for their next album cover:

We ended up at a high school that focuses on languages. It had a couple of abandoned buildings, some nice artwork, and students walking between other buildings to classes:

On the north side of Nebet Tepe is a really fancy house we walk by sometimes, with its own stone driveway, large garage, nice sculpted trees, etc.:

That's all for now.